Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) is an anti-Israel extremist group that enables, legitimizes and mainstreams antisemitism by providing a façade and veneer of Jewish legitimacy for the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

As we’ve highlighted in almost 100 prior posts dating back to 2011, JVP isn’t a Jewish group. Rather, it’s a far-left wing group that purports to be inspired by the Jewish tradition of social activism.

Appropriating the language of human rights and social justice, JVP presents itself as an organization committed merely to ending Israel’s ‘occupation’ and to advancing civil liberties and democracy through non-violent means. But as we’ve documented, its tactics and affiliations tell a very different story.

The reality is that JVP’s leadership and activists:

JVP advances its virulently anti-Israel agenda via a relentless series of heavily-hyped national campaigns. It’s recent initiative (“Deadly Exchange”) rolled out in the spring and revamped over the summer, JVP blames Israel and major Jewish American organizations for policing problems in minority communities, including police shootings. It thus sets Jews up as part of, and the driving force behind, a white supremacist power structure oppressing people of color.

Fast on the heels of this repugnant campaign, JVP’s latest initiative—launched last week—takes aim at Taglit-Birthright Israel, by far the most successful and largest Jewish educational endeavor in the world.

The campaign’s target isn’t random. JVP was created, according to its Executive Director Rebecca Vilkomerson, is to create a wedge in the U.S. Jewish community to weaken support for Israel.

JVP is trying to convince young Jews not to sign up for Birthright Israel trips at the very moment that college students across America are returning to campus and registration for Birthright winter visits are underway.

JVP’s New “Return the BirthRight” Campaign Wants Jewish-American Youth to Boycott Learning About Their Heritage

JVP’s new campaign attacks Taglit-Birthright Israel, which since 1999 has sponsored trips to Israel for 18-26 year-old Jews aimed at strengthening their Jewish identity and connection to Israel and its people.

In its new “#ReturnTheBirthright” campaign, JVP proudly states that “Israel is not our birthright” and calls on young Jews to reject the “tempting offer” to participate in an all-expenses-paid 10-day “racist Birthright tour of Israel.”

 

So far, the campaign only consists of a few new pages on the JVP website. One page contains the campaign’s “manifesto” which reads, in part:

Since 1999, the Birthright Israel program has sent over 500,000 Jewish young adults on a free ten-day trip to Israel, in the name of strengthening Jewish identity and connection to the Jewish state. These trips, funded by the government of Israel and the North American Jewish Federations as well as individual donors like billionaire Republican Sheldon Adelson, aim to promote the idea that young Jews from all over the world should feel like the land and State of Israel belongs to us and is our homeland. But while all Jews worldwide are handed this free trip, and, furthermore, automatic citizenship if they choose to immigrate to Israel, Palestinians are barred from returning to the homes and villages where their ancestors lived for centuries…

Taking a Birthright trip today means playing an active role in helping the state promote Jewish “return” while rejecting the Palestinian right of return. It is not enough to accept this offer from the Israeli government and maintain a critical perspective while on the trip. We reject the offer of a free trip to a state that does not represent us, a trip that is only “free” because it has been paid for by the dispossession of Palestinians. And as we reject this, we commit to promoting the right to return of Palestinian refugees…

As young Jews, we #ReturnTheBirthright. We implore other young Jews on our campuses and in our communities: don’t go on a Birthright trip to Israel. Don’t take a trip sponsored by conservative donors and the Israeli government, where the ongoing oppression and occupation of Palestinians will be hidden from you, just because it’s free. There are other ways for us to strengthen our Jewish identities, in community with those who share our values. Israel is not our Birthright.

Return the Birthright.”

There’s also a page with a “pledge” in the forms of an online petition in which Birthright eligible Jews can sign on to declare:

We will not go on a Birthright trip because it is fundamentally unjust that we are given a free trip to Israel, while Palestinian refugees are barred from returning to their homes. We refuse to be complicit in a propaganda trip that whitewashes the systemic racism, the daily violence faced by Palestinians living under endless occupation. Our Judaism is grounded in values of solidarity and liberation, not occupation and apartheid. On these grounds we return the Birthright, and call on other young Jews to do the same.”

