Monday, September 22, 2008

UC Berkeley Hillel--If They Are Not For Israel, Then Who Will Be?

"If I am not for myself, who is for me?" Rabbi Hillel asked many centuries ago. Looking at the institution at UC Berkeley that bears his name, he would be wondering even more. There has been ongoing anti-Israel activity at Cal for many years; that's not news. But it is newsworthy if a group opposed to the very existence of Israel as a Jewish state gets to spread its propaganda within the walls of the Hillel house itself.

On September 17, a group calling itself "Kesher Enoshi" held a meeting in the Hillel auditorium at Cal. Kesher is the name of the national Reform Judaism campus arm; it is not yet known if the group at Cal is officially a chapter of this organization, since this writer has not yet received a response from the Union for Reformed Judaism. The meeting was held ostensibly as a discussion forum about pro-Israel posters in Berkeley that had been placed in a number of bus shelters by BlueStarPR. One of the students in attendance reported back:

"Two leaders of SJP [Students for Justice in Palestine] attended: Yaman Salahi and Allison Deger. The event was actually advertised on the SJP website. The event started innocently with a discussion about what the Bluestar pr signs were supposed to do, etc. In stage 2 of the meeting a video of an Arab soccer player was shown who complained about racism he experienced on the soccer field. Essentially they were debunking the pr. In the third stage they talked about a group that is addressing Israel's "fucking over" of the Bedouin population in the Negev. Basically the meeting went from innocuous to serious criticism of Israel."

SJP is Students for Justice in Palestine, a group that clearly states on its website ( "we condemn the racism and discrimination underlying the policies and laws of the state of Israel". Hillel's own website describes Hillel as a place for Israel advocacy-- how does allowing an anti-Zionist group that calls Israel an "apartheid regime" to use Hillel facilities fit this mission? The International Hillel website notes that "Hillel is steadfastly committed to the support of Israel as Jewish and Democratic State with secure and recognized borders and as a member of the family of free nations." Does a group that states "we condemn the racism and discrimination underlying the policies and laws of the state of Israel" deserve to have their events hosted and promoted by Hillel? It would seem more appropriate to Hillel's mission to teach students how to respond to such propaganda, rather than by hosting it. Yet even after last week's event, Kesher Enoshi (and presumably its friends from SJP) are being allowed to hold another event at Hillel itself, likely to feature more Israel-bashing.

All of this has been brought to the attention of UC Hillel staff. The response given was that Kesher is Zionist (though not, to their knowledge, affiliated with the URJ group), that a non-Zionist group would not be allowed into Hillel, and that Salahi and Deger were not leading the discussion- they were simply there. By the report of Hillel staff at the meeting, the presentation was not an attack on the BlueStar posters, but rather a segue into a discussion of issues in Israel. The previously quoted student saw it differently:
"This [the response of Hillel staff] is absurd. Kesher Enoshi doesn’t claim to be a Zionist group. They are about “social change within Israel.” They are supposed to be a domestic Israeli discussion group.... The event was obviously, clearly, without any doubt an attack on the posters. The first point was to question the intentions of BlueStar PR, etc. in the first place to have pro-Israel PR. The second point was to say that even if the placement of posters is justified, the posters were lies..... The next step was attacking Israel in general as a state that has exploited and abandoned the Bedoin population... In my opinion the leaders of SJP should not even be allowed in Hillel (they attended the Kesher Enoshi event). As a private organization, Hillel has the right to kick them out. SJP is a hate group that spreads vicious antisemitic attacks on Israel. Their leaders have no place in Hillel. It’s no surprise the SJP leaders attended by the way. Since the event was largely attacking Israel and pro-Israel pr, it fits in very well with their message."

This student is right. It does raise questions about the choices made at UC Hillel. Why host and promote this event, but have an invisible response when Jimmy Carter came to Cal to peddle his demonization of Israel in May 2007? Why did students who wanted to stand up in support of Israel had to form a separate group outside of Hillel? The first point of Hillel's "Vision for Israel on Campus" states: "One of the central objectives of Israel education is to generate and cultivate among students a passion about Israel and to cultivate within them a sense of personal attachment with the country and its people." To which I can only add "And if not now, when?".


