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(photo credit: Courtesy)
Following controversy in some quarters of the Jewish community over the decision of the J Street U student board not to include "pro-Israel" in its messaging, J Street sent out statements this week affirming the organization's commitment to Israel.
They also referred to "incorrect reports" on the decision, with student board president Sophia Manuel putting out a statement Wednesday that, "The national board of J Street U neither discussed nor voted on any action to remove the term 'pro-Israel' from our platform, policy or the way we describe ourselves at J Street U's national conference."
The Jerusalem Post, which first reported the decision, did not suggest it had been made at the national conference, held this weekend. But participants told the Post that it had been disseminated then to students in attendance.
The decision itself was made last year when the student board began discussing what the baseline message for student groups participating in J Street U should be, according to several students.
As student board secretary and J Street intern Lauren Barr told the Post following her speech at the conference's opening session Sunday night, "We talked a lot about formulating a unified message, a banner under which we can all stand proudly."
While the parent organization of J Street refers to itself as a "pro-Israel, pro-peace" organization, in contrast the J Street U student board felt that their "unified message" would simply be "pro-peace."
Another member of the student board, Yonatan Schechter, said Sunday the students "decided that we would use the 'pro-peace' terminology [because] it was more conducive to discussion. With our generation, it seems that if you use 'pro-Israel,' people really want to say 'anti-Palestine.'"
As part of J Street U's promotion of student autonomy, Barr explained that individual university chapters and affiliated student groups could then include "pro-Israel," "pro-Israel, pro-Palestine," or other slogans with which they felt comfortable.
"We don't want to isolate people because they don't feel quite so comfortable with 'pro-Israel,' so we say 'pro-peace,'" Barr told the Post, "but behind that is 'pro-Israel.'"
When asked for comment Monday, J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami did not dispute the students' statements, saying, "If the way to engage the young part of our community is to give them space to work through their relationship with Israel, then we're going to do that. We're not going to shut them out, because the only way to keep them in the community is to give them the space to work that out."
In subsequent e-mails to the press, however, J Street staff stressed that the students' terminology should not be interpreted as a lack of support for Israel.
"We are building this movement because we care about Israel, its future and the future of the entire Middle East," Manuel said in her statement. "To us being pro-Israel is intertwined with being pro-Palestine, and recognizing this is a vital step in the pursuit of a lasting peace."