Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Southampton University Bows to Zionist & Tory Pressure and Cancels Conference on Israel & International Law

The decision by Southampton University to cancel a conference on Israel and International Law, of all subjects, is an act of sheer cowardice.  Universities have a duty, not only legally but morally, to uphold academic freedom, the cut and thrust of debate, the right to present alternative ideas to those of the mainstream. 
A Police State University
It also demonstrates the hypocrisy of the state.  It was less than 3 months ago that 8 journalists and cartoonists from Charlie Hebdo were murdered in their offices.  World leaders, including those from the most repressive states such as Saudi Arabia and Israel, attended a march dedicated to upholding the values of freedom of speech.  David Cameron also attended but that hasn't prevented his Communities Minister, the loathsome Eric Pickles from adding his (considerable) weight to the call to ban the Conference.  Tory MPs have also weighed in to support the call from the misnamed Board of Deputies of British Jews and various other Zionist front groups.
The loathsome Eric Pickles MP - Called for the Conference to be Banned
 The pretext is 'health and safety' because the Zionists have promised a demonstration.  If Southampton University's administration cannot protect its conferences from a small demonstration then it should collectively resign and make way for those who can.
A University of Cowardice
 There is an appeal later today and the Vice-Chancellor Professor Don Nutbeam will make the final decision, however it is likely to be a charade as this decision is likely to have already met with his approval.  There is the promise of legal action, either in the form of judicial review or an injunction, though our judiciary are not known for their upholding of the right to academic freedom, other than when the rights of fascists such as Patrick Harrington at NE London Polytechnic some years ago, are concerned.

My own view is that we should hold a demonstration at Southampton University to ensure that the Administration is left in no doubt as to our anger.

Tony Greenstein

Statement from Organisers

The March of the World Hypocrites and Tyrants 1

It is with extreme astonishment and sadness that we have to inform you that the University of Southampton has told us earlier yesterday (Monday 30 March 2015) that it intends to withdraw its permission to hold the academic conference on International Law and the State of Israel. We were told that the decision was taken on the grounds of health and safety: a number of groups may be demonstrating for or against the conference which could present risks to the safety of the participants, students and staff. The University claims that it does not have enough resources to mitigate the risks, despite a clear statement from the Police confirming that they are able to deal with the protest and ensure the security of the event.
Southampton University - Where Freedom of Speech Carries no Weight
 As the law stands, the University is legally obliged to uphold freedom of speech, and - unlike in some engineering projects for example where health and safety may be the only legal obligation – the requirement of minimising risk should also fall onto the Police as the agency that is entrusted with the enforcement of the law (freedom of speech) and the provision of security. The mitigating measure should therefore include policing in addition to what the university can reasonably provide using its own security resources. We are therefore extremely dissatisfied with the risk assessment conducted by the University which seems to lack consistency; high risks remained high even when seemingly effective mitigating measures were put in place. Crucially and additionally, the risk assessment does not seem to include all possible risk mitigating measures that could be provided by the police.
A number of risks have been identified by the police but it is very clear from the Police’s report that they are more than capable of policing the conference and ensuring the safety of university staff, speakers, delegates, students and property. However, instead of accepting this at face value the University decided to focus on the risks identified by the Police and ignore their statement about their ability to police the event – we were told the Police will never say in writing they are not able to police an event, in other words the University had doubts about the Police’s ability to do their job of upholding the law! The university claims that the Police are not able or unwilling to become too involved because the University is ‘private property’, which we find astonishing. The University is a public space, it was established by a Royal Charter and it has public roles and duties including upholding freedom of speech and to that extent it should be able to resort to police assistance in order to curb security risks to enable it to fulfil its legal obligation to uphold freedom of speech. If this is not done, if commitment to safety is not undertaken by the police, freedom of speech becomes an idle worthless notion. At no point were we given an indication that the University has indeed allowed itself the time to seek viable police assistance to supplement its own resources. Additionally, and unconvincingly, the University claims that it is now too late to put proper security arrangements in place. We do not accept that in any way as there are still 18 days left before the conference.
Given the Police’s confidence in providing security and given that there are other possible mitigating measures that are yet to be explored that could be put in place to minimize the risk, a decision to cancel the conference would be grossly disproportionate and therefore may well be illegal and unconstitutional. Such an action by Southampton University will severely undermine the public’s confidence in the Police’s and the in the University’s ability to protect freedom of speech. Indeed it will have wider implications to all Universities and organisations. We feel that the manner the university communicated with the police and conducted the risk assessment shows that the security argument was used to rationalise a decision to cancel the conference that has been taken under public pressure of the Israeli Lobby. It is quite simply unbelievable that the University cannot ask the Police to handle the risk of demonstrations.
The March of the World Hypocrites and Tyrants 2
 Freedom of speech inherently involves taking risks, and hence the presence of risk cannot be used to curtail it! The UK Government and many other governments have refused to give in to attempts by Islamic extremist to stop the publication of pictures of Prophet Mohammad despite serious risks of violence. The correct response by the governments was to confront and contain that violence and not to cancel the publication of these pictures by Charlie Hebdo and others.

