The campus Jewish Student Union voted Wednesday to deny membership to J Street U at Berkeley, a Jewish student political advocacy group on campus whose application to join the union also was denied two years ago after the group faced accusations of being anti-Israel.
The bylaws of the Jewish Student Union, an umbrella organization for Jewish student groups on campus, stipulate that a member organization must not host speakers who demonize Israel, said Jewish Student Union President Daphna Torbati.
That requirement was a point of contention surrounding J Street U, which advocates a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Much of the disagreement focused on J Street U’s relationship with Breaking the Silence, an Israeli military veterans’ organization that criticizes Israel’s military operations in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, said Elon Rov, a co-chair of J Street U.
Breaking the Silence, however, has garnered serious criticism from other Jewish groups that belong to the Jewish Student Union. Torbati said she was concerned the group unfairly disparages Israeli soldiers. Jewish Student Union members Avi Hecht and David Eliahu said Jewish students with connections to Israel would be alienated if J Street U were allowed to host Breaking the Silence under the Jewish Student Union umbrella.
“For a lot of members … the (Jewish Student Union is) the only place where they can express their love for Israel because of such an anti-Israel campus climate,” Torbati said. “A lot of people have said that they want the (Jewish Student Union) to stay a place they feel comfortable saying they love Israel.”
Hecht added that Breaking the Silence does not offer a fair picture of Israel’s military operations.
“Regardless of J Street’s intents, the effect of bringing a public event like BTS is detrimental to the image of Israel on our campus,” Eliahu said.
J Street U invited Breaking the Silence to campus in fall 2012, and its founder, Yehuda Shaul, will appear on campus again in November.