Despite public split with notorious anti-Jewish conspiracy theorist, JVP co-sponsors event in Cleveland.
Last week on November 22, Al-Awda—the Palestine Right to Return Coalition—proudly announced on Twitter the co-hosting, with Jewish Voice for Peace and others, of Alison Weir at an event in Cleveland:
It isn’t surprising that Al-Awda would take the lead in promoting Weir and her group and website If Americans Knew (IAK). The two organizations are basically cut from the same cloth.
According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Al-Awda is a notorious anti-Israel campaigner that views Zionism as “inherently racist” and is unwilling to accept Israel’s existence.
Meanwhile, Weir’s criticism of Israel and Zionism over the last fifteen years so consistently “crosses the line into distortions customarily found in the literature of anti-Semites” that the ADL has issued a ten page comprehensive report on her work. The highlights include a nasty habit of modernizing anti-Jewish blood libels and characterizing Jews as conspiratorial groups of people who control America and the world.
So Al-Awda collaborating with Weir is exactly what we’d expect.
What’s really interesting here is Al-Awda’s mention of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) as one of the Cleveland event co-sponsors.
— alon_levy (@alon_levy) November 26, 2015
— R. Lesses (@argaman) November 28, 2015
JVP vs. Alison Weir
As we highlighted in our prior posts, JVP notified IAK of its intention to disassociate in a letter addressed from JVP’s Executive Director, Rebecca Vilkomerson, to Weir in May 2015 and in a subsequent widely publicized June “Statement on Our Relationship with Alison Weir”.
In our previous posts, we suggested that in rebuffing Weir, JVP’s leaders avoided speaking out against their ex-ally’s Jew-hating rhetoric even as they sought to distance their organization from her:
[JVP has] 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. 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 white-washing anti-Semitism is counterproductive. All it does is tarnish the brand”.
So cutting ties with Weir was really just another one of JVP’s savvy marketing ploys. JVP was less interested in condemning Weir’s “obvious anti-Semitic crackpottery” than in burnishing the JVP image as a champion of progressive causes and an organization committed to “love, justice, and equality for all people”.
Indeed, nowhere in JVP’s initial letter to Weir, or in its subsequent publicly released statement, is she herself labeled as anti-Semitic. JVP’s beef with Weir is solely associational—she spends too much time giving interviews to neo-Nazis and White supremacists.
Basically, from JVP’s perspective it’s OK for Weir to hate Israel. But since she’s not also willing to despise America’s “racist and white supremacist” power structures, Weir had become a liability and bad for business.
It was an entirely self-serving move. But, as we remarked in our posts, it was nevertheless great to learn that JVP, a self-styled “Jewish organization” which has long collaborated with virulently anti-Israel organizations, had finally decided to make a clean break from the likes of Alison Weir.
So much for that.
Backlash Against JVP: The “Open Letter”
JVP’s decision last spring to end its association with Alison Weir was supposed to fly under the radar and be handled “quietly and-behind-the-scenes”.
But JVP’s erstwhile ally wasn’t about to take the excommunication lightly. As we noted in our prior post, Weir immediately went public with JVP’s decision, eventually compelling it to also release a public statement.
Weir published a long and bitter rebuttal to JVP’s charges and encouraged her supporters to weigh in. Many did so, launching an aggressive campaign on her behalf.
As noted in a ‘roundtable’ symposium of essays published this August in the virulently anti-Israel Mondoweiss, the campaign has involved “harsh counterattacks against” JVP. Bizarrely, they’ve included accusations that it’s run by “ADL-style secret Zionists” working to undermine the BDS movement.
On July 21 an “Open Letter” castigating JVP was posted online.
It was also addressed to the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation (USCEIO)—an ADL-flagged umbrella organization for US-based pro-BDS groups, who’s policy director (Josh Ruebner) has a tendency to compare Israel to Nazi Germany and to label pro-Israel American-Jews as traitorous “Israel-firsters”.
USCEIO was the only other BDS group to join JVP against Weir. It asked IAK to leave its coalition in a statement released last summer on July 16.
The “Open Letter” admonishes JVP and USCEIO for their “recent unfounded attacks on one of the top organizations” working in the “struggle for justice for Palestinians” and its “dedicated leader, Alison Weir”.
As of November 9, 2015 when the “Open Letter” was last updated, it had garnered nearly 2000 signatures—the vast majority of them from people who didn’t self-identify as JVP members.
Of the initial signatories—38 bolded names, with their affiliations—only one is a member of JVP: Hedy Epstein, a 91 year old Holocaust survivor, founder of JVP’s St. Louis branch, and a member of the Free Gaza movement, a radical group which has organized flotillas to directly challenge Israel’s siege by initiating confrontations with its navy.
In 2011, Epstein participated to the Gaza Freedom Flotilla as a passenger on the U.S.-flagged ship, The Audacity of Hope.