  1. To whoever wrote this post:

    If you really care about promoting Israel and its merits: you should demonstrate at the very least tolerance for a group and their opinions, even if they challenge Israeli PR campaigns. Hillel is not a fortress where only one type of opinion is allowed.

    Why should one fear questioning and participation from people with opposing opinions? If the group you talk about holds such flagrantly racist and hateful opinions, why were they invited to Hillel in the first place? Certainly, they weren't screaming racial slurs, and your charges that "SJP is a hate group that spreads vicious antisemitic attacks on Israel" is entirely false. Students for Justice in Palestine produces a high volume of student literature which is heavily cited with accurate and intellectual Israeli and Palestinian perspectives; they are approachable on campus to anyone who has questions, concerns or debates on the issue, and they have never supported or encouraged racist or offensive approaches to the issue. As a matter of fact, they were quick to stand in solidarity with the Jewish community at Cal against hate speech recently, and they have always extended a willingness to cooperate and dialogue with ANYONE. Anyone on campus knows this, so don't try to speak for people in that way. If anything, SJP has shown itself to be the only group on campus which actively engages Palestinian-identified students and Israeli-identified students (along with a wide variety of different identified students) side-by-side working together to learn about what happens in that region of the world.

    Articles like this are dis-empowering and scary because you are attempting to squash any real and meaningful dialogus.

    It also seems like an attempt to demonize others for having opposing opinions and then to ostracize those who are willing to make the basic and simple gesture of listening to these people.

    Stop trying to polarize our campus, stop trying to scare people into believing the "you're with us or against us" mentality. We do not fear other people's political ideas, and we refuse to be scared or bullied into believing that we should not listen to one another.


    a cal student

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  3. I have a great idea!~ Lets invite the KKK to Hillel for a book reading of the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" and for a discusssion on Zionist control of government and media.

    Or lets ask "Jews for Jesus" to come to Hillel to talk about theology.

    Students for Just Us in Palestine isn't about peace.
    And everyone on campus knows that.

  4. I'm just wondering- do you think the Israeli perspective will be presented at this upcoming SJP event? Do you think the Jewish community or the students were invited because of the desire for openness and dialog?

    Sunday, Sept.28, 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
    Everett & Jones Barbeque, Banquet Room
    Second & Broadway, Oakland

    Rev. Kelvin Sauls, a South African immigrant and Gerald Lenoir,
    Director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, will give an
    account of their recent trips to Palestine and Israel. A
    representative of the Arab Resource Organizing Committee has also been invited to give a perspective on the 60-year-old occupation of Palestine.

    (Yes, they are saying the "occupation" is since 1948. Pretty clear where they are coming from)

    Why are Jewish events expected to include the palestinian narrative, when Palestinian events
    never include the Jewish perspective?

  5. It seems rather obvious that Students for Justice in Palestine essentially hid their actual identity and agenda behind a fake front name in order to use both Hillel's facility and name as cover for an anti-Israel event.

    The comment in support of this transparent dishonesty is rather revealing as to the level of integrity that I've learned to expect from anti-zionists over the years. Similarly, although I have often heard anti-zionists cyniccally using the language of civil rights, open discourse and free speech, in defense of their disruptions of the events of others, at their own events anti-zionists tolerate NO dissenting opinions.

  6. Do not be absurd. Making outlandish comparisons of SJP to hate groups and insinuating that Keshor Enoshi is some sort of a front group is ridiculous. These groups are on campus to promote open discussion and dialogue. Hillel should be a place where all voices from the spectrum of Jewish (and non-Jewish) thought are welcomed. Your right wing politicing seems like some sort of attempt to speak for what Hillel is and what Jews think.

    You are not the official spokes person for all Jews in Berkeley. And, you should really consider why very few Israelis in Berkeley (if any) are supportive of this kind of closed debate you are proposing.

    Keshor Enoshi is a great opportunity for students to explore movements in Israel and connect on a human level to the activists involved. They espouse no political agenda and maybe you should consider that members of SJP attended the meeting not to subvert, but because they support Keshor Enoshi.

    A PR sign about coexistence is really an attempt to close a discussion. If people from SJP want to be a part of Keshor Enoshi, they maybe KE and SJP are the organizations of real coexistence.
    Your are trying to delegitimize the very coexistence that you say you support. This means, you are targeting groups like SJP and KE for personal political goals. And guess what, most people on campus know your tired routine.

