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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

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Published: March 25, 2011
Section: Editorials

Brandeis University Hillel’s recent decision to reject Jewish Voice for Peace’s (JVP) membership application represents the most recent manifestation of a frightening trend permeating the Jewish communities in both Israel and the United States. Judaism has long been committed to freedom of expression and open debate, a tradition dating at least as far back as the Talmudic period. Recently there has been a shift in the opposite direction. In Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government’s launch of investigations into left-leaning organizations is eerily reminiscent of Cold War McCarthyism. This trend has manifested itself locally as well. Several months ago, an event planned by the left-leaning American Israel-Jewish organization, J Street, which was to be held at Temple Beth Avodah in Newton, Mass., was canceled just days before the event due to objections by a small number of board members. According to reports, these members objected to the political leanings of the organization, and therefore sought to exclude them from the public debate surrounding some Israeli policies within the Jewish community.

Rick Alterbaum’s column in the March 18 issue of The Hoot typifies the thinking of those who advocate for a more exclusionary approach to dialogue within the Jewish community. According to Alterbaum, individuals and organizations that advocate non-violent resistance to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories “must be refuted to filter out the public discourse.” This is to say that those who refuse to accede to Alterbaum’s view of what political positions are appropriate or inappropriate must be silenced so as not to “muddle” the public discourse. Such an undemocratic approach seems to be completely alien to both the values we hold as Jews and as Americans, and it is therefore difficult to understand how Alterbaum could defend such a position.

Alterbaum also makes a provocative assertion that groups that support political positions outside of the “mainstream” should be excluded from the larger community. In this case, Alterbaum argues that Hillel was justified in rejecting JVP’s membership application on the grounds that “JVP takes positions that are completely out of the mainstream in relation to the pro-Israel community.” However, history is rife with examples of unpopular positions that we now judge to be not only just, but universal. Should the voices of those who fought for civil rights in the American south have been excluded from the public discourse because their ideas weren’t “mainstream” enough? Clearly we should not judge a concept, movement or policy based on its level of popularity.

Today, even in Israel, opinions range the entire spectrum from right to left. Having served in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) I can personally attest to the open debate raging even within Israel’s defense establishment. Should young people who risk their lives to protect their country, but hold political positions contrary to Alterbaum’s, be excluded from the public discourse? Should the American Jewish community attempt to silence those who support such positions? Such moves fracture the Jewish community by alienating young liberal American Jews and in turn weaken Israel internationally.

—Danielle Einhorn