The Conspiracy

The JVP Conversation Continues…

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 &#8212 in addition to the significant attention it gave to the BDS battles in April &#8212 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 &#8212 complete with its criticism of Israel &#8212 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!

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7 Older Responses to “The JVP Conversation Continues…”

  1. Miriam
    December 28, 2010 at 9:00 pm #

    Ben,

    Just wanted to say that I think it’s really great how you not only allow viewpoints opposing yours to appear on this site, but actually go out of your way to highlight and encourage from. This is a far, FAR cry from many editors I’ve written for in the past. Keep up the great work!

  2. Yakov Wolf
    December 28, 2010 at 11:51 pm #

    Two things.

    First, I want to second Miriam’s point. I’m honestly rather happy to be eating my words in regards to your coverage of this debate. Despite my past, very rude reactions to you in this discussion, you’ve been doing an amazing job keeping this conversation civil and respectful, while not shying away from voicing your own opinion. It’s a hard balance to strike, but you’ve accomplished it with grace.

    Second, I think pushing the envelope should always, at its best, be a strategic goal for the left. I’m solidly JVP, but it’s still gratifying to see Jstreet gain legitimacy. I honestly think JVP’s growth is a pretty significant–though of course not the only–factor in Jstreet’s success. At least around here, it wasn’t till after BDS started gaining more and more momentum this summer that serious work went into forming a Jstreet chapter. Most people just coming into the JS fold might not ever come to accept BDS, that’s true…but a win for Jstreet is still a loss for the uncritical Zionism of the AIPAC’s of the world. And that’s good for everyone.

  3. Joel Katz
    December 29, 2010 at 3:40 am #

    While the conversation continues about JVP and Hillel, here’s a less-noticed item:

    “Erekat to address WUJS Congress at Jerusalem hotel”
    http://www.jpost.com/NationalNews/Article.aspx?id=201216

    Chaya Singer, outgoing chairwoman of the World Union of Jewish Students, told the Post on Monday, “There is no doubting the Zionist content of the conference. Bringing voices such as Erekat’s opens the debate in an educational forum and this kind of diversity is the strength of Jewish students world over. It is an answer to the boycott and an opportunity to show our openness to dialogue in the face of extremism.”

    Joel Katz
    http://religionandstateinisrael.blogspot.com/
    http://twitter.com/religion_state

  4. Elle Weiss
    December 30, 2010 at 1:38 pm #

    The question remains, do Zionist students like myself who are in AIPAC, are in David Project, do we deserve a safe space as well? Students have reported feeling marginalized on campus because of their beliefs in the Jewish state, but they at least have Hillel, an organization that is there for support. And now they must give that up?

    How does anyone expect students like me to work with JVP, when they engaged in tactics like trying to shout down the Prime minister? We all want to fight for Jstreet U, and JVP, but what about people are proudly AIPAC and there is plenty of us as well? Should we just be told to shut up and take it, to be shouted down and have no place to be proudly Zionist?

    JVP has a lot more in common with Students for Justice in Palestine. Why can’t they work there and at least allow Hillel to remain a place for Zionist Jewish students to feel safe? You can’t have everything.

    SJP has an anti-normalization policy with Hillel. So Hillel has one right back. Why is it wrong for Hillel to return the favor, but no condemnation for SJP?

    Yakov, by your profile, I understand you wouldn’t have the same reaction to boycotts as myself, but I see them as “Kauft nicht bei Juden” the same signs in front of my great grandfather’s store. Seeing people like that in my Hillel would be extremely damaging.

  5. Elle Weiss
    December 30, 2010 at 1:39 pm #

    Yakov, btw, not a slur against being a ger, but you being pro BDS. I’m all for geirus.

  6. Yakov Wolf
    December 31, 2010 at 6:16 am #

    Elle,

    I was going to give a respectful response to your post, but your pointing out of my status is disrespectful and completely out of line and thus far undeserving of that sort of proper response.

    I’m proud of who I am and don’t try to hide it. Nonetheless, Jewish ethics as expressed in sources ranging from the Talmud and Rashi to the present day make it clear that what you did is wrong. Wrong to me and wrong because your comments completely marginalize born-Jews descended from historic Sephardi and Mizrahi communities that existed outside of Christian European and the “kauft nicht bei Juden” milleu.

    It’s great that you claim you’re “all for geirus”–as if we were somehow searching for your approval for legitimacy. But if you want to truly be “for geirus”, it might be a good idea to take a look at Leviticus 19, Parshat Kedoshim Perek 8:1-4, Talmud Tractate Baba Metziah 59b, and maybe a little bit of Rashi and Ibn Ezra on the subject first.

    Maybe once we have a common starting point of, really, just a basic respect for each other’s common Jewish identity, then we can move onto more complex issues of Zionism and tactical strategies. If we can’t even manage that, then we should both just save our breath.

  7. Elle Weiss
    December 31, 2010 at 11:31 am #

    Yakov, I had realized my comment may have been taken as a slur so i wanted to clarify that I didn’t realize you were one till after I said that you wouldn’t understand, I was trying to make sure you didn’t think I was singling you out. Rather I was talking about our positions on the issue, that you wouldn’t see my objections the same way. I had no intention of insulting you and apologize if I only made what I hoped was a correction worse. I understand the position of those who have converted al pi halacha are the same as me in every way, and am sitting in the home of such a person as I write.

    But now you took it to a personal attack. I apologize that my experience as a Jew based on my grandparents’ experience marginalizes you, but I don’t see how me sharing it marginalizes you? I’m explaining how it effects me. And part of my family is Sephardic (Yemani and Morrocan) and many of them share my beliefs that it is a “kauft nicht bei Juden” milleu. Why is talking about the Holocaust such a problem? A large part of my Zionism is because of the Holocaust and a fellow Jew should be sympathetic to the fact that they could have been the ones to die.

    And what about Greek Jews who were killed in the Holocaust? They were Sephardim.

    Again, I had mispoke and realized you might take it the wrong way and made it only worse. But please don’t marginalize my own history in revenge.

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