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Surging support for Palestine fuels JVP’s biggest meeting yet

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The first Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) meeting Mitchell Plitnick attended was in 1999, in a living room alongside fifteen people. The latest JVP meeting he went to was last weekend, where over five hundred people took over the second floor of the Baltimore Hyatt. Hundreds more wanted to attend, but it was sold out.

Plitnick, program director of the Foundation for Middle East Peace and a former director of policy at JVP, told me the conference was impressive.

It was a sentiment shared by many of the attendees. JVP has transformed from a scrappy California-based group to a national force in the American Jewish community and in the Palestine solidarity movement. Held from March 13-15, JVP’s latest national membership meeting was filled with Jewish prayer, a memorial service for those killed in Israel/Palestine last summer, and countless talks on dozens of different topics. The meeting, like JVP itself, was intergenerational and interdenominational, with young and old Jews and non-Jews holding discussions on the future of JVP. Some attendees were there for their first JVP gathering.

It was not nearly as slick as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference, but there was a real sense that JVP was growing into a force that holds real power at the grassroots level.

JVP has grown alongside other Palestine solidarity groups, whose ranks have been swelled by those watching frequent assaults on Gaza. Young Jews and liberal Democrats are increasingly voicing criticism of Israel, a trend JVP is seeking to capitalize on. A February Gallup poll revealed that 48 percent of Democrats sympathize with Israel over the Palestinians–a drop of ten points from last year.

“It is the end of the era of ‘progressive except for Palestine,’” said Cecilie Surasky, JVP’s deputy director.

It’s a bold statement to make. The political landscape has not yet seen the extinction of progressives who triangulate between pro-Israel politics and social justice work.

But many liberals are increasingly being forced to choose between progressivism and support for Israel. And JVP is one of the leading groups seeking to force the end of the era of “progressives except for Palestine.” One of their newest hires is Rabbi Joseph Berman, now JVP’s federal policy organizer. He’s tasked with working on Capitol Hill to further the work of JVP. The coming years will see JVP trying to impact federal policy–a monumental task, though one that doesn’t seem impossible after 60 lawmakers boycotted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s March 3 speech to Congress.

The Baltimore meeting was the biggest JVP national gathering yet. The growth stems from a source all the attendees want to see end: the worsening situation on the ground in the region. Last summer’s assault on Gaza lead to a boom in JVP membership and donations, and a shift to the left among some liberal Zionists who decided to join JVP. The Gaza war last summer lead to 30 new chapters being formed. 60,000 new people signed up to be online supporters, according to JVP executive director Rebecca Vilkomerson.

One person representative of the leftward pull liberal Jews feel is Seth Morrison, a former board member of J Street’s Washington, D.C. chapter. This was Morrison’s first JVP national gathering, but he threw himself fully into the group: he helped plan the JVP meeting.

Morrison’s frustration with J Street grew during 2013, in part because J Street refused to support the Palestinian Authority’s bid for United Nations recognition. Morrison said he thought J Street was not using the political power it had accumulated, and he eventually became a supporter of BDS, which J Street opposes.

“What I’ve realized about Israel–which I still love and support and have good feelings about–is that Israel is addicted to the occupation,” Morrison told me. “I’ve come to believe that BDS is tough love.” Morrison said “tough love” is important to combating addiction.

The national membership meeting was the first get-together since JVP changed its position on the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement from one of support for targeted boycotts and divestments to full endorsement of the BDS call. When JVP staffers reminded the audience of that change, the overwhelming majority of people applauded.

Cecilie Surasky told me the change in position meant JVP could now fully endorse academic and cultural boycotts, the two most controversial aspects of the BDS movement. JVP’s support could be crucial in the coming year, as academic associations like the American Anthropological Association consider endorsing the academic boycott.

