Jewish student union vote sends a message of exclusion

Key to the college experience is allowing students to make their own grown-up decisions. We have to grant our children, once launched into the adult world, the right to make mistakes.

Nevertheless, we chide the leaders of U.C. Berkeley’s Jewish Student Union for their shortsighted decision on Nov. 16 to deny membership to J Street U. The final vote: 10 against membership, nine for, and two abstentions. A two-thirds majority was needed to approve membership.

        News coverage: Berkeley’s Jewish
        student union says ‘No’
        to J Street U  <click here>

As spelled out on its website, the Jewish Student Union’s mission is, in part, to improve Jewish life and foster communication between Jewish student groups on campus. The Nov. 16 vote does exactly the opposite.

It is true that J Street U and its parent,

J Street, have been sources of controversy. Calling itself pro-peace and pro-Israel, J Street has been viewed suspiciously by some in the Jewish community because of past statements and actions.

Chief among those: J Street’s quick condemnation of Israel’s 2009-2010 Gaza incursion, allowing individuals who support boycotts of Israel to speak at J Street events, and what strikes many as a hair-trigger impulse to criticize Israeli policies.

Yet by no stretch of the imagination is J Street in the same camp as, say, Jewish Voice for Peace, which openly supports boycotts and cannot even bring itself to affirm Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state.

J Street does affirm the latter, as well as support Israel’s right to defend itself militarily. So given that JSU member organization Kesher Enoshi has in the past espoused views to the left of J Street, why exclude J Street U?

More pointedly, why exclude any group that seeks affiliation with other Jews on campus? One purpose of a Jewish Student Union should be to encourage civil dialogue among young Jews, even if they don’t always share identical viewpoints.

What happened at Cal did not stay at Cal. This story has spread, even making headlines in Israeli papers.

One Ha’aretz columnist wondered if the vote reflects “the kind of community that Jewish students at the University of California want? An intellectual ghetto, walled off from debate, bricked up against nuance, a trompe l’oeil of democracy, of openness, of communication?”

The Jewish Student Union has every right to develop guidelines for membership. But it is hard for us to see how this vote fosters a better campus climate for Jewish students.

There’s always the next meeting. We urge the voting members of the JSU to reconsider their vote and admit J Street U.