JVP News, Spring 2012
- From the Executive Director
- Live from Tampa
- Moving Toward Justice
- JVP's Rabbi Council
- Israel's Branding Campaign Meets the LGBT Community
- We Divest Student Leadership Team Takes Off
- New JVP Staff
Support this important work: donate to JVP today
In these pages, you’ll see the breathtaking breadth of work that JVP’ers have been doing in the last few months —‑ from solidarity actions with the Freedom Ride in Palestine, to fighting “pinkwashing” in Seattle, to supporting church divestment across the U.S., to extending the JVP Rabbinical Council’s remarkable outreach, to bringing the TIAA-CREF campaign to campuses. This amazingly diverse work is supported by the common threads that run through each project and campaign.
JVP is the only major Jewish organization whose organizing principles are based upon support for human rights, equality, and international law. In practice, that means we are able to build meaningful relationships with Palestinian and Arab-American activists, Israeli allies, and church groups; all while simultaneously reaching larger and larger segments of the Jewish community. We are able to act in true solidarity with allies, while also being a home and voice of conscience for Jewish Americans. This intersectional approach is what builds the larger movement at this critical moment.
Each of these projects is also notable for its strategic importance. In each case you’ll read about here, we identified an opportunity to move the discourse forward, forge new partnerships, and offer a new analysis. By picking our battles carefully, we magnified our impact beyond what you’d expect for our size.
As always, there is no way we could do it without every single one of you. Each rabbi who signs onto a public letter, each activist who attends a hearing, each student who organizes at their school, and yes, everyone who contributes money to make all these campaigns possible—all of you are needed to keep the work moving forward.
Thank you for everything you do to move us toward justice,
Live from Tampa
by Sydney Levy, Director of Advocacy
As we speak, 1,000 delegates to the 2012 Convention of the United Methodist Church are headed toward a vote on divestment from three corporations that reap huge profits from the Israeli occupation: Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, and Hewlett-Packard. We expect the vote as early as tomorrow (May 2nd), and no later than Friday May 4th.
For the last ten days, Jewish Voice for Peace members, including rabbis and students, have been working with church members, Palestinians Christians, Israelis, and American Christians from other denominations in a multi-faith, multi-ethnic effort to support this historic resolution.
In the last ten days of round-the-clock organizing in Tampa, we’ve had the opportunity to do hands-on, challenging, meaningful, and impactful interfaith work. Our coalition partners include clergy who have travelled a long road from questioning the merits of divestment to now proudly supporting the church’s effort, Congolese Methodists who see parallels with struggles in their country, and Jews who stand side-by-side with their Christian brothers and sisters in this historic struggle for justice, equality and self-determination. Most importantly, there is near-total consensus in the church that the occupation itself is wrong, and the plight of Palestinian Christians, and all Palestinians, under occupation were at the center of this struggle and dialogue over the course of the convention.
We suspect that opponents of divestment have been attempting a back-room strategy - but we know for sure that we are the only grassroots mobilization speaking directly to and building relationships with delegates one-by-one.
And this convention is definitely not happening in isolation. Last Sunday night, 60 Minutes aired a report on the persecution of Palestinian Christians notable for its balanced coverage as much as for the preemptory response from the Israeli government – who started protesting the piece even before it was aired. While groups like Christians United for Israel have activated a massive muzzling effort, we’re more than holding our own. So far, more than 35,000 of us have signed a thank-you petition. We need many more mainstream stories willing to actually confront the facts of the occupation, not fewer!
And on a more sobering note, there’s a clear connection between the Methodist Church vote, the 60 Minutes story, and events on the ground in Israel. Last Wednesday, on the eve of Israeli Independence Day, Israeli activist group Zochrot (which means “remembering”) attempted to mark the occasion of the Nakba in the midle of Tel Aviv .
Besieged by police before they could even begin, at least one activist was arrested for simply reading the names of Palestinian villages that had been demolished. These anti-democratic measures are heartbreaking and chilling.
But out hopes are high. From Tel Aviv to Nabi Saleh to Tampa, brave activists continue to push the envelope of what is possible. In the words of one of the delegates I spoke to in Tampa last week: “if it doesn't happen this year, it WILL happen next time around."
for more information on supporting church divestment work, contact Sydney Levy at sydney[at]jvp.org
Moving Toward Justice
JVP organizes national solidarity actions for historic Palestinian Freedom Rides
by Stefanie Fox, Director of Grassroots Organizing
2011 marked the 50th anniversary of the historic Freedom Rides in the US – brave civil rights actions against segregation in the Jim Crow South and throughout the country. All over the world, people celebrated that amazing history, and recognized the difficult work that remains nearly two generations later. And in Palestine, a group of young human rights activists decided that imitation, in this case, could be more than just the highest form of flattery. It could change the world.
