Sunday, December 29, 2013

In dialogue with J Street

On October 20, I participated in a dialogue event at Congregation B'nai Shalom in Walnut Creek. The synagogue's Israel Engagement Committee invited me to discuss issues relating to Israel with the Northwest Regional Director of J Street, Gordon Gladstone.

The event was intended to be a model of civil discourse in which our different perspectives could be aired but in a fashion that respected both each other and the audience. This built upon the recent Year of Civil Discourse initiative in the Bay Area. I participated in that effort, believing that this is an important principle in discussions among supporters of Israel, the state of the Jewish people.  There were disagreements between us, and I hope that I highlighted them well. But it's also important to recognize that those differences--while important-- are minimal compared to those between both of us on the one hand, and anti-Israel groups (such as Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine) on the other.

One correction after the fact: I misspoke in stating that AIPAC supports candidates as well as legislation. As a long time AIPAC member, I know that AIPAC does support legislation but neither rates nor endorses candidates!

(The video and sound were taken from the synagogue's webcam. You might need headphones.)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

In Which Jewish Voice for Peace Continues to Hide Its Agenda

"Jewish" Voice for Peace continues to peddle its alternate version of reality about Israel and the Middle East to a mostly unsuspecting public. Their latest foray into disinformation was distributed at their booth at the Solano Stroll, a large public street fair in Berkeley this past Sunday.  (Several observers reported that those staffing the JVP booth became quite argumentative when anyone would point out errors in their propaganda. As one person told us, they got quite upset when he handed their disinformation sheet back to them with the comment "Do you think I'm that stupid?")

It's worth examining the details of what they were handing out, both to demonstrate their relentless dedication to twisting the facts and their ultimate goal of delegimitizing Israel's very existence as the state of the Jewish people.

The first point on their little pop quiz notes that 25% of Israeli citizens are not Jewish, although Israel calls itself the Jewish state. I'm not sure if their point is that Israel should be more like Saudi Arabia, in which only Muslims can be citizens, or that a Jewish nation is somehow illegitimate if not ethnically pure.  One test of a nation is how it treats its minorities. While Israeli society suffers from the same problems of economic and social discrimination that plague all countries, its record compares well to other democracies-- especially given that its peer group hasn't been subject to genocidal attacks from neighbors for decades. For anyone who thinks that Israel can't measure up to Western democratic nations, check out this comparison of Israel and Australia-- which country do you think has a better record of political,  economic and social integration of its minorities? (hint: it's not the one singing "Waltzing Matilda", mate.)

But wait-- doesn't JVP claim that their mission is to seek "an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem"?  Indeed they do. So how are the demographics of Israel and its self-description as the Jewish state relevant to that?  None at all-- unless your mission is delegitimizing Israel's existence.

Let's move on to #2: Which Middle Eastern country has not signed the nuclear non-proliferation agreement?  They correctly note that Israel has not.  The question that could be asked here is "Which Middle Eastern country is routinely threatened with annihilation by its neighbors and subjected to rocket attacks and terrorism aimed at its civilian population?" And remind me-- what does that have to do with ending the occupation?

As if all this wasn't enough to establish JVP's attacks on Israel as being just a bit more than related to "the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem", they proceed on to the heart of the matter-- trying to falsely equate Israel's Law of Return with the "Right of Return" for generations of descendants of Palestinian refugees. Of course, Israel's Law of Return is rooted in the right of any state to declare who may immigrate and become a citizen. The "right of return" claimed by Palestinians as applying to descendants of refugees has no standing in international law; even for refugees themselves, the right to return onyl takes effect at the cessation of the conflict. As it was Arafat in 2000 and Abbas in 2008 who turned down offers to end the conflict, Israel does not have to recognize the right of return for the few thousand refugees from 1947-8 who are still living.  And such a right never existed for their descendants, as much as JVP wishes it were so.  The advocacy for the "right of return" has nothing to do with ending the occupation, and everything to do with trying to eliminate the Jewish character of Israel by flooding it with five million descendants of a war started by the Arabs to prevent Israel from being created.

Let's get real. Let's drop pretense. Jewish Voice for Peace opposes the existence of a state of the Jewish people anywhere in the Jewish homeland. As such, they promote the same end goal as Hamas.  Yet they continue to adhere to the charade that they are a peace group.