According to Ben Lorber, JVP’s campus coordinator, the new national campaign grew out of several anti-Birthright initiatives on individual campuses which “inspired” JVP’s leadership to take the initiative to “campuses across the country.”

But these prior campus campaigns appear to be limited to mainly Tufts University and Vassar, which launched “Renounce Birthright” initiatives back in 2013.

Four op-eds and blogs written by Tufts undergraduate students, who bad-mouth their Birthright experiences, along with one penned by a Vassar student, are now hyperlinked on JVP’s website under “Resources” (the remaining two materials—see here and here—featured as “Resources” are derogatory articles about Birthright published a few years ago in the virulently anti-Israel and antisemtic outlets Mondoweiss and Electronic Intifada).

Tufts and Vassar are both hotbeds of anti-Israel radicalism:

Last year, as we highlighted, BDS activists at Tufts marginalized their fellow Jewish students by unexpectedly forcing the student senate to vote on divestment from Israel on Passover. And this past week a student-produced “alternative-orientation” guide geared for incoming freshmen attacked the Tufts campus Hillel for supporting Israel, which it defamed as a “white supremacist state.”

So it’s not surprising that these two campuses would be featured in JVP’s new campaign materials.

Separate pages on the landing page invite people to hold workshops and teach-ins challenging Birthright on college and university campuses, and offer “templates and resources.” There’s also a link to an online form for writing in testimonials, although none appear yet on the site.

JVP has also made available a list of 47 “alternative tours” to Israel and the West Bank. They include outfits with innocuous sounding names, like the International Solidarity Movement and Green Olive Tours, but which in reality deliver anti-Israel propaganda while encouraging tourists to clash with Israel’s police and security forces at checkpoints and at Palestinian protests.

Others on the list, including Breaking the Silence and Sabeel, are vehemently anti-Israel organizations which support the global BDS movement and work to isolate, delegitimize, and demonize the Jewish state:

While I was familiar with most of these sketchy tour groups, there’s one on JVP’s list that I had never heard of before: the Jerusalem Black Panthers Tour!

Bottom line: JVP’s new “Return the Birthright” campaign is premised on a profound misunderstanding of international law that Palestinian refugees have a “right” of return within the borders of Israel and the mainstay historical falsehood that Zionists are settler-colonialists who stole the land from an indigenous population. JVP finds Birthright anathema because in its cockamamie rendition of Judaism, the love of Zion is excised and the land of Israel isn’t related to Jewishness. So for JVP, honoring Jewish values means working to erase the Jewish state. But JVP doesn’t have a problem with Jewish kids going to “apartheid Israel” on study abroad programs, as long as they can be indoctrinated with anti-Israel vitriol while they’re there.

The Birthright Success Story: Fostering Feelings of Homeland Connection 

Taglit-Birthright Israel (note: Taglit means ‘discovery’ in Hebrew) is an initiative designed to engage young Jewish adults living outside of Israel with the Jewish state and its people. The program brings 18- to 26-year-olds to Israel for a free, short visit that last a little over a week.

The program is open to all those within the age range who self-identify as having a Jewish background and who have at least one Jewish parent (note: eligible applicants needn’t have been raised in the Jewish faith). Political viewpoints aren’t reviewed for eligibility purposes and Jews from all recognized denominations are welcome.

Some of the eligibility criteria have been eased over the years (those who participated in organized high school trips to Israel are now eligible, for instance), but the initiative remains geared to those who haven’t lived in Israel for any extended period of time as teens or young adults.

Basically, the mission of Birthright is to give every Jewish young person around the planet the chance to visit Israel and connect with his or her heritage as a member of the global Jewish community.

It’s a monumental task—yet Birthright is on the way to achieving it.

In nearly 20 years it’s brought over 600,000 Jewish young adults to Israel. They’ve come from 67 countries (including 50 U.S. states) and from nearly 1,000 colleges. While in-country, 80,000 Israeli peers have connected with them during the visits.

Birthright contracts with over a dozen tour groups who run a variety of programs—there are LGBTQ, vegan, and spiritual tours, tours designed especially for the disabled, nature tours and tours focused on arts and culture or on high-tech innovation and entrepreneurship.

