Truth Matters: The Vanguard Leadership Group is wrong

vlg advertisementStanding in opposition to moral giants like Archbishop Desmond TutuNelson Mandela, and Ronnie Kasrils — seasoned anti-apartheid activists who resisted injustice and suffered for it  — a group called the Vanguard Leadership Group (VLG) has run  advertisements (right) in campus papers at Brown University, UCLA, the University of Maryland, and Columbia University, in which 16 of its members criticize Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) for calling Israel an “apartheid” state.

The VLG is an organization whose cryptic website reveals little about who is involved, who it represents, what it does, and what it believes in, though the website is peppered with references to the VLG’s participation in AIPAC conferences and tours to the Israeli Knesset.

Nevertheless, under the headline “Words Matter,” this advertisement (offering little in the form of substance, but standing on a slew of bold claims about the intentions and personal qualities of students in SJPs around the country, with whom they have never spoken) boasted the signature of 16 members of the highly opaque AIPAC-affiliated organization.

Apparently that was significant enough to merit international noteworthiness. Before some campus papers like the Columbia Spectator had even had a chance to print the advertisements, the Jerusalem Post triumphantly reported on the VLG’s advertisement, trumpeting what it saw as the very important fact that these 16  signatories are “black student leaders.”

It may be impossible to tell what the VLG members were thinking when they opted to sign this advertisement, since it offers little insight into the reasoning that supports their conclusions about Israel or about SJP — strange qualities for aspiring “leaders.”

What is certain, though, is that moral perspective, sound reason, and the facts of Israeli oppression were not involved in the VLG’s deliberative process. It is unlikely that each of these VLG members made an attempt to reach out to SJP students, and it doubtful that any of them ever took detours from their Israeli Knesset appearances to visit Palestinian refugee camps or witness the Israeli occupation.

Giving the VLG members the benefit of the doubt, maybe they had not bothered to try visiting Gaza for themselves because they were already aware of the fact that the people of Gaza have been under a merciless Israeli military siege since 2006, one that has givendietitians unprecedented influence and prestige in the Israeli military apparatus.

The product of such leadership, then, could not be anything more than the VLG’s incredible claim that: “the Arab minority in Israel enjoys full citizenship with voting rights and representation in the government.”

One might point the VLG student leaders to The Inequality Report, a freshly-minted report by Adalah, The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel,  which found that “Inequalities between Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel span all fields of public life and have persisted over time. Direct and indirect discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel is ingrained in the legal system and in governmental practice,” and that “More than 30 main laws discriminate, directly or indirectly, against Palestinian citizens of Israel, and the current government coalition has proposed a flood of new racist and discriminatory bills which are at various stages in the legislative process.” (p. 7).

One might also point the 16 VLG members to the State Department’s Country Report on Human Rights Practices for Israel and the Occupied Territories, which in 2004, in a rare instance of candor, reported that Israel had done “little to reduce institutional, legal, and societal discrimination against the country’s Arab citizens. The State Department’s most recent report, published April 8, 2011, confirmed that 7-year-old finding, that “Principal human rights problems [in Israel] were institutional, legal, and societal discrimination against Arab citizens.” (It should go without saying that racism in Israel is not limited to the anti-Arab variety.)

Setting aside how sincerely the 16 signatories of this op-ed might have felt about their views, there is no question that the excitement of outlets like the Jerusalem Post, the Forward, etcetera, and their rush to cover the breaking story about a paid-advertisement in 4 campus papers signed by a mere 16 students, is supposed to convey an image of entrenched support by Black Americans for Israel, as if (a) such support exists at the grassroots level (an empirical question; given the VLG’s secretive and apparently exclusive nature, it is unlikely to be so representative of Black Americans) and (b) such support, if it even existed, would justify the reality of Israeli apartheid (an easily dismissed logical matter, a simple non sequitur).

The real question is not where the VLG stands on Israel, but rather where people who fight against racial injustice stand. In the experience of groups like SJP at UC Berkeley, solidarity between people who care about racism and social justice has formed a strong rebuttal to Israeli propaganda, which is directly at odds with such struggles. If the VLG believes that it participates in a struggle against racism, then it cannot remain true to its ideals while also standing on the side of racism in Israel.

In that light, it is baffling that, at a time when support for Palestinian freedom and opposition to Israeli oppression grows continuouslyamidst veterans of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, and while racism in Israel reaches unprecedented heights, that the 16 members of VLG who issued the statement would make such an uninformed proclamation about Israeli racism and SJP.

