As Jews, we are taught to be opinionated. From pronunciations of hummus to international politics, the phrase “Two Jews, three opinions” is true with often frustrating frequency. Given these varying opinions, when the Daily Cal runs an op-ed that makes categorical statements about the Jewish community and its values, it’s at best inaccurate.
In his Tuesday piece, current SQUELCH! Senator Grant Fineman writes that CalSERVE presidential candidate Naweed Mohabbat is “dishonest and disingenuous,” a vitriolic and politically loaded statement, coming from someone who publicly endorses Mohabbat’s main opponent (a fact interestingly omitted from an op-ed about transparency). This characterization stemmed from a perceived dissonance between Mohabbat’s statements in opposition to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign and his later support for selective divestment. No attempt to articulate the huge difference between the global BDS movement and divestment from non-Israeli-based companies was made in the op-ed, however, with analysis instead replaced by vague moral attacks. Opposition to BDS (which targets Israel and Israeli companies) and support for selective divestment from non-Israeli companies are in no way mutually exclusive, and to attempt to equate the two is truly dishonest and disingenuous.
What is most concerning, however, is Fineman making the statement, “CalSERVE has historically taken hostile stances toward the Jewish community and our values,” without any attempt to define what the Jewish community is and what its values are.
Personally, our commitment to social justice and desire to heal the world stem directly from our Jewish values and are what led us to CalSERVE, an organization driven by progressive values that exists as more than a campus political party. CalSERVE organizes year-round on issues such as sexual assault on campus and student mental health, and our involvement stems only naturally from our Jewish identity. We would never presume to homogenize our experiences, however. As an ethnoreligious identity, Judaism means something different to everyone; there is not one Jewish experience.
We do share Grant’s concerns about divestment, Israel being an issue of personal importance to us. We find it intentionally misleading that the fact that it was a Student Action senator who introduced last year’s divestment bill was nowhere in his piece, however. What we need on campus is open discourse and conversation. Every candidate running for an ASUC executive office this year shared an overarching concern for student safety and campus climate, and attacking folks with whom one disagrees through the media as the first discursive action needlessly inserts tension into an already-polarized campus.
Before the publication of his op-ed, members of the Jewish community reached out to Fineman, urging him to hold off on running his piece without first sitting down in an open dialogue with Mohabbat to resolve any positional ambiguity. Additionally, concerns were raised that in an election season in which no candidates are running on platforms at all related to Israel and in which the passage of a bill supporting divestment last year makes it an irrelevant issue to next year’s student government, by personally attacking the candidate who could be the first Muslim ASUC president, present (and unfortunate) tensions between the Jewish and Muslim communities would only be exacerbated. These concerns from members of the Jewish community were, apparently, secondary to achieving a specific political goal, however.
There are Jews on this campus like us who support Mohabbat, and there are Jews on this campus who share his views on divestment (though we are not among them). At the same time, there are Jews who feel their values lead them to DAAP, and there are those who express their Judaism through Zionist groups on campus. Jewish identity is complicated and multifaceted, and the “Jewish community” at Berkeley is amorphous, at best. There’s a reason ASUC bylaws prohibit group endorsements. A senator self-identifying as a member of a community doesn’t, in fact, make him their representative. What our campus needs now is space for open dialogue. By attending the Jewish town hall and speaking frankly and honestly about his disapproval of BDS but his support of selective divestment, Mohabbat has shown himself to be a careful and thoughtful leader. We call on the leaders of our community to follow in his footsteps. Unilateral action and personal attacks are unproductive and run directly contrary to what we believe it means to be Jewish at UC Berkeley.
Aron Egelko and Tiana Cherbosque are both members of UC Berkeley’s Jewish community and are affiliated with CalSERVE.