Defend Jewish Campus Community by Excluding JVP

An op-ed in defense of Hillel’s policy

Last week, Ben Sales criticized Hillel for excluding Jewish Voice for Peace from its campus branches. What Ben’s article misses, however, is that JVP has excluded itself from Jewish organizations—including Hillel—through its antagonistic actions.

The most striking of these actions occurred when JVP members disrupted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech at the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly last month. This protest was not productive. Rather, it wasted time and caused a disturbance. The five protestors, one at a time, stood up to shout slogans and continued heckling Netanyahu as they were escorted out. This disrespected Netanyahu, the audience and the Jewish organizations attending the speech. At this event, JVP showed that it was more interested in interfering with events than integrating into and strengthening the Jewish community.

This is not the only time that JVP members have disrespected a speaker at a Jewish event by shouting him down. In July 2009, JVP sponsored an anti-Israel event consisting of a film and speaker at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. In an attempt to balance the event, the festival’s board invited Michael Harris, of Jewish Voice for Israel, to introduce the film. JVP activists, however, interrupted and heckled him throughout the speech. At one point, audience members cheered at the mention of “hosting a dinner for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,” the Iranian president who has called repeatedly for the murder of Jews. A group that hosts such events and welcomes such disrespectful jeering should not be allowed in the Jewish community.

JVP also affiliates and works with groups that are explicitly anti-Israel, such as Students for Justice in Palestine—a student group that advocates the end of Israel as a Jewish state, and the International Solidarity Movement—an organization that hinders Israeli counterterrorism efforts and that helped organize the Gaza flotilla mission last year. These are groups that anathematize the Jewish community through their opposition to Israel and its defense. They also play a key role in creating a hostile campus climate that makes many Jewish students feel uncomfortable and targeted. SJP, for example, has set up mock checkpoints or “apartheid walls”—mimicking Israel’s separation barrier—on multiple campuses. Although it is important to connect with student groups from diverse cultures, JVP has built ties based around a hatred of Israel. A group that maintains these ties should not be welcome in Hillel. These associations raise questions about the direction in which JVP would like to pull the Jewish community.

Hillel’s new guidelines on the inclusion of groups are a reasonable way to ensure that Hillel’s hospitality does not end up creating a forum for anti-Semitic views. The guidelines require groups to act civilly and to pass Jewish Agency President Natan Sharansky’s “3D test” (which bans groups that demonize, delegitimize, or apply a double standard to Israel). The 3D test distinguishes criticism of Israel from anti-Semitism. The only issue that is not open for discussion is divestment, as it is often a cloak for anti-Semitism—recalling past boycotts of Jewish businesses.  All other issues, such as the legitimacy of Israel’s proposed loyalty oath or the Gaza blockade, are open for debate.

Hillel does not exclude JVP because of its critical perspective on Israel. My Hillel, at the University of California, Berkeley, welcomes organizations with viewpoints that are both supportive and critical of Israel. Hearing the negative viewpoints has helped me form a more comprehensive opinion about the conflict. JVP, however, lacks a positive vision for Israel and the Palestinians, focusing instead on belligerent tactics and actions. A group like this does not belong in Hillel.

At this time, as pro-Israel students face “apartheid walls,” divestment, and an uncomfortable atmosphere on campus, it is important for Hillel to provide a safe space for Jewish students. Hillel can put its students first by making sure not to partner with groups that will detract from the Jewish community by weakening and disrespecting its support of the Jewish state.

Jonathan Horovitz is a sophomore at the University of California, Berkeley. 

11 Older Responses to “Defend Jewish Campus Community by Excluding JVP”

  1. Elke Weiss
    December 28, 2010 at 11:42 am #

    Amazing article!

  2. Miriam
    December 28, 2010 at 11:51 am #

    This is absolutely correct. Hillel should be a safe space for Jewish students and a place for informed, intelligent discussions about Israel and Judaism–not counterproductive attacks on Israel’s very existence.

  3. David Zarmi
    December 28, 2010 at 12:07 pm #

    I agree generally with your article and its tone, but I want to point out a problem (for me , at least) with the 3D policy. While demonizing Israel can’t be a good thing (or sanctioned by any Jewish organization), double standard and even delegitimizing may have its place.
    I think the main problems you have assessed with JVP is that they are rude and employ radical tactics of disruption. But the 3D answer does not address that.
    First, the double standard. I don’t think Sharansky’s double standard is meant to be applied to Jews. That is, if a non-Jew criticizes Jews for not being better than the international average (or the US), that smacks of anti-semitism, because she does not have the right to single out Jews. But Jews constantly hold themselves to a higher standard. I am constantly disappointed by some action or another by Jews or the Israeli government. And I don’t think, “How could they do that? The Saudis wouldn’t even do that!” I think, “These are Jews, they should know better.” Because they are acting 1000x better then the Saudis, but they aren’t living up to my standard for Jews (and neither am I). So would we ban all Jewish groups?
    As to delegitimizing, as long as its done respectfully, I think it would be wrong for Hillel to ban groups that have discussions about the wisdom of Israel’s creation, etc. Are they going to ban those Orthodox Jews who feel that it wasn’t such a great idea (non-Zionist Orthodox Jews have since split into two camps, one that says deal with it, even if it wasn’t a good idea, and one that says we aren’t allowed to deal with it). Again, there are a lot of hate-filled, rude, and disrespectful individuals and groups out there, but I don’t think respectful discussion of legitimacy should be enough to get a group banned, uncomfortable as it would make me feel.

