Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) (קול יהודי לשלום Kol Yehudi la-Shalom) is a United States Jewish organization which describes itself as "a diverse and democratic community of activists inspired by Jewish tradition to work together for peace, social justice, and human rights [to] support the aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians for security and self-determination." JVP seeks "an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem" and opposes Israel Defense Forces operations in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and supports Israeli refuseniks.
JVP was formed in September, 1996 by Julia Caplan, Julie Iny, and Rachel Eisner. Rebecca Vilkomerson is currently the executive director and Cecilie Surasky is the deputy director; there are six other staff members. There are currently over 100,000 people that are JVP online activists. Members of the advisory board include Tony Kushner, Michael Ratner, Judith Butler, Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, and Wallace Shawn. There are over 30 Rabbis and Rabbinic students on the Rabbinical Council.
JVP opposes the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It has published articles criticizing what it describes as the "severe human-rights violations that Israel engages in every day," such as the construction of the Israeli West Bank barrier on Palestinian land, the blockade of the Gaza Strip, and military operations in Gaza and the West Bank. While calling for an end to the occupation, it has not endorsed a particular solution to the conflict, saying it "endorses neither a one-state solution, nor a two-state solution."
Jewish Voice for Peace supported the Free Gaza Movement until October 2012, when JVP disassociated itself from it after the Movement's founder, Greta Berlin tweeted a link to a video entitled "Zionists Ran the Holocaust and the Concentration Camps."
In 2004, Jewish Voice for Peace published a collection of essays entitled Reframing Anti-Semitism: Alternative Jewish Perspectives. Among the topics discussed in Reframing Anti-Semitism are antisemitism and stereotypes of Jews in modern America. It argues that the Jewish left and critics of Israeli policy have ceded the fight against antisemitism to the Jewish right, and that critics of Israel or Israeli policies should not be accused of antisemitism. As of March 2007, Reframing Anti-Semitism was in its sixth printing.
In early 2007, Jewish Voice for Peace launched MuzzleWatch, a blog dedicated to tracking and exposing allegations of what it considers intimidation and suppression of voices who are critical of certain Israeli policies. MuzzleWatch was nominated for 2007 Jewish and Israel Blog Awards in three categories: Best New Blog, Best Left-Wing Political Blog, and Best Jewish Anti-Establishment Blog. After the first round of voting, MuzzleWatch was a finalist in all three categories, but it did not win any awards in the final vote. The Jewish and Israel Blog Awards describe themselves as "an informal annual award contest" whose purpose is to "direct new readers towards Jewish, Israeli, and pro-Israel blogs."
The Young Jewish Declaration is a project created by young leaders within Jewish Voice for Peace. YJP was debuted at the 2010 Jewish General Assembly where five young jewish and proud members disrupted Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech. This event prompted worldwide media coverage including that of the Washington Post, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and Tikkun. The Young Jewish Declaration reads, "We will not carry the legacy of terror. We refuse to allow our identities to be cut, cleaned, packaged nicely, and sold back to us. We won’t be won over by free vacations and scholarship money. We won’t buy the logic that slaughter means safety. We will not quietly witness the violation of human rights in Palestine."
In February 2010, JVP launched The Only Democracy?, a blog that, by its own description, "questions the very notion of Israel as “the only democracy” in the Middle East, and puts a spotlight on the intensifying struggle for human rights largely ignored by the mainstream media. It chronicles the struggles waged by people on the ground, everyday, as they seek to maintain and expand full civil and human rights for all people in the region, even as their lives are shaped, curtailed and directed by the unending Israeli-Palestinian conflict and especially the Israeli occupation of Palestinian Territories".
JVP supports the Israeli refuseniks and has hosted events in which Israeli refuseniks spoke before American audiences. December 18th, the JVP website, is a vehicle for those to protest imprisoned refuseniks, specifically Shministim.
According to its website, JVP supports "divestment from and boycotts of companies that profit from Israel's occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem... The boycott/divestment/sanctions movement (BDS) encompasses a variety of tactics and targets. JVP rejects the assertion that BDS is inherently anti-Semitic, and we encourage discussion both within our own community and outside of it of the growing BDS movement. JVP defends activists' right to use the full range of BDS tactics without being persecuted or demonized." According to reporter Gal Beckerman of The Forward, "Moreover, it is a group that has demonstrated a guerilla-like savvy in staging actions that get its message out to a broader national audience. In its use of BDS, for example, JVP has staked out a position distinct from those who target any and all entities related to Israel, which for many Jews implies a rejection of Israel’s very legitimacy. JVP instead targets only entities involved in one way or another with Israel’s occupation of the West Bank." JVP's executive director Rebecca Vilkomerson stated “We do feel connected to the global BDS movement. We consider ourselves a part of it."