This is a sad decision for freedom of speech and for historic Palestine (which includes what is now the Jewish State of Israel and the 1967 Occupied Territories) and ALL the people who live there.
We will explore legal emergency measures to prevent the University from cancelling the conference, to reverse its decision and to properly collaborate with the police so that the demonstrations can be managed. In addition we call for the widest and most intense public campaign possible that would urgently encourage the university to reverse its decision and which would allow the conference to go ahead.

Finally, we must make it clear that we have made several attempts to meet with the Vice Chancellor to consult him on the organisation of this conference, and to invite him to open the conference but we have never been given the opportunity to do so. On the other hand, the Vice Chancellor has met with pro-Israel representatives without ever calling us to attend meetings and we, as Professors in the University, feel disempowered and marginalised by this disrespectful behaviour.

Professor Oren Ben-Dor, University of Southampton.
Professor George Bisharat, University of California, Hastings College of the Law.
Professor Suleiman Sharkh, University of Southampton.
Ms. Juman Ismail.
Conference Organisers



DATE: Thursday 2nd April 2015, 3-5pm
LOCATION: G4S HQ, 105 Victoria Street, London (near Victoria Station)

Last year Israel abducted 1266 Palestinian children - that's one child taken from their parents every 7 hours! During interrogation 75% of Palestinian children detained by Israel are physically tortured. 40% of the 600 children that were taken from Jerusalem alone, were sexually abused by Israeli soldiers during arrest or interrogation.  Today around 300 Palestinian children are languishing in Israeli dungeons secured by G4S and powered by Hewlett Packard IT. These include the five Hares Boys who have been tortured and caged by Israel for 2 years for a crime that didn't even happen; and the 15 years old schoolboy Khaled Sheikh abducted from outside his home. Please join us as we demand freedom for the children. Join the protest outside the headquarters of the British security contractor G4S  who secure Israel's notorious torture dens and dungeons where the children are abused and caged.
On 14th March 2013 a simple car accident, when a illegal Israeli settler car speeding along a road built illegally on stolen Palestinian land, crashed in to the back of an Israeli truck which had stopped to change a flat tire resulting in four people being hurt, was later at the behest of angry settlers presented as an attack by Palestinian stone throwing youth. The truck drivers earlier testimony that he stopped due to a flat tire was replaced with the new reason being that he had seen stones by the road, and an accident that happened after dark that nobody saw suddenly became a terror attack with 61 witnesses including the police!
Over the next few days over 50 masked Israeli soldiers with attack dogs stormed the local village of Hares in the early hours of the morning and in waves of violent arrests kidnapped the children of the village. In total 19 children were taken to the infamous G4S secured children's dungeon at Al Jalame and locked up in solitary confinement for up to 2 weeks in filthy windowless 1m by 2m hole in the ground cells with no mattress. The Israeli prime minister Benyamin Natanyahu announced to the settlers that he had “caught the terrorists”. The children were violently tortured and sexual threats were made against the female members of their families in order to coerce confessions from the boys.
With the confessions and the new “eye-witness” statements, five of the Hares boys were charged with 25 counts of attempted murder each, even though there were only four people in the car. Apparently the military court had decided that 25 stones were thrown, each with an "intent to kill". The five boys have been illegally transferred to Israel, in contravention of Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, to Megiddo prison where G4S provides the entire central command room. Hewlett Packard provides technical services and central servers that keep Israels  dungeons and torture dens, including Megiddo, operational.
In violation of international law Israel has turned prisons in to money making enterprises with the boys essentially forced to pay for their own imprisonment. Israel deliberately fails to provide Palestinian prisoners the basic essentials - edible food, cloths (underwear, shoes..) and hygiene products (soap, toothbrush..). The boys are forced to buy these at the extortionately priced prison shop costing the families over € 125/month to provide for one child's basic needs in prison.
With no evidence of a crime the military court keeps on postponing the hearing dates from one month to one year to two years, meanwhile the boys remain caged indefinitely and their families facing financial ruin in the process. A court hearing entails the families spending most of their day queuing and enduring the humiliation at the checkpoints where HP provides the biometric systems used to tag Palestinians, then waiting at the court in anticipation of catching a glimpse of their son.. often to be disappointed as hearing are cancelled without notice.
The United Nations Children's Fund UNICEF report on Children in Israeli Military Detention concludes that Israel is the only country in the world where children are systematically tried in military courts that by definition fall short of providing  the necessary guarantees to ensure respect for their rights. The conviction rate in Israeli military courts is an unfathomable 99.74%.
If the five boys are convicted they will be locked up for over 25 years - five young lives ruined with no evidence of a crime let alone their guilt.
G4S provides the security systems, and Hewlett Packard the IT infrastructure, which keep these torture dens operational. Prisoners who have survived these hell holes recall seeing G4S logos on the cameras that witnessed their abuse. These companies are fully complicit in the crimes Israel commits against Palestinian children, and must be held to account.

