Jewish Voice for Peace condemns the reported use by a student government representative at the University of Santa Cruz of the term ‘Jewish agenda’ to describe another student’s opposition to the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement on campus. No student on campus should ever be stigmatized on behalf of their race, religion, ethnicity, or cultural identity.

JVP Condemns use of the term “Jewish agenda”

Jewish Voice for Peace condemns the reported use by a student government representative at the University of Santa Cruz of the term ‘Jewish agenda’ to describe another student’s opposition to the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement on campus. No student on campus should ever be stigmatized on behalf of their race, religion, ethnicity, or cultural identity.

In a campus climate where groups like Hillel loudly advertise the false notion that all Jewish students support Israel and, therefore, that defense of Israel is the natural will of the Jewish community, it is inevitable that some students will take their words seriously and refer to pro-Israel advocacy as a ‘Jewish agenda’ on campus.

While Jewish students, like all other students, must be protected from hate speech that targets their cultural or religious identity, we must also protect the rights of groups like SJP to protest Israel’s policies of discrimination and occupation, and engage fully in campus activism for human rights and justice.

We also believe it’s important to accurately report the facts of this incident. The student in question, Daniel Bernstein, was not told to abstain for a vote because he had a ‘Jewish Agenda’, as has been reported. Mr. Bernstein serves as one of three representatives of the Stevenson College Council on the university-wide student council. According to the Stevenson College Council straw poll, the College was split on the upcoming divestment vote.

A student from Stevenson College asked Bernstein to abstain in order to fairly represent the position of his college, who he had a duty to represent in the university wide student council vote. The student from Stevenson College told Bernstein that abstaining was “the right thing to do” because Bernstein serves as vice-president of the Jewish Student Union – a group which actively campaigned against the school’s multiple divestment-related votes.

We unequivocally condemn the notion that opposition to BDS is a “Jewish Agenda.” We also object to the conclusion that this language resulted from Students for Justice In Palestine (SJP)’s ongoing work to raise awareness of Israel’s occupation and oppression of Palestinians.

On campuses across the country, SJP chapters are careful to insist that their activism targets the policies of the government of Israel- not the Jewish people. Meanwhile organizations like Hillel routinely claim to fight BDS ‘on behalf of the Jewish community’.

We insist that, if all stereotypes or generalizations about religious or ethnic groups are damaging and prejudiced, this must extend to the notion that ‘all Jews support Israel’, and we call on pro-Israel groups on campuses and in communities around the country to cease spreading this false and harmful notion.

We support the work of SJP at UC Santa Cruz and across the country to raise awareness of Israel’s occupation and oppression of Palestinians, and we will continue to fight alongside SJP for a campus climate where all students are free to advocate for political beliefs without fear of Islamophobic, racist, anti-Jewish or other persecution.

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