In June 2010, JVP launched a divestment campaign against the pension fund TIAA-CREF. The petition to divest reads, “We are participants and investors in TIAA-CREF funds who are deeply concerned that TIAA-CREF invests in many companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Some of these companies provide weapons and covert surveillance supplies that maintain the occupation by force. Others take or exploit Palestinian resources, including scarce water and even the land itself. All are profiting from Israel’s violations of international law and international human rights standards.” The five companies targeted by the campaign are Caterpillar, Elbit, Veoila, Motorola, and Northrop Grumman.
In September 2010, Israeli artists came to JVP asking for U.S. support to an artistic boycott of the theater in the illegal settlement Ariel. JVP developed a statement that has been signed by over 150 theater and film professionals. Some of the signatories include Stephen Sondheim, Rosanne Barr, Tony Kushner, and Mandy Patinkin. On the significance of the action, JVP says, “This was the first time such mainstream figures had drawn a line around normalizing settlements which are illegal according to international law, and which constitute one of the main impediments to a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”
During 2004 and 2005 Jewish Voice for Peace protested against Caterpillar Inc. for selling bulldozers to Israel, and claimed that Israel's use of the D9 armoured bulldozers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is a violation of human rights and Caterpillar's business code of conduct. Along with four Christian groups, JVP introduced a shareholder resolution calling on Caterpillar to re-examine its sales of bulldozers to Israel, but the resolution was rejected by 97 percent of the votes at the 2005 shareholders' meeting. JVP has continued to introduce shareholder resolutions at Caterpillar shareholder meetings every year since 2005. In 2010 the resolution received nearly 27% of the vote.
In a speech to the Chicago Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in February 2005, then-JVP Co-Director Liat Weingart said that "JVP was the first Jewish group to publicly support the Presbyterian Church's decision to investigate selective divestment." She described the Church's decision "to investigate selective divestment from companies profiting from Israel's occupation" as "incredibly brave" and said that there is "very little evidence" that "divestment from Israel's occupation will hurt Israel's economy."
In 2006, Jewish Voice for Peace helped organize a demonstration outside the meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in Sacramento, California. The stated purpose of the protest was to argue that AIPAC doesn't represent the views of all American Jews regarding Israel. As part of a coalition of over 100 organizations, JVP participated in the 2011 Move Over AIPAC conference. Move Over AIPAC is a campaign that aims to counter the influence of AIPAC in US policy towards Israel and the Middle East. This event was a counter-conference organized around AIPAC’s yearly meeting in Washington DC. One of the actions that was largely organized by JVP was a flash mob in Union Station to the song Hava Nagila.
On February 25, 2007, JVP was one of twelve groups that sponsored a demonstration in Teaneck, New Jersey against the sale of homes in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The organizations said that in the past, such homes have "been sold exclusively to Jewish people" and that Palestinians were not allowed to buy them "because of their religion and their ethnicity." The groups said that the home sale, which took place at Congregation Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck, may violate international law and New Jersey laws against discriminatory sales practices.
The JVP position on the 2008–2009 Israel–Gaza conflict is that Israel's actions are "an opportunistic agenda for short-term political gain at an immense cost in Palestinian lives" which are "illegal and immoral and should be condemned in the strongest possible terms." JVP joined marches and demonstrations condemning Israel in many cities, including Racine, Wisconsin, Seattle, and others.
The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) removed Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of JVP, and Cecilie Surasky, deputy director of JVP, from its Jewish Community Heroes competition because JVP "is a supporter of the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign targeting investment in Israel". Joe Berkofsky, JFNA managing director of communications added “our Israel Action Network is working to challenge the boycott, sanctions and divestment movement and other efforts to isolate and weaken the Jewish state. We cannot therefore support a group that seeks to harm Israel through its support for BDS."
