Roughly a dozen local rabbis and rabbinical students signed a letter calling on Brandeis University's Hillel to reverse its decision and accept a membership bid by the local Jewish Voice for Peace Chapter.
Several weeks ago, Hillel's board voted to reject the application of JVP, an organization that has been criticized for its support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign targeting Israel; the group was also listed by the Anti-Defamation League last October as among the top 10 anti-Israel groups in the United States.
"While we understand that JVP at Brandeis considers itself a pro-Israel club, based on positions and programming JVP has sponsored, we do not believe that JVP can be included under Hillel's umbrella," wrote Brandeis senior Andrea Wexler, the president of the 11-member Hillel student executive board that rejected the application, in a letter explaining the board's decision.
Wexler referred to membership guidelines released by Hillel's international body last December. The guidelines reiterate Hillel's support for Israel as a "Jewish and democratic state," and say Hillel "will not partner with, house or host" groups or speakers that do not agree with that statement, including those that support the BDS campaign.
Fellow Brandeis senior Lev Hirschhorn, who presented JVP's case to the Hillel board, said Hillel should not exclude any Jewish student group.
"As members of the Brandeis Jewish community, we wanted Jewish Voice for Peace to be included at the Jewish communal table," he said.
The battle at Brandeis over JVP is part of the growing, heated debate in the American Jewish community over what constitutes acceptable criticism of Israel. Jesse Bacon, a Philadelphia resident and JVP spokesman, said that no other chapters had applied for a membership in a campus Hillel.
A total of 50 rabbis signed onto JVP's letter to Hillel. Many of the local signers — including Mordechai Liebling, Linda Holtzman, Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer and Julie Greenberg — are affiliated with the Reconstructionist movement.
The document urged Hillel not to "exclude from your communal table Jewish students whose relationship with Israel may be one of thoughtful critique."
It further stated that "keeping JVP Brandeis out of Hillel politicizes Hillel, making Hillel into a place where only certain opinions are permitted."
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency contributed to this report.