Such striking inaccuracy is either the work of a group that is out of touch, or deliberately disingenuous. One hopes that the VLG aspires to be neither.

This post originally appeared on Kabobfest.

About Yaman Salahi

Adam Horowitz is Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.
Posted in Israel/Palestine

{ 29 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. Chaos4700 says:

    It still bothers me that Zionists feel it makes sense for — let’s put it bluntly — an association of privileged white males to have any business dictating to black South African activists what does or doesn’t constitute apartheid.

    Does anyone else see the gross irony in that?

  2. Gellian says:

    Follow the money. End of story.

  3. piotr says:

    Number one signatory, Jarrod Jordan, titles himself “social enterprenour”, and his expertise is in athletic training (so says his website) and in commenting on consumer goods like ware of Atlanta Bread Company. Strangely enough, his cameo role as the leader of Vanguard Leadership Group did not merit a Twitter message.

    I doubt that this “social enterpreneur” shelled his own money for the ad, and that he raised his share by offering baked goods to Atlanta passerbys. Clearly, someone not from the list paid the ad and provided training, if not the text itself, to our leaders. Time are hard, so one can surmise that our “quiet revolutionary” was hired for the occasion.

    I wonder how far that can go without fouling some laws about deceptive advertising. Are there any?

    • annie says:

      here’s Darius Jones & Jarrod Jordon speech @ AIPAC Policy Conference 2009

      Jarrod Jordon: Good evening. Darius and I have been friends since college. After graduation, we started an organization whose mission was to identify and cultivate the next generation of
      America’s leaders at historically black colleges and universities. Vanguard Leadership Group is the name of this ever-emerging fellowship. Keenly interested in foreign policy, Darius and I had
      heard of AIPAC and its persuasive stance on the U.S.-Israel relationship. We agree. However, we were unsure of how we could assist such an established and successful advocacy movement.
      The answer came when a mutual friend of ours, who had traveled on an AIPAC mission to Israel, invited us to the 2008 policy conference.

      Darius Jones: We accepted the offer, and the experience was truly transformative. Like most of you, Jarrod and I were in the audience last year when the now 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, stood on this very stage and without equivocation called the U.S.-Israel
      relationship sacrosanct. And as President Obama spoke from the core of his convictions, my own longstanding sentiments on the issue could not have found higher validation. I turned to the other members of the Vanguard Leadership Group seated nearby me at that moment, and saw a similar reverence in their eyes, for we understand, and we deeply appreciate the time, the talent, and the treasure that Jewish Americans contributed to a victorious civil rights movement.

      more at the link. i guess they found out how they could assist aipac!

  4. kapok says:

    “Your compliance with this request will be viewed as a responsible and appropriate first step toward raising the level of discourse”

    gah, It’s like a line of dialogue from Brazil or something HAL would say.

    And if we don’t comply what are going to do? Taser us?

  5. What baffles me is the demonstrably false points this advertisement raises. They’re simply lying, as Yaman clearly shows. Why can’t hasbarists ever make real points? Doesn’t it bother these people that the only way they can maintain their views is to shut their eyes and ears and then lie through their teeth? The worst part is some uninformed reader will see these advertisements and buy in. Isn’t there some psychological principle that says humans tend to believe the first thing they hear about any issue? And hearing it repeated increases that believability? This is so dangerous.

    I think what gets to me most is the blatant hypocrisy. These people say that anyone fighting for justice is standing in the way of an end to the conflict. Really? Me, the one trying to stop house demolitions and land theft and the killing of innocent civilians, the one trying to help purify drinking water and rebuild cities, to increase access to education and basic services, the one promoting equality and democracy over ethnic/religious supremacy…I’m standing in the way of peace? And they, the apartheid-apologists, the ones who enable the continuation of codified racism by pretending it doesn’t exist, are the champions of resolution? What a joke. The only “peace” we’re standing in the way of is one that institutionalizes the status quo, guarantees the subjugation of non-jews and entrenches the occupation. What kind of solution is that?

  6. GuiltyFeat says:

    I am interested in seeing how this plays out. Unlike some of the commenters above, I am willing to believe that these young people are sincere in their beliefs rather than having been bought off, but I would like to know more.

    Has anyone tried contacting them by email. The details are on their site. Maybe you could get one of them to comment in this thread about how their US-based interpretation of apartheid seems to differ from that of some of the people who were imprisoned in South Africa. I for one would like to read an actual response rather than mere speculation.

  7. eGuard says:

    On their website: members visited The Hague in Switzerland.

  8. eljay says:

    >> The use of the word “apartheid” … is … offensive to all who feel a connection to the state of Israel.

    I find it highly unlikely that there’s not a single Israeli – or anyone else – who feels a connection to Israel who does not find the word “apartheid” offensive.

    >> Democracy, justice, and the hope of reconciliation and peace in the Middle East …

    …are threatened by a single word. No mention, though, of Israel’s ON-GOING campaign of aggression, oppression, theft, colonization, destruction and murder, and how THAT might have just the slightest bit of impact on democracy, justice and the hope of reconciliation.

    So much for “words matter”. (A phrase echoed, perhaps not coincidentally, by Zio-supremacist “humanists” on this site recently, I might add.)

    • eljay says:

      >> I find it highly unlikely that there’s not a single Israeli – or anyone else – who feels a connection to Israel who does not find the word “apartheid” offensive.

      Just to clarify potentially confusing wording (because, y’know, words matter): I find it highly unlikely that there’s not a single Israeli – or anyone else – who feels a connection to Israel and yet is not offended by the application of the word “apartheid” to Israel.

  9. annie says:

    at their website under ‘special honors’ it lists

    AIPAC Ally of the Year

    VLG successfully lobbied the City of Atlanta and DeKalb County, Georgia to divest its pension funds from companies doing business in the Iranian and Sudanese energy sectors as a protest of those regime’s policies.

    i wonder what other projects they have taken on, if any. it cost lots of money running these ads, i wonder who donates to this group. that information is probably available.

    • DBG says:

      Annie, did you have the same reaction to the Gazan Youth Movement a few months ago? Basically anything you don’t agree with you guys claim they are getting Jewish money to spread their message. pretty sick and in this case I’d say racist.

      • annie says:

        i do not recall claiming the gazan youth movement was getting ‘jewish money’. i also find it interesting they’re focused on iran. let’s see what other strong political positions they’ve taken and then compare. i’m sure they’re in the habit of going after other student groups besides SJP right? i’m sure plastering student papers w/advertisements is a common tactic they use too. it’s so wonderful of them to come to the defense of poor little israel and i’m sure it has no relation to 20 members having attended the AIPAC Saban Leadership Training. i’m sure all 35 members who attended the AIPAC Policy Conference paid their own way (accomodations/travel and and expenses too)!

        i could care less if you think i’m racist dbg, you are an apartheid supporter.

        • DBG says:

          Debunking the apartheid analogy myth:

          link to gfantisemitism.org

          I wonder how many of you here would agree with this handout from the Durbin conference:

          link to gfantisemitism.org

        • mmayer says:

          Debunking the apartheid myth?

          From the website you directed us to “The fact that Israel’s Declaration of Independence – and founding document – promises to “uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex,” proves that Israel rejects racism and by definition cannot be accused of Apartheid.”

          DBG – You can actually read that statement with a straight face? Where is Israel upholding the full social and political equality of all of its citizens?

          A Israeli Jewish student of school age is allocated $300 more in annual educational funding than an Israeli Palestinian.

          Israeli Jewish welfare recipients receive more in assistance than Israeli Palestinian welfare recipients.

          I have a whole list, these are only two small examples. You call this equality????

      • “Annie, did you have the same reaction to the Gazan Youth Movement a few months ago?”

        As a matter of fact, quite a few regulars on mondoweiss were at first skeptical of GYBO based on the first iteration of their manifesto, which they later edited to reduce confusion about their motives. But you don’t really care about facts now do you?

        Also, I don’t recall (and can’t seem to find) Annie using the phrase “Jewish money.” What she did was ask who was funding these students. Based on their involvement with AIPAC I would say that it’s already pretty clear. Your attempt to gag any discussion of these students’ motives is intellectually dishonest and you know it. You can’t shut up everyone with accusations of anti-semetism. Time to start teaching the pony another trick.

    • “VLG successfully lobbied the City of Atlanta and DeKalb County, Georgia to divest its pension funds from companies doing business in the Iranian and Sudanese energy sectors as a protest of those regime’s policies”

      is there much wrong with that in principle?

  10. piotr says:

    I think that to understand VLG, one has to properly translate American usage of the word “leadership”. In the context of academia, this means participating in a student society/fraternity that furnishes credentials and support network to the members and is involved in some selected token charitable activities. With luck, it helps getting a better job or in starting a conventional political carrier.

