‘We often play the role of being able to say things that the rest of the movement cannot,’ Jewish Voice for Peace director Rebecca Vilkomerson says in a wide-ranging interview about the group’s decision to come out as opposed to Zionism, how to fight the conflation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, and recent attacks on Black-Palestine solidarity.
Jewish Voice for Peace’s announcement that it opposes Zionism, published quietly on its website earlier this month, has thus far come and gone without much fanfare or public attention. It simply wasn’t surprising for many.
“This doesn’t change anything about our focus or our political analysis,” JVP’s executive director, Rebecca Vilkomerson says, explaining that the change is not a huge departure for the organization in either practice or principle. “It just names something that hasn’t been named before.”
Naming, however, can have powerful repercussions. Just a few days after the statement went up on JVP’s website, an umbrella group of Jewish organizations in Boston voted to expel any of its members who partner with anti-Zionist Jewish groups.
In many ways, JVP’s decision to declare and formalize its position on Zionism is reflective of the political moment in the United States at large, but also specifically regarding Israel-Palestine. After years in which its supporters took great pains to try and prevent Israel from becoming a divisive, partisan issue, it seems all sides are drawing lines around each other — and just like a growing number of issues, both sides seem to be embracing those divisions, hardening their positions, and demanding litmus tests of varying degrees from their supporters.
The decision to adopt those lines, however, is not always just about standing on a particular side but also creating space for others to fit within them. While much of the demand to make the change came from within the organization, Vilkomerson says in a telephone interview last week, another part had a lot to do with JVP’s Palestinian partners, helping frustrate attempts to label Palestinian activists as anti-Semitic, and making it easier for JVP chapters to enter into explicitly anti-Zionist coalitions.
At least temporarily, the result has been advancing a small shift in the discourse about Zionism. This week, J Street, one of the only other progressive Jewish political outfits on the national scene, came to the defense of JVP and the Workmen’s Circle, the organization that was threatened with banishment from the Boston...Read More