On Christmas day last year Israeli soldiers abducted 15 years old Khaled Sheikh from outside his home in Beit 'Anan in Jerusalem. He has been caged in Israel's notorious G4S secured Ofer prison for over three months now. Israel has denied him any family visits and he has been denied essential medical treatment. Accused of throwing a stone, Israel's military court on 25th February, true to its 99.74% conviction rate, sentenced Khaled to  4 months imprisonment and in addition fined him $500. Khaled suffers from several health issues including anaemia and has been denied his medication since his abduction in December. His family are fearful for his health and are urging activists around the world to intervene to secure the release of their son.


Land Day commemorates the Palestinian struggle for their land in the face of rampant Zionist colonisation and theft of land. In particular it marks the events of 30th March 1976 when Palestinians called for a general strike to resist Yitzhak Rabin's orders to expropriate vast tracts of Palestinian land in the Galilee as part of Israel's openly declared policy to “Judaize” the area. Defense Minister Shimon Peres sent the troops in to break the strike, they killed 6 Palestinian 'citizens' of Israel and wounded hundreds more. Ahmed Khalaila remembers his brother Khader being executed by one shot in the head when he came to the aid of a woman who was shot for simple stepping outside her house.

At our protest we will remember Land Day.

On 20th March we held a second protest for the second anniversary of the abduction of the Hares Boys, this time outside the London headquarters of Hewlett Packard who provide the IT infrastructure and systems that ensures Israel's torture dens and dungeons stay operational.
Video - Hewlett Packard Complicity in Israeli Torture, 20 Mar 2015
 Video - London Protest to Free The Hares Boys, 20 Mar 2015
Video - Free The Hares Boys - Speech On 2nd Anniv, 20 Mar 2015
Video - Hewlett Packard Complicity in Israel's War Crimes, 20 Mar 2015
 Palestinian Prisoners Campaign

The Palestinian Prisoners Campaign aims to raise awareness for the plight of Palestinian prisoners and build solidarity for their struggle and work towards their freedom. The campaign was launched by Innovative Minds ( and the Islamic Human Rights Commission ( on the occasion of Al Quds Day 2012 (on 17th August 2012), since then we have held actions every fortnight in support of Palestinian prisoners, if you can spare two hours twice a month then please join the campaign by coming to the next action.

Meet the Knesset Members from the Joint List

Netanyahu's Fear Mongering Attack on Palestinians - Rooted in Zionism

Palestinian citizens of Israel - and their political parties - agreed on a most basic principle: there should be equality under law and in practice between them and Israeli-Jews. Everything else, the peace process, the two state solution, could fall to the side. Netanyahu's demographic fear-mongering is rooted in the foundation of the Zionist project in Palestine and demographic engineering to ensure political power remains in the hands of one ethno-religious group.

