The following is a letter I wrote after learning that a friend had become an active member of the organization Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP).
I believe strongly in the imperative of nuance, in the value of exploring alternative viewpoints, and in choosing reasoned dialogue over inflammatory rhetoric. If I compiled a short list of the people that helped me learn these things, you would be on that list. And this makes your support for Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) quite perplexing to me.
When I think about JVP, my impulse is to eschew reasoned arguments. Strident words come so easily to mind and they are difficult to suppress. But I will try.
How can reasonable people support an organization whose perspective is so one-sided? In a paragraph-long description of the causes of last summer’s war in Gaza entitled “Who Started the Fighting,” JVP neglected to mention, even once, Palestinian rocket fire directed at Israel. In that same fact sheet on the Gaza conflict and in reference to their claim that over 80% of deaths caused by Israeli airstrikes were civilians, JVP wrote that, “Targeting civilians is a war crime and contrary to international law.” That is a pretty shocking accusation given that even Richard Goldstone admits that Israel doesn’t target civilians.
How would JVP supporters look into the eyes of mothers whose IDF soldier sons have heroically died because of their commitment to avoid killing innocents, after essentially accusing Israel of deliberately killing civilians? How can they look into the eyes of any Jew (or of anyone else for that matter) after participating in an event which demonstrated profound disrespect for Holocaust victims (even if afterwards they called it a “mistake”)? And how can fair-minded people endorse an organization that self-righteously complains of being silenced by powerful pro-Israel forces while striving to suppress pro-Israel voices?
Even a quick perusal of JVP’s website and materials makes it crystal clear that their agenda is to attack and delegitimize Israel. There is embarrassingly little directed against Palestinian terror, incitement, anti-Semitism (though JVP does officially condemn them), or refusal to accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state (because JVP doesn’t accept this either).
I could go on at length with other criticisms of JVP but others have already documented the extent of JVP’s support for BDS, its practice of partnering with organizations whose anti-Israel stance is even more transparent and clear-cut, and the degree to which JVP apparently distorts the historical record to undermine Israel.
Instead, I’d like to focus on something else. I would like to attempt to understand why JVP is so biased against Israel.
Perhaps this quote from Rebecca Vilkomerson, Executive Director of JVP gives us a clue:
“Our unshakeable belief in justice – as Jews and as human beings – compels us to acknowledge that the root of this violence lies in the Israeli government’s commitment to occupation over the well-being of Palestinians or Israelis. Where our leaders have so thoroughly refused that truth, it is our responsibility to hold it up.”
And here is another clue from something that JVP recently posted on Facebook in response to the recent terror attacks in France:
“The idea that Jews are always alien and that hatred against them is eternal and immutable – as opposed to being created and conditioned by contemporary politics and racist discourses in which Israel, among others, participates – is a fundamentally anti-Semitic one.”
JVP’s view, as reflected in these statements, is that hatred of and violence against Jews and Israel are the result of, “the Israeli government’s commitment to occupation over the well-being of Palestinians” and are, “created and conditioned by contemporary politics.”
Why does JVP refuse to acknowledge that there is widespread rejection of Jewish sovereignty and hatred of Jews and of Israel which transcend any possible “injustice” that Israel ever committed? And that these factors play a key role in explaining the “root of this violence”?
It seems to me that JVP is revolted with the concept of Jewish particularism and that this revulsion is blinding. Their profound discomfort with Jewish particularism leads them to go to the opposite extreme and to disregard anything which doesn’t conform to their preferred narrative.
I admit that particularism can be dangerous. Particularism coupled with a zealous intolerance for other viewpoints can lead to violent extremism. Unfortunately, this phenomenon exists to a small but troubling degree in parts of the Jewish world (while it exists to a much larger degree in parts of the Muslim world). Price tag attacks and the horrific murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir are graphic examples of “bad” Jewish particularism.
But categorical rejection of particularism leads to dire consequences as well. A sense of identity requires particularism. Refusing all Jewish particularism also means forsaking the ability to connect to a profoundly rich source of teachings, relationships, community, values, and meaning. Particularism need not entail intolerance or disdain for the other. One need not reject Jewish particularism just because there are some extremists who abuse the concept any more than one must become a socialist because they dislike the Tea Party (or vice versa).
I believe JVP’s opposition to Jewish particularism explains why they do not affirm Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and why they recognize a Palestinian right of return. It is their animus towards Jewish particularism, and their choice to express this with an extreme form of bias, that explains why they primarily empathize with Palestinian but not Jewish suffering. Why they are primarily outraged by Israeli but not by Palestinian violence. Why they blame Israel for almost everything and the Palestinians for almost nothing. Why they condemn Israel’s defense against terrorism while downplaying the terrorism itself.
Our community certainly needs to create an environment where both the left and the right are included in our dialogue. But JVP is beyond the pale. They are outside the tent not only because of their specific positions. There is a deeper reason. In their abhorrence of Jewish particularism, JVP is more comfortable in the company of our people’s enemies than in company of our people’s friends.