Thursday, December 08, 2011

Berkeley Hillel Urges Berkeley JSU to Reconsider

Ha'aretz reports that the local Hillel has belatedly entered the fray in support of J Street after the university's Jewish Students Union controversially voted to exclude them from membership. Hillel had been sharply criticized for its lack of leadership on the issue, but now has come down rather decisively on J Street's side:
"We respect the right of the Jewish Student Union, an organization sponsored by UC Berkeley student government, to make its own decisions, but we encourage JSU to reconsider its vote and include JStreetU as a member," wrote Board of Directors President Barbara Davis and Executive Director Rabbi Adam Naftalin-Kelman in a letter to Haaretz and the Northern California Jewish Weekly.

"Berkeley Hillel is committed to creating a pluralistic community that embraces the diversity of our Jewish tradition," added the Hillel directors. "At a time when Jewish students are seeking community, we are careful not to exclude Jewish students, and we embrace the wisdom of our namesake Hillel by embodying the value of an inclusive community."

The letter continued: "Berkeley Hillel is steadfastly committed to the support of Israel as a Jewish and democratic State with secure and recognized borders and as a member of the family of free nations. Berkeley Hillel supports a range of student groups whose activities advance our mission. The JStreetU chapter adheres to our Israel policy and Hillel International’s Israel Guidelines and will receive the support of Berkeley Hillel as do the broad spectrum of other Israel-focused groups working with Berkeley Hillel including, Bears for Israel (AIPAC group), Tikvah: Students for Israel, Israel Action Committee, Tamid, and Kesher Enoshi."

Tikvah also came out with a defensive post where they claimed they hoped to be "proven wrong" about J Street. That, I suspect, will be a difficult task, since their original belief that J Street is secretly anti-Israel is so devoid of factual analysis that I'm not entirely sure how it could be falsified at all. The claim that J Street supports BDS appears to be entirely fabricated,* and the claim that J Street is only critical of Israel and lets the PA and Arab actors off the hook entirely is obviously, completely, wildly, flagrently false. So that leaves the speaker who said that Jerusalem has become a "symbol of violence", which is a remarkably thin reed to rest on (even if the comment is objectionable, which I'm not sure it is -- the ongoing struggle regarding who is allowed to live in what neighborhood in Jerusalem surely is symbolic of the broader conflict between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples). Again, to be frank, I think Tikvah has far more work to do in proving its pro-Israel bona fides than does J Street. Step one would be to disassociate itself from groups which give prizes to anti-Semites like Glenn Beck.

One wag on twitter characterized Tikvah as having a policy encouraging Jews to be apathetic about Israel. While, as I noted in my last post, Tikvah's claims to be neutral on any question regarding Israel beyond basic acknowledgment of its right to exist as a Jewish state is performatively false, that's almost a relief, because actually taking that stance seriously would be catastrophic. Caring about something means having opinions about it. J Street cares about Israel, which means they have opinions about what actions it should take and what actions it shouldn't. Those beliefs put them in line with some Israeli leaders (like Tzipi Livni and Kadima) and against others -- which is how it works in a pluralistic political environment.

* Not only have they not given any sources about J Street's alleged hosting of BDS kingpin Omar Barghouti, they didn't even let my comment asking about it through moderation. So I remain convinced it didn't happen. But hey, maybe Max Blumenthal has the scoop!

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