Column One: Time to cut JVP down to size

JVP is punching above its weight because the Jewish communal leadership is punching beneath its weight. It is time to correct this imbalance.

Executive director of JVP Rebecca Vilkomerson. (photo credit: MARTYN BONAVENTURA)
Executive director of JVP Rebecca Vilkomerson.
(photo credit: MARTYN BONAVENTURA)
Jewish Voice for Peace is a marginal group, by all accounts. The Jewish-run, anti-Zionist organization has perhaps a couple of dozen employees and anywhere between a few dozen and a couple of hundred committed activists in the US. Its positions – that Israel is evil and must be destroyed and that Jews should be disenfranchised and ostracized because they support Israel – is anathema to the overwhelming majority of American Jews.
Yet despite the fact that its bigoted positions are rejected by just about everyone, this group, which the Anti-Defamation League has listed as “the largest and most influential Jewish anti-Zionist organization in the United States,” is becoming increasingly influential in the US.
As the ADL report on JVP notes, in recent years, the little group has received millions of dollars in donations and has vastly expanded its operations. It has 35 chapters across the US including at several campuses. It has nearly a half million followers on Facebook and 75,000 followers on Twitter.
JVP doesn’t only attack Jewish supporters of Israel. It also attacks Judaism. JVP’s “rabbinical council” issues resolutions and publications in the name of the Jewish religion that are inherently antisemitic.
In 2012 for instance, JVP’s “rabbinical council” published an “alternative Haggada,” which included anti-Israel themes inside the Passover story of the liberation of the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt. One of the four cups of wine for the Passover Seder was dedicated to the BDS movement. Readers were instructed to add an olive to the traditional Seder plate to symbolize Palestinian suffering under Israeli rule.
JVP is open about its determination to serve as a Jewish fig leaf for antisemitic groups and operations. Its website states this mission explicitly, arguing that the group’s Jewish veneer gives it a “particular legitimacy in voicing an alternative view of American and Israeli actions and policies” and the ability to distinguish “between real antisemitism and the cynical manipulation of that issue.”
It is a sign of the confusion within the American Jewish community that JVP’s strategy meets with success not only among the general public, which may not understand how marginal and extreme JVP’s positions are, but within the Jewish community itself.
Consider a development this week at New York University.
On Monday, 51 campus groups published a declaration committing their members to adopting the BDS program including by boycotting two NYU Jewish student groups.
The pledge that NYU College Libertarians, the Asian American Women’s Alliance at NYU, and their comrades in 49 other student groups signed committed them to “boycotting NYU’s pro-Israel clubs, Realize Israel and TorchPAC, by not co-sponsoring events with them, as well as boycotting off-campus pro-Israel groups such as Birthright-Taglit, the Maccabee Task Force, Mosaic United, Zionist Organization of America, American-Israeli [sic] Political Action Committee and the Anti-Defamation League.”
There are two remarkable aspects to this declaration. First, it is remarkable that so many groups were willing to affix their signatures to a document that is so openly antisemitic. They found nothing objectionable about committing themselves to ostracize two Jewish student groups and six national Jewish organizations, which together represent the views of the overwhelming majority of American Jews.
The group that spearheaded the NYU anti-Jewish boycott is Students for Justice in Palestine. SJP is behind nearly every BDS initiative in the US. And JVP, which is a member of the coalition that pushed the NYU anti-Jewish boycott, serves as SJP’s Jewish fig leaf at NYU and on campuses throughout the US.
In any discussion about JVP and its role in legitimizing and normalizing anti-Jewish discrimination and hatred, it is important to bear in mind the nature of its partner and leader SJP.
In 2016, Jonathan Schanzer from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies revealed SJP’s pedigree in congressional testimony.
Schanzer explained that SJP, which is run by Berkeley professor Hatem Bazian, is not a legal entity. It is just a name. SJP is a shell group directed in every way by a Chicago-registered organization called American Muslims for Palestine, which Bazian heads.
American Muslims for Palestine devises all of the SJP campaigns. It provides talking points to SJP chapters ensuring that the SJP message and operation is identical across all campuses.
American Muslims for Palestine is not a registered nonprofit. Its fund-raising arm, also chaired by Bazian, is called American for Justice in Palestine Education Foundation. Schanzer noted that AJP’s IRS Form 990s revealed that it raised $3.2 million in contributions between 2010 and 2014. Yet in apparent breach of the US tax code, AJP reported neither the sources of the funds nor how they were used.
Most important, Schanzer revealed that Bazian, American Muslims for Palestine and American for Justice in Palestine are up to their armpits in Hamas ties.
Before establishing SJP, AMP and AJP, Bazian and his colleagues worked for three linked organizations: the Holyland Foundation, KindHearts and the Islamic Association for Palestine. All three were shut down following the 2008 verdict in the Holyland Foundation terrorism financing trial. That verdict found that the Holyland Foundation, and its sister organizations KindHearts and the Islamic Association for Palestine were all terrorism financiers that raised funds for Hamas and al-Qaeda.