Oddly enough, for a group that also continues to insist that it should be allowed to peddle its hate of Israel within our Jewish community institutions, and that claims that the Jewish community "muzzles" open debate about Israel, they are quite afraid of exposing their own hypocritical positions to critical examination.  They've been offered a debate within the pages of J Weekly but have thus far refused to accept the offer.   I guess that when your positions are built on lies, it's hard to defend them against facts.

Monday, August 26, 2013

In Which Jewish Voice for Peace gets Noticed

Cross- posted at Pro-Israel Bay Bloggers

The attention seeking group Jewish Voice for Peace must be glowing with pride. They've been noticed.

First NGO Monitor released a scathing indictment. 

The strategy, as stated by JVP’s executive director Rebecca Vilkomerson, is to create “a wedge” within the American Jewish community to generate the impression of polarization over Israel.  The tactic is to dilute support for Israel in the Jewish community, toward the goal of reducing or eliminating the United States government’s economic, military, and political support for Israel.

That was followed by a report from the venerable Anti-Defamation League  stating:
The group’s positions on BDS, its willingness to partner with anti Israel organizations that deny Israel’s right to exist and legitimize terror, and its refusal to support a two state solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict, demonstrate JVP’s hardline stance. 
 In fact, JVP consistently co-sponsors rallies to oppose Israeli military policy that are marked by signs and slogans comparing Israel to Nazi Germany, demonizing Jews and voicing support for groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. JVP has never condemned or sought to distance itself from these messages. Indeed, JVP’s Executive Director Rebecca Vilkomerson recently gave an interview to American Free Press a conspiracy-oriented anti- Semitic newspaper.
Jewish Voice for Peace embracing conspiracy theories at SF rally. Photo by  Zombie

The unbridled hypocrisy of Jewish Voice for Peace may very well be their most defining characteristic. Both the NGO Monitor and the ADL report highlight JVP's willingness to partner with some of  the most extremist groups in the country. For all their "we are against the occupation" rhetoric, they have no trouble partnering  with some of the most committed Israel-haters out there- groups that would not accept the existence of Israel within any borders.

Just recently, in our own Bay area, JVP partnered with the Arab Resource Organizing Center for their Day of Rage against investment Giant Tiaa-Cref

Arab Resource Organizing Center partnering with JVP  
In this announcement from the  Arab Resource Organizing Center, a  "Day of Divestment from Israel" is promoted, with "solidarity" groups JVP, Sabeel and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). Carol Sanders of JVP is listed the contact person.

How extreme is AROC? At the recent fundraiser for their Youth Group AYO, geared toward young Arabs ages 14-22, they featured bumper stickers  "Support the Intifada" - the uprising that left thousands of civilians dead on both sides of the conflict. Hardly the words of a peace group.

In spite of their grandiose self-serving proclamations regarding racism and anti-Semitism, the Los Angeles chapter of JVP promoted a May 17  event featuring the man who described the burning of synagogues as "a rational act",  notorious anti-Semite Gilad Atzmon.

Hosting BDS summer camps,  sponsoring rallies where "Zionist Scum your time has come" is chanted, aiding and abetting those that would destroy Israel as the state of the Jewish people- all in a days work for Jewish Voice for Peace.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The BDS Circus is Back in Berkeley

The BDS circus pulled its caravan into UC Berkeley this week, and the show featured everything we've learned to expect from the Bullying, Defamation and Slander crew:  false assertions about Israel and the history of the conflict; simultaneous denial of their true goal of full divestment from Israel while cheering speakers who referenced that goal; polarization of the campus environment with poisonous denigration of their fellow students; and a "victory" that will accomplish nothing on the ground on Israel or the West Bank, but will encourage extremism and hatred. They should be quite proud of themselves, given their goal is rejection of peace with a Jewish state of Israel within any borders--they made sure that nothing happened that would help promote peace.

After a long, drawn-out session of the ASUC (Associated Students of the University of California) student senate earlier this week, the BDS-sponsored bill passed by a 1 vote margin.  The bill asked the University to divest its investments in 3 specific companies that were charged with abetting Israeli human rights violations in the occupied territories. The bill had the usual one-sided characterizations of Israel, though the sponsors made sure that they could claim it was "even handed" by denouncing attacks on civilians on both sides. (The BDSers even indicated their willingness to have the UC system divest from companies that supported Palestinian terror, but they were apparently saddened that they just couldn't find any.) I won't go through an extensive analysis of all the flaws in the document, as there's an excellent review posted here. Rather, I'd like to focus on what occurred in the room, as well as around it in cyberspace.  I was at one of the meetings held as part of the 2010 edition of the Berkeley BDS Circus, so was perhaps less shocked than others who had not experienced this performance previously.

