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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

JVP rejected from Hillel umbrella organization

Published: March 11, 2011
Section: Front Page, Top Stories

Citing differing views on the state of Israel, the board of Brandeis University’s Hillel chapter voted Tuesday to reject Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) as a member group of the organization.

“While … we understand that JVP at Brandeis considers itself a pro-Israel club, based on positions and programming JVP has sponsored, we do not believe that JVP can be included under Hillel’s umbrella,” Brandeis Hillel Chapter President Andrea Wexler ’11 wrote in her rejection letter to members of JVP. Wexler later said in an interview that among her concerns of JVP’s programming was its sponsorship of “Israeli occupation awareness week” last semester.

The Brandeis chapter of Hillel, an international organization that funds Jewish life on college campuses, acts as an umbrella organization for many other Jewish and Israeli-oriented groups on campus. There is a national organization of JVP which advocates for “Israelis and Palestinians; Two peoples, one future.”

Tuesday’s decision was based, in part, on guidelines set in December by International Hillel that prohibit partnerships with organizations that “deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized boarders; legitimize, demonize or apply a double standard to Israel; [or] support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel.”

“The decision was made in part because the guidelines were handed down to us, but we do believe in them and support them,” Wexler said. “I honestly can’t tell you what we would have done had the guidelines not been in place, but the decision probably would have been the same.”

Lev Hirschhorn, president of the Brandeis JVP branch, said his group originally tried to join Hillel because “as a Jewish organization, we felt we should have a seat at the Jewish communal table.

“We feel that the guidelines are very problematic because Hillel, which is supposed to be the center of Jewish life on campus, says there is a litmus test to be a part of the Jewish community,” Hirschhorn added.

In its opening statement to the Hillel board, JVP wrote that “National Hillel declares that it ‘is steadfastly committed to the support of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state,’ we too support a democratic state in Eretz Yisrael based on Jewish values.”

Executive Director of Hillel at Brandeis Larry Sternberg, however, made a distinction between these two assertions, saying “Jewish values” are not enough to meet the criteria of a “Jewish state.”

“We affirm Israel as a Jewish and a democratic state,” Sternberg said. “JVP affirms Israel as a democratic state with Jewish values. We would also reject an organization that only affirmed Israel as a Jewish state but not as a democracy.”

In her letter to JVP, Wexler cited JVP’s support of boycotting goods from Israeli settlements in disputed territories; however, Hirschhorn said there should be a distinction made between boycotting goods from settlements and the state as a whole.

“Boycotting is a tactic that we are using to influence policy, but JVP does not advocate to the boycott of all Israeli goods,” he said. “If they interpret our boycott of the settlements as being a boycott of Israel, that is saying the settlements are in a territory that is part of Israel; and that is not democratic.”

Wexler, however, disagreed and said that “the settlements are part of the economy. By boycotting them they are hurting Israel as a country, no matter how you define it.”

The Brandeis chapter of J Street U, which was accepted into the Hillel umbrella last semester and which advocates for a two-state solution in Israel, released a statement Wednesday evening in support of JVP.

“While J Street U and JVP strongly disagree about many issues related to the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict … we nonetheless believe that they should be a part of the Jewish communal conversation,” the statement reads. “We believe it would be the greatest testament to Hillel’s strength if it brought all Jewish organizations … into conversation with one another because doing so would highlight Hillel’s ability to be the unifying factor in an ever-fractious American Jewish community.”