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Liberal Jewish organization sidelines Jewish Voice for Peace

By Jerry Haber / cross-posted with permission from the Magnes Zionist blog

Does Jewish Voice for Peace have a place at the Jewish communal table?

I expect the answer to be “no” from people on the right wing of the Jewish communal spectrum; after all, some of them barely tolerate J-Street. But as an old-fashioned liberal, I am still naïve enough to believe that people who call themselves “liberal” or “progressive” will answer “yes”. After all, JVP does not call for emptying Palestine of Jews, or driving them into the sea. It doesn’t call for the violent destruction of the Zionist regime, or sending Jews back to their country of origin. Here is a paragraph from its mission statement:

JVP opposes anti-Jewish, anti-Muslim, and anti-Arab bigotry and oppression.  JVP seeks an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem; security and self-determination for Israelis and Palestinians; a just solution for Palestinian refugees based on principles established in international law; an end to violence against civilians; and peace and justice for all peoples of the Middle East

If anybody in J Street or Ameinu doesn’t subscribe to the above, then they should turn in their membership cards. Where JVP differs from those organizations, aside from their tactics, is that it does not mandate any one particular political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, i.e., how the self-determination of Israelis and Palestinians should be fulfilled, the way that liberal Zionist organizations do. Its concern is primarily for the welfare and self-determination of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, Jews and Arabs, and not for any particular political structures. That is a broad enough tent to include many Jews and Palestinians, Zionist, not-Zionist, and anti-Zionist. This is not to say that all members of JVP are agnostic or don’t have definite views on the subject. But, as I understand their mission statement, JVP doesn’t take a stand as an organization on the question of three states, two-states, one-state, federation, etc. JVP recognizes that there have always been differences of opinions on these questions, within and without the respective communities.

Enter Kenneth Bob, president of Ameinu, which claims to represent “liberal” and “progressive” values. Bob banishes JVP from the Jewish communal table for its willingness to include people who are agnostic on the ultimate political solution to the century-old conflict between Jew and Arab:

That is what separates progressive Zionists from JVP. We cannot be “agnostic” about the most central issue in the conflict, the importance of a solution that includes two states for two peoples, Israel and Palestine. It is ludicrous to suggest that one can be involved in the Jewish communal discourse about the future of the Middle East without having an opinion on whether Israel should exist.

“Ludicrous?” Not “mistaken” or “misguided’ but “ludicrous? Is it ludicrous for Ameinu to sit around the Jewish communal table with Zionist organizations that are not agnostic about denying the Palestinians their claims to self-determination in their homeland? No doubt Bob would claim that this denial separates Ameinu from the Zionist Organization of America – but will he call for its banishment from the Jewish communal table?

For the president of an organization that calls itself “liberal” it is not enough for JVP to state explicitly in its mission statement that Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs have a right to self-determination. Apparently, a Jewish organization must explicitly pledge allegiance to the particular form of Jewish self-determination adopted by the state founded in 1948 as a result of the expulsion of a majority of Palestinian’s Arab inhabitants. Only that will satisfy an organization that calls itself “liberal” and “progressive”. Bob elevates the steadfast commitment to the existence of State of Israel to the status of a Jewish article of faith. Maimonides famously held that Jews had to believe in the existence of God to be considered part of the Jewish community. Now belief in God has been replaced by belief in a particular political regime.

Should JVP have a place at the Jewish communal table? Let there be a litmus test for Jewish organizations, but let it be their commitment to the survival and thriving of Jewish people everywhere. Require that an organization observe rules of civility and decorum at meetings like the GA, and leave it up to JVP to decide whether a place at the Jewish communal table is worth moderating its tactics. But is there anything more pathetic than a liberal Zionist group, often badgered by the right, attempting to exclude groups on its left like JVP? Whether it does so out of genuine conviction, or out of a desire to legitimize itself at the expense of delegitimizing others, it is a disgraceful move.

Or so thinks this old-fashioned liberal.

