AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps whose primary focus is "the Jewish community's fight against the causes and effects of poverty in the United States," is coming under fire for sponsoring a trip to Israel.
"We do this by engaging participants in service and community building that inspire them to become lifelong agents for social change whose work for justice is rooted in and nourished by Jewish values."
AVODAH, which has a close relationship with Brandeis, and currently has 6 Brandeis alumni participating in work across the nation, had stayed out of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict until now, keeping its focus on problems in the U.S.
However, the organization's recent decision to sponsor a service-learning trip to Israel, run by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, is provoking a response from many involved who view the trip as a pro-Israel, anti-Palestine statement.
People against the trip have created an open letter and petition to AVODAH asking it to alter the trip's focus to include Palestinian points of view, reject grants which would necessitate a similarly one-sided trip again, and open a public discussion on what AVODAH's stance on the issue should be.
One excerpt from the letter:
"It is grossly irresponsible for AVODAH to whitewash Israeli policies while still claiming to stand for social justice."
Although I do not have a great understanding of the Palestinian-Israeli politics at the moment, and know this is contentious ground, I agree with many of the points expressed in the letter, especially that of a call for a community discussion concerning AVODAH's stance on the topic, and mandating that trips be as objective and inclusive as possible to all interested participants.
To form your own opinion, read the full text of the letter below and sign the petition if you so choose.
An Open Letter to AVODAH from Alumni, Participants and other Community MembersSign the letter now!
We, AVODAH participants, alumni, donors, and community members oppose AVODAH's recent decision to sponsor a trip to Israel through its alumni program, Pursue. In yielding to partisan pressure from wealthy funders Charles and Lynn Schusterman, AVODAH has strayed from its stated mission of focusing on domestic poverty, while also neglecting its core commitments to Jewish pluralism and social justice.
As a domestic-focused service corps, AVODAH has thus far refrained from addressing the potentially contentious issue of the conflict in Israel-Palestine. Yet AVODAH has chosen sides by accepting a grant that requires sponsorship of an Israel trip, bringing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the forefront of our community's discourse. As a social justice organization, AVODAH is committed to addressing the root causes of poverty and inequality. This service-learning trip, run by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, lacks any engagement with the military occupation of Palestine, one of the primary causes of poverty in Israeli-controlled territory. The trip does not include visits to the occupied West Bank, Gaza Strip, or East Jerusalem, where ongoing human rights violations have economically and politically disenfranchised over four million Palestinian people. It is grossly irresponsible for AVODAH to whitewash Israeli policies while still claiming to stand for social justice.
This recent decision – made without any community input – is part of a systematic marginalization of alternative voices within the institutional Jewish community. While AVODAH was previously a space where all political viewpoints on Israel-Palestine were welcome, the organization may now alienate a growing generation of Jews who see Israeli policy as inconsistent with Jewish social justice values. In sponsoring this trip, AVODAH has taken a political stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, violating its own commitment to pluralism. Many in the AVODAH community oppose Israel's occupation of Palestine, and some even support the economic and cultural boycott of the State of Israel. These participants, alumni and prospective applicants feel abandoned by the organization, which has chosen to engage in one-sided, uncritical programming.
This decision will set a precedent by which AVODAH leadership prioritizes funders over the values of their own community. This is why we demand that AVODAH publicly commit to:
1. Modify the trip itinerary to incorporate significant critical engagement with Israeli policy in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem. This must include visits to occupied Palestine and interactions with Palestinians who live there.
2. Never sponsor another Israel trip in this way again.
3. Never accept money from the Schustermans, or any other group, if it necessitates AVODAH or Pursue's engagement in one-sided programming on Israel-Palestine.
4. Begin a community-wide discussion on how AVODAH and Pursue should handle the question of Israel-Palestine as a Jewish organization committed to social justice.
We are awaiting your reply.