Allison Deger; Yousef Munayyer
March 21, 2015

Meet the Knesset Members from the Joint List

By Allison Deger
March 21, 2015
Something has changed inside Israel for its Palestinian citizens. The hard data is revealing: voter turnout jumped by ten-percent from the last election and in the Joint Arab List's party leader's home district it was nearly an unheard of 80-percent. Civic engagement is happening, but that is not the only turn. The joint list is full of fresh faces with seven first time Knesset members, and two women, five communists, two national democrats, two Islamists, one Christian and one Israeli-Jew.

Party leader Ayman Odeh, 40, embodies most the directional shift inside of the bloc. He uses a civil rights framework, noted for quoting Martin Luther King Jr. while campaigning, telling voters he sees the party as a vehicle to mobilize mass non-violent civil disobedience. In Haifa days before the election Odeh said he wanted to organize an equal rights march of thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel and Jewish-Israelis in one year's time.
Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint Arab List, at campaign headquarters in Nazareth, Israel. (Photo: Allison Deger) - See more at:
For supporters, this isn't fluff. Odeh's emphasis on partnership-not just coexistence with Jewish-Israelis-is widely endorsed. He has a long history in politics. He held his first position in public office in Haifa's city council at the age of 23 as a member of Israel's Jewish-Arab communist party, Hadash. There he fought for student tax breaks and quickly rose up the political ranks to become Hadash's chairman while still in his 30s.

At first glance the Joint Arab List is a band of four parties that were coerced to run on a single ticket after the Israeli election threshold was increased, an obstacle propelled by right-wing groups. The perception was hardliners wanted Arab parties out of Knesset. The way they could achieve this was to force an ultimatum: Arab political groups, and one mixed party, would have to unite in a country where political divisions can be lethal to a faction's survival.
Israeli Arab political leaders (front row from L to R) Aida Tuma, Masud Ghanayem, Ayman Odeh, Ahmad Tibi, Jamal Zahalka pose for a photo holding placards bearing text in Arabic meaning ‘Go to vote for the Joint List, for a new tomorrow on March 17′ in Nazareth, Feb. 24, 2015. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images)
The candidates could have kept their old political divides alive, running on two lists instead of one, and still made it into Knesset. The primary discords are between the Islamist and communist, the two largest factions inside of the bloc. They differ in areas of labor and women's rights. Do you support the separation of religion and state, the secular parties asked the Islamic group during a six-week period where they hashed out their disagreements? It was a genuine coming to terms. "Yes," they said, "Because we don't want to live in a Jewish state," relayed Knesset-elect and first time politician Aida Touma-Suleiman while still on the campaign trail at an event in Tel Aviv in early March. Touma-Suleiman is a celebrated feminist. Though she has been a member of the communist party for over two decades, this will be her first time in public office.
An Israeli Arab walks past a campaign poster showing Israeli-Arab candidates who are members of a Joint List of Arab parties (from L to R), Ahmad Tibi, Jamal Zahalka, Masud Ghanayem and Ayman Odeh, March 8, 2015. (photo by AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images)

By sitting together, over and over, to build a united front, Arab parties made pivotal decisions in the lead up to announcing their candidates. Foremost they realized as Palestinian citizens of Israel they all agree on one most basic principle: there should be equality under law and in practice between them and Israeli-Jews. Everything else, the peace process, the two state solution, polygamy could fall to the side. Their constituents see the internal resolutions and divisions as a new way forward, where diversity remains intact while pursuing equal rights with the power of Israel's newly-minted third largest political party.

Meet the next Knesset members from the Joint Arab List:

Ayman Odeh (1) - Hadash
Many supporters have said Odeh represents "a new way forward" for Arab parties in Israel. He is deeply influenced by Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights struggle in the U.S., along with his upbringing in a mixed Jewish-Arab community. Odeh believes in securing the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel by working with Jewish-Israeli partners. In this election season he became well known amongst Israelis after a televised debate with Avigdor Liberman who said Odeh should not be allowed to speak in Israel, and should go to the West Bank.

Masud Ghnaim (2) - United Arab List
Ghnaim is a current Knesset member from an Islamic party and a teacher by profession. He has a degree in middle eastern history from the University of Haifa. He previously served on the city council of his home town Sakhnin, in northern Israel.

Dr. Jamal Zahalka (3) - Balad
Zahalka is has been a member of Knesset since 2003. He is the leader of the national democratic party, Balad. He assumed the chariman position after former head Azmi Bishara went into exile.

