On the Vassar Jewish Union Resolution – by Peter Eisenstadt

On the Vassar Jewish Union Resolution
Peter Eisenstadt

Congratulations to the Vassar Jewish Union for their courageous act for adopting an “open discourse” policy towards Israel, allowing for a “pluralistic community” which welcomes all shades of Jewish opinion. (And thank you for choosing The Jewish Pluralist as a means of popularizing your decision.) In making their statement, the Vassar Jewish Union breaks with the tendentious standards of Hillel International as to the acceptable parameters of Jewish discourse. Some of Hillel International’s standards are broad to the point of incoherence.

I have no idea what it means to “delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel” beyond its potential to include all criticisms of Israeli governmental policy within its capacious maw. What it means for Israel to “exist as a Jewish and democratic state” has been fiercely debated since 1948 with no evidence of a resolution in sight. Surely it is the starting point for any serious discussion about Israel, and not a dogmatic principle for exclusion. And to presumptively proscribe all discussion of “boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel” once again prohibits serious discussion on the future of Israel. I do not wish to dwell on these points here, though each of them can be the subject of numerous posts. These are very serious and bitterly contentious issues, with many pitfalls for the unwary. I find some advocates of BDS to be uninformed, shrill, and bordering on anti-Semitism, if not having already crossed over that ominous border. On the other hand I have no objection with targeted boycotts against economic activity in the settlements.

I remain firmly convinced that, given the current realities, a two state division of historical Palestine into Jewish and Palestinian states is the only peaceful resolution of the conflict in sight. But I recognize that options, to the right and to the left of my views, exist, and need to be considered and politely debated. This is the essence of Jewish pluralism; not that all views are right, or that I have to accept all views, but that all views deserve to be heard.

What is most interesting in the statement of the Vassar Jewish Union is its assertion that “identification with Israel is not necessarily an integral part of every individual’s Jewish identity.” This is part of a growing trend in American Jewish life, a desire to create forms of authentic Jewish life and Judaism disentangled from Israel and the need to support Israel’s current political ambitions. Now, one need not “identify” with Israel to recognize that almost half the world’s Jews currently live there, and that they aren’t going anywhere, and have legitimate rights and political aspirations. Let the debates begin, and let us try to shape new and authentic forms of Judaism. This

are vast and vastly complicated issues. The only way to begin is to be able to speak freely, and the resolution of the Vassar Jewish Union is a necessary step towards this difficult goal.