I'm going to refer to the group in support of the resolution as the "BDS side".  The resolution and the arguments mirrored those used at other campuses and the entire rationale for the effort came straight from one of the BDS playbooks:   “Divestment campaigns and requests for institutional divestment provide debate material that places Palestine solidarity groups in the most favorable position to present their case." The original text of the resolution even referenced the BDS movement's own website as a source. The UC Regents already had a standing statement that they were not going to change their investment policy based on ASUC resolutions, so there was not even a thought that this could have any practical effect.  So the only reason to bring up such a resolution is, exactly as stated, to provide a forum for Students for Justice in Palestine to lead a discussion to condemn Israel.   I will note that the final amended version of the bill apparently has clauses explicitly rejecting the BDS goal of the elimination of Israel. However, these amendments were inserted after the public comment period.

The tone was set right at the beginning, when one of the Jewish students introducing their alternative resolution (calling for positive investment for peace) mentioned that the leadership of the organized Jewish community was present. A hiss went up from the BDS side that was quickly silenced, but the sentiment was clear.  The BDS side then introduced their featured speaker, the author Alice Walker; Walker has a lengthy history of flirtation with the line between legitimate political criticism of Israel and overt anti-Semitic ideology.  As the open comment period began, the BDS side couldn't quite decide whether their ASUC student fees were subsidizing Israel's occupation or whether they were profiting from it. Or both at the same time. Actually, it's more likely neither-- the student fees pay for student programs, and tuition and university investments pay for the operations of the university.  But like much of the rest of the debate, facts weren't really important here; emotion was. The argument was that they simply couldn't continue to have their student fees pay for (or profit from? or both at once?) Israel's actions. And there was no charge that was too vile for them to use to this end-- one speaker went as far as to suggest that Israel was inserting rats into Palestinian girls' genital tracts. Another claimed that the IDF specifically shot Palestinians in the eye so as to blind them but not kill them (must be a newly invented Zionist magic bullet that could be fired that precisely and then stop before entering the brain, which happens to be located right behind the eyes).  Other students invoked details of genocidal episodes that have occurred to other peoples, as if the treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank was comparable to mass slaughters of populations.  It was reminiscent of the recent use (by a professor of Islamic studies at the University of North Carolina) of photos of Buchenwald to illustrate a story about Deir Yassin.

Just as in 2010, any BDS speaker was met with choreographed high volume cheers. At least this time the room was too small to allow them to gather en masse at the front to intimidate anyone who dared to oppose them, as they had done in 2010.  And just as in 2010, the loudest cheers were for the speakers who promoted the most radical anti-Israel line.  It was ironic that while the BDS side tried to claim that their resolution wasn't part of BDS, they were ecstatic when one of their speakers invoked the trinity of BDS demands: that Israel end its occupation of "all Arab lands", that Israel give equality to its Palestinian citizens, and that it recognize the fictional "right of return" that would eliminate Jewish national rights in the Jewish homeland.  They loudly cheered a student who had brought the unrepentant racist Louis Farrakhan to campus to speak. They insisted that the goal of the resolution wasn't divestment from Israel at all, yet they whooped even more loudly when a speaker stated that South Africa's ANC had endorsed divestment from Israel.   They claimed they were not anti-Israel, yet that very morning many of them had rallied in Sproul Plaza chanting the anti-Zionist anthem "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free."

One tactic that the BDS side used (which they also used at UC Riverside in their ultimately failed attempt there to pass a BDS resolution) was to claim that this resolution was the "neutral" position because it would also divest from companies involved in human rights abuses of Israelis--though they searched far and wide and couldn't find any. They clearly weren't neutral enough to look into any companies doing business with Iran-- the patron of Hamas and Hezbollah, and the source of the Fajr-5 missiles that rained down on Israel last year.  Given that all of those missiles were deliberately aimed at Israeli cities, each constituted human rights abuses of Israelis on a massive scale.  They clearly weren't neutral enough to look into companies involved in other human rights abuses such as those doing business with Mauritania-- a country in which Arabs continue to hold black Africans as slaves. They certainly weren't neutral enough to find any other country in the world upon which to focus their attention, except for the one Jewish state, which the BDS movement targets for elimination.