    -An. Israeli Student

  7. Isn't SJP the group that sponsored "Israel Apartheid Week" on campus?

    And you say they are for co-existence?

    As I recall, their hateful little event was scheduled on the day of the suicide bombing in Dimona

  8. This post is right on.

    Ignore the cries of Kesher Enoshi members. They have clearly indicated they align themselves with SJP. SJP isn't just non-Zionist; they are a hate group. There are countless incidents over the last few years that prove that.

    P.S. Just like Jewish members of SJP have prefaced everything they say with "I'm a Jew," "Israelis" (usually people who left the country before 10 years old) use their Israeli citizenship status in the same way.

    Kesher Enoshi doesn't have the authority to tell Israel or actual Israelis what to do. Their group is a nicer sounding SJP.

  9. SJP has proudly chanted "From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free." While doing so they flash a sign with the entire land of israel covered in a palestinian flag.

    any jewish person who even associates with them is making a mistake. its members should never be allowed in hillel and neither should this group aligned closely with them.

    only a jewish organization like hillel would let its total enemies inside their premises. berkeley hillel is in serious danger.

  10. Its like this cat:

    America is a complex country. On one hand, we have a land where the next president might very well be African American. On the other hand, we have a land where incidents like those in Jena, LA still occur. One does not negate the other. America, humanity, Israel, the world are too complex to be judged as simply good or evil- they are places where good and evil simply exist.

    So any conversation about racism in Israel that doesn’t touch upon Israel’s affirmative action programs to get more Arabs into universities and government position is one sided. Does the discussion include the information about the discrimination Christians have faced in Palestinian controlled areas? Does it talk about some of the remarkable inroads Israel has made in dealing with its racial issues? When you attend an event like those sponsored by Kesher- ask your self- Is it meant to inform or incite? Is it an invitation to dialog or an attempt at demonization?

    Someone much smarter than I wrote this a while ago.
    I don’t know who you are, Jon Haber, but I’ve copied this to my hard drive because you are absolutely right:
    “The mechanism I use to promote a healthy dialog on any political subject is the accountant’s balance sheet, with credits, debits and standards. Using this metaphor, a political movement (like Zionism, Liberalism, Marxism, Arab Nationalism, Conservativism, etc.) or political entities (Israel, the France, the Soviet Union, Syria, the United States) have their virtues lined up on the “credit” side of the ledger and their failings lined up under “debits.” The trick is that such a balance sheet can never be looked at in a vacuum, but can only be compared to the balance sheet of other political movements, nations, etc.
    This technique is not meant to turn every debate into a “but he’s worse” argument. Rather, it assumes that any political project or entity exists in the real world and thus can only be evaluated by comparing it to other real-world equivalents. This is a far fairer way of making political and moral judgments than creating different standards with which to judge one society vs. another, a kind of moral double bookkeeping that often forces people to tie themselves into intellectual pretzels trying to explain why one nation (such as Israel) must be judged by how far it strays from perfection while other nations must be judged solely by their peaceful rhetoric, or not subject to any judgment whatsoever.”

    When I compare Israel to its real world equivalents, I am very happy with what I see. No, its not perfect, but it’s the nicest place in the neighborhood.

  11. Hillel should be a fortress where Jews can be safe from anti-Semitism. And, the epitome of anti-Semitism is equating Zionism with racism, apartheid, and other such nonsense. SJP have no place in Hillel. Hillel exists to protect Jews and defend Zionism and Israel.

    Robin A. Dubner
    Attorney At Law
    Oakland, CA

  12. Does anyone know if a Hillel somewhere in the country has set a precedent by banning leaders of antisemitic groups from even entering their facilities (non-jewish leaders)?

    I think someone should petition the Hillel to ban at least the non-Jewish people from even entering. If these people are going to be allowed in then Hillel should get security...

  13. "I think someone should petition the Hillel to ban at least the non-Jewish people from even entering"

    That would be wrong and that would be discriminatory.

    But it is also wrong to turn Hillel into a supportive venue for those committed to the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state. That violates both the mission and the spirit of Hillel

  14. Isn't it ok to criticize Israel?

    What's wrong with Hillel hosting an event designed to offer constructive criticism to Israel?

    Eight years ago I would have sided with these people demanding "open dialogue". Now I see these cries for what they really are: attempts to demonize Israel.

