The University of California, Berkeley is ground zero for the campus war against Israel. Students for Justice in Palestine emerged on the Berkeley campus and its annual Israel Apartheid Week is a festival of hate with chilling overtones. But it’s also a campus where Jewish student groups are divided between a pro-Israel majority and an anti-Israel minority that includes Hillel.
When the Berkeley Jewish Student Union voted not to admit J Street, the left-wing Soros-funded group, Hillel leaders at Berkeley came out in support of the anti-Israel organization, writing: “we encourage JSU to reconsider its vote and include JStreetU as a member” while touting themselves as an inclusive community.
The letter authored by Berkeley Hillel Board of Directors President Barbara Davis and its executive director, Rabbi Adam Naftalin-Kelman, claimed that the Berkeley campus affiliate of J Street adheres to Hillel’s Israel guidelines and promised that it would receive their support. In reality though Hillel’s own guidelines exclude organizations that delegitimize Israel, apply a double standard to it or that promote boycotts against it.
Naftalin has said, “We will not allow anyone calling for a boycott against Israel to become part of us.” But J-Street’s national convention featured a panel on BDS whose official description reads, “Our panelists will discuss their views on BDS’s efficacy as a means to end the occupation and move towards final-status talks, and the ways BDS may influence campaigns for peace in the United States and the region.” The panel included Rebecca Vilkomerson of Jewish Voice for Peace, a major boycott promoter.
While J Street’s official position is to distance itself from the BDS movement because some of its proponents call for the destruction of Israel, that same position statement also describes campus boycott efforts as arising from “legitimate and urgent concerns related to peace, justice and human rights” and opposes barring BDSers from events. That means the J Street campus group at Berkeley can feature BDS activists so long as it doesn’t blatantly endorse their views. And the Berkeley Hillel will indirectly be supporting the BDS movement. And it wouldn’t be the first time.
The Berkeley Hillel’s support for J Street shows just how far outside the mainstream it has gone. The Naftalin-Davis letter described a list of other “pro-Israel” organizations that they work with. “Bears for Israel, Tikvah: Students for Israel, Israel Action Committee, Tamid and Kesher Enoshi.”
Kesher Enoshi is, if anything, even worse than J Street. Eyal Mazor, the Kesher Enoshi leader at Berkeley, spoke out in support of the anti-Israel divestment bill in front of the Associated Students Senate and after graduation participated in a Jewish Voice for Peace protest against Netanyahu. Kesher Enoshi conducts campus demonization campaigns against Israel in partnership with groups such as Breaking the Silence, the Israeli equivalent of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement, which attacks the right of Jews to live in Jerusalem. One of Kesher Enoshi’s co-founders has gone on to work for Breaking the Silence.
Paradoxically Kesher Enoshi is a member of the Berkeley Jewish Student Union and advertises its events within the Berkeley Hillel, turning the organization into a recruiting center for anti-Israel activism. And Kesher Enoshi collaborated with Students for Justice in Palestine in a bid to push its candidates through into the Jewish Student Union.
Some may view the attitude of the Berkeley Hillel leadership as cowardly, but the campus chapter has a long history of disdaining pro-Israel activism while leaving an open door for left-wing anti-Israel activism. Kesher Enoshi meetings within Hillel have included Students for Justice in Palestine activists, and the former director of the Berkeley Hillel discouraged students from participating in pro-Israel rallies and even displaying the Israeli flag.
Photos taken this year during Israeli Apartheid Week show Naftalin in conversation with Husam Zakharia who later would go on to assault a pro-Israel student and who had earlier attacked Jewish students during a concert. A number of Berkeley Hillel student leaders, including Avital Aboody and Itamar Haritan, have turned into rabidly anti-Israel activists, with Haritan working together with a major Students for Justice in Palestine figure on a blog demonizing Israel.
Newspapers and magazines have run vocal condemnations of the Jewish Student Union for refusing to bring J Street into the fold. An editorial in the Jewish Weekly called it a hit for democracy, even though the denial of membership was based on a democratic vote and the attacks on it are actually an attack on democracy. At The Atlantic an indignant Jeffrey Goldberg blasted the decision as “appalling” and huffed, “Would the Berkeley Jewish Student Union prefer that they join anti-Zionist organizations?”
But assuming, for the sake of argument, that J Street is not an anti-Zionist organization, the same pipelining that allows Students for Justice in Palestine to use Kesher Enoshi to show up in Hillel and Jewish Voice for Peace to show up at J Street means that the line cannot be drawn only at organizations that actually call for the destruction of Israel, but also at organizations that collaborate with them.
A campus organization that repeatedly collaborated with the KKK and included KKK members in its events would not be able to hide behind the flimsy excuses that J Street, Kesher Enoshi and the Berkeley Hillel use to defend their pipelining of radical anti-Israel extremism to Jewish students. While left-wing pundits bemoan the shrinking “big tent” and wage war on the student democracy of the Jewish Student Union, a tent which includes Kesher Enoshi, J Street and their Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine partners, is not a pro-Israel tent. Not by even the lowest standards.
At Haaretz, Bradley Burston complained that the Berkeley JSU has sent the message that “You can be welcomed as a Jew, or you can speak your mind on Israel.” But why shouldn’t there be a consensus that Jewish identity is incompatible with the rejection of the Jewish State? Identities may be diverse and pluralistic, but they cannot be inconsistent with their own nature.
Hillel’s failure to stand up for such a Jewish identity denotes its own failure to come together around a meaningful and consistent Jewish identity. And that failure represents a betrayal of its mission and of the students that depend on it. By endorsing Kesher Enoshi and J Street, the current Berkeley Hillel leadership has shown itself to be as bankrupt as the previous leadership.
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