Dr. Ahmed Tibi (4) - Ta'al
Out of all of the joint list's Knesset members, Tibi has the longest history inside of Israel's parliament. He has served since 1999 and is the co-founder of Ta'al and Islamic party. He is a vocal advocate for the Palestinian right of return for refugees. Before entering politics Tibi was a gynecologist.

Aida Touma- Suleiman (5) - Hadash
Touma-Suleiman has been a member of Hadash for decades and this will be her first time in public office. She is the founder of the feminist organization Women Against Violence and is the editor-in-chief of al-Ittihad, an Arabic daily newspaper published in Israel.

Abd al-Hakim Hajj Yahya (6) - United Arab List
Hajj Yahya is an engineer by training and this will be his first time as a member of Knesset.

Hanin Zoabi (7) - Balad
Zoabi is perhaps the most well-known Palestinian citizen of Israel serving in Knesset. She has held this position since 2009 and during her term in public service she has been attacked while speaking on the Knesset floor, and holds the title of the Knesset member with the longest suspension from office in Israel's history. During election season, she was physically assaulted while speaking at a debate, along with a Jewish-Israeli spokesperson for the Joint List. Prior to entering politics Zoabi was a journalist.

Dov Khenin (8) - Hadash
Khenin is the Joint Arab List's only Jewish-Israeli member to be elected into Knesset. He is a veteran member of Knesset, serving since 2006. Khenin is a political scientist with a PhD from Hebrew University.

Taleb Abu Arar (9) - United Arab List
Abu Arar is a prominent Bedouin politician and attorney. He first entered Knesset in 2013. Before, Abu Arar was the head of a local council in the Negev.

Dr. Yousef Jabarin (10) - Hadash
Jabarin is from Umm el-Fahm, a village in northern Israel that is regarded as a political stronghold for Palestinian citizens of Israel. He hold a PhD in law with a specialty in human rights. This will be his first term in Knesset.

Dr. Basel Ghattas (11) - Balad
Ghattas is a seasoned political figure. He co-founded the Balad party with his cousin Azmi Bishara in 1995, although he did not enter Knesset until 2013. He holds a PhD in engineering from Technion, and is of a Christian background.

Osama Saadi (12) - Ta'al
Saadi is a human rights lawyer known for working on issues relating to Palestinian prisoners. This will be his first term in Knesset.

Abdullah Abu Marouf (13) - Hadash
Abu Marouf is the only Druze member of Joint Arab List to enter Knesset. He is the founder of the Druze Initiative Committee and works with Physicians for Human Rights, as he is also a urologist.
[Allison Deger is the Assistant Editor of Mondoweiss. Follow her on twitter at @allissoncd.]

Benjamin Netanyahu's attack on Arab voters was not just an electioneering tactic. Such fear-mongering is rooted in the foundation of the Zionist project in Palestine.
By Yousef Munayyer
March 20, 2015
The Nation

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

JVP - Standing in the Jewish Tradition of Opposition to ALL Racism

The continued success of Jewish Voices for Peace in the United States gives the lie to those who argue that it is a ‘Jewish Lobby’ or the Number of Jewish Voters who are responsible for US support of Israel and Zionism.  Republicans and Christian Zionists don’t support Israel because they like Jews but because it is in their material interest.

As Jewish opposition to Zionism grows so the Zionists become more and more manic in their reaction.  ‘Self-hater’ is their favourite term.  Most of them are too stupid to realise that this was the same accusation that the Nazis levelled at German anti-fascists.

Tony Greenstein

At a Jewish Voice For Peace Conference: This Is What Solidarity Looks Like

March 20, 2015  

Angela Davis speaks at the Jewish Voice for Peace's National Membership Meeting, March 2015. (Photo from Jewish Voice for Peace)

The victory of Benjamin Netanyahu and the extreme right in the Israeli elections sorely disappointed those who had pinned their hopes on the Labor-led Zionist Camp so they could resume the peace process.

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the Obama administration and the European Union (EU) now have to face the fact that the Palestinians have no partner for peace. They will have to take actions they had hoped to avoid and ramp up outside pressure on Israel to reach a just and lasting agreement.
Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb and Reverend John Anderson protest Hewlett-Packard's shareholder meeting, March 2014.
Yet Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory are not the only battleground where the future of Palestinians and Israelis is being decided. The United States is also an important sphere. And, coincidentally, two major—and very different—American Jewish conferences bookended the Israeli elections. The Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) National Membership Meeting was held in Baltimore from March 13 to 15, and the J Street National Conference is being held this week in Washington, DC, from March 21 to 24.
J Street is the larger and better-funded organization, but JVP is proving to be a real magnet for American Jews who are outraged by Israel’s policies and even more by Netanyahu’s claim to be speaking in their name, and who want to take action, including boycotts. JVP’s roughly 204,000 Facebook “likes” are more than seven times that of J Street’s, and its 41,800 Twitter followers are well over three times those of J Street’s.

