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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