Recently, many of my AEPi brothers were disappointed to hear that the leaders of our fraternity voted against diversity and debate, values central to our brotherhood, by opposing J Street’s bid to join the Conference of Presidents. Disagreements amongst my fraternity brothers are frequent and sometimes heated, but nobody is shut out of the conversation. AEPi’s decision to vote against progressive Jewish brothers is against fraternal values, and against the values of the Jewish community we seek to strengthen. Jewish leaders like Rabbi Rick Jacobs are demanding reform and threatening to leave the Conference of Presidents because it has become unreflective of those it purports to represent. Will AEPi make the same mistakes?
AEPi brothers at Georgetown, Wesleyan, Berkeley, UNC, Penn and elsewhere shared in the disappointment in the national organization. A former AEPi chapter president and Republican National Committee intern voiced his opinion to me in a phone interview. “I don’t agree with everything J Street says, but even so I believe these voices deserve a place in the dialogue.” He continued, “if AEPi is going to specifically recruit Jews, then it has a responsibility to engage the diverse voices in our community, whether we agree with them or not.”
While AEPi has taken some tentative steps in responding to the values of its constituents, much more is needed. Just a day before the Conference of Presidents vote, Andrew Borans, CEO of AEPi, and Elan Carr, a lay leader of the organization, reached out to me for input. Despite being a brother of AEPi and the National President of the J Street U Student Board, no one from the organization had been in touch previously. Neither Borans nor Carr would comment on which way they leaned in the imminent vote. However, on this call and elsewhere, Borans claimed to have received the input of over a hundred brothers of our fraternity regarding the decision. To another brother, Borans claimed that “90 percent” of AEPi undergrads favored a no-vote.
The nature and source of this input remains mysterious. There was no AEPi email blast asking the brotherhood for opinions, nor a public request for input of any kind. No president of any campus chapters I know of was contacted. AEPi alumni are voicing their questions about this input, as well. In a phone conversation with Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center, Borans claimed to have garnered his information from brothers while “visiting fraternity houses. Raising money. Dinners.” It seems unusual that no brothers can speak publicly of this apparently vibrant feedback process.
While it is unclear whether a large-scale feedback process at individual fraternity chapters actually took place, the perspectives found at AEPi donor fundraisers and dinners is clearer. Last year, conservative mega-donor Sheldon Adelson was granted an honorary admission to AEPi. Adam Milstein, the speaker of the 2011 AEPi National Convention, is a real estate mogul sitting on the boards of a virtual pantheon of right-wing organizations including the Hasbara Fellowship, StandWithUs, the Israel Project, the Hillel-associated Israel on Campus Coalition and his foundation is a major donor to evangelical group Christians United for Israel (CUFI). CUFI’s “Israel pledge” commits its members to an Israel the “ancient land” of Israel (including Gaza, the Golan, and the modern West Bank), and its “Israel 101“ document claims that Israeli settlements were “built in undeveloped, uninhabited areas and are entirely legal,” an opinion against the consensus of the international community and organizations founded by Israeli members of Knesset.
AEPI’s Fall 2012 quarterly reveals that in Fiscal Year 2012, donors to AEPi included the David Project, the Israel on Campus Coalition, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, the Hasbara Fellowships and the Jewish National Fund. Many are hostile to J Street U and all donated between $3,600 and $10,000.
These donations help fund AEPi’s annual “Israel Amplified” seminar, co-hosted by all the aforementioned organizations. In an interview in the same issue of the AEPi quarterly, a campus president of Christians United for Israel discussed the impact of the Israel Amplified event on her work. Asked “Israel Amplified is all about” she replied, “CUFI is great in that we have materials and all of that. But as leaders on our campuses, (Israel Amplified can provide us) these things – funding, grants, scholarships, resources, materials, and video – anything you need…” Apparently AEPi’s Israel-related work now extends to support for pro-settlement Christian groups.
AEPi is not just a fraternity; it’s a successful and influential Jewish organization. As its brothers and primary constituents, AEPi has an obligation to all in the pro-Israel campus community, including its many progressive pro-Israel members. And as the only explicitly Jewish fraternity — recognized by many in the community upon becoming the Conference of Presidents’ most recent member just last year — AEPi also has a duty to our whole community. As the only Jewish fraternity, it must embrace the diverse voices in the Jewish community, whether it’s donors or professional leaders agree with them or not. In this sense, AEPi could learn from the fraternity chapters it seeks to serve; where disagreement can be rife and even heated, but where we truly thrive when all voices are heard.
AEPi can begin to address it’s total non-transparency by releasing a press statement explaining why it decided to vote against the voices of it’s progressive Jewish members in the Conference of Presidents decision. At the Conference of Presidents’ vote on J Street, AEPi CEO Mr. Borans was willing to “eloquently describe J Street’s harmful activities on American college campuses” and vote against J Street. Might AEPi be willing to publicly express to us, its members and the larger Jewish community, the reasons for its decision? As a brother of the Omega chapter of AEPi at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as President of the J Street U National Student Board, and as a pro-Israel, pro-peace advocate, I hope they will.
[Editor’s note: This post has been revised and restored.]