J Street, does not support the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, defining itself as “pro-Israel, pro-peace” and as part of the American Jewish establishment. JVP, which has supported BDS for years, issued a statement earlier this year fully endorsing the BDS call. It positions itself as pro-justice and universal human rights and says the mainstream Jewish community does not speak for it.
Despite, indeed because, of these out-of-the-box positions, JVP is growing fast. In recent months, the number of chapters across the United States increased from forty-one to seventy-two; the number of members has shot up to 9,000, and online supporters have nearly hit the 200,000 mark. Significantly, much of this growth happened after Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” against the besieged Gaza Strip in the summer of 2014, pushing thousands off the fence of inaction.

JVP’S burgeoning energy and maturity drew hundreds to its conference, which sold out at 600 participants six weeks early; nearly 200 additional video passes were also issued. The theme of the weekend was “We’re Not Waiting,” and participants came from as far as England and California to compare notes, strategize, mourn the lives lost over the summer and celebrate their growing strength. There was a striking number of young people as well as grandparents, long-time activists and newcomers to the cause. And this year, this Palestinian went to the conference, too.

Why would a Palestinian even want to participate in an American Jewish conference? For one thing, JVP is a key player in what is now a fast-growing US movement for Palestinian human rights and equality between Palestinians and Israelis. As a co-founder of another key player—the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation (though no longer directly engaged in its work)—I can sense that this movement has come of age.

Within the last generation, several major national organizations have grown out of the efforts of handfuls of volunteers working out of people’s homes, their personal resources stretched to the limit. These organizations are now managing real money and staff out of offices based in DC and all over the US. More important, they are now collaborating effectively both within the movement and across other movements.

For example, several organizations—JVP, the US Campaign, Code Pink, American Muslims for Palestine and others—pooled efforts around the #SkipTheSpeech drive to convince Members of Congress to turn their backs on Netanyahu’s meddlesome foray into US foreign policy. This generated more than a hundred thousand letters, calls and visits, and helped encourage the nearly sixty members who ended up skipping the speech, emboldening them to be critical.

Another example is the way groups in the movement for Palestinian rights are also deeply engaged in the #BlackLivesMatter movement and related campaigns for the rights of individuals and communities violated right here at home.

The mix and vitality of the movement was reflected in the mix of speakers at the JVP national meeting: legendary activist Angela Davis, Rabbi Brant Rosen, feminist and anti-violence crusader Andrea Smith and Dream Defender Ahmad Abuznaid, among others. The vast majority of participants were Jews, but, ironically, almost the first people I met at the conference were three other Palestinians, including one who had trekked in from California. “We wanted to be here,” they told me, “to speak about the work we’re doing and to learn from others.”

JVP has always invited Palestinian voices to speak on its panels; indeed, I spoke at its 2011 conference. But there had been few other Palestinians then; now there were many, alongside participants from several Christian denominations and representatives of other national organizations. JVP provided a safe and embracing space for all those present, allowing the most difficult discussions to take place with heat but without rancor, including around anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.
Beyond taking the pulse of the movement, it was important to be at the JVP conference in order to gain insights into the changing discourse around Israel-Palestine in America. In a sense, the Israel-Palestine battleground in the United States is all about shaping the discourse. How are Palestinian rights defined these days? What are the goals of the movement? How and in what form can/will Jews and Palestinians live together? When does joint Palestinian-Jewish activism tip over into normalization of the brutal status quo?

National and local grassroots organizations have been engaged in changing the discourse for years, alongside professional media organizations such as the redoubtable Institute for Middle East Understanding. And the BDS campaigns that so many groups are now working on do help to provide some of the answers. But much of the discourse still needs framing. Moreover, there has been a tendency to see BDS as a goal in itself, overlooking the fact that the Palestinian civil society call for BDS specifically spells out the goals as the achievement of freedom from occupation, justice for the Palestinian refugees and equality for the Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Israel and its US allies are only too well aware of the importance of shaping the discourse. They have been trying hard to clamp down on criticism of Israel, seeking to conflate such criticism with anti-Semitism. Israel’s supporters have successfully driven resolutions at student associations describing legitimate criticism of Israel’s policies as anti-Semitism.

