The Zionist (and anti-Zionist) public eye has recently been focused on the Open Hillel movement. Open Hillel is an organization that promotes pluralism of ideas and political opinions within the Jewish community and encourages organizations, such as Hillel, that lead Jewish student life on many university campuses to include Jews both against and in support of the BDS movement. The BDS movement, for those who are still unaware, encourages boycotting, divesting, and placing sanctions on Israel in response to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. This movement is part of Bruin history that Jews and Zionists try to store at the very back of our minds.
Spring 2014 and the following fall quarter were very difficult for us as a community. Open Hillel focuses on trying to redefine “community” and making it more inclusive. As an Israeli-American, a leftist and a Bruin, I will show that however important this notion is, it is too idealistic and in reality, is too damaging to the Jewish identity. While it may have been just another stress-filled quarter at UCLA for most students, Jewish students had to deal with all the possible worries of a student and on top of that, were forced to question their place at one of the nation’s best public universities. The BDS resolution was brought to campus during both of these quarters. Jewish students who find their home in the State of Israel, regardless of their place of upbringing, had to question themselves and their identities.
I was born in Israel. My parents were born in Israel. My paternal grandmother was born in Palestine. My paternal grandfather immigrated from Morocco at age 13 with one older sister because, even at such a young age, he understood that Jews do not belong in Morocco. My maternal grandparents made aliyah to Israel after growing up in Holland, where being a Jew was a point of shame (even after the Holocaust). If there were two words I could use to describe my family’s heritage, they would be “fearless Zionism.” My family came from far and near to help build the land created solely for the Jews, and I was taught from a very young age that this is my place in the world. Jews cannot become slaves again. Jews can no longer be oppressed. Jews can no longer be victims of genocide. Jews will become the powerful nation of Israel and will be able to defend themselves and create a world better than any of their ancestors could ever imagine.
So, as a fresh new student at UCLA, my first thoughts during fall quarter were: Why does this idea of Zionism anger so many people? Why does the idea that the Jews should be given their own state make other students (who are more like me than we both think) feel so deeply neglected and marginalized? Why did I believe so deeply in an idea that can hurt so many people? I started questioning my identity. I started to feel as though my thoughts on Zionism were no longer valid, because I was obviously hurting a lot of people on this campus. Look at the other side of the stadium. Listen to the comments made, student after student, crying out to end the violent Israeli occupation. I must be doing something wrong. My great-grandfather who built one of the first kibbutzim in Israel with his own bare hands must have been doing something wrong. My identity as a Jew is so intertwined with my identity as a Zionist that they can hardly be examined separately.
After exploring the anti-Zionist community in depth a bit longer, I found their message to be one-sided and unproductive. How can you possibly push for peace in such a politically nuanced region when you only pay attention to one side of a conflict? How can you acknowledge one side’s loss without acknowledging the other’s?
As an Israeli who identifies as a centrist-leftist, my struggle with this reality was deep. As someone who opposes the occupation in the West Bank, my naive instinct would have been to support BDS, but the BDS movement quickly revealed itself as a well masked form of anti-Semitism, and further developments surrounding the BDS movement only reaffirmed this revelation. The BDS movement seeks to wipe the Jewish state off the map. So the question arises: can Hillel, a group that claims to serve as the home for Jewish students from all walks of life, house Jewish supporters of BDS? Is Hillel’s obligation to Jewish students or specifically to Jewish Zionist students? Of course, our initial answer is the latter. As we continue to think about this issue, we can try to put ourselves in the shoes of a Jewish anti-Zionist, however unpleasant that sounds.
If you are a Jewish Bruin who occasionally sports “Free Palestine” swag and truly believes in SJP’s cause, your visits to Hillel for Shabbat or even for daily religious experiences will be limited, if existent at all. Your mother will continue to call you and ask if you went to a Shabbat dinner somewhere, or if you lit Hanukkah candles, or if you signed up to become a student leader at Hillel this quarter. While these are things that all Jews do at least once or twice in their college careers, students who support “the other side” at BDS trials are less likely to go to Hillel, simply because of the intense feeling of alienation. The question is asked: Is it Hillel’s obligation to house all Jews? Or can Hillel afford to make the majority of the Jewish student population comfortable with our own identity while ignoring the anti-Zionist/pro-BDS minority? While my answer is far from objective, I will have to agree with the latter simply because it’s more complicated than that.
A history of oppression comes down to this: will organizations such as Open Hillel make Zionist Jews feel the need to defend their heritage and their identity even at the one place we feel safe? My Zionism is far too intertwined with my Judaism for me to feel comfortable with this organization and its mission. I appreciate the strong Zionist stance that the Jewish UCLA community has taken, yet I cannot say that this is the end of the argument. While some campus organizations attempt to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by simply yelling their platforms louder, other commendable organizations such as J Street encourage open dialogue between the sides to arrive at a common ground. The solution to the Middle East conflict can only come from education, dialogue, and mutual understanding. Even so, if there is any hope for this dialogue to progress, and for “Peace in the Middle East” to be a declaration rather than a demand, there is no place for anti-Zionism in this conversation.