Does Jewish Voice for Peace deserve to be included at Hillel?
Lots of people in the Jewish community have been asking this question, and New Voices has been driving the conversation on this issue during the past couple of weeks. In case you’re not on our email list, Facebook page or Twitter feed, here — briefly — is how it’s all gone down:
First, Wayne Firestone — president of Hillel — wrote an op-ed in the JTA explaining which groups would not be welcome under Hillel’s roof, including groups that “Support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel,” an implicit reference to — among others — Jewish Voice for Peace, which supports BDS of companies that are complicit with the Israeli occupation.
I responded to the op-ed with an op-ed of my own in New Voices saying that because JVP is neither hateful, intolerant, nor explicitly anti-Israel, it should be welcome in Hillels nationwide because Hillel’s mission is to serve all Jewish students.
Then, today, Jonathan Horovitz of UC-Berkeley countered, defending the exclusion of JVP because JVP partners with anti-Israel groups and has antagonized pro-Israel sectors of the Jewish community.
Lots of emails, article comments, retweets and the like have added to this conversation, and it seems like this is just the beginning. While this discussion focuses around JVP in particular, what we’re really talking about here seems much deeper.
Here are the questions that this issue raises in my mind:
- How should Hillel staff talk about Israel?
- Should Hillel focus foremost on Israel advocacy or on accommodating the maximum number of Jewish students — no matter what they think about Israel?
- On a related note, how important is defense of Israel to Jewish life in general and Jewish campus life in particular?
- How important are a group’s partnerships with other groups?
These questions are going to keep coming up in our present, post-Beinart era, and I think they’re all worth discussing at length. I don’t want to rehash this debate yet again, but here are some points that I think have emerged from this discussion as a whole:
JVP has arrived. The fact that Firestone had to write an op-ed about why groups like JVP shouldn’t be allowed in Hillel implies that there was an initial assumption that they would be allowed in Hillel. If JVP served as an insignificant player on campus, the Jewish establishment could just ignore it. The Jewish establishment’s public response — in addition to the significant attention it gave to the BDS battles in April — means that JVP is a force to be reckoned with.
This is great for J Street U. Last year, all of the hubbub in the Jewish campus discourse was about whether J Street U — complete with its criticism of Israel — was good or bad for the Jewish college community. Now JVP is the new kid on the block, and it’s even more leftist than the J Streeters, which has helped legitimize J Street U. JVP has shifted the discourse even more to the left, which, consequently, has made former critics realize that J Street U is explicitly pro-Israel and anti-divestment; I’ve heard right-wingers use J Street U as a foil for why JVP should be off-limits.
There are two conversations about JVP happening now. First, is JVP right or wrong? Second, is JVP wrong enough to be excluded from the Jewish campus community? Some people have conflated these questions and have (incorrectly) assumed that support of JVP’s inclusion in Hillel means support of JVP. On a related note, the reasons why I oppose JVP are the same as the reasons why Jon believes Hillel should ban JVP.
I hope this conversation continues, because it’s both interesting and important. Keep reading, writing and talking!