Then in August 2014 she was arrested in downtown St. Louis during the unrest after Michael Brown’s death. She gave an interview about it to DemocracyNow! where she compared the situation on “the streets of Ferguson, Missouri” to the “Israeli assault on Gaza”.
The rest of the original signatories to the “Open Letter” are vehemently anti-Israel campaigners who have also consistently attacked Jews and Judaism. Among them are numerous leaders of Sabeel—FOSNA. Former Special Rapporteur on Occupied Palestine for the UN Human Rights Council and Israel-demonizer Richard Falk appears on the list too.
Even Bassem Tamimi’s name is on it. As we noted in numerous prior posts (see here and here), in addition to being an apologist for terrorism against innocent Jews and inciting his own children to violence in order to score propaganda victories, Tamimi has a penchant for disseminating anti-Jewish blood libels, among other canards.
The pile-on to JVP has no doubt blindsided its steering committee and board, who probably didn’t see it coming. But as David Schraub (a “sometimes lawyer, sometimes law professor”) observes in a thoughtful blog post, that JVP’s non-Jewish friends would turn on it “with a vengeance” was in fact entirely predictable:
What makes this amusing…is that it shows the fundamentally untenable position the JVP finds itself in whenever it disagrees with its non-Jewish ideological cohorts…the JVP as a Jewish group is generally accepted by its non-Jewish ‘allies’ only as far as it remains in agreement with them, and no further…The folks [JVP] are appealing to often do trot them out as being the rare Jews you can trust; indeed, their status as Jews-who-criticize-other-Jews gives them superstanding and enhanced credibility. But superstanding is a fickle thing—it lasts only as long as the critic remains critical. Superstanding only applies as against the JVP’s fellow Jews; it does not come with any general grant of authority or deference. It is unsurprising that once the JVP tried to draw upon the ‘credibility’ they earned as ideological fellow-travelers to take a position not favored by their non-Jewish allies, they’d find that the well of goodwill suddenly went dry”.
So JVP’s national leadership didn’t anticipate the fast and furious backlash. They probably also didn’t expect so many of JVP’s rank and file to rally around Alison Weir, and to so readily dismiss their accusations against her. No doubt too they overestimated JVP’s appeal to its membership, and underestimated their members’ dedication to the anti-Israel movement as a whole.
Mutiny in the JVP Ranks
It turns out that for many JVP activists, stamping out anti-Semitism matters less than “galvanizing our collective political power” and protecting the “integrity” of the larger BDS movement.
As a self-described non-Zionist Jew and member of JVP Susan Landau notes in the Mondoweiss symposium:
As activists, public shaming is a time honored and effective toolkit of choice employed against our external enemies: war criminals, racist cops, greedy corporate bosses, and other unsavory characters. What culture do we create when we use similar tactics on each other? Is there another way?…It doesn’t bode well…when groups doing solidarity work can’t get along…”
So basically JVP’s central leadership “just can’t quit Alison Weir”. Mostly because a fair number of JVP’s members prefer not to.
By my count 126 JVP members affiliated with 25 local JVP chapters have now signed on to the “Open Letter”. Many of them self-identify as serving in leadership roles and more than a few note that they’ve resigned their position in protest “since the vilification of Alison Weir”.
JVP had been collaborating with the notorious Israel-hater Alison Weir on BDS programming for years—as late as March 2015, where the two organizations teamed up with a bunch of other radical organizations in a two pronged anti-Israel campaign to “Shut Down AIPAC” and “Skip the Speech” in Washington, DC.
But by May JVP’s central leadership wanted nothing more to do with her.
This wasn’t because of Weir’s own anti-Semitism. Rather the decision to break ties was made because, as David Schraub wryly put it last week, she didn’t “bother to hide the obvious fact that the totally-not-anti-Semitic positions she shares with the JVP are also widely beloved by neo-Nazis”.
Like the BDS movement as a whole, JVP is all about ‘othering’ and isolating Jews as white, privileged, and unworthy of the kind of restorative justice that a persecuted minority deserves.
So for JVP’s leaders, the main problem with Weir is that she isn’t willing to play ball and lump the United States into the same “fundamental political frame” as Israel—one in which both countries are seen as dominated by structures of white privilege and white settler colonialism.
As it happens, many JVP activists couldn’t care less about any of that. But in tolerating Weir—whose body of work represents an unambiguous, slam dunk example of anti-Jewish racism—they’re showing just how unwilling they actually are to rid JVP’s ranks of hateful anti-Semites.
Bottom line: the JVP-Weir kerfuffle is turning out to have been just a lot of hot air. Nothing has changed. JVP activists, the “Jewish swords and shields” of the anti-Israel movement, will go right on doing what they do best: using their privileged position “as Jews” to help safeguard BDS from allegations of anti-Semitism, and providing it with a veneer of legitimacy.
— David Schraub (@schraubd) November 24, 2015
Miriam F. Elman is an associate professor of political science at the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs, Syracuse University. She writes and teaches on international and national security, religion and politics in the Middle East, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.