Not all Jews want to embrace Arab dictators

Jewish Voice for Peace, a US-based group, is starting to be heard in a big way. The New York Times covers them below. Furthermore, note the contrast to mainstream Zionist groups, backing repression because it supposedly benefits Israel. That really helps the brand, people:

Hundreds of people, mostly Arab-Americans, are expected to gather Saturday in downtown San Francisco to support anti-government protests in Egypt, and a large contingent of Jews representing a Bay Area peace-advocacy group will join them, one of its leaders says.

“We are deeply inspired by their push for democracy and freedom,” said Cecilie Surasky, deputy director of Jewish Voice for Peace, based in Oakland.

Ms. Surasky said she hoped a new political order in Egypt would help speed the end of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories, which her group opposes. The group’s views differ markedly from statements about the Egyptian protests coming from the Israeli government and many other Jewish-American organizations, which caution that the demonstrations in Cairo could ultimately threaten Israel.

The unrest in Egypt is merely the latest issue to pit a number of Bay Area activists against prominent Jewish organizations, as well as against some Israelis who have come to see the Bay Area as a locus for Jewish opposition to Israel’s government.

One prominent Israeli research organization, the Reut Institute, recently described the Bay Area as “one of the very few geographic locations that drive a global assault on Israel’s right to exist.” In October, the Anti-Defamation League placed Jewish Voice for Peace — which has called for an international boycott of companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories — among “the top 10 anti-Israel groups in America.”

The divisions have heightened tensions among Bay Area Jews. During one altercation last year, a pro-Israel activist attacked two representatives of Jewish Voice for Peace with pepper spray. Last March, Rabbi Michael Lerner, the editor of Tikkun, a bimonthly Jewish magazine based in Berkeley, received death threats, and his home was plastered with signs accusing him of “Islamo-Fascism,” after he announced that he planned to give an award to a United Nations official who led an investigation into Israel’s 2008 invasion of Gaza.

“What’s happening is outlandish; the era of civil discourse has disappeared,” said Rabbi Stephen S. Pearce of Congregation Emanu-El, San Francisco’s largest synagogue.

The activists say they are not working against Israel, but against Israeli government policies they believe are discriminatory. In the past week, many of these activists have cast the Egyptian demonstrations as an opportunity to alter the Middle East, including Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.

“When you look at the Middle East, in one way or another it’s all about what’s happening in Palestine,” said Barbara Lubin, co-founder of the Middle East Children’s Alliance, a group in Berkeley that organizes aid missions to Gaza, which remains under an Israeli blockade.

Ms. Lubin said she hoped that if President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt was removed, Israeli policies toward Gaza “would become more lax” and allow her organization to carry out its work in support of the Palestinians.

Rabbi Lerner has been an outspoken supporter of the demonstrators in Egypt. His recent editorial, headlined “Jewish Prayers for Egypt’s Uprising,” was the lead opinion article on the Web site of the television network Al Jazeera on Tuesday. He said in an interview that American Jews had an interest in letting “the people of the Arab world know that a very large section of the Jewish people support the liberation of the Egyptian people and of all Arab people.”

Such views concern Israel’s defenders locally and abroad.

“Nobody defends Mubarak,” said John Rothmann, a talk show host for KGO radio in San Francisco and the former President of the Zionist Organization of America in San Francisco.

Mr. Rothmann added, however, that it was important to remember that Mr. Mubarak had maintained peace between Egypt and Israel for nearly three decades.

“He may be a barbarian, but he’s our barbarian,” Mr. Rothmann continued. “You need to have an alternative, and we have never been able to create one.”

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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