Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Statement Regarding JStreetU

Last month, the Berkeley chapter of JSTreetU failed to gain entrance to the Jewish Student Union. At the meeting, Tikvah argued that JStreetU’s actions have not substantiated their claims of being both pro-Israel and pro-peace. As a committed pro-Israel organization, the Jewish Student Union has the responsibility to ensure that those claiming to represent our community support the Jewish State. Because JStreetU has a history of acting outside of these goals, the organization fell far short of the votes needed to gain the JSU’s support.

A number of recent opinion articles have accused Tikvah of having disproportionate control in the JSU. Tikvah, however, is allotted one vote. That means nine other student leaders, JSU officers, and member student groups were opposed to JStreet's inclusion. Members of organizations as diverse as the Jewish fraternity and the group for Jews in engineering spoke against JStreet. Instead of acknowledging that their actions are not acceptable for the Jewish students on this campus, JStreetU leaders have attempted to paint themselves the victim.

It wasn’t lost on the many students who oppose JStreet that the JSU already has an organization that claims to be a progressive Israel group. Leaders of that organization, Kesher Enoshi, have used their position as a “progressive” voice in the Jewish community to speak in favor of divestment and to organize campus-wide events demonizing Israel. Now, the leaders of that very same organization are requesting that yet another group they lead--one that exists primarily for the purpose of criticizing Israel--be included as part of the pro-Israel umbrella Jewish organization on campus.

As an organization, JStreetU can be judged only by its actions. In its short existence here at Berkeley, those actions include sponsoring speakers such as Assaf Sharon who referred to Israel’s capital as “a symbol of violence.” Nationally, JStreet continues to be “pro-Israel” solely through being critical of Israel. The organization is rarely able to say something positive about the Jewish State while refusing to put any of the onus for the conflict’s perpetuation on Palestinian leadership. Until JStreetU shows us something different, until their support for Israel extends beyond pressuring its leaders to take actions they believe are against its interests, JStreetU cannot be counted as part of a pro-Israel student organization.

But I hope I’m proven wrong about JStreetU here on campus. I hope they serve to be more than an another arm of Kesher Enoshi’s thinly veiled Israel bashing. I hope they live up to their tag-line and take steps that are honestly in support of the Jewish, democratic state. On that day, I’ll save them a seat in the Jewish Student Union.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Pro-Israel and Pro-Peace?

I am an active member in the Jewish Student Union at the University of California Berkeley. I am pro-Israel and pro-peace, an adamant supporter of the State of Israel and a believer in the future establishment of a Palestinian State at its side. All the actions I take as a student activist conform to these principles. Which is exactly why I lobbied and voted against the inclusion of JStreet U as a member student organization in the union.

On Wednesday night, member student organizations of the Jewish Student Union gathered at the Berkeley Hillel for our last meeting of the year, and possibly one of its most controversial, as JStreet U was seeking membership into union. Representatives of member Jewish student groups, many of whom had previously been unaware of JStreet, found themselves embroiled in a vociferous debate between two sides. Serving to complicate the debate even further was the fact that both sides presented themselves as pro-Israel and pro-peace. Opposing JStreet U’s membership into the union thus meant exposing the duplicitous character of the organization.

Proponents of JStreet U argued that there could be no doubt in regards to the principles of the organization, seeing that its constitution clearly expressed the group’s commitment to both a Jewish and democratic state. Their actions however have shown otherwise.

Among the most shocking actions taken by JStreet on a national level have included the organization’s decision to lobby in opposition to sanctions against Iran, despite the country’s decision to continue expanding its nuclear program and repeated calls by its leaders for the destruction of Israel. JStreet has also said that it is against Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, a movement that does not recognize Israel as a Jewish state. But it has hosted various supporters of the campaign.

On the Berkeley campus, JStreet U’s actions have not deviated from its national model. Last year, the JStreet U affiliates hosted Assaf Sharon, an organizer of the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement, who referred to Jerusalem as a “symbol of violence” during his lecture. To stifle any confusion, Sharon was referring to Jerusalem itself, not the terrorist attacks happening within the city. Calling the capital of Israel and the holiest site of the Jewish people such a phrase can hardly be labeled as either pro-Israel or pro-peace.

The member student groups of the Jewish Student Union decided that this must be the case as well. With a vote of ten against, nine for, and two abstentions, the petition for admission failed momentously, as a two-thirds majority was necessary for it to pass. Not allowing JStreet U into the union was not a means of silencing the views of students who conform to the group’s principles. It was a way of ensuring that the actions undertaken by those claiming to be pro-Israel and pro-peace stayed true to those words. And in order to guarantee that true pro-Israel and pro-peace voices would be neither distorted nor silenced.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Happy Birthday Gilad Shalit

Happy Birthday Gilad Shalit,

On August 28th, Israel and the international Jewish community marked your twenty fifth birthday, and with it, over five years of your captivity at the hands of Hamas. Like every other year that you have spent in captivity, we continue to hope that Hamas will drop its adamant and unjustified demand for Israel to release Palestinian murderers in exchange for your freedom. Freedom for you is one of our greatest hopes, but it would mean some reciprocation, on the part of the Palestinians, to the many steps towards peace taken by Israel in the recent past.

This is difficult to envision, however, as Israel’s myriad actions for peace over the years have received little reciprocation from the Palestinians. An even more difficult fact to stomach is that some of Israel’s most daring steps towards peace have actually taken place at the same time as your past birthdays.

Although you didn’t understand it at the time, your seventh birthday was one of Israel’s most hopeful moments for peace. The year was 1993 and Prime Minister Rabin took an unprecedented step in the peace process, courageously recognizing the Palestinian’s right to self-determination, and creating a plan to establish a Palestinian State. Sadly, this courage was met with duplicity from Yassir Arafat, who shook Rabin’s hand with his right hand, while funding terrorists with his left hand, ultimately resulting in the Second Intifada and the deliberate murder of over one thousand Israeli civilians.

On your nineteenth birthday, in 2005, the Israeli government was in the process of forcibly removing over eight thousand Israeli citizens from their homes in the Gaza strip. Despite the unpopularity of this action and no guarantee of peace, Israel still moved forward with the removal, offering a goodwill gesture to the Palestinians in hope of a long term peace. But instead of achieving the long sought after peace, Israel was bombarded with ten thousand rockets and engaged in a full scale war.

Your birthday has consistently been a day on which Israel has taken the initiative for peace. Unfortunately, the Palestinians have never responded in kind. But now the Palestinians have an opportunity to take their own major step towards peace by fulfilling your wish for freedom, as well as the yearning of the Jewish people for peace. Peace can only happen if both sides desire it. Israel has proven time and again that it wants peace; now is the time for the Palestinians to do so as well.