Yitzhak Santis
The Santis Clause

When Dissent Becomes Abandonment

Jewish disagreement on Israeli policies is not the issue; but assisting Israel’s enemies is beyond the pale.

The Jewish Daily Forward views itself as a “fearless and indispensable source of news and opinion on Jewish affairs,” giving one to understand that the paper is a staunch guardian of informed debate on matters vital to the Jewish people.  Hence my astonishment upon receiving a rejection from the Forward’s editors of my critique of a piece on the Forward’s web site by Rabbi Brant Rosen of Jewish Voice for Peace.

Perhaps I was naïve to think the Forward would publish a piece unsympathetic to JVP.  After all, I reasoned, the Forward has published many opinion pieces by JVP’s leaders (as well as some critical pieces) and has often covered this group in its news section.

Rabbi Brant’s commentary calls for a response.  He was insincerely claiming that JVP is merely “criticizing” Israel and that such “dissent” deserves “respect” within the Jewish community.  But, Rosen and JVP travel far beyond dissent and express outright hostility toward Israel.

In an environment of demonization and double standards targeting Israel, JVP tries to project itself as a legitimate member of the mainstream American Jewish community.  But JVP actively supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign, and the demonization strategy adopted by the 2001 NGO Forum in Durban, South Africa. JVP is instrumental in bringing these campaigns to mainline churches, on campuses, and within the Jewish community.

For the overwhelming majority of American Jews, these goals and activities lie far outside the broad communal tent.  There has always been room for dissent within the community regarding Israeli policies.  But responsible dissenters accept Israel as a Jewish and democratic state within secure and internationally recognized borders, seeking a two state solution.

On the core question, JVP claims to be neutral on “one-state” elimination or a two-state solution.  “One-state” means a bi-national framework open to thousands of “returning” 1948 Palestinian refugees and their millions of descendants.  Jews will be a minority, meaning no national self-determination and Zionism. And given the reality faced by minorities elsewhere in the Arab world, Jews would be unwelcome and endangered.  Yet, JVP’s amorphous position on whether Israel should exist is explained by them as follows: “we have members and supporters on both sides of this question, as well as many others who, like the organization as a whole, are agnostic about it.”

“Agnostic” on whether Israel should exist is not dissent.  This is abandonment.

Further, JVP seeks to polarize the Jewish community over Israel on behalf of the most radical anti-Israel organizations in the United States.

JVP’s executive director, Rebecca Vilkomerson at Stanford University in May was explicit: “Part of our job as the Jewish wing of the [Palestinian solidarity] movement is to facilitate conversations inside the Jewish community… So, I think it’s very important to think sort of how we plan a wedge… So, I think that the more and more we can sort of put that wedge in, saying the Jewish community’s not agreeing on these issues, the more we’ll make progress” (emphasis added).

JVP’s regular partners include the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation (of which JVP is an official member), Electronic Intifada, American Muslims for Palestine, and many others.  These groups promote BDS and Israel’s demonization, and are clear in their support for Israel’s destruction.

On campuses, JVP supports divestment efforts in student governments. Following Vilkomerson’s “wedge” strategy, JVP is the primary endorser of the Open Hillel campaign to force Hillels to drop national guidelines proscribing BDS advocacy from within.  In July, JVP and the American Friends Service Committee (Quakers) ran a Summer BDS Institute for Student Leaders for “all campus activists currently running or hoping to launch BDS campaigns on their campus.”

Within mainline churches, where hard-core and influential anti-Israel caucuses promoting BDS operate, JVP provides a token Jewish shield against charges of antisemitism.  At last year’s Presbyterian Church national gathering where a divestment resolution nearly passed, some thirty “young Jewish activists” provided important “testimony” supporting the motion to isolate and demonize Israel.  According to a media report, they “were mostly affiliated with Jewish Voice for Peace… Commissioners said their personal testimony helped undercut prevailing rhetoric on the mainstream Jewish perspective.”

Nor is JVP averse to working with groups espousing antisemitism.  One of JVP’s principal partners in the church BDS effort is Sabeel, which promotes historic Christian anti-Jewish teachings of replacement theology and deicide imagery.   Sabeel’s founder, Naim Ateek, has said, “The establishment of Israel was a relapse to the most primitive concepts of an exclusive, tribal God…”  Despite this anti-Judaism, JVP’s Rabbinical Council – headed by Brant Rosen – issued a “Statement of Support for the Sabeel Institute” declaring, “We stand in solidarity with the work of Sabeel.”

Similarly, in June 2013, JVP’s Sacramento chapter sent an email forwarding an action alert by Charles E. Carlson’s Strait Gate Ministries.  Carlson has written of “the Zionist influenced banking fraternity” that is “in league with world Zionism.”  In 2011, JVP’s Colorado chapter co-sponsored an anti-Israel vigil with Carlson’s group.

Finally, Rosen’s call for tolerating dissent is odd coming from an organization that on many occasions has muzzled voices with whom it disagrees.  In March 2012 JVP’s Seattle chapter participated in a successful effort to pressure the Seattle LGBT Commission to cancel a City Hall program hosting visiting Israeli LGBT activists, and sent a letter thanking commissioners for doing so.  JVP activists have disrupted Jewish organizations’ programs such as a Birthright Israel conference in New York City, a workshop at AIPAC’s National Policy Conference, and a speech of the Israeli Prime Minister.

JVP’s hope is to gain admission to the Jewish communal table so as to inject BDS and anti-Zionism into Federations, Hillels, JCCs, and synagogues.  This hope should remain unfulfilled.  And, at the very least, the Forward ought to demonstrate some of its vaunted fearlessness and allow this author’s perspective to be expressed in its pages.


Click here for NGO Monitor’s full report on Jewish Voice for Peace

About the Author
Yitzhak Santis is a Senior Writer and Analyst at StandWithUs and a free-lance writer. He made Aliyah in 2011 from the San Francisco Bay Area where he was Middle East Affairs director at the Jewish Community Relations Council of San Francisco. He lives on Kibbutz Hannaton in the Galilee.