Thursday, December 8, 2011 | return to: views, editorial


Jewish student union vote sends a message of exclusion

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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.


Posted by Ilene Sokoloff
12/08/2011  at  06:48 PM
J Street and Jewish Student Union

I am glad that the Jewish Student Union voted for this exclusion. It sends a message that the Jewish students have a voice and will not be continued to be bullied on campus. J Street does not reflect a support for Israel nor its government. These are difficult times of anti-semitism abroad, attacks on Israel by our Secretary of State, our Secretary of Defense, our Ambassador to Belgium and this can only reflect our current administration’s position that Israel is the culprit. J Street is on the wrong side of the street! It does not truly support Israel nor the Jewish students on Berkeley campus.

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Posted by DaveM
12/08/2011  at  09:14 PM
Jews for Obama

I don’t see why Jews who think Obama and his people are doing a good job should be excluded from the JSU.

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Posted by Dan Spitzer
12/08/2011  at  10:34 PM
Did J Editor Sue Fishkoff Pen This Editorial?

Because whoever did could have at least attempted to look into JSU’s thoughtful decision to keep J Street U out. This did not occur out of a vacuum nor an unjustifiable distaste for J Street U. And while the editorial above rightfully maligns JVP, members of J Street U have acted in ways every bit as insidious and injurious to Israel as JVP.

I’ve taken the liberty to recount Tikvah co-president’s David Sverdlov’s letter published in this edition of J as it succinctly delineates why JSU wisely decided to keep J Street U from fouling its waters:

“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

In sum, JSU deserves kudos for wisely keeping out an organization which has so regularly and flagrantly exhibited such antipathy toward Israel, home of nearly half the Jews remaining on the planet…

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Posted by artycohn
12/08/2011  at  10:55 PM
Jews need help not traitors

Enrolling J street U into the Jewish student group would be like
George Washington putting Benedict Arnold into the leadership of the American troops

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Posted by DaveM
12/08/2011  at  10:57 PM
Kesher Enoshi

It seems wrong to keep J Street U out because there is overlap with Kesher Enoshi which is in and to blame one organization for what another organization did.

J Street does not have antipathy towards Israel.

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Posted by lucid
12/09/2011  at  03:30 AM
I applaud the vote to exclude J Street

We all know the agenda of J Street is to undermine the unqualified support Israel has had with both Democratic and Republican administrations.

The leaders of J Street are a bit meshigannah when it comes to Israel. And the logical conclusion is the Berkeley students got it 100% correct.

I applaud their vote.

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Posted by DaveM
12/09/2011  at  09:57 AM
Obama Administration

J Street tends to support the current adminstration, which the rightists who banned J Street U don’t like. It is useful for friends of Israel to be on good terms with whoever is in power and with both sides of our American political spectrum. I don’t see the value to only siding with the American right wing even though they are good about Israel.

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Posted by Dan Spitzer
12/09/2011  at  10:13 AM
What DaveM Writes is Nonsense...

Many of us who support Obama are critical of J Street U and its parent organization’s incessant castigation of Israel.

It’s an old Stalinist canard, now used by the lunatic left and the Israel-hating J Street U crowd to consign Zionists to being rightwingers. This is total BS…

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Posted by DaveM
12/09/2011  at  10:31 AM

The first post here attacks the Obama administration and it is certainly true that some of the animus against J Street is because it supports Obama administration positions.

I am a Zionist and certainly don’t view all my fellow Zionists as right wingers. The group that opposes J Street U being in the JSU seems to be right wing and some who support that seem to be right wing also.

I don’t agree with some of the things J Street does and the J Street U kids at Berkeley have done but that does not justify excluding them from the Bay Area Jewish community’s big tent of supporters of Israel.

Stalinist does seem to be a right wing kind of accusation by people who are against someone who disagrees with them. So is referring to the lunatic left when someone disagrees with you. The accusations show that this exclusion is polarizing. We need to stick together in the SF Bay Area, which is a global center of the BDS movement.

