campus beat

Jewish student leaders convene in Boston for antisemitism summit

'We need to address antisemitism the same way we speak out against all racism, violence and intolerance,' Patriots owner Robert Kraft said at the summit, convened at the Patriots' Gillette Stadium

More than 250 Jewish student leaders from across the East Coast and the Midwest gathered outside Boston this weekend for the Hillel International Israel Summit.

The gathering took place in the conference center at Gillette Stadium, which has otherwise had a quiet start to the year, with the New England Patriots failing to make it to this year’s NFL playoffs. Attendees had a view of the field and the scoreboards, which displayed the Hillel logo. 

Patriots owner and philanthropist Robert Kraft, clad in a royal blue blazer and Nike sneakers, kicked off the Sunday night plenary with an address lauding the work of his Foundation to Combat Antisemitism, which is housed at Gillette. He touted the foundation’s recent primetime ads, aired during football games, that aim to highlight to a wide audience the plight of antisemitism.

“We need to address antisemitism the same way we speak out against all racism, violence and intolerance,” Kraft said.

Other speakers included Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) and Brown University President Christina Paxson, both of whom praised students for their work fighting antisemitism and anti-Zionism. 

“For student leaders to take on the burden of challenging antisemitism on college campuses and on social media is an extraordinary thing that should be commended. That is not something that comes naturally to people in elected office, let alone students on college campuses,” Torres said in a conversation with Jessica Yeroshalmi, a Baruch College student and the co-chair of Hillel International’s student cabinet. 

Paxson pledged to allow debate to thrive on Brown’s campus. “Once a university adopts an official stance of what’s right on policy issues, we shut down discussion and debate, which in a university is like shutting off the power at a power plant,” she said. “It is for this reason that at Brown, we don’t participate in academic boycotts against Israel or any other country, and we reject calls to use our endowment as a tool for political advocacy.” 

Officially called the Israel Summit East, the conference followed a similar gathering that took place last month in California for students on the West Coast. This is the first time Hillel has convened students in this way, although the event grew out of an Israel summit that was hosted first for Harvard students and then virtually. 

“We believe there’s enormous power when you bring student leaders together for in-person convenings where they can learn from each other and support one another,” Hillel International president and CEO Adam Lehman told eJewishPhilanthropy. Several pro-Israel organizations set up tables to greet students. The groups included AIPAC, the Jewish National Fund, StandWithUs, the Israel on Campus Coalition, CAMERA, Passages, the iCenter, the Israeli American Council and Jewish on Campus. AIPAC, which historically hosted several student conferences every year, has recently stepped back from its campus advocacy work as the organization has shifted its focus to political fundraising. 

“It’s critical that Jewish students and other students who have a relationship to and with Israel feel empowered to express their identities — their Jewish identities, their Zionist identities, particularly in the context of an environment where antisemitism is on the rise, and demonizing anti-Zionism continues to be a staple of campus life,” said Lehman. 

Lehman noted that Hillel does not bar anti-Zionist Jewish students from participating in campus events, although such students, and left-wing advocacy organizations like J Street, were not invited to the conference. “We see under our fold all Jewish students, including students who have an incredibly wide array of views as relates to Israel,” he added.