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    1. David

      Just as at Passover, JVP has a right to sit at the grown-up table. In a few years most of the old kakers are going to be dead anyway and the new generation will have kids of its own. Like it or not, this is the new face of Jewry. Whether they have lip rings, tattoos, drink more than the allotted 4 cups of wine, or disrupt Federation meetings — none of these should determine whether they are invited to the table. They’re our children.

      Haber has it 95% correct. But screw decorum.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Brad

      As a proud member of Ameinu, I must take issue with your piece. Ken Bob, in his article in last week’s Forward does not call on JVP to be banished form the “communal table.” He has correctly identified Jewish Voice for Peace as having positions that force them to recuse themselves from debates relating to Israel’s and the Middle East’s future.

      Ameinu is both a progressive and a Zionist organization. One cannot exist without the other; our Zionism cannot be separated from our libralism. While I know of no Ameinu member who would take issue with the first part of JVP’s mission statement that you quote in your article, I also know of no Ameinu member who would support JVP’s call for a suspension of US military aide to Israel. Likewise, JVP’s call for a return of Palestinian refugees to Israel proper would be the death-knell for the Zionist enterprise; this we cannot support either. Ameinu or other like-minded Zionist organizations are not pushing JVP away from the “communal table,” as you state. Rather, it is JVP’s positions on issues vital to Israel’s continued existence that will only serve to marginalize this organization.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Ben Israel

      Some things to remember…
      (1) Almost half of all world Jewry lives in Israel
      (2) Israel is the only country in the world with a growing Jewish population
      (3) The large majority of Torah and other Jewish studies are taking place in Israel.
      (4) The large majority of Jews in Israel accept the Zionist definition of the state of Israel (this includes, in practice, the large majority of the Haredi population).
      (5) A majority of world Jewry outside Israel also accepts the Zionist definition of Israel and support Israel as such, whether or not they intend to live in Israel in the near future or not.

      Thus, if some Jews outside Israel don’t like this….well, that’s just TOO BAD.
      David seems to think that all young Jews are assilimated. That isn’t true, but even if it was, an assimilated Jews isn’t necessarily going to be a recruit for an anti-Israel organization like JVP. More likely they will simply be indifferent.

      BTW-if you think my characterization of JVP as anti-Israel is “unfair”, then I suggest you look at this blog posting by Rabbi Brant Rosen who heads JVP’s “rabbinical council”. Here is approvingly brings a link to an article from “Al-Jazeera” with quotes from an Al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade terrorist lamenting that there isn’t enough “effective armed resistance” against Israel, i.e. suicide bombings. First time I heard of a rabbi showing sympathy or understanding for such a position. And JVP can’t understand why some people don’t like them.

      See for yourself if you don’t believe me…


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    4. Kenneth Bob responded to my post. You can see it on the comment section of my blog. He claimed that Ameinu did not want to banish JVP from the Jewish communal table; rather, their positions are such that it is ludicrous to think that they will be taken seriously by other Jewish organizations.

      Brad here also says that Ameinu doesn’t want to banish JVP from the table, only that they should recuse themselves on discussions having to do with Israel;s future. Since JVP only engages in discussions having to do with Israel — that is the nature of the organization, like the ZOA.

      Actually, JVP, as far as I know, doesn’t take part in debates on the future of Israel at all. Its mission is to consider Israel’s behavior in the present; as an organization, it doesn’t take a stand on the future look of the Israel Palestine.

      The issue is not whether Ameinu agrees with JVP or not. The issue is whether Ameinu will sit in forums where JVP has been deliberately excluded, but ZOA has not. The answer, according to Brad, is yes — when push comes to shove, Ameinu’s Zionism trumps its progressiveness. So if it thinks that the ZOA advocates policies that are endangering the very existence of the State of Israel, it will continue to sit with them. But if it thinks that JVP’s advocates such policies, it won’t — and why not? Because of its agnosticism on the future question of one state vs. two state, etc., an agnosticism shared by many members of the Israeli left.

