Sword and Shield of the anti-Israel Boycott Movement
In the saturated market of pro-Palestinian activism, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) has emerged as a major player.
On its website, JVP now boasts over 60 member-led chapters across the country and more than 200,000 online Facebook and Twitter supporters.
These days it’s also flush with new funding sources.
According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which describes JVP as the “largest and most influential Jewish anti-Zionist group in the United States”, until very recently the organization reported an approximate average of $300,000 in annual contributions.
By 2013 that figure had jumped to over $1 million.
NGO Monitor notes that according to JVP’s 990 tax forms, from 2005-2011 the organization more than tripled its total revenues.
It’s unclear where all the money is coming from. As NGO Monitor observes, JVP isn’t very transparent about its donor base.
But the group has received some modest funding from the Violet Jabara Charitable Trust, an Arab-American foundation that also financially supports the virulently anti-Zionist Electronic Intifada; The Wallace Global Fund, which also supports the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank that’s long been a clearinghouse for anti-Israel positions; and The Firedoll Foundation, which also funds other pro-BDS groups.
Over the past several years, JVP has leveraged these newfound resources to “promote political warfare against Israel”, and “weaken U.S. support for Israel by dividing the Jewish community”.
It’s also rocketed forward to become a central player in the BDS movement.
JVP as a Leading Voice of BDS
As noted in a recent LI post, “wherever you see BDS divestment initiatives on campuses, JVP is not far away and is often the instigator through its campus branches”.
JVP is active off campus too, where it’s playing an instrumental role in spearheading BDS campaigns within America’s church groups.
Last June, JVP lobbied hard to get the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) to pass a divestment resolution. In the run-up to the PCUSA General Assembly meeting in Michigan, JVP leaders issued multiple statements in support of the resolution. Then, it sent a delegation to Detroit to testify, and applauded the Church for its decision.
It’s reportedly trying to convince three more U.S. Churches—the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ (UCC), and the Mennonite Church USA (MCUSA)—to boycott products “produced in Israeli settlements”, and to pull their financial backing from corporations allegedly complicit in bolstering the “infrastructure of Israel’s occupation”.
According to the Mondoweiss article, JVP—“the only major Jewish organization actively supporting these efforts”—is “sending staff to both the UCC and Episcopal gatherings”.
JVP’s Image Problem
It’s been a pretty busy couple of years for an organization that’s operated in relative obscurity for much of the last twenty.
You’ve got to hand it to JVP’s new leadership team and their savvy marketing skills.
They’ve managed to carefully craft and disseminate a brand that draws on the appealing language of rights along with Jewish culture and values to justify vilifying the planet’s only Jewish state, expressing an utter hostility to the notion of Jewish peoplehood and self-determination, and lending support to Israel’s enemies.
But now that JVP has a real shot at playing in the big leagues of American organizational life, it also has a strong incentive to clean up its act.
Cavorting with obvious Jew-haters and being attacked for whitewashing anti-Semitism is counterproductive.
All it does is tarnish the brand.
So now JVP is quietly trying to scrub its online presence of past partnerships with sketchy anti-Semites.
And it’s slowly but surely disentangling the organization from any further dealings with such hateful types.
The effort has flown under the radar, and as others also note, “tracking down direct sources on this is surprisingly difficult to find”.
But make no mistake: the war is on, and the bodies are beginning to pile up.
Because JVP’s Jew-hating erstwhile allies aren’t taking this excommunication lightly.
They’re fighting back.
JVP vs. Alison Weir
According to the ADL, Weir’s criticism of Israel and Zionism over the last 15 years so consistently “crosses the line into distortions customarily found in the literature of anti-Semites” that it’s issued a ten page comprehensive report on her work.
The highlights include a series of articles that Weir published back in 2009 (and has yet to retract), where she draws on bogus sources—including the work of an anti-Zionist chemist who she describes as a “renowned scholar of Judaism”—to assert that Israeli organ traffickers coerce non-Jews into selling body parts against their will. As Weir explains, it’s a means for Jews to exact revenge and restitution for the Holocaust.
It’s also a modern version of the blood libel.
Photos of the event were apparently posted online, but have now been removed.
JVP partnered with Weir again this past March on anti-AIPAC events.
But now JVP wants nothing more to do with her.
Back on May 28 Gilad Atzmon, himself regarded untouchable by the anti-Israel boycott movement because of his anti-Semitism, reprinted a letter on his blog that he claims was written by JVP’s Executive Director, Rebecca Vilkomerson, and addressed to Weir.
In it, Vilkomerson says that because Weir insists on associating with notorious neo-Nazis and White supremacists, any further contact with her would be bad for JVP’s image as an organization committed to “love, justice, and equality for all people”.
Here’s the letter verbatim from Atzmon’s blog post:
May 5, 2015
Dear Ms. Weir,
Jewish Voice for Peace has chosen not to work with you because our central tenet is opposition to racism in all its forms, and you have chosen repeatedly to associate yourself with people who advocate for racism.
