Despite its name, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) isn’t Jewish or for peace. It’s a radical group that provides cover to the anti-Israel movement, particularly on campuses, by legitimizing and mainstreaming its assault on Jewish identity.

As we’ve noted in prior posts, JVP usurps various Jewish celebrations, religious holidays, and commemorative life-cycle events by incorporating within them virulently anti-Israel themes and reinforcing that this Israel-bashing is consistent with Jewish values.

Last year, as we highlighted in our posts, this identity theft of Jewish heritage was particularly visible during Passover and the High Holidays.

Now, JVP is hijacking Chanukah (also spelled “Hanukkah”) too.

JVP’s 2016 Chanukah Vigils

On Wednesday December 21st JVP organized a series of “actions” in 25 cities across the country to coincide with the holiday of Chanukah, which ends today.

Many of the events were organized with in partnership with the virulently anti-Israel American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

The community events mainly involved people coming together in outdoor vigils to protest Islamophobia and racism:

[credit: Facebook]

As best I could tell from the coverage of the vigils by JVP and participants on social media, at most of them people read aloud a series of eight commitments written on hand-held placards in the shape of eight candles:

    1. We will not be silent about anti-Muslim and racist hate speech and hate crimes
    2. We condemn surveillance of Muslim, Arab, and South Asian communities
    3. We fully stand with the Vision for Black Lives platform
    4. We protest the use of Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism to justify Israel’s repressive policies against Palestinians
    5. We fight anti-Muslim profiling and racial profiling in all forms
    6. We call for an end to racist policing
    7. We welcome Syrian refugees and stand for immigrants and refugees’ rights
    8. We support indigenous rights and the resistance led by the Standing Rock Sioux nation to protect their land and water

Participants then reflected on these eight commitments and their own experiences being impacted by racism. They also affirmed their commitment to challenge collaboratively all forms of racism, especially anti-Muslim bigotry, through various educational events and further actions.

Like last year, when a few such events also took place in various communities, this year’s vigils happened primarily around Chanukah menorahs that were publicly lit and displayed by the Chabad religious organization.

Chabad is a well-known and highly regarded Jewish organization that is staunchly pro-Israel. It isn’t affiliated at all with JVP. But JVP benefits from holding its Chanukah events in and around Chabad’s public outdoor holiday displays. This is because the Chabad menorahs are typically quite large and visually appealing, and so they lend gravitas to the JVP events.

By convening the vigils in the vicinity of the Chabad menorahs, JVP—which is a fringe group with no actual support in the American Jewish establishment—can also give the semblance that it’s collaborating with, and speaking on behalf of, the Jewish community.

For the most part, these Chanukah vigils involved group condemnations of perceived institutionalized racism, and alleged state-sanctioned violence against African-Americans and American-Muslims. But many other “oppressed groups” and progressive causes were also addressed.

In general, the vigils appeared to me as highly politicized anti-Trump rallies. Many participants spoke of the vigils sending a “message of togetherness” and unity in the wake of the presidential election. That’s not surprising given how JVP rolled out this Chanukah campaign in its publicity and press release. In them, JVP specifically conveyed a sense of urgency for coming together to “shine a light” on President-elect Trump and the “Netanyahu-Trump alliance” forged following the elections.

At one of events (in Miami Beach, Florida), a child reportedly held aloft a sign with the words “a world without Trump.”

Here are some comments and images of the events shared by participants from around the country. Dozens more can be found on Jewish Voice for Peace’s Twitter feed and Facebook page, as well as on the Twitter hashtag #KindleJustice:

There are at least three objectionable features of these vigils.

(a) Ignoring the Chanukah Story

Based on the many images of these so-called “Chanukah actions” shared online, media reports, and several videos, there appeared to be very little in the way of any actual telling of the Chanukah story going on at them.

In a nutshell, Chanukah commemorates the victory of the Maccabees over the Greek forces of King Antiochus IV in 165 B.C.E. The heroic actions of Judah the Maccabee and his small, greatly outnumbered band of men preserved the existence of the Jewish people as Antiochus had every intention to do away with the Jews by either assimilation or murder. Indeed, the rebellion was in response to the Greek attempt to force a Hellenistic lifestyle on the Jewish inhabitants of the land of Israel. So the holiday rejoices in the liberation of the land from the Greek invaders and the rededication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem.

I couldn’t find any aspect of this true meaning of Chanukah reflected in JVP’s event programming.

