newsBoycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS)

Anti-Israel resolution in the city of Durham, NC, sets precedent for BDS activists

This vote is symptomatic of a bigger problem of “attaching what people know about other conflicts to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” said Yona Schiffmiller, North American liaison at NGO Monitor.

Jewish Voice for Peace. Photo courtesy of NGO Monitor.
Jewish Voice for Peace. Photo courtesy of NGO Monitor.

The City Council of Durham, N.C., unanimously passed a resolution on April 16 banning life-saving police exchanges and trainings between the city’s police department and Israel’s military.

The anti-Israel fringe organization Jewish Voice for Peace was one of 10 pro-BDS organizations leading the agenda as a part of “Demilitarize from Durham2Palestine,” which falsely blamed Israel for police violence against African-Americans in the United States. The coalition claimed that U.S. police forces that trained in Israel learned how to “terrorize black and brown communities” in the Jewish state.

The passage of the resolution within the city council was a significant victory for JVP and sets a dangerous precedent that could be copied elsewhere across the United States.

“It’s the first time that JVP was successful in pushing this sort of resolution at a local level, and it’s something they have declared they intend to replicate,” said Yona Schiffmiller, North American liaison at NGO Monitor.

“The fact that they now have a precedence of success is noteworthy, and it will only increase their willingness to do this elsewhere,” he told JNS.

“This is an important step towards divesting from militarization and over-policing, and investing in black and brown futures,” said Laila Nur of Durham for All, one of the coalition members who promoted the resolution. “I am proud to see Durham leading the way; it’s a huge victory towards a vision of safety and sanctuary for all.”

While the Israel Defense Forces and Israeli organizations such as Natal often teach American police and first-responders how to treat conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder following emergencies and disasters, as well as react to mass-casualty situations, terrorism, bombings and active shooters, none of these trainings were planned for Durham.

This is not the first time that Jewish Voice for Peace, or JVP, has disassociated itself from mainstream Jewish American organizations and sought to hijack unrelated causes like militarization in order to turn the American public against Israel.

In 2017, the ADL said that JVP “has set itself outside even the broadest conception of American Jewry’s big tent,” and uses language to describe American Jewish organizations “that veers uncomfortably close to age-old anti-Semitic canards about Jews using their influence to undermine the societies of the countries in which they live.”

In response to a panel on anti-Semitism that included controversial panelists, ADL president Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted: “Having Linda Sarsour & head of JVP leading a panel on #antisemitism is like Oscar Meyer leading a panel on vegetarianism. These panelists know the issue, but unfortunately, from the perspective of fomenting it rather than fighting it.”

At JVP’s national convention, after the riots in Ferguson, Mo., American political activist Angela Davis drew comparisons between the Ferguson police and Israel military.

JVP’s #DeadlyExchange campaign, signed by 21,518, petitioned the Anti-Defamation League to end hosting counter-terrorism seminars and trainings with Israeli police and military.

“In these programs, ‘worst practices’ are shared to promote and extend discriminatory and repressive policing practices that already exist in both countries, including extrajudicial executions, shoot-to-kill policies, police murders, racial profiling, massive spying and surveillance, deportation and detention, and attacks on human rights defenders,” notes the campaign website.

“Any attempt to pin the blame for race relations or tension between law enforcement and minority communities is silly considering historical context,” said Schiffmiller. “there have been problems between minority communities and law enforcement well before Israel was founded, so to try to pin the blame on Israel is ridiculous.”

He also maintained that this vote is symptomatic of a bigger problem of “attaching what people know about other conflicts to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Schiffmiller said that “what takes place in the U.S. is a particular set of circumstances, and oftentimes, you’ll see groups like JVP and like-minded organizations apply those circumstances and present the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through that prism, even though the circumstances are different, the nuances are different, and the context is different. It’s a way of contextualizing the world through the wrong set of premises.”

NGO Monitor produces and distributes critical analysis and reports on the activities of the international and local NGO networks for the benefit of government policymakers, journalists, philanthropic organizations and the general public.

Schiffmiller added that this kind of rhetoric is unsurprising, as “JVP’s declared agenda is to drive a wedge through the American Jewish community in its support for Israel.”

‘Justify attacks on Israel’

Even more problematic than BDS activity instituted by JVP, noted Schiffmiller, are the “apologies for Palestinian violence, used to justify attacks on Israelis and whitewash Palestinian terrorism.”

JVP has publicly endorsed a campaign calling for the release of the head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, an American-designated terrorist organization.

Additionally, in October 2015, during an uptick in Palestinian terror attacks against Israeli civilians and security forces, JVP referred to the increase as “Palestinian popular resistance.” It posted a statement on its Facebook page that praises “a new generation of Palestinians rising up en masse against Israel’s brutal, decades-old regime of occupation, settler colonialism and apartheid.”

Since the city council vote, anti-Semitic incidences have increased in Durham. On May 1, white supremacist brochures were found at Duke University and throughout downtown Durham, explicitly targeting Jews and Zionists.

According to StandWithUs, the posters emerged shortly after the Durham City Council meeting, where a member of the Nation of Islam spoke of a “synagogue of Satan” and accused Jews of having, “an inordinate amount of control” over city politics. The Mayor of Durham condemned the speaker during the meeting, but the City Council has still made no official statements on the matter.

Sara Rafel, executive director of StandWithUs Southeast, said: “In light of these anti-Semitic posters and other recent events, it is crucial that the Durham City Council take a strong stand against all forms of anti-Semitism. People need to come together and make clear that this hate has no place in the City of Durham, at Duke or anywhere else.”

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