Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Anti-Israel Resolution Passed in UCSA

A troubling development has occurred in the University of California Student Association (UCSA), a system-wide student organization with representatives from each campus. On this past Saturday, a resolution was passed condemning HR 35, a California State Assembly resolution. Accusing Israel of “racism,” the UCSA urged the UC Board of Regents to divest from companies aiding Israel in alleged human rights violations. The planning of this initiative was purposely kept secret until the day of the meeting. With no agenda published in advance, and no engagement from anyone in the organization, there was no way for opponents of the measure to have their voices heard. Meanwhile, leaders of Students for Justice in Palestine were given an opportunity to convey their message at the meeting. This represents a coordinated effort to shut out pro-Israel voices from your student government.

Our exclusion was intentional. If present, we would have revealed the libelous nature of this measure. Because the resolution has no basis in reality, it was passed in premeditated secrecy in order to avoid a factual discussion on the issue. The Daily Californian reported: “According to UC San Diego External Affairs Vice President Olamide Noah, the board had been working on the resolution since its congress in August.” What this means is that the discussion on this issue was not spontaneous; we were purposely left out of the conversation. Moreover, the reprehensible timing of passing this resolution the day before the first night of Rosh Hashanah impeded the ability of the Jewish community to mount any sort of immediate response. This timing, and secrecy was no doubt on purpose, and this injustice must be exposed.

The UCSA truly is not an accurate representation of our Berkeley community, or even the rest of the UC System. We need to expose this measure for what it is: an unabashedly deceitful attack on the Jewish State.

The sole representative from UC Berkeley is Shahryar Abbasi, the External Vice-President of the ASUC (email- eavp@asuc.org).

Thursday, June 28, 2012

10 Tips for Zionist Activists

Dear Zionist activists everywhere,

For the last four years I was an active member and leader of Tikvah: Students for Israel. We worked to teach about and advocate for Israel and Zionism on the UC Berkeley campus. That experience helped me grown and learn a lot, and contributed to my decision to make aliya and serve in the IDF.

Since I'm stepping out of the advocacy world, I wanted to take a moment here to write a letter to my colleagues in Tikvah, and to my fellow activists around the globe.

First, and most importantly, thank you for what you do. I know it's hard, whether you're facing hostile anti-Israel activists, a Jewish establishment that doesn't support you, apathy or ignorance about Israel, or financial and practical obstacles to your work. But stay strong, and remember in the moments of difficulty that what you are doing is important, just, meaningful, and worthwhile. Israel, the Jewish people, and the world at large are better off because of your hard work and dedication.

I'd like to leave a few pieces of advice, in the hope that others can learn from my experience and my mistakes:
  1. Know the difference between being Zionist and pro-Israel. Israel is a state, with all the realities and complexities that come with it. Zionism is an idea: pure, simple, and beautiful. Zionism is a movement of national liberation and national renaissance, the idea that the Jewish people should live as a sovereign nation in their homeland. Zionism is the real message; supporting the state of Israel is a natural conclusion of Zionism.
  2. Stay focused on the message of Zionism. The peace process, territorial compromise, democracy, cell phones, and terrorism all have their place in the discussion, but without the foundation of Zionism, none of it will make sense. Explain why Israel is important in the first place, and only then explain the situation and threats it faces. Sometimes the best message is the simple line of Hatikvah: "to be a free people in our land."
  3. Educate yourselves, and educate your peers. Read books, read the Israeli news, discuss and debate issues among yourselves. Know when to use the sound bites, but understand that they are not enough. You will be respected by your audience for your erudition.
  4. Being intellectually honest requires constantly questioning your own beliefs. This is a strength, not a weakness, because the truth is on our side. If you are diligent, educated, and intellectually honest, you will find truth and you will find confidence in your conclusions.
  5. Know when to make compromises and when to stand fast to your beliefs: there is a time for war and a time for peace. Sometimes a compromise is worthwhile to maintain an ally, but if the compromise requested is too great, that alliance is probably not worthwhile anyway.
  6. Remember that most importantly of all, Jews are your target audience. This is true for its own sake, and also because where there is a strong Jewish pro-Israel community, others will hear your message louder.
  7. Sometimes the Jewish establishment makes mistakes. When it does, you must not follow it blindly but you must not give up on it. It is better at fundraising than fighting, and shies away from controversy; don't expect it ever to be good at activism.
  8. Know what works for you. The atmosphere, interests, and values of each campus or community are different. Break out of the mold of middle aged white Jewish men lecturing about the danger from Israel's enemies. Be creative, try new things, and learn from experience.
  9. For those of you on college campuses, four years is a short period of time, and allows for little institutional memory. Discuss what works and what doesn't, and write down the lessons learned. Educate, inspire, and equip younger activists to take your place when you leave.
  10. Remember that what you do is about your personal growth and the growth of your community as much or more as it is about convincing the outside world.
Good luck and success in all of your endeavors.

לחרות ציון
For the freedom of Zion,
Brian Maissy

Monday, March 5, 2012

Upcoming Antisemitic Event at UC Berkeley

This Saturday, Louis Farrakhan will deliver the keynote address of the Afrikan Black Coalition Conference at UC Berkeley. Throughout his career, Farrakhan's hateful rhetoric has targeted Jews, the LGBT community, and Israel. From referring to the Jewish people as "the Synagogue of Satan" or "bloodsuckers" to asserting that "the real anti-Semites are those who came out of Europe and settled in Palestine, and now they call themselves the true Jews," Farrakhan consistently espouses antisemitic conspiracy theories while negating the Jewish people's right to their religion and their land.

Organized by the UC Berkeley Black Student Union, an ASUC sponsored group, Farrakhan’s visit directly attacks Jewish students on this campus. Farrakhan’s hatred cannot be tolerated. It is unfathomable that the BSU has no issue in inviting such an abjectly offensive speaker to campus.

As recently as last week, Farrakhan delivered a speech described by the Anti-Defamation League as “a textbook example” of contemporary antisemitism. According to Abe Foxman, the director of the ADL: “In the past few years Farrakhan has turned his message and the mission of the Nation of Islam into a wide-ranging campaign to demonize and scapegoat Jews.” Just days after declaring, “The government of America is owned lock stock and barrel by those Zionists that love Israel above the United States of America,” Farrakhan will speak on our campus.

But Farrakhan’s bigotry is nothing new, nor reserved solely for Jews. His prejudiced outbursts include such statements as “murder and lying comes easy for white people” and “the Jews don't like Farrakhan, so they call me Hitler. Well, that's a good name. Hitler was a very great man.” Whether accusing Jews of controlling American politics, demonizing Jewish people, or proclaiming his friendship for Moammar Gadhafi, Farrakhan’s ideology serves only to promote hate.

Please take the time to let the BSU and campus leaders know that this event is unacceptable; relevant email addresses are listed below. More information about our response to this event will be forthcoming.

Salih Muhammad, Chair of the Black Student Union
Jonathan Poullard, Dean of Students
Vishalli Loomba, ASUC President

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.