    The people that want to destroy Israel have discovered that they can train the naive to demonize Israel by creating forums for relentless criticism of Israel. The criticism typically depends on
    - being out of proportion,
    - applying double standards (do you hold Israels neighbors to the same standards and relentlessly hold such meetings about Israels neighbors?
    - offering misleading half-truths (that is, "accurate" in a narrow sense but creating a false impression by omitting critical details"), and
    - sprinkled with outright lies (e.g. calling a barrier a "wall" even though it is 96% NOT a wall.)

    Those "innocents" that fall for this stuff will defend their right to criticize Israel, without giving serious thought to the issues of double standards, demonization, proportional response, etc.

    No, bad behavior on the part of Israel's neighbors is no excuse for any behavior on the part of Israel.

    But I'm talking about YOUR behavior, those of you so eager to criticize Israel that you are, in effect, training the world that Israel is such a horrible place, by applying relentless criticism that you DON'T apply to other countries where civil rights are FAR worse.

    You may be well meaning (perhaps), but you are being used by people that want to destroy Israel.

    YES, this does create a dilemma for those that want to honestly and constructively criticize Israel. But the problem is real, and you cannot waive it away by pretending that you offer your one-sided, disproportional, double-standard based criticism in a vacuum. You don't. You are dropping it into a conversation designed to generate hatred of Israel, and a world that is eager to hate Jews.

    Art M.

  15. These problems have been something weve been dealing with since 2000. At the University of Michigan, Columbia University, and especialy Berkeley. Let me tell you a little bit about why this happens. It happens because of us Jew who are trying to be way to nice to everyone even to our worst enemies. American Jews in majority have gotten accustomed to a reactionary response than to a proactive way of doing things with regards to support of Israel and the protection of Judaism on campuses. The day this ends is the day Jews get out of their comfort zone and start feeling uncomfortable about what they are doing and that is becoming a confrotnational unit.

    I was involved in many hasbarah groups and units in Michigan, I have seen the other side and the power they have and the only reason they have that power is because of a unified force to support a cause all the way no matter what the price is, the place, and the scenario is. When you get out of your comfortable zone in life I learned is when you become more effective because there is a worth to the cause you are fighting for and unfortunately American Jews havent done that. And that is why we are going to be overpowered by the Anti Israeli movements through colleges around the country and even throughout different place around the country. The day we start feeling uncomfortable about what we are fighting for and the day we become proactive that is the day were going to be taken serious. Until then we cannot do a thing. And by the way this is not a conservative or liberal issue this has become a Jewish American issue (on both sides).

  16. This behavior by Hillel is nothing new. See:

    DAFKA, like Tikvah, ws villified and prevented from working with Hillel students by a leftist Hillel director (and his second- in- command, Gordon Gladstone, who are opposed to a "greater Israel" and are leftists of the variety that they would help end Israel as a Jewish state. This is proven by thier attempt to prevent the ZOA from being part of Hillel also. Kesher, by having SJP leaders atted in Hillel is an Arab front group of communist radical wannabes at Cal. Walid Shoebat's appearance at Cal on OCtober 29th was not promoted or even posters allowed advertising the event by Hillel even though it was proIsrael. Yet the SJP can meet in Hillel. It's time Hillel stopped being an ostrich with its head in the sand and get rid of leftist directors who try to control what Jewish students on campus see and hear--especially when it is against a Jewish state.

  17. All students at Cal KNOW that Kesher Enoshi is an SJP front Group. It was a Yaman Salahi invention from from years ago. SJP has always promoted Kesher Enoshi events on their email lists. This was the first time:

    Hi everybody,

    SJP will be participating in the "Progressive Activists Coming Together" conference at UC Berkeley tomorrow (Sunday!) between 12 and 5pm.

    Our presentation will be at 12:45. Please go to 2050 VLSB, and you will be re-directed from there. The theme is, "Approaching Palestine: Overcoming Divisions and Coming Together for Justice," and the presentation will include a very brief history of Palestine, some of the key issues today, a little bit about the apartheid analysis, some information about the divestment campaign, and some other comments about discourse regarding Palestine and Israel.

    Please come through if you get the chance, and check out the presentations that other groups will be putting on. In particular, you might be interested in the presentation by a new student group, Kesher Enoshi: Progressives for Activism in Israel.