In September 2011, Rabbi Doug Kahn, executive director of the San Francisco-based Jewish Community Relations Council said “Jewish Voice for Peace routinely allows itself to be used as political cover by organizations promoting anti-Israel boycotts and divestment so that they can claim that they have Jewish backing for their positions, even though JVP represents a tiny fraction of the community.” In response, Rabbi Alissa Wise, a national organizer for JVP who co-founded JVP’s rabbinical council, speaking on behalf of the JVP, said "we’re not responsible for the language used by others", that some "groups do more harm than good" and that she regarded the work done by JVP as "trying to promote self-determination and equality for all people...a fruition of Jewish values, the path of living a Jewish life."
In March 2011, Brandeis University’s Hillel organization voted not to accept the membership bid of the local campus chapter of JVP, citing JVP's association with the larger Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS). The decision, said the group's e-board, was founded on Hillel International's guidelines for inclusion. Upon review of JVP's statement of mission, past and proposed events, Hillel leadership was quoted saying, “While we understand that JVP at Brandeis considers itself a pro-Israel club, based on positions and programming JVP has sponsored, we do not believe that JVP can be included under Hillel’s umbrella.” In response, JVP formulated a petition in favor of its inclusion in the Hillel that over a third of the student body signed.
In February 2011, the New York Times published a piece on JVP activism in the Bay Area that noted, “The activists say they are not working against Israel, but against Israeli government policies they believe are discriminatory.” In an Editor's Note, the Times later wrote that one of the article's two authors was a pro-Palestinian advocate and he should not have been allowed to write it.
In October 2010, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) identified JVP as one of the top 10 anti-Israel groups in the United States. In a September 2010 report, the ADL wrote: "While JVP's activists try to portray themselves as Jewish critics of Israel, their ideology is nothing but a complete rejection of Israel. In May 2008, for example, members of JVP protested many of the celebrations of Israel's 60th anniversary that took place around the country, essentially illustrating that they oppose Israel's very existence." The ADL also took issue with JVP's mission statement which it said "places the onus of resolving the conflict on Israel" and lists a long list of requirements for Israel. "In stark contrast to these detailed requirements, the only stipulation for Palestinians is the cessation of 'suicide bombings and other attacks on Israeli civilians,'" the report said. JVP responded by saying the ADL was wrong about several key points—among them, that JVP is not anti-Israel or anti-Zionist. JVP also invited its supporters to make financial contributions to JVP in honor of Abraham Foxman, the leader of the ADL.
In February 2007, Rabbi Ira Youdovin, executive vice president of the Chicago Board of Rabbis, wrote a column in The Forward about Jewish critics of Israel, and the way in which many Jews and Jewish organizations "squash" such dissent. In his column, Youdovin wrote that "the line separating calumny from legitimate dissent is unclear and ever shifting," but he added that "Jewish Voice for Peace, which supports divestment and is currently circulating a petition urging Congress to heed [former president Jimmy] Carter’s words, is certainly beyond the pale." Mitchell Plitnick, Director of Education and Policy for JVP, responded by calling Rabbi Youdovin's line "arbitrary" and saying that "Youdovin misrepresents JVP’s position" concerning divestment. Plitnick emphasized that JVP supports "selective and targeted divestment that is aimed exclusively at the occupation, not at Israel itself." Plitnick wrote that "[m]ost Jews believe that there should be pressure on both Israelis and Palestinians to make peace" and that "JVP advocates nothing more or less than that."
On January 28, 2007, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) convened "Finding Our Voice", a conference co-sponsored by more than 50 Jewish organizations for the purpose of discussing the rise in antisemitism. Its co-sponsors represented a wide range of Jewish opinion, including the ADL and AIPAC on the right and Americans for Peace Now and the Jewish Labor Committee on the left. Tikkun and Jewish Voice for Peace were not invited to co-sponsor the conference. A spokesperson for JVP said, "From our perspective, you cannot get to the roots of anti-Semitism in the progressive movement without honestly addressing the severe human-rights violations that Israel engages in every day. Judging by the lineup, that kind of honest examination is not likely to happen at this conference."
The Jewish Bulletin of Northern California wrote in 2003 that "the mainstream Jewish community has viewed A Jewish Voice for Peace [sic] as a group of radical Jews who air dirty laundry by criticizing Israel when the Jewish state is under attack. Some go as far as to label the members self-hating Jews."
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