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.
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”.
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