      I am waiting for Ameinu to issue the following statement:

      “We disagree profoundly with some of the positions of JVP, and we find them harmful and counterproductive in the pursuit of peace. But we strongly oppose their exclusion from the discourse on Israel, just as we strongly oppose the exclusion of rightwing groups that oppose a two-state solution. JVP is not part of the Zionist consensus, but it is part of the Jewish community, and as Jews, they have a right to be at the Jewish table when Israel is discussed.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Since JVP only engages in discussions having to do with Israel — that is the nature of the organization, like the ZOA — to call for their self-recusal is to ask them to banish themselves.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Ben Israel

      Let me clarify what I stated in my previous comment. What I am saying is that the question of whether there should be a Zionist Jewish state in Eretz Israel has been settled and closed . It is no longer in question. What JVP is doing is like someone attempting to reopen the question of whether the American Revolution should be reopened…in other words, should the United States go back to being a colony of Britain or not. Similarly, no one is asking whether the Indian Muslim demand to set up a separate, ethnocentric Muslim state on the Indian subcontinent should be reconsidered or not (and that state gets a lot of American aid just as Israel does).
      This also applies to Jews outside Israel, who as I pointed out, are a declining force in global Jewry in any event. JVP’s attempt to be “agnostic” on whether Israel should exist or not is like a citizen who is born in a country and then says “The laws and constitution of this country do not apply to me since no one asked me if I like them”. Each generation that is born is not in a position to reinvent the wheel…they are born into a certain reality and are not able to simply reject the laws and values that are handed down to them, otherwise there would be anarchy.

      Thus, JVP has excluded itself from the on-going dialogue that world Jewry is conducting.

      Reply to Comment
    7. I have little to add to Jerry Haber’s comments, with which I am in full agreement. I only want to reply to Ben Israel’s ludicrous suggestion that since my blog contains a link to an article that contained a quote from a Palestinian leader that advocated “armed resistance,” I must then be “showing sympathy” for suicide bombers.

      If you read my post carefully, you will see that I presented this article as an astute report of Palestinian life in the West Bank. The quote in question was presented in the context of a debate between two Palestinians over armed vs. nonviolent resistance – obviously an important debate Palestinian society.

      To extrapolate from my linking to this article that I must be sympathetic or understanding of suicide bombers is a shameful misrepresentation of me – and by extension of JVP.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Jeremy Green

      I’ve rather stumbled into this, but “Ben Israel’s” remarks seem to me to be deliberating obfuscating two different things. Of course it’s a reality that there IS a “Zionist Jewish State” in what he calls Eretz Israel. “Should” is a completely different question. I can’t see how thinking about a future in which Israelis Jews and Palestinian Arabs co-existed in a single state places one beyond the pale of civilised discourse; on the contrary, if one is within that pale, then whether a separate state of Palestine comes into existence or not, Israel is already a state with a significant non-Jewish minority. It ought to be at least permissable to think about what full civil rights for all will mean long-term; if continuing to define the state as ‘Zionist-Jewish’ is to be compatible with proper democracy, then it is surely going to be in a way that has more to do with symbolism than actual legal structures. It’s people who don’t want to think about this stuff who should be excluded from the table.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Ben Israel

