Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) is a non-Jewish organization that gives cover to the anti-Israel boycott movement (BDS) and its political war on Israel by washing away the stains of anti-Semitism that are central to the BDS movement’s founding, actions and identity.

As we noted in a prior post, JVP operates in multiple arenas to exploit Jewish culture and traditions, putting them into service for a vehemently anti-Israel propaganda campaign:

In its written materials and presentations, JVP reinforces that its anti-Israel positions are consistent with Jewish values. Toward this end, it usurps the Jewish life cycle and religious holidays by incorporating anti-Israel themes into traditional celebratory and commemorative events”.

This JVP identity theft of Jewish heritage and narrative is particularly visible at Passover, which begins April 22 this year.

The group recently released an updated version of its pro-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Haggadah. (The Haggadah is the Jewish text used during the Passover seder, the traditional celebration).

JVP 2016 Haggadah

This week JVP activists have also been partnering with other Jewish activists affiliated with the recently founded If Not Now movement to field a “public Passover action” on April 19-21.

The effort is spread on social media through this week’s trending hashtags #LiberationSeder and #IfNotNow (see samples below). It’s a five city (Boston, NYC, Chicago, Bay Area, and Washington, D.C.) series of “seders in the streets” and in various buildings that house major Jewish organizations in order to appropriate the holiday’s rituals and texts for an anti-Israel narrative.

Liberation Seders, 2016 | credit: Twitter

Liberation Seders, 2016 | credit: Twitter

The explicit goal of these publicly staged seders is to replace the essential Passover themes—the retelling of the exodus from Egypt and the Jewish people’s redemption in the land of Israel—with messages concentrated on the “fight for Palestinian liberation”.

Even more, it’s a bizarre program of anti-Jewish propaganda that has a precedent. As I describe below, in the 1920s some deluded Jews in the Soviet Union also enlisted in a campaign to eliminate the true meaning of Passover.

‘Liberation Seders’ 2016

This week’s “Liberation Seders” are the brainchild of a left-leaning group of Jewish activists who call themselves If Not Now.

Founded in 2014 during the Israel-Hamas war, the group claims on its website to be unaffiliated with any other political organization. But its leadership doesn’t sound that much different than the anti-Zionist JVP, which celebrated their activism and assisted them from the start (incidentally, the foul-mouthed Simone Zimmerman, who presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders recently hired—then apparently fired—as his Jewish outreach coordinator, was an If Not Now founder).

Simone Zimmerman | credit: Facebook

Simone Zimmerman | credit: Facebook

In less than two years, the group has already gained some notoriety by organizing public demonstrations at the headquarters of American Jewish organizations, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Conference of Presidents—an alliance of Jewish organizations, and the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA)—and getting arrested while doing so.

If Not Now, 2014 arrests (facebook)

As noted in an article published last year in Mondoweiss, a virulently anti-Israel website, this week’s Passover action has been in the works for some months.

If Not Now isn’t the first to organize these kinds of street antics ahead of the Passover holiday.

In fact, there’s a long tradition of Jewish progressives attempting to commandeer the buildings of major Jewish organizations in order to hold “alternative” seders.

Back in April 2006, an article published in the vehemently anti-Israel website The Electronic Intifada described a gathering of some 20 Jews for a mock seder outside of the building that houses Boston’s AIPAC offices and the city’s Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC).

By then, Israel had already removed every single settler and military base from Gaza in a risky and unprecedented move for peace. And over 1000 Jews had been murdered in the Palestinian suicide bombings that became the staple feature of the second intifada. But the group reportedly still felt the need to seize Passover 2006 as the appropriate time to “express their support for Palestinian human rights and opposition to AIPAC’s and JCRC’s unquestionable support for Israel and its governmental policies”.

Instead of reciting the seder’s traditional four questions and answers—one of the ways the Jewish people’s story of liberation is told—the group’s explanations included:

facts about Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes, confiscation and destruction of Palestine’s land resources for the expansion of settlements and the Separation Wall, and malnutrition and poverty in Palestine caused by Israeli closure and movement restrictions”.

That’s more or less what was on display this week too.

There are literally dozens of images and video of this week’s shameful debasing of Passover and its central message.

Here’s a sample:

Activists affiliated with JVP (and JStreet too) turned up and tweeted positively about the experience, along with JVP chapters which also promoted the events:

Best I can tell, the activists who took part seemed to exhibit far less interest in the actual seder rituals and traditions than in badgering the Jews that work in the buildings and getting arrested:

The charades elicited some heated push-back from Jews and others who actually care about the well-being of the Jewish people who live in Israel:

JVP’s BDS Haggadah

After this week’s pageantry of mock seders, unlawful demonstrations in city office spaces, and multiple arrests, JVP will be hosting alternative communal seders this weekend at private homes, community halls, and places of worship around the country.

Here’s the Facebook call from Ithaca (NY) JVP, which is typical:

Ithaca JVP, Facebook Passover seder

Participants are encouraged to bring a dish to share—a common seder tradition—but not any of the tainted products from “apartheid Israel”:

Ithaca JVP, Facebook Passover seder boycott products

In Ithaca the group will also be using the newly-minted JVP Haggadah.

