February 3, 2019


JVP just declared itself anti-Zionist and it's already shifting the conversation (Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man,  January 30, 2019, +972)

In many ways, JVP's decision to declare and formalize its position on Zionism is reflective of the political moment in the United States at large, but also specifically regarding Israel-Palestine. After years in which its supporters took great pains to try and prevent Israel from becoming a divisive, partisan issue, it seems all sides are drawing lines around each other -- and just like a growing number of issues, both sides seem to be embracing those divisions, hardening their positions, and demanding litmus tests of varying degrees from their supporters.

The decision to adopt those lines, however, is not always just about standing on a particular side but also creating space for others to fit within them. While much of the demand to make the change came from within the organization, Vilkomerson says in a telephone interview last week, another part had a lot to do with JVP's Palestinian partners, helping frustrate attempts to label Palestinian activists as anti-Semitic, and making it easier for JVP chapters to enter into explicitly anti-Zionist coalitions.

'There's no doubt some people will leave JVP because of it. I hope it will be very few people and that a lot of people will stay even if they feel uncomfortable with it right now,' says Rebecca Vilkomerson, Director of Jewish Voice for Peace, seen at the organization's offices in Brooklyn on January 23, 2019. (Photo: Kevin Hagen for +972 Magazine)

At least temporarily, the result has been advancing a small shift in the discourse about Zionism. This week, J Street, one of the only other progressive Jewish political outfits on the national scene, came to the defense of JVP and the Workmen's Circle, the organization that was threatened with banishment from the Boston Jewish community over its ties to JVP.

"We reject the contention that Jewish identity itself or inclusion in the organized Jewish community demands support for Israel or Zionism," J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami wrote, while reaffirming that his organization is Zionist and proudly pro-Israel. "We do not accept the contention that all anti-Zionism should be automatically defined as anti-Semitism."

A change is clearly happening in the way that American Jews talk -- and think about -- Israel and its ruling ideology. +972 Magazine spoke with Rebecca Vilkomerson about why and what it means that JVP has declared itself to be "unequivocally opposed" to Zionism, but perhaps more interestingly, the broader political moment for the question of Israel-Palestine. [...]

How do you address that question beyond your supporters?

"Obviously there are people who are anti-Semitic or anti-Zionist and there are people who mask their anti-Semitism with anti-Zionist language. That's a given, but that doesn't paint anti-Zionism as concept."

"Ever since [the advent of] Zionism there has been anti-Zionism within Jewish communities. One of the things we're most interested and excited about talking about is Jewishness beyond Zionism, decoupling Zionism from Jewishness, and exploring what Jewishness is like beyond Zionism."

"The other piece is how important it is for people other than Palestinians [to be] talking about anti-Zionism not being anti-Semitism. When anti-Zionism is defined as anti-Semitism, that means that Palestinians can't speak of their own oppression without being called anti-Semitic, which is obviously an exceptionally damaging and dangerous thing for someone to say. What it does is silence Palestinian voices from being able to talk about their lived experiences. It's really important as part of a broader movement to be able to stake out a position that says thoroughly that anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism."

The important thing to recognize is that Zionism is anti-Semitic.

Ilhan Omar Says U.S. Should Call Out Israel Like Iran, 'Chuckles' When Israel 'Upheld as a Democracy' (Haaretz, Feb 03, 2019)

"I want to talk about Israel because it has been a point of contention," Salbi began. "How can America work productively towards a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians in your opinion?"

"By having an equal approach to dealing with both. Most of the things that have been aggravating to me is that we have had a policy that makes one superior to the other," Omar responded. "And we mask it with a conversation about justice and a two-state solution. When you have policies that clearly prioritize one over the other."

When Omar was pushed to clarify, she added, "I mean just our relationship with the Israeli government and the Israeli state. And so when I see Israel institute laws that recognize it as a Jewish state and does not recognize the other religions that are living in it  and we still uphold it as a democracy in the Middle East, I almost chuckle because I know that if, you know, we [...] see that in any other society we would criticize it."

"We would call it out," Omar continued. "We do that to Iran, to any other place that sort of upholds its religion. And I see that now in Saudi Arabia and so I am aggravated truly in those contradictions."

Forcing the contradictions.

Posted by at February 3, 2019 8:03 AM