JVP is among the groups pushing back against this conflation. It is vital for the larger movement that Jewish voices consistently reaffirm that criticism of Israel’s occupation and denial of rights to generations of Palestinians is not anti-Semitic; it is a stand against policies and practices that are just plain wrong.

But JVP is also joining other groups in pushing the boundaries of the discourse, in imagining how to resolve the conflict and shape a different future. As a Palestinian, I never imagined I would witness such a thoughtful—and brave—discussion of the Palestinian right of return in a public American space, let alone an American Jewish space. But here it was. Liat Rosenberg of Zochrot (“Remembering”) and Basem Sbaih of Badil (“Alternative”) were invited to keynote a plenary titled “Reclaiming the Past in Order to Realize the Future” that was moderated by Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark, an emeritus professor at New York’s Baruch College and a longtime activist.
One of my fondest memories of the conference was when Rosenberg pointed out how much land would be available for returning Palestinian refugees given that most Israeli Jews are still concentrated around the Tel Aviv area. “Oh, a land without a people,” was Neimark’s riposte, quick as a flash.
So many players in the American Jewish establishment have for decades deployed their skills and energies in the service of Israel’s illegal colonial enterprise. And here, at this conference, were a multitude of Jews, at their most savvy and strategic, working in favor of Palestinian rights and equality for all.

The last person I saw at the conference was a freshly minted attorney, a thoughtful young Muslim American woman of South Asian heritage who had also flown in from California. “Why did you want to be here?” I wondered. “We need to show JVP that they have allies,” was her moving response. “It’s a lonely battle.”

Yes it has been. But not any more.

Embracing Israel Boycott, Jewish Voice For Peace Insists on Its Jewish Identity

Group Now Has More Facebook Followers Than AIPAC and J Street

By Evan Serpick

Published March 28, 2015, issue of April 03, 2015.

