New Frontiers for Jewish Palestine Solidarity Work

On Wednesday, 3 April 2013, the Student Senate at the University fo California-Riverside voted to rescind it’s earlier decision to endorse the movement to Boycott, Divest, and Sanction Israel. As Electronic Intifada reports:

As we reported on Tuesday, it was recently revealed that Israel advocates and Zionist student groups had begun calling and emailing the student senators, claiming that the divestment resolution was “divisive” and that it “misrepresented” the student body. The student government then agreed to vote to rescind the divestment resolution. Last night, the move to rescind the resolution won out in a 12-2 vote, with a further 2 abstaining, according to UC Riverside’s Students for Justice in Palestine.

The argument that Palestine solidarity work in general, and BDS in particular, is divisive of community life has been used with increasing success by Zionist groups (see here, here, here, or here for a few examples). Those of the front lines are working hard to combat this line of attack and doing a good job at it as well.

My interest, though, is in how this opens up new opportunities for Jewish Palestine solidarity activists on and off campus. Groups like Hillel centers on campus serve two missions simultaneously: to serve the Jewish community and to support Israel. These two missions, however, are not mutually compatible. And, in fact, by choosing to endorse a specific political agenda, it is the Jewish institutions on campus that are being truly divisive.

(Previously, we have covered how a similar dual-mission at the ADL prevents it from fulfilling its mission of combatting anti-Semitism. You can go there for more detail on how a commitment to Zionism prevents these groups from serving the Jewish community).

Jewish Palestine solidarity activists need to force the issue. We need to bang down the doors of Hillel on Campus (and its corresponding non-campus institutions) with a simple message: butt-out.

Jewish institutions on campus must serve the entire Jewish community: Zionist, anti-Zionist, and those who just don’t care. If Jews wish to organize in support of Israel, then they can form a political club, just like Jews who wish to support Palestine can join Jewish Voices for Peace. But our religious institutions need to stop being divisive of the Jewish community and become a place that can welcome people of all political beliefs.

At first, the request will surely be met with rejection. After all, the Hillel at SUNY-Binghamton kicked out a board member simply for screening the documentary Five Broken Cameras. But this is where Jewish solidarity groups have a real advantage. We can make a shande.

Imagine a group of anti-Zionist Jews praying on the lawn in front of the Hillel on a Saturday, demanding inclusion. What would they do? Arrest Jews for praying? Imagine the scandal of Hillel calling the cops because it would not let a group of Jews pray on a Saturday without first signing a political pledge.

At the very least it would force the issue. Will they be divisive and kick out a group of Jews who just want to be included? Or will they be inclusive and drop their narrow political interests in favor of serving the entire Jewish community? Precisely because their arguments have increasingly turned on the need to stay neutral in political debates so as not to divide the community, highlighting their own narrowness and divisiveness is central. And that opens up a nice opportunity for Jewish solidarity activists to force them to live up to their own words.


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