The fight is breaking out between liberal Zionist and non-Zionist Jews, at last.
The Presbyterian vote to divest from three companies doing business in the occupation last week had the active support of the non-Zionist organization, Jewish Voice for Peace, which then made it on to the front page of the New York Times.
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the former head of the Reform Jewish organization, has now singled out JVP for an attack in Haaretz. Yoffie’s spiteful tone is evident in the headline: “How a radical anti-Israel Jewish group colluded with the U.S. Presbyterian Church.” A group of “young people in black T-shirts” had led the Presbyterians “astray,” alienating it from the Jewish community, Yoffie said. “Like virtually all Jewish leaders, I am not too happy with the Presbyterian church.”
I am not any happier with Jewish Voice for Peace, a small Jewish activist group that was only too happy to help the Presbyterians along…
none of this would have worked without the collusion of Jewish Voice for Peace, which has a tradition of cloaking extremist principles in ambiguous language.
Now Rebecca Vilkomerson and Donna Nevel of JVP have responded, with a great letter to Haaretz saying that the Reforms have walked away from their own legacy of supporting equal rights during the American fight against Jim Crow. The crushing sentence here is their statement that the Reform Jews offered not one concrete suggestion during the weeklong Presbyterian assembly about how to end the near-50-year-long occupation. No, the Reforms just urged the Presbyterians to meet with Israel’s rightwing prime minister.
Vilkomerson and Nevel:
Rabbi Eric Yoffie refuses to grapple with the reality of the occupation or to address the role Jewish American institutions play in repressing concrete actions to end Israel’s ongoing human rights violations against Palestinians. How sad, and revealing, that instead of engaging with the deeply critical message and moral issues being raised by the Presbyterian vote to divest, he resorts to ad hominem attacks against Jewish Voice for Peace and the Presbyterian Church.
We honor the deliberate and thoughtful process that led the church to vote to divest from three American companies, in accordance with their ethical investment principles. We were proud to play our part in supporting their process, but the decision was their own. To suggest otherwise is insulting and indicative of Yoffie’s approach to interfaith partnerships.
Throughout the weeklong General Assembly, no one from Yoffie’s movement made a single concrete suggestion about how to end the occupation — the growth of the settlements, the daily indignities or the structural violence against Palestinians. Instead, they used their voice to attempt to threaten and bully the Presbyterians into voting against their conscience.
The Union for Reform Judaism prominently displays a photo of Martin Luther King Jr. with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel on its website. The Reform movement is justifiably proud of taking action during the civil rights struggle. How sad that the leadership of the Reform movement today finds itself defending inaction, and therefore promoting injustice. Is the movement’s only response to the Presbyterian vote to attack Jewish Voice for Peace rather than recognize the merits of heartfelt and fact-based deliberations?
Despite Yoffie’s protestations, Jewish Voice for Peace is increasingly attractive to more and more Jewish Americans, including many within the Reform movement. In fact, we welcome new members daily. How beautiful to see so many Jews want to be part of an organization that supports equal rights and justice for Palestinians, Israelis and all people — in the best of Jewish tradition.
JVP’s greatest offense here was getting into the New York Times, i.e., edging into the mainstream. The viciousness of Yoffie’s attack reflects the fact that it is essential for the Israel lobby to be a monolith, to speak in one voice, so as to maintain U.S. support for a project that Americans can’t be trusted to support without pressure. That’s why there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between J Street and AIPAC these days. Once Jews speak in opposition on this issue, politicians will get to take different sides. You’ve got to close ranks. And smear JVP.