On November 15th, 2011, six remarkable Palestinians attempted to board a Jewish-only bus headed from West Jerusalem to settlements in the West Bank wearing tee-shirts that read 'Justice', 'Freedom', and 'We Shall Overcome.' They were Nadeem Al-Sharbate, Huwaida Arraf, Dr. Mazin Qumsieyeh, Basel Al-Araj, Badee' Dwaik, and Fadi Quran.
When they were told to leave the bus, the Freedom Riders refused to get off, asserting their basic human rights. The bus driver proceeded to the next checkpoint where Israeli soldiers arrested the riders and a support organizer.
Like the US Freedom Riders before them, these actions made a powerful statement seen and heard around the world. Their actions made the stark realities of racial segregation clear, made the bravery of those who resist that segregation even clearer, and demonstrated the moral urgency of struggling for justice, human rights, and equality for all Palestinians and Israelis.
Stateside, JVP responded to the request of Fadi Quran and other Freedom Ride leaders to help make sure as many people as possible would know and hear about the Palestinian Freedom Riders. We launched a massive letter campaign to the State Department urging them to support the Freedom Riders, and organized 20 solidarity actions stretching from Los Angeles to Boston on the day of these new Freedom Rides.
At bus stops and in front of the offices of Veolia and Egged – two companies that operate Jewish-only bus lines in Israel and Palestine – we sang songs, held posters, and educated transit riders about what was happening to Palestinians that day and every day, and how they could help.
We helped re-frame the conflict in Israel and Palestine within a civil rights context, and bring awareness of solidarity with Palestinians to all people in the US who believe in racial justice and basic equality.
As we sang:
And if you lock me in your prison
For demanding equality
You won't stop people from riding
Toward a day when we're all free
for more information on our campaigns and solidarity actions, contact Stefanie Fox at stefanie[at]jvp.org or Rabbi Alissa Wise at alissa[at]jvp.org
JVP's Rabbi Council and Working with the Churches
by Cecilie Surasky, Deputy Director
There’s no other way to put it: the Rabbinical Council of Jewish Voice for Peace is making history. Whether taking a stand against war, or responding to the demonization of Muslims and Palestinian Christians, the Rabbinical Council has become an important national voice that demonstrates for us all a new model of faith-based engagement.
In the last few months alone, the Council:
*Wrote a game-changing letter supporting the Presbyterian Church’s process of phased selective divestment from companies that profit from Israel’s occupation: “To invest your own resources in corporations which pursue your vision of a just and peaceful world, and to withdraw your resources from those which contradict this vision, is not anti-Semitic…We appreciate the solidarity of people of conscience in pursuing conscientious nonviolent strategies, such as phased selective divestment, to end the occupation.”
*Partnered with staff to develop a must-see video and website, www.rabbisletter.org, as part of JVP’s ongoing work to support campaigns in Protestant churches to divest from the Israeli occupation.
*Published an open letter against war on Iran which garnered international media attention, including a nod in The Nation’s editorial pages.
*Launched a blog, PalestinianTalmud.org, where you can read many of the documents described here as well as moving personal reflections.
*Spoke out in support of Sabeel, a Palestinian Christian group that calls for equality and justice in Israel/Palestine through nonviolent means.
*At the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association annual conference, council members distributed personal statements on why they joined JVP, recruited new colleagues to join, and co-facilitated a ground-breaking Go & Learn workshop about Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). Rabbi Alissa Wise reports that “1/3 of the conference attendees came. We read together the Palestinian call for BDS, heard testimonies from rabbinical council members, and talked about how to clarify our questions and values about BDS and nonviolent struggle. While fatigued and exhausted, the entire group stuck together for the entire conversation.”
In the months and years ahead, we will look to the members of the Rabbinical Council to provide us all with wisdom, energy, and inspiration. We are grateful for the contributions they have already made to JVP and to our close Christian, Muslim and secular partners. We are excited to see what the future holds.
for more information on JVP's Rabbinical Council, contact Rabbi Alissa Wise at alissa[at]jvp.org.
Israel's branding campaign meets the LGBT community
LGBT community members come out for real dialogue about the occupation
by Ari Wohlfeiler, Grassroots Fundraising Coordinator
On March 15th, the Seattle Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) Commission made a historic decision, cancelling a thinly disguised propaganda event featuring 2 LGBT Israelis that was sponsored by the Israeli Consulate and militant right-wing pro-Israel group StandwithUs.
Seattle LGBT commissioners heard several hours of testimony from queer-identified Jews (many of them JVP members) who cleared away the debris of anti-Semitism accusations, and queer-identified Palestinians who detailed the racist and violent effects of Israeli policy on their own lives as members of LGBT and Palestinian communities. After hours of testimony, the LGBT Commissioners voted their conscience, and canceled the event.