Schanzer noted that there is no evidence that Bazian and his associates at the follow-on AMP-AJP groups raise funds for terrorist groups now. But all the same, at AMP’s annual conference in 2014, participants were invited to “come and navigate the fine line between legal activism and material support for terrorism.”
No doubt ignorant of all of this, and immunized from allegations of Jew-hatred by JVP’s advocacy for the resolution, 51 campus groups at NYU decided to side with SJP-AMP-AJP and blackball two mainstream Jewish groups.
Which brings us back to JVP and its pivotal role in advancing Jew-hatred in America, and to the second remarkable aspect of the NYU operation.
The response of the affected Jews at NYU make clear the corrosive effect JVP is having on the Jewish community’s capacity to defend itself against open discrimination.
Realize Israel and TorchPAC’s reactions to this egregious act of discrimination directed against them are notable for their docility.
Speaking to JTA, Realize Israel president Adela Cojab described the campus climate on Israel as “one of animosity.”
Cojab expressed surprise “about the scale” of the assault.
“I didn’t expect so many people and so many groups to turn against students the way they have,” she said.
Cojab then added, “They’re creating a rift between students that doesn’t exist. You can advocate for a cause without singling out two student groups, especially NYU groups that have been on this campus and have been contributing in a meaningful way to NYU campus life.”
TorchPAC president Rebecca Stern told JTA that her group wants to open a dialogue with the groups that just officially ostracized her group.
“They aren’t student groups that we particularly know much about, so we’re working on trying to talk to people and to see what exactly it is about this specific resolution that drew them to adopt it. We really want to establish ourselves as a tolerant, discussion-based community.”
Cojab’s and Stern’s decision to respond with passive, nonjudgmental statements to an openly bigoted assault against them personally, and against the overwhelming majority of the American Jewish community which shares their positions generally, is noteworthy. It is similarly noteworthy that the response of the NYU’s professional Jewish leadership was arguably even more timid.
In a statement to JTA, the executive director of NYU’s Bronfman Center for Jewish Life, Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, said that the groups’ open ostracism of the Jewish campus groups “is a source of sorrow and disappointment to me.”
Sarna added, “The university should be about people coming together, not about people refusing to speak to those with differing views.”
The docile response of the affected Jews at NYU to their colleagues’ decision to ostracize them and ban them from the wider student body is an extreme example of the confusion and weakness of the Jewish community. JVP and other anti-Israel Jewish groups are making significant progress in their bids to paralyze the Jewish community from within. They work avidly to sow doubt, confusion and embarrassment among American Jews about whether they have a right to civil rights and protection, let alone to respect and support when they express their support for the Jewish state.
An event in Durham, North Carolina, earlier this week points to way that JVP is subverting the Jewish community.
This week, Durham, North Carolina, became the first US city to adopt BDS as official policy. The city council adopted a statement calling for the police department to ban all exchange programs with Israel.
The statement was the result of an intense, months-long lobbying campaign led by JVP.
According to sources inside the Durham Jewish community, JVP members have taken leading roles in two area synagogues and the local Jewish federation. Sandra Korn has been a JVP member since at least 2015. She is a trustee and the head of adult education at Durham’s Judea Reform synagogue.
Korn is also a staff member at the Durham/Chapel Hill Jewish Federation, employed as a youth teacher. She teaches religious studies at all area synagogues.
Korn allegedly led the BDS campaign at the city council. She was allegedly joined in her efforts Lara Haft. Like Korn, Haft is a JVP member and Federation staffer. Haft teaches religious studies at Beth El synagogue in Durham.
Korn’s Judea Reform synagogue has something called the Israel Discourse Advisory Committee. Three of its members signed a letter to the city council in support of BDS.
Consider the impact that committed JVP activists are having on the Jewish community in Durham. The parents who pay good money to send their children to Hebrew school are in all likelihood uninterested in teaching their children that Passover is a cautionary tale about Jewish venality. And yet, it can be assumed that students who emerge from Korn’s and Haft’s classrooms will not be joining pro-Israel organizations when they go to college. It can be taken for granted that these Jewish youth, whose parents took the trouble to join a synagogue and send them to Hebrew school, will not understand why Jews have just as much of a right to advocate on behalf of the Jewish state as everyone else has to advocate on behalf of issues that matter to them.
There are two ways to deal with Jewish Voice for Peace. First, while the Obama administration refused to investigate Students for Justice in Palestine and its parent group’s ties to terrorist groups, the Trump Justice Department and Treasury Department can easily inquire into their pedigree. The federal government can take action against them if, as seems likely, investigators discover operational ties between these groups and illegal terrorist organizations.
Second, the Jewish communal groups need to block JVP activists and sympathizers from gaining positions of power and influence over their local institutions. Among other things, this requires investing in Jewish educators to attract more Jewish Americans to these professions.
JVP is punching above its weight because the Jewish communal leadership is punching beneath its weight. It is time to correct this imbalance.