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Posted by Jack Kessler
12/09/2011  at  11:13 AM
The Editorial's Premise is False

There is no sort of benign dialogue going on on the UC campus.  The campus left, including J Street and Kesher Enoshi, are no more open to changing their hostility to Israel than John Boehner is to be persuaded that the Democrats were right all along.

DaveM writes above, “J Street does not have antipathy toward Israel.”  The proof of that would be the various examples of when J Street has sided with Israel against her many enemies on campus and abroad.  Curiously there are no such examples.  J Street has ALWAYS taken the anti-Israel side. 

To say they are pro-Israel is a conscious lie by those claiming it.

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Posted by Dan Spitzer
12/09/2011  at  11:19 AM
David M, Reread Your Very Own Post

You claim “rightists”  banned J Street U, did you not?  So who is tarring and foolishly polarizing here?

Again, we saw this with the Berkeley Daily Planet, JVP, SJP, KPFA, and now some members of J Street U who seek to reduce supporters of Israel to what has become an anathema in the Bay Area, the political right.

Like most Zionists, I am a liberal Dem—but like most of my political brethren in this, I want haters of the Jewish homeland such as J Street U to cease using Jewish forums-student initiated or otherwise-as a springboard for spewing their incessant contempt for Israel. Hence, JSU did absolutely the right thing…

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Posted by DaveM
12/09/2011  at  11:20 AM

Opposing BDS is siding with Israel and is important. Why insult friends of Israel simply because we support J Street? J Street has been a useful ally. Their regional director attends federation and JCRC events. Why exclude the young people on campus as if they are just like JVP?

This kind of thing makes it harder to reason with liberals who tend to oppose Israel and think some form of BDS makes sense. It is counterproductive to call such liberals the lunatic left.

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Posted by DaveM
12/09/2011  at  11:35 AM


I use the terms left and right but realize there are problems with them because people can be on one side on some issues and the other on different issues. Moreover they exist on a spectrum and there are dimensions independent of that spectrum.

I am not in close contact with what is happening at UC Berkeley. It seems to make sense to view people who denounce leftists or liberals as rightists. Are you saying the students who pushed the ban on J Street U include liberals?

As an ardent and active supporter of Israel, I know there are plenty of supporters of Israel who are not on the political right in the US. There are also plenty who do not support the political right in Israel. I do not think people who side with the right in the US and Israel are awful. Sometimes I agree with them. For example I think Netanyahu is a clever, dedicated and sincere engineer who is doing a good job managing Israel under very tough circumstances.

There is absolutely no justification for viewing J Street members as haters of Israel. I would not so characterize JVP even though they are too close to anti-semites in my view.

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Posted by Dan Spitzer
12/09/2011  at  12:19 PM
Dave, Since You Acknowledge You are Not in Close Contact with What's Happening at UCB,...

I can begin to fill you in by having you read David Sverdlov’s letter which I quoted above. Indeed, Kesher Enoshi-with its now J Street U components-has done far greater harm than JVP. Everyone with any neurons functioning realizes that JVP consists of a bunch of virulent haters of Israel.

On the other hand, Kesher, operating from Rabbi Kelman’s sanctuary of Hillel, made some vulnerable and extremely naive students believe that the liberal Jewish community at UC Berkeley supported BDS. And this hurt the cause of Israel immensely on campus.

When I use the term “lunatic left” in referring to Kesher, JVP and SPJ, I am not implicating liberals and many progressives under this rubric. Rather, I am characterizing those organizations, Michael Lerner’s Tikkun, and some insidious others such as a number of J Street U students. If you think they don’t support BDS vs Israel and the “Palestinian cause,” just ask them. And after you do, the situation will likely become far clearer for you concerning what has transpired on the Cal campus…

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Posted by DaveM
12/09/2011  at  12:30 PM
Kesher and J Street


If the objection is to Kesher which is a JSU member, why ban J Street which has been valuable in fighting BDS?

Lerner is not the lunatic left. I don’t agree with him about Israel but that does not make him crazy.

