U.C. Berkeley’s Jewish Student Union’s decision to deny membership to J Street U created controversy. Opponents of the decision claim that J Street is pro-Israel, no Jewish group should be excluded, and that any exclusion is undemocratic and alienates students.
Yet those who oppose J Street’s inclusion have good cause for concern. Consider some of the groups and speakers that J Street has brought to U.S. campuses:
• Breaking the Silence is a fringe Israeli group touring U.S. campuses defaming the Israeli army for “war crimes.” This New Israel Fund-supported group claims that Israel commits “crimes against humanity” and “ethnic cleansing” and “violates human rights.” BTS is quoted 27 times in the infamous Goldstone report, which Goldstone himself has disavowed. BTS still promulgates it.
This is the same BTS that Students for Justice in Palestine, which leads the delegitimization campaign against Israel on campuses, lists on its website as an advocacy group for its anti-Israel campaign.
• J Street U arranged talks by John Ging, former director of UNRWA in Gaza. He is known for promoting political warfare against Israel and supporting the pro-Hamas flotillas.
• J Street U promotes the NIF-funded Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement. The Jewish Agency describes the SJSM as “opposing the idea of Israel as a Jewish homeland and promoting an anti-Zionist agenda.” The group collaborates with the anti-Israel global BDS movement, and defames Israel as a “fascist state.” They talk about victories over “cowardly Zionists who are perpetrating an apartheid state and ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem,” and urge liquidation of the Jewish Agency and the Jewish National Fund.
• J Street U also presents the NIF-funded B’Tselem, which is quoted 56 times in the Goldstone report. The chair of B’Tselem’s board, Oren Yiftachel, has called for “effective sanctions” against Israel during the war against Hamas in Gaza, and supported the Palestinian “right of return,” which means the destruction of the Jewish state. Their CEO, Jessica Montell, justifies calling Israel an apartheid state. She said: “I think the word apartheid is useful for mobilizing people because of its emotional power.” SJP lists B’teselem on its website as an advocacy group.
What’s common to J Street U events is not a balanced, thoughtful discussion of Israel – it is the defamation of Israel, spreading of falsehoods and one-sided attacks.
Alan Dershowitz says: “J Street has harmed Israel more than any American organization” and its pro-Israel claims constitute “fraud in advertising” and “it has made a generation of Jews ashamed to be pro-Israel, and has made it politically correct among young people to single out Israel to a double standard and for fault.”
J Street is already entrenched at Berkeley’s Hillel and the JSU. The group Kesher Enoshi, a member of Hillel and of the Jewish Student Union, is J Street’s proxy there.
This year, Kesher Enoshi, along with J Street U, brought the founder of the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement to speak at Hillel. He demonized Israel, proclaiming, “Jerusalem is a symbol of evil.” Berkeley’s Hillel director argued that this was “within the framework of national Hillel’s Israel policy.” However, national Hillel guidelines explicitly state that “Hillel will not partner with, house or host organizations, groups or speakers that delegitimize, demonize or apply a double standard to Israel.”
Hillel also funded its members to go to J Street’s national conference in Washington, D.C.
The toxic consequences of Kesher Enoshi’s Israel-bashing events – organized in the last three years under the guise of “progressive Israel activism” – demonstrate why groups that demonize, or collaborate with demonizing-groups, should be excluded.
In the year preceding the Spring 2010 anti-Israel divestment bill at U.C. Berkeley, Kesher Enoshi, which lists events on the Hillel website and is also listed on the Hillel website in the “Get Involved” category, organized Israel defamatory events in collaboration with Students for Justice in Palestine. These events laid the groundwork for the SJP initiated divestment bill.
Kesher Enoshi and SJP organized the Breaking the Silence event, promoted by Hillel as “testimonies by Israeli soldiers about human rights abuses committed by the Israeli Military.”
They organized the Shministim, a group of Israeli draft dodgers who defame the IDF and Israel. Their U.S. tour was organized by the delegitimizing/BDS Jewish Voice for Peace.
Along with SJP, the Muslim Student Association, JVP, Middle East Children’s Alliance and other delegitimizing groups, the Hillel group Kesher Enoshi sponsored an event that compared the IDF to the Nazis.
At the Berkeley student senate meetings, formerly pro-Israel Jewish students – who were co-opted by exposure to Kesher Enoshi’s demonizing events – were conspicuously active in advocating the adoption of the divestment resolution.
Many of the co-opted students are joining the larger delegitimizing/BDS movement. For example: Avital Aboudy, who signed pro-Hamas ISM petitions calling for divestment from Israel, and Eyal Mazor, who is involved with the delegitimizing/BDS JVP and Code Pink. Eyal’s younger brother, Alon, became a leader of Kesher Enoshi, and is actively trying to get J Street U into the JSU.
Many Jewish students now avoid Hillel because of its demonizing events.
Would people who advocate the inclusion of demonizing groups, under the guise of promoting a “big tent,” welcome a Kahanist group or Jews for Jesus?
In “Is J Street in the tent, or out?” in the Jerusalem Post, Daniel Gordis, a regular columnist for the Post, observed: “It’s one thing to put ‘pro-Israel’ in your tagline, and another to be ‘pro-Israel’ … Even a big tent, though, has its limits.”
Hillel leaders should enforce national Hillel guidelines forbidding Israel-demonizing events and groups.
Demonizing groups and events place themselves outside the tent.
Natan Nestel, when a graduate student at U.C. Berkeley, founded the Jewish Student Union, and is a co-founder of the Israel Action Committee at U.C. Berkeley. He also served as chairman of the Israeli Students Organization in North America and was on the executive board of the North American Jewish Students Network.