You have been a repeat guest of white supremacist Clay Douglas on his hate radio show, the Free American. Clay Douglas is concerned primarily with the survival of the White race and sees malign Jewish influence everywhere. His racist, anti-Jewish, and anti-gay rhetoric can be found across the front pages of his multiple websites.
In the course of your appearance with Clay Douglas on August 25, 2010, for example, you were silent when Douglas invoked the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and engaged in a racist diatribe against Jews. Your repeated appearance on this show (April 23 and August 25, 2010; February 9 and May 18, 2011) show that you knew his extremist views and chose to continue the association.
Your troubling associations and choices further include giving interviews to a range of far-right outlets including The American Free Press, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has identified as a hate group, and the anti-gay, anti-Jewish pastor Mark Dankof. One of your articles appeared in an anthology that was promoted by the infamous Holocaust-denial organization, the Institute for Historical Review. We see no evidence that you have disavowed any of these outlets or institutions.
Our movement must be built on a foundation of love, justice and equality for all people. It should not and cannot win by fueling or endorsing any form of hate, whether against People of Color, gays, Jews, Muslims or anyone else.
At Jewish Voice for Peace, we are particularly sensitive to the long history of anti-Jewish oppression as well as the ways that Palestinian liberation work is frequently tarred with false charges of anti-Semitism. Just as we call out the hateful associations of those who seek to perpetuate injustice against Palestinians, as a movement we must also hold the line against those who promote the false notion that Palestinian liberation can be won at the expense of others.”
Atzmon Disavows JVP for Disavowing Weir
Apparently the JVP letter wasn’t ever meant to go public.
Atzmon writes that he received it from three different JVP Chapter Leaders. He also has it on good authority that the letter got sent to all JVP chapter heads.
The whole thing has him thoroughly ticked off.
He’s already furious at JVP for what he sees as its concerted effort (what he terms a “disgraceful tribal campaign”) to silence his own views and those of other “leading human rights activists” (“people such as Greta Berlin, George Galloway, Ken O’Keefe, yours truly and many others”).
In his post, he’s livid that JVP has put Weir, a non-Jewish “leading American patriot”, into a “Jewish Herem” (excommunication) and rants about JVP’s “racist morbidity” and “fear of Whiteness”:
It is astonishing that the ‘anti’ Zionists who lead JVP practice segregation and exceptionalism on a daily basis. Sometimes I wonder what it is about Israel and Zionism that they oppose…For years I have argued that the continuum between Zionism and the so-called Jewish ‘anti’ is undeniable. In its actions, JVP has foolishly confirmed again and again that my observation is correct. The original Protocol of the Elder of Zion is considered to be a Tzarist forgery, but the call for herem was composed by Vilkomerson in the name of her ‘Jews only party’ and is an authentic protocol…I will use this opportunity to once again remind the ‘good’ Jews that we can proceed without their moral supervision, no one asked for their tribal thought policing. What we need is for our so-called Jewish ‘allies’ to cleanse themselves of their tribal biases and instead adopt a universal mindset. When this happens, they may drift away from the JVP klan. Truth may set them free.”
Vilkomerson’s letter appears to be legit.
JVP didn’t respond to my multiple requests for confirmation of its authenticity. But Alison Weir herself replied to it on her Facebook page in a long and bitter rebuttal of its charges.
Now that Atzmon and Weir have spilled the beans, Israel’s online supporters are savoring this deliciously ironic spectacle (see here, here, and here). After all, it’s not often that a bunch of ADL-flagged Israel-haters are at each other’s throats.
And it’s great that the Israel-bashing JVP has finally decided to cut its ties with bigots like Atzmon and Weir.
But as David Schraub observes in a thoughtful blog post, JVP’s statement of disapproval to Weir is distressing because “they don’t actually object to anything Weir has said”—not even her loopy stuff about the blood libel which, as Schraub notes, is “a gimme!”.
JVP’s objection is solely associational.
The issue for JVP isn’t that the Weirs and Atzmons of the world are “serious anti-Semites” who think that “conspiratorial groups of super-empowered Jews run the world in secret”, but that they’ve become such attractive partners to the reactionary far-right.
Weir, Atzmon, and other anti-Semites are being banished because they’ve become liabilities.
For JVP, they’re just bad for business.
As Schraub puts it:
Shorn of any indicator that JVP finds anything objectionable in Weir’s own statements, it seems that their main problem is that Weir makes it embarrassingly clear that their shared ideology—the essentially indistinguishable perspective of Alison Weir and Jewish Voice for Peace—has significant resonance with and appeal for neo-Nazis. That far-left/far-right synergy has always been soft pedaled by groups like JVP, and their problem is that Weir won’t play ball.”
Bottom line: Jewish Voice for Peace, a self-identified “Jewish organization” which has partnered in the not so distant past with anti-Semites, has now decided to disassociate itself from such horrible people. But this is just another one of its marketing ploys. JVP’s leadership has yet to speak out against the Jew-hating rhetoric that radiates from its ex-comrades. It still views itself at the “Jewish sword and shield” of the anti-Israel movement—safeguarding BDS from allegations of anti-Semitism, and providing it with a veneer of legitimacy.
Miriam F. Elman is an associate professor of political science at the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs, Syracuse University