Back in 2012 and again last year, JVP’s Rabbinic Council released a Passover Hagaddah which dedicated the third cup of wine to the BDS movement; instructed that the seder plate include an olive to symbolize “the self determination of the Palestinian people and an invitation to Jewish communities to become allies to Palestinian liberation struggles”; and featured a section on the “Ten Plagues of the Israeli Occupation” (including the “plague” of the “denial of the right of return”).

The revamped Haggadah includes all that, plus some new passages and songs that ram home Israel’s alleged malevolence and brutality.

JVP 2016 Haggadah, Lchaim to BDS

JVP Haggadah 2015, seder plate items

JVP 2016 Haggadah, Naqba Dayenu

Basically, JVP has published its new Haggadah with the explicit goal of replacing the story of Passover, which celebrates the birth of a people connected to a specific land, with a narrative that denigrates the Jewish people’s attachment to Israel and the basic justness of this connection.

As it happens, that kind of assault on Passover’s key message, striking at the core of the holiday, was also part of a Soviet anti-Jewish propaganda campaign waged nearly a century ago.

The Soviet Campaign to Do Away with Passover

This week the website aish.com, the go-to place for all things Jewish, published a fascinating essay by Dr. Henry Abramson. In it, Abramson reviews the path-breaking work of University of Toronto scholar Anna Shternsis who has researched an “unusual episode” in the long history of Soviet anti-Semitic persecution: the propaganda effort during the 1920s to infuse communism in the Jewish psyche.

At Passover, Jews were encouraged to re-write the Haggadah with pro-communist and anti-capitalist passages, hold “Sovietized Passover seders”, and perform elaborate anti-Jewish street theater during the holiday.

Red Haggadah 1927 | credit: aish.com

Red Haggadah 1927 | credit: aish.com

Abramson’s entire essay is worth reading, but here’s a passage describing some of what was going on at the time:

Recognizing the powerful hold that religion had on Soviet Jews, the Jewish Section of the Communist Party (Yevsektsiia) also attempted to co-opt the population by capturing and transforming Jewish traditions and texts, including the Passover Haggadah. Called “Red Haggadahs,” several were published in the 1920s with the explicit goal of replacing belief in God with faith in the Soviet Union…

The traditional text, read at Seder tables for generation after generation, reads “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, but Hashem our God took us out with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. If the Holy One, Blessed be He, did not take our ancestors out of Egypt, then we, our children, and our children’s children would remain slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt.”

The officially atheistic Soviet Union could not tolerate such a passage, so the text of a Red Haggadah read instead: “We were slaves to capitalism until October (Soviet shorthand for the Communist Revolution of 1917) led us out of the land of exploitation with a strong hand. Were it not for October, we and our children would still be slaves.” Instead of God’s destruction of Egyptian army, the Soviet Haggadah describes success of the Red Army; instead of washing hands for ritual purity, the Communist text eliminates “rabbinical laws and customs, Yeshivot and schools that becloud and enslave the people.”

At the Seder’s conclusion, Jews famously proclaim “This year we are here – next year in Jerusalem!” Following the Red Haggadah, participants at the Seder are urged to pronounce, “This year, we have revolution in this land – next year we will have a world revolution!”.

While not exactly the same, this Soviet propaganda campaign bears an eerie resemblance to the kind of identity theft of Jewish heritage and narrative that is central to JVP’s war on Passover.

Conclusion

In an interesting article published this week, JTA’s Gabe Friedman describes how multiple Jewish organizations are directing their supporters to give their seders a “social justice reboot”.

As Friedman notes, groups like HIAS (the Jewish refugee resettlement organization); Keshet (an organization for LGBTQ Jews); and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism have put together a range of supplements to freshen-up the old story of the Jews’ liberation from bondage. The goal is to make the seder more relevant to contemporary issues such as gay and civil rights, poverty and the modern day migration of desperate people.

#BlackLivesMatter has even come up with a Haggadah extension providing alternative readings.

There’s much to admire in Jews caring about the plight of non-Jews and various social justice issues.

Still, as the pro-Israel blogger Elder of Zion rightly notes,

this holiday isn’t about those other issues. There are plenty of other days throughout the year to tackle those. Jew-hatred hasn’t disappeared. It is with us, on the streets and on the internet. It is a current event! And the venerable, original Haggadah discusses exactly that topic…Passover is not only a good time to relate to the themes of irrational hate against Jews and the miracle of redemption—it is the perfect time to do so”.

Traditional Passover Haggadah | credit: ElderofZion

Traditional Passover Haggadah | credit: ElderofZion

So the traditional seder and Haggadah aren’t really in need of any improvements. But even if there are those who think they are, the BDS Haggadah and #LiberationSeders aren’t harmless upgrades to make Passover more relevant to easily bored Jews. There’s a real danger inherent in JVP’s blatant appropriations of the holiday’s traditions and values because they legitimize hostility toward Israel, embolden our enemies, and ultimately have the potential to put fellow Jews at risk.

"Liberation Seder" at AIPAC offices | Boston | April 19, 2016 | credit: Twitter

“Liberation Seder” at AIPAC offices | Boston | April 19, 2016 | credit: Twitter

—————————

Miriam F. Elman is an associate professor of political science at the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs, Syracuse University. She is the editor of five books and the author of over 60 journal articles, book chapters, and government reports on topics related to international and national security, religion and politics, the Middle East, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She also frequently speaks and writes on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) anti-Israel movement. Follow her on Twitter @MiriamElman