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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Engrossing: Can’t we all stand under the same umbrella–ella-ella

Published: March 11, 2011
Section: Opinions

This past week, conflicts between Israel groups on Brandeis’ campus once again made national news when Brandeis Hillel rejected Brandeis Jewish Voice for Peace’s request to be included under the Hillel umbrella of Jewish organizations.

The statement made by Hillel, rejecting Jewish Voice for Peace’s request, is as follows: “At this time Hillel at Brandeis is unable to recognize the Brandeis Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) as a member group. JVP promotes boycotts against the State of Israel and its positions are not consistent with Hillel’s position on Israel as defined by the International Hillel guidelines; ‘Hillel is pro-Israel; steadfastly committed to the support of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders as a member of the family of nations.’”

In a letter between Brandeis Hillel president, Andrea Wexler (on behalf of the Hillel executive board) and JVP, Wexler explains that the Brandeis Hillel executive board’s “policy, consistent with our international guidelines … While, based on your presentation, 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.”

As the statement mentions, Jewish Voice for Peace defines itself as a pro-Israel group. They explained in their presentation to Hillel that as an organization “We fully support the right of the Jewish and Palestinian people to live in their historic homeland. We believe in the principle of non-violent peacemaking, and to that end we oppose terrorism and military force as strategies to accomplish political goals.” Just because JVP doesn’t fit some people’s (unreasonably) narrow definition of pro-Israel doesn’t mean that their self-definition (the primary reason for their rejection from Hillel) is inaccurate.

However important their status as a pro-Israel group is, the more important factor to consider is JVP’s self-definition as a Jewish group—just look at the name!

It seems that Hillel is supposed to be an organization that serves as a home for the entire Jewish community on campus, the kind of group who values pluralism and dialogue within the Jewish community. By excluding Jewish Voice for Peace from Hillel, Hillel is excluding a portion of the Jewish community at Brandeis. This is the absolute last thing that we need.

This is not the first time—or even the first time this year—that conflicts arose between Israel groups on campus. Sadly, this rejection of an unquestionably Jewish group is Hillel’s way of perpetuating and even deepening the divide in the Jewish community here at Brandeis, not an isolated incident so much as a symptom of a larger problem we have seen time and time again here on this supposedly open-minded campus.

While the exclusion of Jewish Voice for Peace is technically acceptable, due to Brandeis Hillel’s self-definition as “an umbrella organization to many different groups” as opposed to a collective of all-Jewish groups on campus, there is still something about this type of exclusion that doesn’t sit well with me.

I don’t understand how an organization that defines itself as the “nerve center of that Jewish community” at Brandeis can—in good conscience— accept and perpetuate this division, turning it from de facto to de jure.

I am sick of groups on campus constantly emphasizing their desire for pluralism, open-mindedness and dialogue while their actions reflect the opposite.

It is time for Jewish groups on campus to realize their commonalities and all stand under the same umbrella.