I support the Palestinians, wish them well and recognize they have legitimate grievances. I think they are wrong in their methods and their views about Israel and Jews. It is a problem figuring out how to help them help themselves and many of the liberals who say the are working in their interests are hurting them not helping them. Playing to the world’s liberals and other Muslims is working against their cooperating with Israel to make their lives better. That requires them to do things which will lead people in Israel to trust them.

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Posted by Dan Spitzer
12/09/2011  at  01:04 PM
Dave, Many Adherents of Kesher are Also J Street U Members

For further information on this, please go to the letters page and see the exchange between me and the former head of Kesher at Hillel, “bmoots.”

As for Michael Lerner, those of us who know Lerner over the decades have understood that his unbridled ego-he used to write fawning letters to Tikkun under pseudonyms praising himself and the publication-reasonably falls under the category of “lunatic left.” Remember, this is someone who happily published the likes of Norman Finklestein…

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Posted by DaveM
12/09/2011  at  03:56 PM
J Street

So what if members of Kesher are members of J Street? That is no reason to ban J Street. I understand there is overlap between some organizations and Tikvah. Such overlap is inevitable. That does not make J Street into Kesher.

You and Tikvah may not care about influencing liberals not to make and vote for divestment and other anti-Israel resolutions but I do. I spend a lot of time working on that. Some won’t talk to us because they view us as closed minded people who won’t listen to reason. Banning J Street U plays into that.

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Posted by Dan Spitzer
12/09/2011  at  05:00 PM
No, Banning J Street U Means They Won't have Such an Important Forum in the Jewish Student Community

to spew their anti-Isreal rhetoric…

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Posted by DaveM
12/09/2011  at  05:16 PM

There are people in the community who view any criticism of any aspect of Israel government policy as Anti-Israel. That makes discussion difficult and makes it hard to gather resolve to do things for Israel.

The ban is giving J Street U at Berkeley international prominence and makes members of the local Pro-Israel community seem intolerant. You can read that in a number of articles.

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Posted by Dan Spitzer
12/09/2011  at  05:39 PM
Let Some People Let Ignorance Blind Them-They Can Believe What They Want

JSU’s decision has made them far more representative of Jewish students who overwhelming support Israel in the sometimes hostile seeming environment of UC Berkeley.

Let J Street U continue to share their toxic ideological bed with the likes of Kesher, JVP and SJP. These organizations, not JSU,  are their true intimates…

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Posted by DaveM
12/10/2011  at  11:37 AM

Kesher is in the JSU.

It is too bad we have people accusing those who disagree with them of being blind. It is too bad people can’t understand the difference between JVP and J Street.

We need to be able to talk to people who disagree with us and influence those who have wrong ideas about Israel to think straight about the complex issues Israel is dealing with. Monotonic thinking gets us nowhere.

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Posted by Dan Spitzer
12/10/2011  at  12:07 PM
Yes, Kesher May be in the JSU, But It Shouldn't Be...

Why should an organization which holds such virulent hatred of Israel be apart of a Jewish Student Union which reflects the vast majority of Berkeley’s student community? Why should Kesher have a forum to deceptively lead some naive students to believe that Berkeley Jewish students hold contempt for the Jewish homeland?

Apparently, this doesn’t trouble DaveM. Nor does the fact that there is overlap between Kesher and J Street U seem to bother ole Dave. 

In point of fact, the only reason that the vote was close-although not nearly the two-thirds majority requisite for J Street U to become part of JSU-is because of Kesher and and a couple of its Israel-loathing allies.

You see, DavidM, most Jewish students in the UCB community support the Middle East’s sole democracy where nearly half the Jews still on earth reside. You apparently would like them to incorporate those who wish to see a single state with a Palestinian majority hold sway become part of JSU.

Fortunately, JSU and its constituents in Berkeley’s Jewish community are now fully aware of the ruse and propaganda perpetrated by Kesher/J Street U and will not abide enemies of Israel in an organization representing, as noted, the vast majority of Jewish student opinion at Cal…

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Posted by DaveM
12/10/2011  at  12:39 PM

There are people in the Jewish community who see enemies in places where some of us see friends and potential friends. That makes working effectively for Israel harder than it could be. Even JVP does not hate Israel. It is not as if everyone who does not support everything Israel does hates Israel. The world is more complex than that.

