J Street U deserves seat at the table
As a leader in Challah for Hunger and a Repair the World fellow at Hillel, I am disgusted by the Jewish Student Union’s rejection of J Street U under the misguided notion that it does not fall within the pro-Israel tent (“Berkeley’s Jewish student union says ‘no’ to J Street U,” Dec. 2).
The JSU has silenced and alienated students like me who are already engaged in Jewish life and are seeking new modes of engagement with Israel. I am deeply committed to a vibrant and diverse Jewish community and am frustrated by the exclusivity and narrow-mindedness of those who consider themselves the “mainstream voice.”
The JSU, which claims to be the umbrella organization for Jewish student groups at Cal, does not represent a large of segment of this community. [JSU co-president] Jacob Lewis and other members of Tikvah are not the only voices that should be heard. J Street U’s commitment to democracy, social justice and peace in Israel clearly fits into Hillel’s Israel policy. I am proud to be a member of J Street U and confident in our right to have a seat at the Jewish communal table.
Sarah Beth Alcabes | Berkeley
JSU should reconsider its vote
As a leader of J Street U on a different campus, I cannot help but feel the weight of the Berkeley Jewish Student Union’s decision hundreds of miles away.
When the Jewish Student Union levied its decision, they immediately alienated a vast group of young Jews who look for a way to support Israel, but who do not feel entirely at home with traditional pro-Israel groups. Thousands of students like me see the self-defeating nature of the traditional pro-Israel arguments, and advocate for the continued existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic homeland in a different way.
Were it not for J Street U, I would not be lobbying my Congress people to support Israel; I would not have remained engaged with Israel two years after a Birthright trip; and I would not have stepped into a conversation so polarized and alienating — both sides have views I cannot share entirely — a conversation which, as we speak, is turning young Jews away from Israel on a daily basis.
I hope dearly — for the sake of U.C. Berkeley, my friends there, and most importantly, Israel — that the Jewish Student Union reconsider its decision, and admit J Street U as a legitimate participant in the conversation about Israel.
Ethan Weiss | Petaluma
No need for another Israel detractor
Please note that Alon Mazor of J Street U and his colleagues are all members of Kesher Enoshi, a Jewish Student Union–affiliate group for over three years. Many of these students were members of KE when the group’s leaders used their Hillel leadership positions to publicly advocate their support for the campaign to divest the university’s investments from companies that sell to Israel in March 2010.
Not a single KE member spoke out against this hateful initiative. In 2009, these students helped Students for Justice in Palestine bring in Israeli girls who refused to go into the Israel Defense Forces, and whose talk deteriorated into questioning Israel — my homeland’s — right to exist.
Then, they sought JSU funding when they co-sponsored with SJP a hip-hop concert that included lyrics comparing Israel to the Nazis. Then they brought in Breaking the Silence, former IDF soldiers who demonize Israel’s military — one of the most moral in the world — with anonymous, unverified testimony.
This is not a new voice being “silenced.” In fact, they have had a “voice” for many years. In these challenging times when Israel is slandered from all directions, is this really what we need?
David Sverdlov, co-president,
Tikvah Students for Israel
Open the umbrella for all students
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.
We support a range of student groups whose activities advance our mission. The J Street U 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 we work with, including Bears for Israel (AIPAC group), Tikvah: Students for Israel, Israel Action Committee, Tamid and Kesher Enoshi.
We respect the right of the Jewish Student Union, an ASUC-sponsored group, to make its own decisions, but we encourage JSU to reconsider its vote and include J Street U as a member.
Berkeley Hillel is committed to creating a pluralistic community that embraces the diversity of our Jewish tradition. In honoring the spirit of college students, it is our goal to guide, mentor and facilitate their unique Jewish expression.
At a time when Jewish students are seeking community, we are careful not to exclude them, and we embrace the wisdom of our namesake Hillel by embodying the value of an inclusive community.
Rabbi Adam Naftalin-Kelman, executive director
president, Berkeley Hillel
J Street supporters are not anti-Israel
I am a Cal alum, a parent of two rabbis, have traveled to Israel five times, bought Israel bonds, contributed to numerous Israeli organizations (from JNF to NIF) and consider myself a supporter of Israel. I am also a supporter of J Street and its college affiliate, J Street U.
I am deeply troubled that as important a group as the U.C. Berkeley Jewish Student Union would consider someone like me to be anti-Israel, as it has decreed J Street U, and, presumably, its members.
Those in the JSU who have come to that conclusion should read J Street U’s mission statement, which can be seen at www.jstreetu.org/about/who-we-are.
Labeling J Street U as anti-Israel simply does not square with its goals, positions or activities, or those of J Street itself — and it does not demonstrate the type of critical thinking it takes to get into Berkeley.
I urge a re-vote on J Street U’s application for membership in the JSU, and a different result. If Jewish students who are sincere about their respective beliefs about Israel cannot respect each other, how can we ever expect Israelis and Arabs to settle their differences? If that does not eventually happen, Israel will never know peace.
Steven Saxe | Corte Madera
Kudos to the JSU
I, for one, am thankful that Berkeley’s Jewish Student Union voted to deny J street U a place in the tent.
The Jewish state is under global attack and facing existential threats. Israel needs advocates, not uninformed critics who add fire to the international campaign of demonization and delegitimization, as J Street does regularly.
J Street welcomed organizations promoting BDS, like Jewish Voice for Peace, as participants in its conference. It co-sponsored a congressional mission to Israel with Churches for the Middle East, a pro-BDS coalition; honored Israeli soldiers who refused to obey orders; supported the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity group that calls for the liquidation of the Jewish Agency and Jewish National Fund; lobbied against a U.S. veto of an anti-Israeli resolution at the U.N. Security Council — leading Rep. Gary Ackerman to end his relationship with the group, writing that J Street is “so open-minded about what constitutes support for Israel that its brains have fallen out.”
This conflict is about carving what would be the 57th Muslim- and 22nd Arab-majority country out of the world’s only Jewish country, the size of New Jersey. I’m glad that there are still students who would not give Israel up so easily.
Sheree Roth | Palo Alto
See J Street for what it is
I am so proud of Berkeley’s Jewish Student’s Union for saying ’no’ to J Street. It is time the organized Jewish community recognized this organization for what it is: anti-Israel. I just wish my Reform movement would have the sense to do so as well.
Jo-Ann Jacobson | Alamo