By Yitzhak Santis/JNS.org
Israel’s Channel 2 recently dedicated a full 15 minutes to the anti-Israel group Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). Reporter Danny Kushmaro brought to an Israeli audience awareness of “the Jews that stand behind the boycott of Israel.” For me, a longtime “student” of JVP, as well as many Americans, there would be little surprise to hear the venomous rhetoric disgorged by JVP activists. For an Israeli audience that never heard of JVP, however, the reaction had to have been nothing short of shock and a profound sense of betrayal.
For decades, I lived in JVP’s cradle, the San Francisco Bay Area, and watched it grow in the 1990s from a small living room coffee klatch calling for a two-state solution to what it is today: a national organization with a multi-million dollar budget that has formally endorsed the full Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement agenda of undermining the Jewish state’s existence.
Where JVP gets its money from is largely unknown, as the group is highly secretive about its funding sources. The organization has published only two “annual” reports in the last decade, both of which offer no clue about its funding. NGO Monitor did find 21 mostly hard-left, and one Arab-American, foundations that underwrite JVP. But this only accounts for a fraction of JVP’s budget.
JVP is also murky about its membership. Its executive director, Rebecca Vilkomerson, has stated, “We’re not an insignificant portion of the Jewish community.” JVP tries to bolster this assertion with the claim that it has “200,000 online activists.” Yet JVP does not discuss how it determines which of these activists are actually Jewish. To be part of the Jewish community, one has to be, well, Jewish.
Though JVP has supported BDS for years, it didn’t officially join the international campaign until this February. BDS activists, of course, do not want to make peace with Israel. Rather, they seek peace without any Israel. The key BDS demand signaling this is the call for a “right of return” of millions of descendants of the Palestinian Arab refugees that emerged from the 1948 Arab-initiated annihilationist war against Israel.
BDS wants to reverse the results of that war.
In the Channel 2 report, when Kushmaro asked two JVP activists about their group’s support for a “right of return,” their answers were appalling. Sitting on a bucolic park bench far from Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic State, Kushmaro asked them, “If, after we make the right of return and all those things of the BDS, there will come peace? There will be peace in Israel?”
“I think it is the only way that there can ever be peace in Israel,” replied one of the JVPers.
“And if you are wrong?” asked Kushmaro. The other JVPer spluttered over her words searching for an answer and, finding none, asked Kushmaro in a tone of indignation, “How are we, how are we supposed to answer these questions?”
Kushmaro’s concise reply nailed it: “Because it’s my life. I’m living there. You want me to gamble on my life.”
Being thousands of miles away from the chaos engulfing the Arab world on Israel’s immediate borders gives these two JVP representatives the luxury to objectify Israelis and reduce their predicament to one-dimensional theories supported by glib sloganeering.
We who live here in Israel, however, understand well that this “right of return” demand is a euphemism for delegitimizing Israel’s status as the national home in which the Jewish people are implementing their right to self-determination. JVP may not see it, but there is a major dissonance between calling yourself “Jewish Voice for Peace” while actively opposing this right for your own people.
The Los Angeles Jewish Journal recently focused on one of the BDS movement’s founding leaders, Omar Barghouti, who in 2013 said, “Definitely, most definitely do we (BDS leaders) oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine. No rational, not-sell-out Palestinian will ever accept a Jewish state in any part of Palestine.”
Despite (or because of) this, JVP’s Vilkomerson described to the Jewish Journal how Barghouti and the BDS campaign “have been incredibly patient with us.” In the “past few years, she said, [BDS] leaders ‘were willing to work with us despite us not endorsing the full call [for BDS].’”
Indeed. The JVP-Barghouti relationship is actually longstanding. In 2011, Barghouti wrote that the “BDS National Committee (BNC)… sees JVP as an important ally in the U.S.” Further, Barghouti was listed as a featured speaker at JVP’s 2013 National Member Meeting.
Let’s not mince words. Israel’s 6-and-a-half million Jews are about half the world’s Jewish population. JVP’s support for delegitimizing Israel, while promoting its isolation and destabilization in a Middle East where hundreds of thousands have died in ethnic and sectarian civil wars, is an act of existential betrayal to 50 percent of world Jewry.
Betrayal, with all its connotations of treachery and perfidy, is a strong word. But when a group of Diaspora Jews joins forces with Israel’s most extreme adversaries seeking to strip the Jewish people of the inalienable right to national self-determination, I cannot find another word to describe such behavior.
Yitzhak Santis is chief programs officer at the Jerusalem-based research institute NGO Monitor.
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