I don’t think it makes sense to see J Street as a surrogate for Kesher or to attack J Street because people don’t like Kesher. J Street has proven to be a highly useful ally.

A lot of Jewish students at Berkeley are so turned off by feuding over Israel that they don’t affiliate with Jewish organizations. It is important to try to connect with them and what the JSU did is not the way to do it.

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Posted by DaveM
12/10/2011  at  01:33 PM
Polarized Environment

“This division in the wider Jewish community has found its way into the university campuses as well. With groups such as Stand with Us, Jewish Voice for Peace and Kesher Enoshi (Progressives for Activism in Israel) all vying to represent the Jewish body on Israel, Ryan Simon, a student at San Francisco State University, describes it as “a little war on campuses. The blatantly polarized environment has turned Jewish students off from engaging in a conversation they otherwise would.”
All of this makes engaging with – indeed, even talking about – the conflict difficult. “What divides the Jewish community in and of itself is a major problem with how we relate to other faith communities,” said Mates-Muchin.”

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Posted by Michael Harris
12/10/2011  at  07:31 PM

As was stated by members of the Jewish Student Union, one of their concerns about J St U was that its leadership overlapped significantly with that of Kesher Enoshi.  Not to try to speak for the students, but it looks to this observer that the vote was colored by that situation. 

As has been pointed out, the history of Kesher Enoshi at Cal is notable for incidents such as their leadership supporting the divestment initiative on campus (though not in the name of KE, they were identifying themselves as members of the JSU); working with Students for Justice in Palestine (the group that presents “Israel Apartheid Week”; even bringing SJP members into Hillel to give anti-Israel presentations and to attend Shabbat dinner. 

The individuals responsible for these acts are no longer in the leadership of KE. But those actions have left a residue of deep suspicion and distrust of KE. Perhaps if the current leadership of KE would publicly indicate its support for Israel as a Jewish state that might go a long way towards building trust between them and other groups in the JSU.

Currently, here’s what KE says about itself on the UC Berkeley student affairs website (

“Kesher Enoshi: Progressives for Activism in Israel (KE)

Purpose: Kesher Enoshi is a growing community of students dedicated to engaging directly with social change organizations and activists in Israel. This engagement is driven by inclusive discussion and democratic decision-making, and is aimed at creating substantive exchanges, providing mutual assistance, and making meaningful contributions. Through engaging with these organizations and activists, we educate ourselves and others about their projects and objectives, discuss their work critically, openly and self-reflexively, and link them with relevant organizations on campus and in the wider community.”

I don’t see a mention of support of Israel as a Jewish state.  Perhaps a first step towards being accepted as a pro-Israel organization is to actually say that you support Israel.

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Posted by DaveM
12/11/2011  at  01:27 PM

I appreciate the concern about Kesher. It seems like the concern that J Street U members at Berkeley don’t go along with J Street’s condemnation of BDS should be addressed with J Street leadership. I will do that tomorrpw.

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Posted by bmoots195
12/11/2011  at  02:58 PM

... the problem is not with Kesher Enoshi, all those tales are old news, its the public defamation of the organization by some of the folks on this forum and others… that have little connection to anything going on inside Hillel, with KE, or with JStreetU. We have not worked with SJP, we are not for BDS… but unlike others in our Hillel, we have no problem (and in fact think its a virtue) to engage with people who we disagree with. If you have a problem with us, you have a problem with the New Israel Fund… we have pretty much only worked with organizations they have funded… and we are proud of that.

Our comment about supporting Israel was up on our website before it recently went down under the Frequently Asked Questions tab and its up on all our brochures handed out at Hillel:

Q: Is Kesher Enoshi a Pro-Israel Organization?
A: Yes! We believe that seeking to make Israel a better place by engaging with individuals and organizations struggling for their rights and the rights of others is the most Pro-Israel thing many of us have ever done.

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