Participants waxed eloquent about hoping for a “return of the light”, but failed to impart that the Festival of Lights is about the Jewish people vanquishing their enemies, emerging victorious as a people, and regaining control of their faith, land, and holy Temple.

From what I could tell, there wasn’t even an effort to sing any traditional songs. When blessings on the candles were included in the programming, they were doctored up to reflect various social justice issues:

  • “Blessed are You, Creator of the Universe, who has sanctified us with your commandments, and commanded us to kindle the Chanukah light” was altered to “Blessed are You, Source of Refuge, who shelters us and who teaches us the value of welcoming the stranger.”
  • “Blessed are You, Creator of the Universe, who performed miracles for our forefathers in those days, at this time” was altered to “Blessed are You, Shelter of Peace, who turns us away from destructive habits and teaches us to preserve our earth for future generations.”

There’s much to admire about Jews caring about the plight of non-Jews and about social justice. But Chanukah isn’t about those issues and there are many other days in the year to address them.

To focus Chanukah programming exclusively as a protest against Islamophobia is to demean and desecrate what is essentially a Jewish religious event.

(b) Antisemitism Isn’t Among the Bigotries to be Deplored

A central component of the Chanukah story is the miracle of redemption in the face of irrational hatred. It would therefore be perfectly acceptable to include within the holiday’s programming the theme of modern day Jew-hatred. Yet, antisemitism is conspicuously absent from the litany of injustices that JVP covered in its Chanukah vigils.

Hate directed against Muslim-Americans or any other minority group is deplorable. But the reality is that, based on FBI statistics, Jewish-Americans suffer from religiously-motivated hate crimes at a far higher rate than do Muslims (57% to 16% according to 2014 data).

That doesn’t mean that Jews should be unmoved by the perceived plight of their Muslim neighbors and friends. It’s perfectly fine for Jews to care about discrimination directed against Muslims—or any other group in America.

But it’s unconscionable for a so-called Jewish organization to hold an anti-racism event today which fails to include as a major concern the rising tide of antisemitism in the United States and abroad.

(c) Singling Out Israel for Censure

Based on what I could glean from social media and news sources about the JVP Chanukah vigils, much of the programming was given over to current social justice issues related to immigrants coming to, and minorities living in, the United States.

But Israel’s “repressive policies against Palestinians” was singled out for condemnation in one of the prominently displayed candle placards.

No other foreign country was so mentioned.

Including Israel—and only Israel—in a domestic-focused agenda about the problems of inner-city policing, Native American disputes with the U.S government, and the influx of Syrian refugees into the country makes sense only if you buy into the cockamamie theory of “intersectionality”.

As we’ve discussed in numerous posts, intersectionality rests on the insane idea that if you see your group in America as oppressed then you should see Israel as part of the imperialist and colonial power structure that’s doing the oppressing—and you must therefore join forces and stand in solidarity with the anti-Israel movement.

[Credit: Facebook screenshot]

Basically, the underlying message at these JVP Chanukah vigils was that to truly be an anti-Trump, anti-racist progressive, you must also treat Israel as a malevolent oppressor of the Palestinians and see its policies toward them as driven by false accusations of Muslim and Arab threats.

That these threats may in fact be very real (and thus not a product of any irrational hatred of Muslims or racism toward Arabs) or that the policies may not be “repressive” but necessary counterterror measures are claims to be dismissed out of hand.

JVP’s Chanukah Vigil in Syracuse, NY

Along with the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Central NY and its Chair of the Community Relations Committee, I attended the newly-formed Syracuse chapter of JVP’s “Chanukah Vigil Against Islamophobia and Racism”. The event was held on December 28—the fifth night of Chanukah.

The vigil was JVP-Syracuse’s first public event.

Interestingly, the vigil wasn’t scheduled for the week prior so as to coincide with the other Chanukah actions across the country. Although I cannot confirm it, this may have been deliberate on account of the fact that Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner was scheduled to light the Chabad menorah in downtown Syracuse, as she has customarily done for some years, on the fifth night of the Chanukah holiday.

[Mayor Stephanie Miner to light Chabad Menorah | Syracuse | December 28, 2016]

[Chabad Rabbi Rapoport Conducts Blessing on Candles | Menorah Display | Clinton Square, Syracuse | December 28, 2016]

[Rabbi Rapoport | Chabad Syracuse, NY | Credit: Miriam Elman]

Despite some advance publicity for the event from a local public media channel, the members of the JVP-Syracuse chapter might have calculated that they would increase attendance on a cold December evening in central NY (and maybe even capture some media exposure) if they were to piggyback on the Chabad lighting event with the Mayor.