      Jeremy Green-
      The reason I believe that “thinking about a future….single state is beyond the pale of civilized discourse” is because that is spitting in the face of the 20,000 or so Jews who died bringing this state into existence and/or preserving it and their families and everyone else who has sacrificed so much for it. When I and other Israelis look around the Middle East and see what is happening to non-Muslim or non-Arab minorities and how they are being oppressed or driven out of the region and then think that some group of Jews want to eliminate the state we worked so hard for and replace it with a state where it is INEVITABLE that the Jews will be attacked and oppressed(e.g. Lebanon, Copts in Egypt, the Christians in Iraq-remember the recent slaughter in the Church in Baghdad?) I am amazed at how out these “progressive” Jews could possibly think that Israelis would even consider voluntarily agreeing to be in such a situation.
      Regarding the Jewish symbols of the state…if people don’t like that, I suggest they first go to the meritorious Arab states of the Middle East such as Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen and others all of whom define themselves as “Arab” states (e.g. the official name of Egypt which is “The Arab Republic of Egypt”) and which to various degrees define themselves as “Islamic” basing at least some of their legislation on Sharia Law. Add Pakistan to the mix which was set up as an ethnocentric Muslim state that carried out ethnic cleansing against Hindus and Sikhs on a massive scale-yet I don’t hear progressives demanding they remerge with India into a “single-state solution” (and recall that this ethnocentric state gets aid from the US on the level the US does). The Jewish progressive should them convince these Arab/Muslim states to make their regimes compatable with “progressive” ideology. Once they have succeeded then come back to us with their suggestions for a progressive “ideologically pure” state.

      Reply to Comment
    10. @Ben Israel – so, if I’m to understand your logic, what you’re basically saying is that in order to avoid a most definite future oppression of Jews, the current oppression of Palestinians is justified and must continue. Did I get that right? Basically, what you’re saying is that someone, somewhere, has to be oppressed in this conflict…

      Reply to Comment
    11. Ben Israel

      Ami-I reject your assertion that Israeli is “oppressing” the Palestinians. Yes, the current situation has led to discomfort for the Palestinians, just as it has for us Israelis, BUT IT IS THE PALESTINIANS WHO ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR IT. It is they who reject peace, it is they who say Israel has no right to exist, it is they who say the Western Wall is a Muslim holy place, it is they who denied the Beit HaMikdash (Temple in Jerusalem) ever existed, it is they who rejected the 1947 UN Partition Plan which would have given them a state and which would have prevented the Palestinian refugee problem. It was their Arab allies, such as Nasser who brought about the 1967 Six-Day War by threatening to “throw us into the sea” (even David Grossman says he was quite frightened by their threats at the time). IT was their Arab allies who, after the war, made the famous “3 Noes of Khartoum”- “no peace, no negotiations, no recognition of Israel”.
      It is the Palestinians who turned down offers of a state by Barak and by Olmert, it is the Palestinians who insist on implementation of the “Right of Return” of the refugees. It was the Palestinians who, with Arafat’s permission set off the suicide bombing campaign in 1996 which led to Peres’ defeat in the election -assuming he would have given them a state had he won.
      What kind of a world do you think we live in? I pointed out what is happening to non-Muslim and non-Arab minorities in the Middle East. I presume you heard the comment of the Turkish Foreign Minister (of the supposedly “moderate Islamic AKP party) who said Israel is going to disappear (G-d forbid) and Turkey was going to reassart its control over the area. The Wikileaks have said even the Americans (the Obama-Clinton gang) are worried about this!
      You also know how the Israeli Arabs AND east Jerusalem Arabs dread the idea of living under the rule of the Palestinians. They know they are better off with us than they are with their own brothers, even if they hate us at the same time.
      Sure the situation isn’t ideal, but we are not going to roll over and destroy ourselves simply because some JVP “progressives” are uncomfortable because of the Star of David in the flag and the national anthem of the country talking about how Jews love Jerusalem and Eretz Israel.
      A recent news idea reported that the number of IDF troops in the West Bank reached the lowest level since Oslo. With good will and a continuing improvement in the security situation, roadblocks can be removed, free movement of the Palestinians can be restored and their economic situation improved. They have their own autonomous regime and a modus-vivendi can be reached. Since no peace agreement is attainable, it is to this we must all strive, but we will not give up our state.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Ben Israel – I didn’t ask you if the Palestinians were responsible for their situation or not. And your rejection of my assertion pretty much sums up the kind of world you live in – denial. I mean, even Sharon for Christ’s sake said that the occupation is “a very very bad thing”.
      Saying that the Palestinians are “uncomfortable” is just about the most outrageous, callous observation I’ve ever heard.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Ben Israel

