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Brandeis Hillel Turns Away Jewish Voice for Peace

posted by Brad Hirschfield

Brandies University Hillel rejected an application for membership by Jewish Voice for Peace, an activist group which sometimes calls itself pro-Israel and is certainly pro-Palestinian. Brandeis Hillel leaders felt that offering membership to JVP would be inconsistent with their national charter which defines Hillel as being “steadfastly committed to the support of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state”. Based on my experience with the group, I would agree, but don’t understand why the story must end there.
Jewish Voice for Peace includes many voices and views, but they are not a Zionist group. On the other hand, while I may often disagree with many of their positions, it is also my experience that those working for JVP are sincere, honest, well-meaning activists who appeal to deeply held Jewish values. That being the case, I am not sure why this had to be a matter of “in” or “out”.
According to Brandeis JVP leader Jon Sussman, lamented Hillel’s decision as a lost opportunity for students to “learn from one another”. If that is the case – if mutual learning is the goal, then why is membership in Hillel even an issue? It would have been good for JVP to ask themselves that question, and it would be good for Hillel to take them up on their stated desire for dialogue and mutual learning, neither of which is limited to groups who belong to Hillel.
This case actually points to an increasingly real problem – how we confuse the fight to belong, with the fight to be heard. JVP really is not a good fit for Hillel, at least not in light of where the two organizations currently are, so they are not going to belong. That doesn’t and shouldn’t mean that they ought not to be heard.
The range of what any group can hear should always be wider than that which they can support. It need not include everything, but it should always seek to expand the parameters of what is included.
Given both organizations’ commitment to the free exchange of ideas among people of different opinions, JVP should be content with being denied membership and Hillel should initiate a process of mutual learning which is not based upon agreement with JVP but in recognition of the sincerity and integrity of their position, if not its legitimacy. That would actually model the kind of community to which both organizations, and most people, aspire – one that respects democratic process and one which cherishes a pluralist approach to Jewish life and thought.



  • Jon Sussman

    Thank you very much for your recognition of JVP’s commitment to our Jewish values. However, this is precisely why JVP should be included under Hillel’s umbrella. True, Hillel does consider itself a Zionist group, but first and foremost it represents itself as the center for Jewish life on campus. This is why Hillel at Brandeis sponsors a wide range of cultural, social, and political groups, including every other Israel-related group on campus. To deny JVP recognition simply declares our positions outside of acceptable discourse, without allowing serious discussion of what speech our institutions will allow.
    The issue, moreover, is not about interpretations of Zionism, it is about BDS. If you read their statement carefully, it is clear that our support for targeted boycott of settlement goods is at the heart of their decision. The decision to exclude therefore stems from the national organization’s anti-BDS guidelines, which were created to cater to the conservative tastes of the established Jewish community.
    I am hopeful that JVP at Brandeis will still be able to fruitfully collaborate with Hillel. But the effect of excluding different opinions will simply be to make Jewish institutions less relevant to the next generation, more and more of whom are demanding an Israel that complies with the precepts of social justice and international law. American Jews need to seriously consider whether they want to risk fragmenting their community in order to support a one-dimensional view of Israel.
    Jon Sussman
    Brandeis JVP

  • nnmns

    If it represents itself as the center of Jewish life on campus and it is Zionist that should be, and I expect is, a contradiction. Happily some Jews see the large dark side of Israel. Perhaps even the war crimes and crimes against humanity.

  • Gita Lev

    “Jewish Voice for Peace and their JEWISH VALUES.”..Oy vey, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Hillel has a strong legacy (since it’s founding)of unconditional support for Israel and the Jewish people, and they don’t want to ruin their reputation or lower their standard, by inviting DREK to become members.
    The only Jewish value I see that comes into play, is when a group that toots its horn to the tune of ‘boycott Israel” and “we welcome those who seek Israel’s destruction” is conducted by a Jew, the LAW of DIN MOSER must be implemented(JVP’s “as a Jew’s-Jew” stamp of approval is “il bacco di la morte” and puts Israel and every Jew in danger.)!
    [

  • Supportive Brandeis Alum

    It is precisely the dividing line between Israel as a democratic and Jewish State (Hillel) and Israel as a democratic state with Jewish “values” (JVP), where the latter disqualified itself from membership in Hillel at Brandeis.
    Jewish values are like mannah, they taste like whatever you want. America has Jewish values baked into its constitutional dna: respect for the individual, freedom, choice, etc. Does that make the United States a Jewish state? I think not.
    It is Israel as a Jewish Homeland that is fundemental to its formation and existence. To deny Israel its Jewish character is a subtle way to delegitimize it entirely.
    That said, there is much to consider in JVP’s platform and its stand on various issues. Had their ideology not been so extreme as to put them beyond the pale of Hillel’s guidelines — which reflect broadly held international consensus — it would have been a worthwhile addition to the campus community and to the debate on these issues. Sadly, JVP chose confrontation with an eye toward the catchy press release over serious consideration of these issues.

  • romanscapegoat

    jews squabbling shiftily… while nestling in their positions of wealth and power…

  • ephraim

    I smell Mort Klein between Brandeis’ Hillel’s (BH) shenanigans!
    Btw, if it were “Jews for Jesus” instead of JVP, Klein – and, for that matter, Gita Lev and the SBA – would support their affiliation with BH.

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