What was quite telling was that many of the pro-Israel speakers indicated empathy with Palestinian suffering and stating that they too would like to see the occupation come to an end. Yet none of the student speakers on the BDS side (at least during the first 4 hours of the process when I was in the room) indicated any recognition that people on both sides of the conflict had experienced pain and loss and suffering. None of them indicated any recognition of the two offers by Israel within the past 13 years of a Palestinian state-- which would have ended the occupation against which they railed.  None of them indicated that they were doing this to promote peace between a Jewish state of Israel and a future Arab state of Palestine; when one Jewish student turned and directly asked the crowd "How many of you who are in favor of this resolution support peace between a Jewish state of Israel and an Arab state of Palestine?" only a few hands went up.  I'm not sure that those few fully understood the question.

But what went on inside the room was polite and restrained compared to what was happening in cyberspace. The two Twitter accounts being used by the BDS side (@Berkeley SJP --Students for Justice in Palestine; and @ucbdivest) are worth noting. Now many of the comments under their hashtag #UCBDivest came from elsewhere, and so these tweeters can legitimately claim that they're not responsible for them.  But they certainly give a sense of the sentiment of BDS supporters. And @UCBdivest at least, while making clear his/her biases, at least did report some of what the pro-Israel side had to say. Though by the end, while not too tired to continue reporting all of the speaking points of the BDS side, did let his/her guard slip a bit:

But that's really nothing compared to Cal's Students for Justice in Palestine, the sponsors of the shameful "Israel Apartheid Week" every year.

There's plenty more-- but you get the point. For those who aren't familiar with the term (and I wasn't until this) "zizi" might have several meanings.  Wiktionary lists it as "penis". But there's possibly a far more ominous meaning; according to the staff of the Anti-Defamation League, "zizi" is also used in extremist circles as shorthand for "Zio-Nazi". 

If you're responsible for maintaining a campus climate of respect for others, perhaps you'd want to consider the role that SJP and their resolution has played on campus this week.  Does their behavior uphold UC Berkeley's Principles of Community, which state that the university should "strive to uphold a just community in which discrimination and hate are not tolerated" , a phrase specifically included in this resolution? 

And this contribution from an SJP member at UC Riverside might be a sign for what's in store at other campuses that dance with BDS: 

Here's the tumblr post referenced in her tweet, just chock-full of trivialization of the deliberate, targeted murder of Jews:  

Ways to Get Rich During Divestment Livestreams

For this, you’ll need a jar (or piggy bank, whatever you’ll be keeping your cash in), a few friends, and your wallets.
  • Put a quarter in the jar for every time someone refers to the barrier as a “security fence”.
  • Put another quarter in for every time someone refers to suicide bombers in restaurants, cafes, or nightclubs in Tel Aviv.
  • Put two quarters in every time someone makes a Holocaust reference.
  • Put a dollar in every time someone says the bill makes them feel “marginalized”. Double this if they say this and “our campus has been divided” in the same two-minute time slot.
At the end of the night, after the vote has been handed down, use the earnings to treat yourselves for sitting through the hasbara.

Are Jewish students who have positive identification with Israel (the great majority) going to be automatically declared as "racist" by SJP and its supporters, especially if this biased and flawed resolution is upheld? For that matter, will committed Jewish and Zionist students even choose to attend Cal if the campus climate is marked by this type of organized hatred?  Whether this resolution is signed or vetoed by the ASUC president, the damage has been done.  The university administration immediately noted, in a statement by Chancellor Birgenau, "I sincerely hope we can avoid a recurrence of the rancor and divisiveness that arose in the wake of a previous ASUC vote in 2010." The DailyCal student newspaper recognized this when it wisely editorialized "Ultimately, the passage of the divestment bill leaves lingering tensions that the ASUC must work to resolve in some way. The impact of SB 160’s passage will be felt most immediately on campus, where many students already feel isolated and unwanted. Moving forward, the ASUC needs to make a proactive attempt to alleviate the ongoing friction among students that this divestment solicits. Until campus communities can find a way to come together, divestment will continue to drive us further and further apart." 

In the end, Jewish students have choices.  There will be very few students for whom Cal is the only option. And while the BDS circus will move on to another town, not caring about the campus community it leaves in its wake, the university will be the one to suffer the consequences. 

Divestment isn't happening at UC Berkeley (as the Regents already made clear), but division is-- and so are delegimitization, demonization and double standards regarding Israel. And Natan Sharansky knows what those add up to.