Last night I attended the second only public meeting of Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) in central London. Around 300 people attended from across the country, including famed peace activist Walter Wolfgang, activist John Rose, leading anti-Zionist academic Jacqueline Rose and founding IJV members Brian Klug and Lynne Segal. The aim of the get-together was to plan future directions for the group and continue the wonderful momentum created by the launch in February.
It was made clear that the group was not a membership organisation, but an experiment aimed to promote public debate on Israel and Palestine.
Rose said that the public response to IJV was far greater than she expected and was encouraged by the many Jews who joined the group, many of whom had never spoken in public before as Jews (this was very similar to the experience in Australia, where some told us that remaining silent in the face of ever-increasing Israeli brutality was no longer an option.)
The public debate between Jonathan Freedland and Melanie Phillips in the Jewish Chronicle was cited as an example that verbal extremism – such as Phillips’ obscene labelling of IJV as “Jews for Genocide” – showed that the Jewish establishment was frightened of these previously unheard Jews. Very few citizens are attracted to commentators who use such inflammatory language. In fact, it turns them off the message and the cause.
In a recent table in the Chronicle, IJV founder Brian Klug was said to be the 87th most influential Jew in Britain, principally due to the launching of the group. In other words, they’re having a growing effect.
Rose said that one of the major challenges was to push the message further onto campuses and into synagogues, and progress was already being made on both fronts. Furthermore, influencing government policy was cited as a key IJV aim. Simply put, Rose said, if somebody like Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert comes to Britain, a minister will think twice before saying to him that “the Jewish community is behind you.”
Lynne Segal explained the responses from IJV came from across the world. She said that although there was general understanding within Israel how to achieve peace – an end to the occupation and full rights to all citizens, not just Jews – successive governments were able to continue the oppression. Segal said, rightly I think, that the Israeli left needed international support to fulfill their mission.
A number of speakers also stated that IJV wasn’t just about voicing Jewish concerns over the Middle East, but supporting the demonised Muslim population during a time when mis-representation was running rampant.
Brian Klug said that one of the aims of IJV was to support Jews with their own activities and help promote them. Such moves were in the spirit of the declaration, he argued.
I was then asked to speak about Independent Australian Jewish Voices (IAJV), its successes and future challenges. The fact that we’ve already claimed roughly the same number of signatories than in the UK proved there was an appetite in Australia for a more open debate on the Middle East. And, like in the UK, the mainstream media provided invaluable coverage of our cause, aware that a hard-line Zionist position is but one in the community.
In the coming months and years, IAJV needs to harness the initial interest and provide space for various debates on the key issues (one or two states, ending the occupation, international pressure on the Jewish state etc.) This is what we are currently working on.
For the remainder of the meeting, many IJV signatories talked about their hopes for the group, their concerns and the ways in which the group could grow. One speaker summed up the feelings of many when he said that, “Diaspora Jewish life isn’t just about Israel”.
It was a revelatory evening and provided invaluable international connections for this global struggle. We may have a long way to go, but the last months have proven that the Israel right-or-wrong crowd are being challenged like never before. They had better get used to it.