The directors of Berkeley Hillel are calling on the university's Jewish student union to reconsider its decision to deny membership to J Street's collegiate division. The move follows the publication of opinion pieces condemning the decision, including Haaretz's Bradley Burston's on his blog.
The Jewish Student Union, an umbrella organization encompassing several campus groups, voted Nov 16 to exclude the left-leaning group. Ten JSU member organizations voted against accepting the chapter, toppling the nine that voted in favor; there were two abstentions.
"We respect the right of the Jewish Student Union, an organization sponsored by UC Berkeley student government, to make its own decisions, but we encourage JSU to reconsider its vote and include JStreetU as a member," wrote Board of Directors President Barbara Davis and Executive Director Rabbi Adam Naftalin-Kelman in a letter to Haaretz and j., the Jewish news weekly of Northern California.
"Berkeley Hillel is committed to creating a pluralistic community that embraces the diversity of our Jewish tradition," added the Hillel directors. "At a time when Jewish students are seeking community, we are careful not to exclude Jewish students, and we embrace the wisdom of our namesake Hillel by embodying the value of an inclusive community."
The letter continued: "Berkeley Hillel is steadfastly committed to the support of Israel as a Jewish and democratic State with secure and recognized borders and as a member of the family of free nations. Berkeley Hillel supports a range of student groups whose activities advance our mission. The JStreetU chapter adheres to our Israel policy and Hillel Internationals Israel Guidelines and will receive the support of Berkeley Hillel as do the broad spectrum of other Israel-focused groups working with Berkeley Hillel including, Bears for Israel (AIPAC group), Tikvah: Students for Israel, Israel Action Committee, Tamid, and Kesher Enoshi."
The Jewish Student Union is an independent union sponsored by the university's general student government, and while it does receive assistance and funding from Hillel, it is free to make its own decisions on matters such as these.
J Street is a pro-Israel and pro-peace advocacy group founded in 2008 with the goal of promoting American leadership in ending the Middle East conflict; its mission and activities often places it as a subject of controversy among other pro-Israel organizations.
Its student division, J Street U, was founded two years ago and has 32 chapters on university and college campuses across the United States. The Berkeley chapter is the first that has ever been denied membership by a student organization.