  4. Uri
    December 28, 2010 at 12:58 pm #

    At stake is whether Hillel wants to be a Jewish space on campus or a center-right Zionist one. Even before the new guidelines, young Jews had been turned off by Hillel because of its commitment to center-right Zionism and its hostility to peace activism. In my day it was the ISM that was shunned, nowadays it apparently includes JVP, which represents tens of thousands of Jewish members nationally. The result of Hillel’s position, besides the intended one of preventing a diversity of viewpoints from being presented at Hillel, is a loss of Jewish participation on campus. In my case, since I found Lubavitch pretty intolerable and the Jewish left on campus was secular, it meant a substantial reduction in my participation in Jewish religious and cultural activities.

  5. Jordan Friedman
    December 28, 2010 at 1:36 pm #

    I agree that JVP’s reprehensible decision to heckle and disrupt Netanyahu’s speech was inappropriate, rude, disrespectful, unnecessary, and indeed counterproductive. However, I believe that the majority of JVP’s beliefs and actions are honest, correct, and in accordance with Jewish ethics. It would be wrong to exclude them from Hillel or otherwise deny their legitimacy as one among many streams of Jewish thought. We must embrace a diversity of opinion on Israel. These people you seek to exclude do not HATE Israel–no Jew could do that. They merely disagree with the current behavior of the Israeli government out of concern for innocent people on both sides. There are still others who support the actions of the Israeli government, but do not think that Israel should be central to American Jewish thought. It is lashon hara of the worst variety to condemn people with such opinions as anti-Jewish or self-hating. I hope that Hillel does not become what the ADL has become–an organization which defames innocent people rather than combatting REAL antisemitism.

  6. Elle Weiss
    December 28, 2010 at 3:32 pm #

    ” These people you seek to exclude do not HATE Israel. No Jew could do that.”
    There are many Jews who hate Israel. The Neturei Karta? The Satmer? Hedy Epstein? Uri Davis? Adam Shapiro? Phillip Weiss?
    Jewish Voices for Peace may want to act within Jewish ethics, but their work has alienated many who find them to be hateful. Perhaps JVP needs to reach out to Hillel a bit and prove that they deserve a place at the table.

  7. Larry Kaufman
    December 28, 2010 at 4:30 pm #

    Three cheers for Jonathan Horovitz. There is a difference between free speech and hate speech, and Ben Sales was dead wrong in advocating anything that would tend to give JVP a platform for their malicious mischief.

  8. Sydney
    December 28, 2010 at 11:28 pm #

    Hillels Should Engage, Not Boycott, Jewish Voice for Peace

  9. Steven Colby
    December 29, 2010 at 12:51 am #

    Hillel’s mission statement includes the following: “Hillel helps students find a balance in being distinctively Jewish and universally human by encouraging them to pursue tzedek (social justice), tikkun olam (repairing the world) and Jewish learning, and to support Israel and global Jewish peoplehood.”
    Support for Israel should be a broad term and Hillel should have a large umbrella. While I may have some differences with them, J Street U falls within the umbrella. Afterall, one can strongly support Israel, but also strongly support an independent Palestinian state. J Street appeals to a great many American Jews who believe that the United States should play a greater role in the implementation of two-states for two-peoples as orignially envisioned by the 1947 Partition Plan. While some on the right and even center have problems with J Street, Hillel must reach out to young progressive American Jews, who support Israel, but have issues with particular Israeli policies. I think J-Street, Peace Now, AIPAC (which also supports a two-state solution), ZOA (for those on the hard right), cover the vast majority of young American Jews. Though J-Street is probably more appealing to young Jews than older ones and I don’t think many Hillel’s bring in many speakers on the right, because it doesn’t go well on campus.
    WIth that said, Jewish Voice for Peace is a radical fringe group that goes against Hillel’s mission to support Israel and world Jewry (over 40% of the Jewish people now live in Israel and that percentage will continue to rise in the coming years). JVP goes beyond criticizing Israeli settlements and moves into the realm of rejecting Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state (while not explicitly stating this). It applies double standards to Israel and places no responsibility on the Palestinian side. JVP also works with radical pro-Palestinian groups who do not want to see a two-state solution or a peaceful end to the conflict. Instead of seeking an independent Palestine alongside Israel, these radical groups JVP works with (like the BDS) seek the destruction of Israel. Ray Hanania, a moderate pro-Palestinian journalist/comedian wrote an article about his hope that Arab leaders would promote moderate pro-Palestinian voices in order to replace the small, radical groups. He mentions JVP as a radical group whose leaders are associated with extremist and speak “from both sides of their mouths.”
    Hillel should promote dialogue and diversity of opinion, but should not lend its hand to the delegitmization of Israel, JVP and other fringe groups (far-left and far-right) represent. While the older Jewish establishment needs to widen the pro-Israel umbrella, Hillel needs to balance this by following its stated mission.

  10. smg
    December 29, 2010 at 10:35 am #

    This is a great piece. I am glad people understand that there have to be some standards for what is and is not Hillel-appropriate.

  11. John
    December 29, 2010 at 9:49 pm #

    Boycot Israel.

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