The following press release was sent out by the Baltimore chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace:
Yesterday, members of the Baltimore chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace interrupted a Yom Ha’Atzmaut party held at a downtown bar, denouncing it as a celebration of ethnic cleansing and confettiing it with educational flyers about the Nakba.
The “Israeli Independence Day” party was hosted by IMPACT and Charm City Tribe, organizations which program events for Jewish young adults in service of the agendas of the Associated and the JCC, their respective sponsoring institutions. The members of Baltimore JVP object to aspects of these agendas, especially to what they call the “celebration of Israeli nationalism at the expense of Palestinian human rights,” according to a letter the group sent to IMPACT and Charm City Tribe early last week, demanding the cancelation of Thursday’s party. The letter, signed by over 30 local Jews, stressed both the “displacement and continuing abuse of Palestinians,” as well as the way these kind of events “misrepresent and alienate us [as Jews.]” In addition to the letter from local Jews to the organizers, over 50 Baltimoreans of various faiths and ethnicities sent a separate letter to the Pratt Street Alehouse, the popular Inner Harbor landmark which the party. In response to the letters, Rabbi Jessy Gross, director of Charm City Tribe, sent only a brief and dismissive email asking for “tolerance and cooperation.” Despite this language of communication, and many phone calls from JVP, both IMPACT and Charm City Tribe refused to meet with JVP before the scheduled event.
With their sincere demand that the event be canceled summarily brushed off by Charm City Tribe, and with their insistence on scheduling a meeting likewise evaded, the JVP members decided to intervene directly with the party, which they consider a celebration of “the atrocities done in the name of Judaism,” according to Sam DiDonato, a JVP member who signed the letter and participated in the interruption. Some members were particularly upset by the party hosts’ attempt to reframe their objection in the terms of “tolerance and cooperation.” “Ultimately, ‘tolerance’ isn’t the value we’re demanding here. The Nakba is an ongoing human rights catastrophe. The institutional Jewish community throws parties to celebrate it, and from Baltimore, the least we can do is refuse to tolerate these celebrations,” explained JVP member Annie Sommer Kaufman.
As friendly young adults, most of whom are Jewish, the JVP members who attended the party to interrupt it seemed right at home, and in fact several of them noticed their acquaintances among the attendees. At 9:10 though, in a carefully planned chorus, the group clinked a glass to call attention to their message and surprised the crowd by chanting “stop celebrating ethnic cleansing!” numerous times as they confettied the space with hundreds of flyers. As they left, they admired how drastically the flyers had changed the landscape of the party, both by blanketing the surfaces, and by the content of their text, which explained that while the attendees of this party celebrate the foundation of the State of Israel as Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Palestinians mourn it as the Nakba, or “Catastrophe.” The flyers describe that “Israeli independence” in 1948 meant forced displacement, destruction of Palestinian villages and cities, and massacres: ethnic cleansing. By celebrating one, contend the JVP members, attendees celebrate both.
Here is an example of the flyers that were used: