Tell me Zionists; which Jews are acceptable for you?

The illusion is coming apart; the idea that Jews in general love and back Israel, no matter what.

Jewish Voice for Peace is a US-based progressive, Jewish group aiming to expand debate on Israel/Palestine. Of course the usual suspects don’t like it one bit. For them, Israel is beyond debate and the glorious occupation and racism are simply a price to pay for Zionism.

Times are changing, bigots:

On a recent Wednesday night in New York City, Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, an organization that critics label anti-Israel, made the case for her group’s main protest tactic: a targeted campaign of boycott, divestment and sanction — or BDS, as it has become known — against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

BDS, she explained to the audience of about 70 that had gathered in a stuffy basement room of the City University of New York’s Graduate Center, in Midtown Manhattan, was just like the movement against South African apartheid in the 1980s, the 1960s civil rights struggle and the fight for union organizing before that. It is a nonviolent approach to dealing with an immoral situation.

“We can even see BDS as part and parcel of the Arab spring,” Vilkomerson said, referring to the wave of revolutions roiling the Middle East.

For many within the Jewish community, JVP’s readiness to use BDS tactics — and its refusal to support a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict — places this group far outside the American Jewish consensus. But to the consternation of other Jewish groups, JVP has been insisting that it represents a significant strain of Jews concerned about Israel who deserve a communal niche, rather than treatment as pariahs.

“It is troubling that Judaism and support for Israel have become so inextricably linked,” Vilkomerson said at the New York event. “We are trying to create a space in the Jewish world where we can express our criticism as Jews without needing to apologize for ourselves.”

That is a distinction that even many liberals do not embrace. “JVP is characteristically slippery on the question of one state or two states,” said Ben Cohen, a writer who has focused on American Jewish responses to Israel. “But it is clear that many of their members dream about one state, and for those of us under the communal tent, one state is a code word for genocide.”

Though small, JVP is growing. In just the past year it has expanded to 27 chapters from six. Eleven of these are on college campuses, the much fought-over battleground for Jewish hearts and minds. On its most recently available tax return, for 2009, JVP received nearly $600,000 in contributions — a marked increase from previous years, which ranged from $200,000 to $400,000.

Moreover, it is a group that has demonstrated a guerilla-like savvy in staging actions that get its message out to a broader national audience. In its use of BDS, for example, JVP has staked out a position distinct from those who target any and all entities related to Israel, which for many Jews implies a rejection of Israel’s very legitimacy. JVP instead targets only entities involved in one way or another with Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

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

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