This proved to be a smart calculation.

Some 60 people came to the event—a large turnout for an outdoor evening event in our central NY winter. Two TV stations arrived for the lighting event and hung around for the JVP-Syracuse vigil. They featured short, laudatory stories on the event and embedded short video clips into their stories (see here and here). The clips aired live during local nighttime programming.

My Federation colleagues and I chose to attend the event as observers. We did not disrupt the program in any way. We were each invited to participate in lighting a candle, but declined. We alerted the media crews that we were available to speak with them to voice the Federation’s concerns at the event’s conclusion.

The JVP-Syracuse vigil lasted about an hour and appeared to follow a format similar to those that took place in other communities across the country: participants held placards depicting the eight commitments against Islamophobia and racism, and several spoke of their personal experiences.

My colleagues and I agreed that non-Jews probably outnumbered the Jewish participants. In addition, the United Methodists were present and unfurled their banner (Note: the virulently anti-Israel activist Miko Peled was recently hosted at two local Methodist churches).

[JVP-Syracuse Chanukah Vigil | December 28, 2016 | Credit: Miriam Elman]

Israel wasn’t a major focus, but one young Muslim woman spoke about working toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace.

That’s a nice sentiment, but it’s hard to see how she plans to foster peace and reconciliation by joining an organization like JVP, which views Israel as an illegitimate, genocidal regime.

It was obvious to me and to my fellow Federation colleagues that this young lady and many of the other kind-hearted participants who came to last week’s Syracuse vigil were clueless about JVP’s alliances with the virulently anti-Israel activists who have infiltrated the Black Lives Matter movement.

In Syracuse, participants at the JVP Chanukah vigil had no problem affirming that they “fully stand with the Vision for Black Lives platform” despite its deep antipathy toward Israel and the Jewish people. Recently, the Movement for Black Lives promoted antisemitism by singling out Israel as an apartheid state in its released platform and accusing it of perpetrating a genocide.

Denounced by Jewish organizations across the political spectrum for its appalling platform, JVP gave it full backing.

The Jewish Federation of CNY Provides a Statement to the Media

At the event’s conclusion, my Federation colleagues and I were approached by the two local media crews. We spoke to each for about 10 minutes.

Basically, we wanted to make sure they understood that JVP was a fringe group but one of the top organizations fixated with delegitimizing Israel and convincing the American public that it’s a pariah state that deserves to be ostracized and isolated. We wanted them to know that JVP-Syracuse didn’t speak for the Syracuse Jewish community. We also wanted to offer our availability for comment on future JVP-Syracuse events.

The reporters who interviewed us were visibly taken aback by our remarks, as we knew they would be. JVP does a good job of disguising its hatred of Israel and its anti-Zionist racism in the language of human rights and social justice making it difficult for decent, well-meaning people to find fault.

The media crews thought that they had been exposed to a “message of togetherness”. In reality, they had spent an hour falling for a shameless, nasty gimmick.

I almost felt sorry to have to burst their bubble.

Perhaps for one crew it was too much cognitive dissonance or information overload. That team never aired our remarks, preferring to present JVP-Syracuse and its inaugural event to viewers as wholly positive, and beyond reproach.

But kudos to the media crew of Time Warner Cable News and reporter Gabrielle Lucivero who, while obviously shocked and astounded by our remarks, decided it was worth telling viewers that “not everyone agreed with [JVP’s] message Wednesday night.”

She also included one line from our 10 minute interview:

The Federation stands against all forms of bigotry, all forms of racism and all its manifestations, but what we have a problem with in this event is the anti-Israel messaging and the anti-Israel sentiment.”

It wasn’t a lot. But it was enough.

Conclusion

There’s now an astonishing amount of evidence to suggest that JVP isn’t just another liberal progressive Jewish activist organization.

In fact it’s a regressive, misleadingly-named movement that puts fellow Jews at risk, legitimizes hostility toward Israel, and hijacks Jewish holidays and faith traditions to unabashedly call for the isolation and dismantling of the world’s only Jewish state.

Dexter Van Zile of the Committee for Accuracy on Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) puts it well:

JVP is escorting chaos through the front door of American civil society. Those of us who love America and Israel will have to bar the door as best we can.”

Miriam F. Elman is an Associate Professor of Political Science and the Robert D. McClure Professor of Teaching Excellence 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, 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