At the opening plenary of Jewish Voice for Peace’s recent national conference, Rabbi Alissa Wise, JVP’s co-director of organizing, asked the crowd of some 600 how many were attending their first such gathering; about three-quarters of the room shot up their hands.
For the group whose advocacy of boycotting, sanctioning and divesting from Israel makes it a pariah in most of the rest of the Jewish community, these have been boom times. And for many of its members, the reason appears to be a continuing desire to assert their opposition to Israel’s fundamental policies in a Jewish context rather than abandon their Jewish identity altogether.
 One of those raising his hand was Noah Knowlton-Latkin of California’s Claremont Colleges. Like many of those in attendance, Knowlton-Latkin, a sophomore, was involved earlier in Students for Justice in Palestine, a campus group devoted to organizing students to oppose Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and siege of Gaza. The group also pushes college administrations to cut their economic and academic ties to Israel.
But last summer, Knowlton-Latkin reached out to JVP to express his concerns in a Jewish context. “It was great to find out that this existed,” said Knowlton-Latkin, who came to the conference with two other Jewish Claremont students, both members of SJP.
JVP’s recent conference, which took place in Baltimore from March 13 to 15, was notable for several new developments. Two weeks earlier, after a lengthy process that included study committees and membership surveys, JVP’s board of directors voted to fully support the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel, or BDS, as it is popularly known. JVP’s call for a full economic boycott of Israel comes after years of supporting a more limited boycott of only companies that operated in the occupied territories.
 JVP’s full embrace of BDS includes endorsing a right of return for Arabs and for descendants of Arabs who fled or who were expelled by Israel’s army in the 1948 war that established the state. That population, most of whom remain stateless refugees, now numbers more than 5.2 million. Israel and its supporters, including even dovish Zionist parties such as Meretz, argue that full implementation of the United Nations resolution calling for their return would render Jews a minority in their own state. It would mean, they say, the end of Zionism.
 But JVP’s president, Rebecca Vilkomerson, told the Forward: “For there to be a sustainable and just peace, that is one of the issues that we have to grapple with. We believe that there can be a homeland for Jewish people that is not based on the systematic denial of rights of Palestinians.”
 JVP does not offer details on how that could be if such a return indeed took place.
 Most striking at this conference was the way Israel’s hard-right turns, and particularly last year’s war in Gaza, have fueled JVP’s growth among a cohort of mostly young people who find the response of other Jewish groups, including the dovish group J Street, simply inadequate. JVP’s leaders anticipate that this trend will only quicken following the recent election victory of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They point to his election eve disavowal of a two-state solution and his election day warning about Arabs voting, plus the prospect that he will soon lead an even more right-wing government.
There are now 65 JVP chapters, up from 40 a year ago. Vilkomerson says JVP now has 9,000 dues-paying members, compared with 600 when the Forward last profiled the group in 2011. In the tax year that ended in June 2013, JVP had $1.1 million in donations. Vilkomerson said she expects this year’s total to top $2 million, almost all of it from individuals. The group has more than 204,000 Facebook followers, more than twice as many as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and about eight times as many as J Street.
For all their alienation from the mainstream community, JVP members seem to share an urgent need to voice their angst in a Jewish context, and to project it outward to the world, also citing their status as Jews. Critics condemn this as mere exploitation of their Jewishness in order to gain a hearing the group would otherwise be denied.
But many JVP members do come from backgrounds of serious Jewish engagement. The conference itself opened on a Friday night, with the group celebrating Kabbalat Shabbat, and included a memorial service for those killed in the war in Gaza, during which members chanted the Mourner’s Kaddish and the prayer for the dead, El Maleh Rachamim. JVP says the group offers the members a place to be their “whole selves.”
“21yrs in many jewish spaces & I’ve never felt so at home,” one participant, Talia Bauer, wrote on the group’s Facebook page after the conference.
Another participant wrote, “For three days, I was immersed in a Jewish community unlike I have ever been a part of, one rooted in justice that welcomed all of me.” She wrote anonymously, she said, to avoid her family learning of her involvement with JVP.
In Vilkomerson’s view, “the mainstream Jewish community should be thanking us. We are bringing many people back into a Jewish community. There’s so much angst in the Jewish community about the loss of community, and losing the young people, and what is going to happen, and the apathy. Nobody here is apathetic; nobody here is unconnected. To the contrary.”
Some in the mainstream grant them this point. “Any sort of Jewish engagement by young people is a positive thing,” said Steven M. Cohen, a professor at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion who studies the American Jewish community. He said that JVP, along with anti-democratic far-right groups and “any group that represents lots of Jews,” should be invited to be members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and similar mainstream organizations. “JVP doesn’t show concern for the security of the State of Israel and doesn’t care if there is a Jewish State of Israel or not,” he added. Nevertheless, he said, “We should not exclude JVP from conversations — we should engage them.”
That view is unthinkable to many Jewish community standard-bearers.
“The positions and actions taken by Jewish Voice for Peace are anathema to mainstream Jewish organizations,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, in a statement to the Forward. “The group’s activities, which include partnerships with anti-Israel organizations that deny Israel’s fundamental right to exist, put them at the farthest fringe of the Jewish community and would certainly preclude their participation among mainstream organizations.”
JVP, he said, “uses its Jewish identity to provide the anti-Israel movement with a veneer of legitimacy and to shield the movement’s most demagogic supporters from allegations of anti-Semitism.”
For many, the decision to join JVP was a painful, personal one, reflecting a lost faith in the State of Israel. Rabbi Brant Rosen, a co-chair of JVP’s rabbinical council, who served as a congregational rabbi in suburban Chicago for 17 years, joined in 2009, after Israel launched Operation Cast Lead, its military campaign into Gaza, with numerous reports — contested by Israel — of high civilian deaths rates.
Michael Davis, a congregational cantor in the Reform movement and a member of JVP’s rabbinical council, grew up Orthodox in Israel. He said that his own worldview changed after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin at a fateful Tel Aviv peace rally in November 1995. “That was the end of the dream for me,” he told the Forward.
For Vilkomerson, it was the second intifada, starting in 2000. “There are these moments of cracking open, where people sort of make the leap,” she said.
Rosen added, “Historically, that’s how JVP has grown, unfortunately, tragically.”
Speaking after the Israeli election, Vilkomerson says she now expects another wave of people to come into the JVP fold. “Given that the American Jewish community is generally interested in peace and democratic values, we expect a lot of self-reflection about how to support a true peace in the days to come,” she said.
Contact Evan Serpick at
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