In addition to discussions about BDS, the right of return and many other topics, the JVP meeting was filled with discussions and panels about connections between Palestine and other struggles for justice. There was a panel on the U.S.-Mexico border and immigration rights. The Black Lives Matter movement, sparked by police killings of unarmed Black people in Ferguson and elsewhere, was also central to this year’s gathering. One of the most packed panels was one featuring poet Aja Monet and activist Ahmed Abuznaid, who discussed the recent Black Lives Matter delegation to Palestine.

Connecting the dots between Black Lives Matter and Palestine, and how anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism has become just as institutionalized as anti-Black racism in the U.S., was Angela Davis, the famed scholar who delivered the closing address.

“Speaking out against the militarization of the police requires us to understand how deeply the state of Israel is implicated in this process, of the trainings of US police officers,” said Davis. “The Israeli military police in occupied Palestine have emerged as a model of how protesters should be dealt with everywhere. And this is why it appears as if we are witnessing the replication of their behavior in a small town called Ferguson, Missouri, and all over the country.”

The end of her speech was greeted with rapturous applause and a standing ovation. Davis was followed out by dozens of JVP members hoping for a picture with one of the most famous Black intellectuals alive today.

Alex Kane
About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist who focuses on Israel/Palestine and civil liberties. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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26 Responses

  1. just
    just
    March 16, 2015, 3:21 pm

    Thanks, Alex.

    This news is both welcome and very exciting.

  2. JLewisDickerson
    JLewisDickerson
    March 16, 2015, 3:33 pm

    RE: Speaking out against the militarization of the police requires us to understand how deeply the state of Israel is implicated in this process, of the trainings of US police officers,” said Davis. “The Israeli military police in occupied Palestine have emerged as a model of how protesters should be dealt with everywhere . . .

    WATCH: ■ Catalan Police in Israel: repression courses “Tested In Combat” [VIDEO, 05:40] – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YPrNmGcIFpY
    CATALAN POLICE TRAINING IN ISRAEL VIDEO February 16, 2014
    “Public security” training in Israel for police from Catalonia – or how to wage war on your own civilian population to protect the investments of bankster criminals!
    SOURCE – http://roblosricos.wordpress.com/2014/02/16/catalan-police-training-in-israel/

    • JLewisDickerson
      JLewisDickerson
      March 16, 2015, 3:34 pm

      P.S. RE: “Tested In Combat” ~ from the above video on Catalan police training in Israel

      MY COMMENT – Here is a very powerful testimonial regarding the impact of Israel’s “tested in combat” marketing on policing here in the U.S.

      WATCH: ■ An Israeli Soldier’s Story – Eran Efrati [VIDEO, 40:05] – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=93hqlmrZKd8
      Published on Mar 8, 2014
      The talk by Eran Efrati was filmed in Denver, Colorado on March 3, 2014 as part of The Soldier and the Refusenik U.S. tour with Maya Wind. Eran talks about his experiences in the IDF and then more broadly discusses Israel, its relationship to the U.S. and the global expansion of militarism.

    • RockyMissouri
      RockyMissouri
      March 17, 2015, 11:46 am

      UTTERLY HORRIFYING!

  3. Les
    Les
    March 16, 2015, 5:02 pm

    JVP has lots of work to do.

    Jeffrey Goldberg’s experience as an IDF campguard of Palestinian prisoners has rewarded him a top spot in the US media where this particular Israeli agent is encouraged to write such stuff as “Is It Time For Jews To Leave Europe?” Would an American who had served the Nazis as campguard of Jewish prisoners be given such a welcome return by our media?

    http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2015/03/is-it-time-for-the-jews-to-leave-europe/386279/

  4. Steve Macklevore
    Steve Macklevore
    March 16, 2015, 5:05 pm

    Whites against apartheid.

  5. Abu Malia
    Abu Malia
    March 16, 2015, 6:07 pm

    Thank you Alex!

    It gladdens my heart to witness my Jewish brothers and sisters trying to save themselves (and Palestinians) from Zionism. What a lot of people in the west do not understand is, in the global south, especially Western Asia and Africa, “Jewish” is synonymous with Israel and vise versa (i know this because i was one of them). So, to see a whole lot of American Jews vigorously disavow Zionism will indeed go a long way in combating anti Jewish sentiment.
    It is the beginning of the end for this vile ideology and in mho the internet did it. They had the MSM media figured out (bought out) with gate-keepers manning every outlet until Al Gore came around and invented (kidding of course) the internet and now the dirty cat is out of the bag.

