Why AEPi is in the Conference of Presidents

The AEPi fraternity at University of California, Berkeley at initiation last fall. Credit: AEPi.

A Forward story published today examines the opposition of Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi), the newest member of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, to the (eventually failed) bid of the self-labeled "pro-Israel, pro-peace" lobby J Street to join the Conference. 

While the Forward questions how AEPi became a member of the Conference, a recent JNS.org story provides the answer: the fraternity's growing work in Israel advocacy.

In a press release after the vote that rejected J Street's application, the Zionist Organization of America said it would "like to thank [executive director] Andrew Borans, of the AEPi fraternity, who eloquently described J Street's harmful activities on American college campuses during the meeting [where the Conference vote was held]." At length, the Forward story spotlights what it calls AEPi's right-wing ties, and goes as far as to ask in its sub-headline for the article, "Why Is AEPi in the Presidents Conference Anyway?"

Conference of Presidents Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein—who the Forward said didn't respond to its request for comment—answered that very question in our profile of AEPi, published in March. 

As a national organization with affiliates on campuses across the country, and with 10,000 members plus many alumni "who are very active," AEPi "brings an important constituency into the Conference and emphasizes our desire to get more young Jews involved," Hoenlein said.

Similarly, University of California, Berkeley student Avi Levine, Jewish Identity Chair and Alumni Relations Chair at that school's AEPi chapter, said the fraternity "truly has something to offer that no other Jewish organization does, and that’s the youth."

"We hear all this talk about the Pew study and that Jewish youth is losing its Jewish identity and affinity toward Israel, and the Conference of Presidents, by taking in this organization of Jewish youth and Jewish collegiate members, shows the complete opposite. This is an organization of thousands of active brothers, and way more alumni, that strongly support Israel," Levine said.

The Forward story described those who "questioned why AEPi, which does little work on Israel policy, was able to get into the Presidents Conference while J Street, an Israel policy group that supports a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, was not."

Yet AEPi over time has worked to shed the typical fraternity "party image" and make its mark in Israel advocacy, according to our story. It is "the only fraternity that defines itself as a Jewish organization, that fights assimilation, that produces the Jewish leaders of tomorrow, and that fights for Israel,” said AEPi International President Elan Carr.

Levine noted that when the UC Berkeley student government held Israel divestment votes in 2010 and 2013, AEPi brothers "went out and gave speeches and played an integral role in helping the rest of the Jewish community, and AEPi served as a space in which people were able to organize and help other students write speeches they wanted to give during [the time for] public comment."

In Europe, meanwhile, Jewish college students describe how safe they feel at AEPi given the increasing anti-Semitic climate on that continent, according to Carr.


Posted on May 13, 2014 .