As I am sure most people know by now, this week the Brandeis Chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) applied to be a member group of Hillel at Brandeis. After careful and thoughtful deliberation we are not able to recognize JVP at this time.

Here is my take on this:

Unlike many people, when I chose to attend Brandeis I was excited for dynamic, and sometimes overwhelming, dialogue regarding the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. I have always been passionate about studying the Middle East, but had no outlet to thoughtfully discuss my opinions with my peers. Although such dialogue is not always easy, I am happy that Brandeis students have diverse venues to explore perspectives, ask questions, and develop thoughtful stances on the Middle East.

Hillel’s decision does not change this important reality.
I became active in Hillel because I love and firmly believe in pluralistic Judaism. I took a leadership position in Hillel because I personally support everything the organization stands for, including our commitment to Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State. My greatest desire is to see vibrant and independent Israeli and Palestinian states peacefully thriving.

Hillel Board’s decision does not reflect our personal politics- it was procedural.
Our vote, in line with national Hillel, simply means that Jewish Voice for Peace, as an organization, does not have a place in the organization Hillel at Brandeis. By turning down JVP we are not turning our back on JVP members. We are not attempting to exclude voices or stifle individual opinions and identities. It is my hope that those who are a part of JVP, or advocate its views, will continue to attend Hillel events and participate actively in our community. You are always welcome here. I look forward to continuing conversations at your events, and at our events. In the future, we may find venues for future collaboration as well.

Although the current debate on campus may be challenging, I think it is important and a positive reflection of our campus culture. Over the last few days, I have participated in intense conversations, built relationships, and asked important questions. I am proud that we are behaving respectfully, honestly and learning from one another. Regardless of your opinion on the outcome, I hope you view this as a learning experience, testament to our character, and can remember the process – not just the result.
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Hillel at Brandeis’ official statement:
At this time Hillel at Brandeis is unable to recognize the Brandeis Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) as a member group. JVP promotes boycotts against the State of Israel and its positions are not consistent with Hillel’s position on Israel as defined by the International Hillel guidelines; “Hillel is pro-Israel; steadfastly committed to the support of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders as a member of the family of nations”.

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The letter we sent to JVP:

Thank you so much for coming to meet with Hillel board last night. Unfortunately, we will not be able to accept Jewish Voice for Peace as a member group of Hillel at Brandeis.

We as a board stand strong in support and agreement with the International Hillel organization, with which we are affiliated. While you noted that Judaism is an ever moving movement, as an organization, Hillel aims to support Israel to the best of our abilities. Our policy, consistent with our international guidelines, states that “Hillel is pro-Israel; steadfastly committed to the support of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders as a member of the family of nations”. While, based on your presentation, we understand that JVP at Brandeis considers itself a pro Israel club, based on positions and programming JVP has sponsored, we do not believe that JVP can be included under Hillel’s umbrella.

One example, as we discussed last night, is that JVP supports a boycott of settlement goods. Hillel’s position is to oppose groups that “support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel”. While we see it as the right of JVP to support such a boycott, we as an organization do not. While last night you mentioned that you do not feel bound by any of National JVPs political statements, we, as an affiliate of International Hillel, feel we are in accord with its policies and positions. While your relationship with the national JVP may not mirror our own, we do consider your association with the national JVP to reflect an orientation regarding Israel which is not consistent with Hillel’s guidelines.

You noted that Hillel should be a home to all Jewish students and not a litmus test for Zionism. While we understand this point of view, and we hope to be a home to all Jewish students at Brandeis, we do not think that politics is the only way to define home. We are a home in many ways, but politically we stand behind Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. That being said, we at Hillel, “welcome a diversity of student perspectives on Israel and strive to create an inclusive, pluralistic community where students can discuss in a civil manner matters of interest and/or concern about Israel and the Jewish people […] and we encourage students’ inquiry as they explore their relationship with Israel”.

