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He then went on to explain that any organization that supports Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, a Palestinian-led, non-violent movement to pressure Israel to be accountable to international law, doesn’t belong at the communal table. In fact, he was referring specifically to Jewish Voice for Peace. He even argued that opening the public conversation to BDS is roughly akin to welcoming the Ku Klux Klan.
This week the new director of Hillel, which claims over 500 chapters dedicated to Jewish life on campuses in North America, noted his delight in enforcing guidelines that exclude Jewish students that “delegitimize, demonize or apply a double standard to Israel”—without explaining how that is defined.
This voluntary jettisoning of politically engaged Jews is creating a huge loss to the Jewish community that Pew shows it can ill afford.
Ironically, those being excluded by these policies are often the very same committed, passionate people who are engaged with Jewish life that Jewish institutions claim to want. People like the almost fifty rabbis and rabbinical students on JVP’s Rabbinical Council, or the many people in our youth wing who have a rich Jewish practice and deep connections to multiple Jewish institutions. Over and over again, I have seen how betrayed they feel when the Jewish community, which has nurtured them and taught them values such as justice and tikkun olam, reject them when they apply those principles to Israel and the Palestinians.
The pinnacle of this our-way-or-the-highway modus operandi in the Jewish world was expressed last week by the inimitable Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, who responded to the Pew results with this gem: “You know who the Jewish establishment represents? Those who care…This is a poll of everybody. Some care, some don’t care. I think it’s interesting, we need to be aware. But I’m not going to follow this.”
In other words: Jewish leaders are claiming to speak for a community that doesn’t agree with them. This is not just rhetoric. Millions of dollars of Jewish communal money are being used to fight BDS in the U.S.
Any organization that cares about Jewish continuity needs to understand that for a growing number of us, holding Israel to a standard of equality, justice, and security for everyone — whether Jewish or Palestinian — is one of the most important ways of expressing our Jewish values. As the Forward has suggested, for the sake of the Jewish community in the U.S — and I would add, even more importantly, for the sake of the future of Israelis and Palestinians, it is time for the litmus test on Israel to be over.
Rebecca Vilkomerson is executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace