It is truly amazing what can be accomplished these days when the Internet has given students the power to think for themselves and organize like-minded individuals. Two young adults with nothing to lose and everything to gain have embarked on a journey for peace in the Middle East. Joshua Michaels, a Jewish American, and Ibraheem Samirah, a Palestinian American, are seniors at American University in Washington, DC, and recently founded a campus chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, an organization that deals with the Israel/Palestine conflict. For those of you who don’t know, Jewish Voice for Peace is a democratic community of activists that work within the Jewish tradition of fighting for justice, equality, and human rights in Israel/Palestine. The first time I met Josh; he told me he had just done his birthright trip to Israel. It was clear from our first conversation that Josh was a very intelligent person, and well educated on the subject matter. After talking in great depth about Peter Beinart’s book, I showed him my favorite website for Israel/Palestine news, +972 Magazine. I told him to take a look at the website, read as many articles as possible by Noam Sheizaf, and then to let me know if him and Ibraheem wanted to be the founders for the AU chapter. Within 24 hours, Ibraheem and Josh approached me saying, “We’re in.”
Jewish Voice for Peace at American University is a safe haven for those American Jews who lay awake at night wondering why their religious and cultural identity is being transformed into a religious nationalist movement that oppresses another people. Once the chapter was launched at AU, the members started to pour in one by one. Slowly, members of JVP at AU started to realize that their message of peace and equality was having a profound impact on both Jewish and non-Jewish students at AU (the most politically active campus in the United States). JVP at AU is an organization that invites American Jews to not be silent when the Israeli government commits its human rights violations against the Palestinian people. When Ibraheem and I discussed the chapter’s mission, he told me, “I want people to approach the topic from a human rights point of view. The effects of occupation hinder human dignity on both sides. I am a Palestinian, but when I look at this conflict, I don’t just see Palestinians suffering, I see human beings suffering, now and in the future. Protecting human rights will benefit Palestinians and Israelis alike.”
We all remember a time when we were taught to “love thy neighbor as we love ourselves.” As a kid, I remember being fascinated when my parents and grandparents told me stories about all the Jews who lead revolutionary social movements here in America. For example, a Jewish American hero named Andrew Goodman was killed in Mississippi for trying to register African Americans to vote at the polls. American Jews have a history of speaking out against social injustices around the world, voicing the battle cry Tikkun Olam. That being said, it should not be a surprise that American Jews on campuses all across America end up playing a central role in the fight for equal rights in Israel/Palestine.
Jewish Voice for Peace at American University was launched to counter the hasbara from organizations like J Street and American University Students for Israel. While JVP at AU welcomes J Street’s efforts to open the dialogue within the Jewish community on campus, JVP at AU offers an alternative solution by promoting the international non-violent movement BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions). JVP at AU uses BDS tactics to call attention to products and companies that are profiting off the occupation and to move beyond the stilted two-state approach. While J Street does offer American Jews on campus the opportunity to speak up against the Israeli government’s actions and policies, they do very little in terms of advocating for Palestinian rights. J Street was created for the purpose of promoting a “peaceful two-state solution” to the conflict. However, people who are becoming active in JVP at AU realize that this “peaceful two-state solution” is code for ethnic cleansing. How better to demonstrate this point than the Lieberman-Livni plan of transferring Israel’s Arab population from their homes and into a Palestinian state, which J street as an organization supports. At JVP at AU, such a population transfer would reek of ethnic cleansing and we say to this, “NOT IN OUR NAME.”
With Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu forming a super-party alongside neo-fascist Avigdor Lieberman, the time is now for organizations like JVP at AU to lead by example for college campuses all across America. JVP at AU advocates for a halt to the 3.3 billion dollars of American taxpayer money, an end to Israel’s 45-year illegal occupation, equal rights for Palestinians under the law, and a resolution to the Palestinian refugee problem consistent with international law and equity. What started out, as a dream that two activists had is now becoming a reality. As the Jewish Voice for Peace liaison to the American University Chapter, I have watched this chapter grow overnight. I can say firsthand that this particular group of young Jewish Americans have something to say and will not be intimidated or silenced by the American Jewish establishment.