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.