  6. JWalters
    JWalters
    March 16, 2015, 6:33 pm

    “But many liberals are increasingly being forced to choose between progressivism and support for Israel.”

    Yup. Re-constituting a religious kingdom from 20 centuries ago with bombs and guns and bigotry is pretty obviously incompatible with any progressive vision for humanity. An Israeli founder debunks some of the Zionist founding myths here.
    https://consortiumnews.com/2015/01/03/israeli-founder-contests-founding-myths/

    • Walid
      Walid
      March 17, 2015, 1:03 am

      “Yup. Re-constituting a religious kingdom from 20 centuries ago with bombs and guns and bigotry …”

      Those Jews you are describing, JWalters, sure sound a lot like those other bearded and turban-headed fanatics that are trying to reconstitute a religious caliphate from 14 centuries ago; they somehow got their wires crossed as the Prophet Muhammad in his time did not ask for the destruction of church, synagogue or any vestiges of past cultures of the Assyrians, Babylonians, Hispanics and Andalucians.

      It isn’t any wonder these crazy Jews and crazy Moslems are great pals as both are giving their religion a bad name. Throw in end-times Christians that are trying to reconstitute a hallucinogenic world conjured up by John of Patmos and you have a complete fruit salad.

      • RockyMissouri
        RockyMissouri
        March 17, 2015, 11:49 am

        Walid: TRUTH! Sadly…!!

  7. Kathleen
    Kathleen
    March 16, 2015, 6:46 pm

    So exciting. Hope

  8. David Doppler
    David Doppler
    March 16, 2015, 8:20 pm

    Great post, Alex. 30 new chapters and 60,000 new members since the Gaza War! Angela Davis drawing the line from Israel to Ferguson.

    I think back to the Naftali Bennett interview by Martin Indyk at Saban a few months ago, and you had this bright, wise, nuanced interviewer and this completely dismissive fascist-like responder, talking about the titanium in his spine. I think back to Abe Foxman saying to Netanyahu: “don’t come to Congress,” and he came and evoked and reveled in crowd ecstasy reminiscent of certain documentaries in the 1930’s, but earning Obama’s saber-thrust: “you broke it. you fix it.”

    Now you’ve got Ayman Odeh becoming a political star in Israel, change the overwhelming message of the election, over-subscribed mega-conferences by JVP in the US, BDS now rolling with gathering momentum.

    Why, I believe it is time to get out in front of the change (years of denial and hasbara having failed)! Things could move very quickly now, as Herzog, the Gatekeepers, the center take over from the now discredited Neocons. One day the crowd woke up and said, I’m not as afraid of Israel’s enemies as I am of our leaders. What good is strength in service of stupidity and racist fascism and corruption.

    • Walid
      Walid
      March 17, 2015, 1:22 am

      “Things could move very quickly now, as Herzog, the Gatekeepers, the center take over from the now discredited Neocons ”

      David, other than being more mild-mannered and polite, what are you really expecting out of Herzog; that he’s give the Palestinians less checkpoints, more water or that he’d dismantle the “fence” and allow them a bit of real autonomy?

  9. Kay24
    Kay24
    March 16, 2015, 10:30 pm

    I am sure if an unbiased poll is conducted it would show an increase in the number of Americans who now sympathize with the Palestinians.

    I guess Netanyahu has to be thanked for this great change. His stupidity during the past few months has exposed exactly what a war monger he is, and how much he has tried to insert himself into US policies. Also the last massacre in Gaza, which the entire world watched with horror, the UN shelter being bombed, the children being blown up, was enough for open a lot of eyes, and people realized that Israel is NOT the victim is always pretend to be.

    Hopefully JVP will get the support it deserves. Good luck to all.