A variety of educational tours also offer 3 college course-credits (these are the ones that JVP’s new campaign is specifically targeting).

Each tour has its own theme and dynamic, but there are standard features to all of them: a Shabbat dinner; visits to Jewish and national heritage sites; and the chance to interact with homeland peers.

Birthright is funded through a public-private partnership between the Israeli government, Jewish Federations, and American donors.

Among the original funders were Michael Steinhardt and Charles Bronfman; in recent years Sheldon Adelson—the casino billionaire, GOP mega-donor, and Netanyahu supporter—had become the program’s largest benefactor.

To hear JVP tell it, young people who go on Birthright come out of it with the “politics of Adelson.” Yet, numerous peer-reviewed scholarly studies of the Birthright program prove the exact opposite.

Study after study, many of them conducted by a scholarly research team affiliated with the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University, show that participation in Birthright positively alters the future trajectory that participants have with regard to engagement in Jewish life and their connection to Israel.

Young people’s support for Israel rises pretty much across the board after taking part in the program.

But these same studies also show that Birthright participants don’t come away with right-wing political viewpoints about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Studies have found, for example, that Birthright trips have no effect on participant attitudes regarding West Bank settlements. So Birthrighters are no more likely to oppose dismantling settlements for the sake of a peace agreement than are applicants to the program who didn’t ultimately end up going.

Birthright, for its part, views itself as an apolitical, Zionist organization that’s neither on the right or left—the program aims to foster homeland attachment without promoting any narrowly-construed political narrative.

The program also doesn’t weaken the ties that young Jews have to their communities in the diaspora, or their commitment to work for justice in places where they live and have the obligations and benefits of citizenship.

That is, the claim that Birthright somehow marginalizes, suppresses or erases Jewish experiences, histories and identities outside of Israel, or diminishes the extent to which young Jewish Americans will care about social justice challenges and problems in the U.S., is utter and complete nonsense.

In researching this post I was touched by the many testimonies that I read by Birthrighters sharing how they felt about their life-changing trips.

[Credit: JTA]

There are moving accounts of kids who had no sense of their Jewishness before going, and coming home with a newfound interest in learning more about their faith.

There were love stories too—young people who found their soul-mates while on a Birthright trip.

No one wrote much about the partying in Tel Aviv (although I’ve no doubt that was fun and memorable, studies show that Birthrighters come home understanding that there is much more to Israel).

Here are several recent posts by Birthrighters this past summer:

There are hundreds more like them.

They jive with my own experiences, engaging with a few dozen students over the years who went on Birthright and came back to campus motivated to take my courses on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other classes on the Middle East.

All these kids were jazzed by their trip and their newfound connection to Israel and Judaism. I saw that they were strongly Zionist. Like 95% of Jews on the planet, they clearly viewed Israel as a foundational, essential component to their Jewish faith. But not one of them was particularly biased against the Palestinians. On the contrary, in class these kids were typically the ones most likely to wax eloquent about the need for co-existence, meaningful compromise, and statehood rights for both Jews and Palestinians.

Bottom line: Taglit-Birthright is a hugely successful program that builds up a life-long love of Judaism and a deepened connection to Israel for those who go. It’s because Birthright is so successful in fostering a generally favorable view of the Israeli state and society that JVP is now targeting it with a malicious campaign. “Return the Birthright” ignores and distorts the many scholarly studies that have been conducted in order to measure Birthright’s impact. It unfairly accuses the program of bias even though multiple studies have shown that Birthright doesn’t move participants to the political right.

The Rockefeller Brothers Fund: Financing JVP Anti-Israel Campaigns

As we’ve discussed in many prior posts, JVP activism is organized through a variety of anti-Israel campaigns on American college campuses and in academic associations and unions, progressive churches and in scores of marches, rallies, ‘die ins’, many of which have taken an ugly antistemitic turn.

JVP also sends activists to numerous city council meetings, national conventions and campaign stops with the aim of disrupting them and ‘shutting them down.’ Typically at these events JVP activists go out of their way to get themselves arrested for the publicity.

