Israel Divestiture Movement at UC Berkeley Loses Battle, but Advances Their War

Although Hillel’s mandate is to support Israel, Kesher Enoshi is still welcome even after some of its most prominent members played a leading role in mobilizing the campus for divestiture. After the failed divestiture vote, Kesher Enoshi members who sponsored the divestiture bill, along with their friends from Students for Justice in Palestine, showed up for Sabbath dinner at Hillel. The pro-Israeli students left in disgust.

Edgar Bronfman will tell you in his fundraising letters that Hillel stands on the front lines in the fight to support Israel. But Hillel at Berkeley is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

A constant procession of Israel-bashing spokespersons come through this area. Many of these, such as Dalit Baum of New Profile, or the members of Breaking the Silence, are sponsored by the New Israel Fund (NIF). The NIF officially denies that it supports boycotts, divestiture, and sanctions, but has no problem supporting groups involved in the behavior: a distinction without a difference.

Jewish students who come to Berkeley see a Hillel showcasing NIF-sponsored, Israel-bashing groups. They see fellow Jewish students from Kesher Enoshi supporting Students for Justice in Palestine and working for divestiture. They see one-third of the faculty of Jewish studies signing on to the divestiture petition. They see anti-Israel students like Avital Aboody recruiting in Hillel and ending up with an NIF social justice fellowship in Israel. They see the pro-Zionist activists go to the San Francisco Israeli consulate to warn about the divestiture movement and get met with indifference. They take courses in social sciences and humanities where the Palestinian narrative dominates. They see the pro-Zionist students marginalized in numerous ways.

So what happens to these students? Some, like Avital Aboody, actively move to the other side. Others find the conflict not worthy of their time and energy, which is why the divestiture movement is so powerful despite the large number of nominally Jewish students on campus.

The divestiture movement lost the vote on campus, but it has won a more important victory than a symbolic vote for a policy that no one will implement. Through a mixture of Jewish apathy and leftist-Jewish support for the Palestinian cause, the divestiture movement has further promoted the legitimacy of the Palestinian narrative, and the movement is actively siphoning off much of the Zionist future.

The movement is using the Jewish community resources at Hillel to do it, as a clueless Rabbi Adam Naftalin-Kelman looks on.

It remains to be seen if the larger Jewish community will now awaken to the danger that confronts it. But judging from past performance, Jewish organizations will continue to be mired in internecine conflict and denial, as the divestiture movement continues to strengthen and ultimately to achieve the symbolic victory it seeks.