    Engagement in “leadership” is a very sensible choice, but it tends to be a polar opposite of “activism”. I dub such guys “fanatical opportunists”. Think for a moment about DLC. In any case, they have a list of “social causes” that avoid a whiff of controversy, conservative but without violating Democratic shiboleths.

    If the website is not totally fake, they apparently got a ‘course in foreign policy’ (how? with whom? where?) followed by a trip to a bunch of places, or a bunch of trips. Lower achievers reached NYC, higher, Hague in Switzerland (where they learned about legal liabilities of Israel?), Giza and Knesset. Did anyone sponsored those trips?

    I would have very small hopes of convincing these people to anything. They just want to have good life, and activism is not the way to achieve it (contrary to some NGO foes in Israel).

    • Donald says:

      “Engagement in “leadership” is a very sensible choice, but it tends to be a polar opposite of “activism”. ”

      Yeah, the very name smacks of public relations BS, some title you might expect to come from a corporation that is sponsoring some internships. The “Vanguard Leadership Group”–good lord.

      • piotr says:

        It is indeed puzzling how American bussiness, quite conservative in politics like names like “Vanguard Investments”, “Progressive Insurance” etc.

    • mmayer says:

      Maybe they could provide a well rounded education and include a trip to Gaza. I bet their tune would change very quickly.

  11. patm says:

    From the 2008 AIPAC Saban Leadership Seminar Program:

    1:15-2:00 pm Emerging Leaders
    African American Activists

    “Darius Jones, Founder, Vanguard Leadership Group”

  12. Citizen says:

    The VLG website lists Members:

    AIPAC Policy Conference (35 members have attended)

    AIPAC Saban Leadership Training (20 members have attended)

    AIPAC Campus Allies Israel Trip (3 members have attended)

    There is no other obvious political linkeage except for a Nelson Mandella one.
    Wanna guess who funds these fellowships? Members travel to Europe and Israel as part of their mandate.

  13. Kissing the behind of the Zionist establishment has been a successful career choice for certain members of the black bourgeoise, a number of whom now serve in Congress and, I suspect, a seat in the House is in the near future for more than a handful of these letter signers, what Malcolm X and the Black Panthers of another era had no hesitation in calling “bootlickers.” Nor should we as they proudly advertise their profession.

    The Zionist establishment has long treated the African-American community as if it was a plantation. No flogging allowed, but it does offer rewards to those willing to play the House Negro and brands as anti-Semitic any who will not genuflect to Israel and defer to Jewish sensibilities when it comes to discussing Palestine.

    Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton learned their lessons and now know well what they can and cannot say. In the middle somewhere, and largely irrelevant and nestled in academia, we find most black intellectuals and today there is no Malcolm X to call them on it.

  14. shelfreader says:

    The Jerusalem Post headline refers to the signatories as “Black student leaders.” However, at least seven of the sixteen signatories are no longer students: Jessica Coley (class of 2009), Hakim Ameen (2010), Domonique James (2009), Jarvis Belton (2009), Chantel Morant (2010), Walter Whitehead, and Jerrod Jordan.

    Among the actual student signatories, only two of them signed their names with any leadership affiliation: Leah Graves is the Student Gov’t Association President at Miles College, and Vincent Evans is the President of the Florida A&M College Democrats.

    Oh, and Jerica Richards was a candidate for the 2011 Miss Georgia USA Pageant, but whether that accords her “leadership” status is debatable.

    Nine African-American students from around the country contest SJP on the apartheid label.

    This was the best that the Israel lobby could come up with?

    • Details, details! When it comes to the Israel-Palestine issue, facts seem to hardly matter. After all Mahmoud Abbas’s term as presidency AFTER a one year extension expired in January, 2009! Who is paying attention? Outside of Palestine, that is? Saeb Erekat tendered his resignation after his willingness to shine Ehud Barak’s boots with his tongue was exposed by one of his staff who gave the proof to Al-Jazeera, right? Wrong. Well, yes, he did resign, but since the non-president Abbas did not accept it, Erekat is still on the job.

      The problem for the Palestinians is not that their leadership is not united. It is that at the moment, outside of those leading the struggles against the apartheid wall and for BDS, they have none. If the Palestine Authority was not just a puppet game played by Israel and paid for by Washington and I suspect, Israel, as well , it would have launched a world wide campaign to free Marwan Barghouti. That it hasn’t speak for itself.

      It doesn’t speak for the wannabe House (Congress) Negroes who signed that letter, none of whom I expect, give a damn about South Africa or the African-American community (or, appear to do so for Israel, if it didn’t pay),