Many of these activities don’t require a lot of money.

As with any grassroots movement, those active in JVP are probably donating their time and spending a lot out-of-pocket. This is likely the case with many of the recent event disruptions that JVP seems to especially relish. The costs here aren’t prohibitive—all it takes is some committed activists and a few bus tickets:

But recent JVP activism also highlights the need for increased access to funding. For example, on several occasions JVP has bought full page ads in the Los Angeles Times for its high-profile anti-Israel efforts.

Last year it produced and distributed roughly 10,000 copies of a fake edition of the New York Times. As we highlighted in our post on this particularly juvenile publicity stunt, the production quality of the paper was so good that the NYT lambasted the lookalike for being designed to mislead readers.

JVP’s recent initiatives, including its malicious “Return the Birthright” and “Deadly Exchange” campaigns, also don’t come cheap.

In the case of “Deadly Exchange”, with its slickly designed and professionally-produced videos, a range of materials for community organizers to download, and traveling workshops and training programs, substantial sources of money would need to be tapped.

That’ll be the case for “Return the Birthright” too—once the promised “templates and resources” and campus workshops and teach-ins are rolled out.

JVP is notorious for being non-transparent about its funding sources—its website carries no information about its donors. But, as we highlighted in a post last year, the watchdog group NGO Monitor has been able to painstakingly piece together its funding network.

NGO Monitor has revealed that JVP receives financial support from a wide array of private foundations, charitable trusts and public charities, many of which also fund other virulently anti-Israel and pro-BDS groups.

But it turns out that one of JVP’s main benefactors is the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF).

In June 2015, it received a two-year $140,000 grant from RBF. At the time an ecstatic Rebecca Vilkomerson, JVP’s executive director reportedly observed:

It’s not just RBF. The R stands for Rockefeller. It’s an indicator of an increasing acceptance of our political position in the broader world. From that perspective, it was an important moment for us to have a foundation like RBF to begin to fund us.”

Another round of funding was made in June 2017, bringing RBF’s contribution to JVP to 280,000. RBF claims that the contribution is for “peacebuilding,” but as we have demonstrated above, in fact RBF funds anti-Israel demonization and anti-Semitic activism by JVP which contributes to the continued conflict.

https://www.rbf.org/grantees/jewish-voice-peace-inc

Bottom line: RBF, a philanthropy which admirably professes to care deeply about contributing to human understanding, peaceful reconciliation and a more just and sustainable world, is nonetheless willing to finance JVP, a radical group bent on what essentially amounts to a hate campaign to denigrate Judaism and dilute support for Israel within the American Jewish community and the U.S. public at large. Strangely, despite all the good that it does elsewhere, RBF seems to continue to have little problem giving money to a gang of racists who hold positions that are the very opposite of peace, justice, dignity, and human rights.

Conclusion

For years, BDS proponents on U.S. campuses have insisted that the academic boycott of Israel is only aimed at institutions of higher learning, and not at individual academics or students.

The claim was always disingenuous—it’s not possible to target a university for boycott without also negatively impacting the faculty, students and staff who study and work there.

But, as we noted in a prior post, the Palestinian Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI)—a key component to BDS—has long endorsed boycotts of students and scholars, even providing a handy list of suggested strategies for doing so, like refusing to read Israeli graduate student research proposals or write letters of reference for Israeli professors going up for promotion.

Still, for a long time most BDS supporters adopted these boycott measures in secret. What emerged were stealth boycotts—a variety of discriminatory practices being employed against Israeli academics which, unlike noisy disruptions of speakers that can be captured on video and posted to YouTube, are much more difficult to uncover and prevent.

But there’s nothing at all secretive about JVP’s latest BDS campaign.

It openly and brazenly targets a popular college study abroad program.  The goal of “Return the Birthright” is to stop American Jewish students from participating in a rewarding educational opportunity that enables them to engage with students and their peers overseas.

[Credit: Elder of Ziyon blog]

So BDS isn’t only aimed at institutions. Share this post with anyone who tells you differently.

[Featured Image – Birthright Israel participants at Western Wall, via Facebook]

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