    • Walid
      Walid
      March 17, 2015, 1:45 am

      “… it would show an increase in the number of Americans who now sympathize with the Palestinians ”

      Kay, I doubt this, it would be more of Americans developing an aversion to Israel’s antics, which wouldn’t necessarily translate into a corresponding sympathy for the Palestinians. All the sympathy in the world wouldn’t buy the Palestinians a cup of coffee and neither would all the hate for the Israelis. If anything, this growing aversion to the Zionists can end up saving a lot of money to the American taxpayers, which would rub off positively on the Palestinians. Sympathy for Palestinian go hand in hand with sympathy for the Arabs, and the Israeli PR machine has taken care of preventing that from happening any time soon..

  10. Nevada Ned
    Nevada Ned
    March 17, 2015, 12:56 am

    JVP is a very valuable organization. They have a perspective that may save the Palestinians AND Israelis. The only thing that JVP really needs is some power, and at the present growth rate that will come soon.

    I sent them a donation, and I urge other MondoWeiss readers to contribute also, whether you’re Jewish or not. (BTW I’m not).

  11. Pixel
    Pixel
    March 17, 2015, 5:21 am

    Had I known there were going to be complimentary brownies and lemon squares, I might have tried harder to get there. :o)

  12. RockyMissouri
    RockyMissouri
    March 17, 2015, 11:51 am

    HEROIC…!!

  13. Kowo92
    Kowo92
    March 17, 2015, 1:53 pm

    “American Jews are not a monolith, just like any other group. In fact, we have never been more divided in our opinions when it comes to Israel and Israeli policy. And so many of us are extremely opposed, in fact, to the settlement policy.” says Cecilie Surasky, Dep. Dir., Jewish Voice for Peace in an interview with TRNN covering the Jewish Voice for Peace 2015 National Meeting. Check out the full story here: http://bit.ly/1wVGFUa

  14. Aleena2308
    Aleena2308
    March 17, 2015, 4:56 pm

    I’m glad that there are people and organisations out there which are determined to reveal the truth and fight for a fair justice. It’s vitally important to be understanding, kind and peaceful, there’s no room in this world for hate from either sides. Go peace! Woo !

  15. DaBakr
    DaBakr
    March 18, 2015, 2:51 pm

    …beginning the next ‘era’ of supposedly ‘grassroots’ advocacy groups-especially ones that insert ‘Jewish’ into their names to lend a false air of so-called Jewish credibility’- yelling about how its “finally the end of the ________(pro-zionist) era”.

    • Mooser
      Mooser
      March 19, 2015, 5:29 pm

      “especially ones that insert ‘Jewish’ into their names to lend a false air of so-called Jewish credibility’

      Sue them Dabakr! Sue the tallits right off of them. Take it to the Supreme Court, get a restraining injunction on the basis of their unauthorized use of the word “Jewish”. Tell them that “Jewish” is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Zionism, and the trademarked (marcas registrata) “Jewish” cannot be used without Zionism’s permission, or for any purpose of which Zionism doesn’t approve. You’ve got a solid case there! Maybe you could even collect damages! Make it a class action suit.

  16. Mooser
    Mooser
    March 19, 2015, 5:35 pm

    BTW, if anybody needs some genuine “air of Jewish credibility” I’ve got it, in the small 1/2 ounce spray, 6 ounce liquid (for automated dispensers) and 1-quart bottle. When “mountain fresh” isn’t good enough, put 3500 years of jewish history in your air-freshener, and make the desert boom.

    • just
      just
      March 19, 2015, 5:36 pm

      LOLOL!

      (I gotta get me some!)

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        March 19, 2015, 11:15 pm

        Gonna be fun when the “Dabakr’s” and the rest of that herd of ilk start standing out side JVP meetings and yell “Those people aren’t Jewish. They’re phonies, every one of them!” And then Schumley Boteach can go on TV and explain why all the Jews at JVP aren’t really Jews. He can explain how they are all just faking, to further their own selfish interests.

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