We understand that Hillel, as a pro-Israel organization, may not serve the needs of all Brandeis students. We support the rights of students to organize groups to meet their needs for expression and believe that Brandeis needs to be an open environment for varieties of political viewpoints and expression. So, while we cannot include JVP under Hillel’s umbrella, we fully support your rights to speak openly about your positions and concerns with respect to Israel and we will defend those rights despite our differences in outlook.

Thank you again,
Andrea Wexler and the 2010-2011 Hillel student executive board

7 comments on “A Hillel Board Member’s Perspective”

  1. Jen Says:

    It is great that you care about pluralism Erica, but the Hillel board’s decision was clearly a strike against pluralism. This post is basically an argument to let in JVP, so why are you defending the decision? You can’t make a an exclusionary decision then say you want everyone to feel included! It is contradictory.

  2. Lev Says:

    Erica,

    I appreciate the respectful statement.

    I hold no grudges against the students on the Brandeis Hillel board; I understand that you were upholding the guidelines of the national organization.

    My problem is with the guidelines. I believe that they are exclusionary and condescending. Hillel says that it is the center of Jewish life on campus, a pluralistic organization for all Jews – but simultaneously say that voices who believe in an alternate line on Israel are unwelcome. This I cannot accept.

    Brandeis Hillel has missed an opportunity to take a stand against these backward guidelines.

    On the political question. The official statement from Brandeis Hillel is actually quite shocking. JVP has repeatedly stated its position on BDS. We advocate for a boycott of all companies and corporations profiting off of the occupation. We support the boycott of settlement goods and divestment from large multinational corporations that supply the materials necessary for the infrastructure of occupation. Brandeis Hillel hears this and says: “JVP promotes boycotts against the State of Israel.”

    Is this the official position of Hillel? That the settlements are part of Israel? That the occupied territories are part of Israel? How can Hillel claim this and simultaneously claim that they support Israel as a Democratic state?

    More and more Jews are supporting the boycott, and are turning away from Jewish communal institutions with policies like Hillel. The time has come for Hillel to decide what is more important to its mission: Zionism or Judaism?

  3. Brandesian Says:

    Erica–

    Thank you for your passionate and supportive message, Erica. Brandeis Hillel stands with it’s parent organization and respects their policies. JVP has a track record of supporting purposeful divestment from Israel, which is counterproductive.
    Keep on keeping on.

    B

  4. New Yorker Says:

    Erica,
    Your passionate comments above are very sincere and inciteful and I am pleased to see that students such as yourself take your leadership positions both seriously and rationally.

    Throughout life, there will be situations where proper decisions must be made, knowing that the consequences will stir controvery or debate. That is how leadership is built. Clearly, in business or social contexts, there are many times where someone (or group) seeks to join or be part of something that they know is not a right fit or appropriate, but the process itself will give him or her a platform for attention or controvery. So long as too much time and energy are not expended on such a campaign, these motives should not be condemned, but as you note, should even be welcomed. Of cource, this is so long as its platform is honest, based on verifiable facts and not just rhetoric and sound bites.

    Erica, it is students such as yourself and the other Hillel Board members who continue to remind me of what a great place Brandeis is and that the students continue to be open minded, intelligent and passionate. Keep up the good work.

  5. Jay Says:

    Is it just me or does everyone who supports Hillel’s decision does so by giving the very reasons that Hillel should NOT have decided the way they did?

    I personally don’t agree with BDS, but that really shouldn’t be a reason to keep JVP out.

  6. ARt Says:

    Two levels of analysis can be done:
    A) Based on their stated criteria, was Hillel reasonable?
    B) Is this criteria even reasonable?
    We have to admit the answer to A is a lot more easily decided than B; that it so say, it seems that if Hillel’s purpose is a rigid support of the state of Israel, they are keeping true to their mission.
    The value of this criterion is more likely the objection.

  7. Jen Says:

    Hey “Brandeisian”…

    “JVP has a track record of supporting purposeful divestment from Israel, which is counterproductive”

    Ok, so you disagree with JVP’s strategy. Awesome. Talk about it! That doesn’t sound to me like a reason to completely exclude their group! This kind of censorship is really disgusting.