      I again reject your assertions that “the Palestinians are suffering terribly”. They have an autonomous government. Their economy is improving. The security situation has improved, there are fewer roadblocks.
      It seems you have adopted “Jerry Haber’s” claim that the fact that they don’t have a fully independent state (which most ethnic groups and sub-nationalities don’t have) is the WORST possible suffering imaginable. That is a ridiculous claim. “Haber” claims the situation the Palestinians are in is worse than the Holocaust and the situation of North Koreans. THOSE are “outrageous” claims.
      Add to that the fact that the Palestinians are responsible for their situation is VERY relevant. Millions of ethnic Germans were expelled from eastern Europe (USSR, Poland, Czechoslovia, etc) after World War II. I repeat, MILLIONS. Yet no one is claiming those countries should let them back in, because the Germany they identified with brought much suffering to those countries. Just like the suffering the Palestinians have brought on Israel-you do remember all the wars, terrorism and particularly the suicide bombings, don’t you. Well, that certainly is going to have an effect on how Israelis view the Palestinians and their grievances.

      Reply to Comment
    14. I want to recognize the difference between Judaism and the Jewish and Israeli
      Please explain and answer

      Reply to Comment
    15. Ben Israel

      Khaled Youssef-
      I am an Orthodox/religious Israeli originaly born in the United States. I will try to answer your question.
      Judaism is not only a “religion” in the Western sense, i.e. it is only a matter of a profession of faith. In reality, the “Jewish people” are a nation, with a strong historical connection to a piece of Land, Eretz Israel (the Land of Israel). The Jews have this national identity even if the national center in Eretz Israel is not in existence, as was the case from the time of the destruction of the Second Commonwealth and Second Temple during the two rebellions against the Roman Empire, up until 1948. The Jews, having this national identity, does not preclude, of course, their being loyal citizens of what ever country they are currently living. But there is a bond between Jews that transcends national borders
      In effect, the Jewish people are a nation, and the Torah is their Constitution. Just as the Constitution applies to every citizen of the state whether they conciously agree with it or not, Jews have a connection with their Torah even if they are atheists and deny the religious aspects of the Torah (i.e. what is referred to as ‘the Jewish religion’).
      A person born to a Jewish mother is a Jew whether or not he or she conciously is aware of it . It should be pointed out that much of the “religious” aspects of Jewish observance revolve around Eretz Israel (e.g. the prayer for rain is recited when the rainy season of Eretz Israel beings, not when the rainy season of the local synagogue outside of Israel starts). The memory of the religious life revolving around the Holy Temple in Jerusalem is still alive in many religious commandments and customs as well, although the Temple itself was destroyed 2000 years ago. Religious Jews live in anticipation of its rebuilding.
      An Israeli is a citizen of the state of Israel. Most Israelis are Jews, although some are Christian Arabs or Muslim Arabs or Circassians or Druze. Only a few Israelis put their “national” (i.e. their Israeli identity) ahead of their Jewish or Muslim or Arab identity, although all can feel loyalty to the state in some form or other. There is a small groups of Jews who say “I am an Israeli, not a Jew” (I believe 972’s Yossi Gurvitz is one), but as I said, this is a pretty small group. Thus an Israel Jew still feels a bond with a Jew who lives outside Israel and indeed, all Jews around the world have the right to freely immigrate to Israel. Similarly, an Israeli Muslim Arab feels a bond with Muslim Arabs in other countries.
      I hope this begins to answer your question.

      Reply to Comment
    16. Ben Israel

      I forgot to mention that anyone can convert to Judaism and become a full-fledged member of the Jewish people, but missionary activity is prohibited (i.e. going out and recruiting potential converts) and converts are only accepted after committing themselves to observe the rather complicated requirements of Jewish law (the Torah).

      Reply to Comment

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