Days later, thousands of JVP supporters joined our Advisory Board members Sarah Schulman and Judith Butler in signing a thank you letter to the Commission which urged them to meet instead with queer Israelis and Palestinians independent of a government-sponsored propaganda effort.
Two weeks earlier and 3,000 miles away, JVP helped coordinate media work and generated more than 1,000 petition signatures for a March 3rd demonstration to end a de facto – and outrageous - ban on Palestinian or Palestinian-solidarity organizing at New York’s famous LGBT Center.
In these cases, including similar ones in Toronto and around the world, justice-minded LGBT community members came out to name and challenge Israel’s well-documented practice of “pinkwashing” the occupation.
Pinkwashing, as described by lesbian writer and activist Sarah Schulman in her recent New York Times op-ed, is “a deliberate strategy to conceal the continuing violations of Palestinians’ human rights behind an image of modernity signified by Israeli gay life.” It is part of a Brand Israel campaign to counter Israel’s increasing global isolation by selectively highlighting liberal aspects of Israeli society, while simultaneously fueling racist assumptions about Arab society.
Honest dialogue about LGBT life in Israel is not pinkwashing. But when LGBT Israelis are intentionally used to diminish or distract from the ongoing violence the occupation causes Palestinian communities – particularly LGBT Palestinian communities – we have the right and the obligation to stand up.
Jewish Voice for Peace recently launched a website, IsraeliLaundry.org, to help activists who want to fight back when Pinkwashing, Greenwashing (the use of environment-friendly PR campaigns) or Bluewashing (the use of positive Jewish identity programs) are leveraged to silence real debate about the Israeli occupation.
Change requires open dialogue with LGBT Israelis and Palestinians about their struggle for justice and freedom, on both sides of the green line. In the words of JVP-Seattle member Wendy Elisheva Somerson, “any true dialogue on queer issues in the Middle East has to address the Occupation and include queer Palestinian voices.”
But when the Israeli Foreign Ministry or groups like StandWithUs, both of whom have well-documented ties to virulent homophobes and a well-established pattern of disregard for LGBT Palestinians, try to claim the mantle of LGBT rights and tolerance, we insist that such cynical use of the LGBT equality struggle be stopped.
We Divest Student Leadership Team Takes Off
Student Leaders Take the Fight to Financial Services Company TIAA-CREF
By Rabbi Alissa Wise, Director of Campaigns
Can you think of a successful social justice movement that didn’t include bold action and leadership from students on college campuses around the country? Neither can we! That’s why we’re so excited to be working within the We Divest Coalition to launch the Student Leadership Team (SLT) and build the demand that pension giant TIAA-CREF divest from the occupation.
A partnership between JVP and fellow We Divest coalition member (and Nobel Peace Prize winner) American Friends Service Committee, the SLT got started in earnest last November when we brought 25 student activists from the Universities of Arizona, Virginia, Michigan, Nebraska; Cornell, Oberlin, NC State, NYU, and Evergreen State College (WA) together for a weekend-long leadership development training in Chicago. For 48 jam-packed hours, these emerging campaign leaders shared organizing strategies, learned about the target companies that profit from the occupation, and planned ways to coordinate and support each other’s work over the year to come.
Most excitingly, the weekend helped solidify and build active campus campaigns! At NYU, U of A, Cornell, and Maryland especially, student activists are gaining ground in campus-specific campaigns to press for divestment.
In 2012, both the learning and the action is continuing full-steam ahead. We’ve instituted monthly skillshares for the SLT, which so far have included in-depth briefings about how targeted companies profit from occupation, and a media training from our colleagues at the Institute for Middle East Understanding (IMEU). We also just completed a video that combines the voices of students in the US and in Palestine in a unified demand for TIAA-CREF to divest, and released it to mark Land Day on March 30th.
As we head toward summer, we’re planning our biggest leadership development project yet – a full week-long Summer Institute this August that will help 35 SLT members become experts in media messaging and grassroots organizing. As exciting as the week is going to be, the real impacts will be felt all throughout the next academic year and beyond as these new student leaders take their organizing skills and passion to divestment campaigns nationwide.
There’s still time to apply for a slot at this summer’s SLT Training Institute. To apply, visit http://wedivest.org/2012/02/sltsummerinstitute.
And for more information about getting involved in the We Divest campaign on campuses or in the community, email alissa[at]jvp.org
We are excited to welcome Ari Wohlfeiler as our new Grassroots Fundraising Coordinator, working out of JVP’s New York office. Ari comes with an extensive background in grassroots fundraising, largely within grassroots campaigns to end the prison industrial complex – making him no stranger to work that asks challenging questions and demands long-term commitment! He’ll be concentrating on building connections between our existing fundraising activities, and engaging a larger section of our communities and membership in new fundraising projects and events.
for more information on giving opportunities, please contact ari[at]jvp.org