Jewish Voice for Peace was started in 1996 in the San Francisco Bay Area by three UC Berkeley undergrads as an all-volunteer Israel and Palestine peace group. In 2002, members decided to build a larger grassroots base that could one day change U.S. policies towards the region. Funds were raised then, as now, through a grassroots campaign focused mostly on small, individual donors.
Israel claims to be acting in the name of the Jewish people, so we are compelled to make sure the world knows that many Jews are opposed to their actions. There are often attempts to silence critics of Israel by conflating legitimate criticism with antisemitism.
Israel is a state, not a person. Everyone has the right to criticize the unjust actions of a state. JVP members represent a growing portion of Jewish Americans.
JVP was the first major Jewish peace group to demand that American military aid be withheld until Israel ends its occupation.
We also are the only major anti-Zionist Jewish group, and the only major Jewish group to support the Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions.
We support any solution that is consistent with the full rights of both Palestinians and Israeli Jews. Ultimately, it is up to them to reach a mutually agreed upon solution.
However, we will not ignore decades of Israeli settlement expansion and the Israeli government’s consistent march toward Palestinian annihilation.
It is our obligation to assert the vanishingly small likelihood of a two-state solution.
The right of people to return to their countries is enshrined in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. At JVP, we think this is a good and important right.
As such, peace will only be possible when Israel acknowledges the Palestinian refugees’ right of return and negotiates a mutually agreed upon, just solution based on principles established in international law including return, compensation, and/or resettlement.
Further, we believe that a just and comprehensive peace between Israelis and Palestinians can only happen through acknowledgement of the Nakba of 1947-9, which led to the creation of millions of Palestinian refugees.
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Absolutely. We proudly endorse the Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) until Israel abides by international law.
BDS is a meaningful alternative to passivity engendered by two decades of failed peace talks, and is the most effective grassroots means for applying nonviolent pressure to change Israeli policies.
Defenders of Israel often assert that BDS is inherently antisemitic. We reject that idea, and we defend BDS activists when they are wrongly accused of antisemitism.
Zionism and Anti-Zionism
Zionism is a form of Jewish nationalism, and is the primary ideology that drove the establishment of Israel.
People who consider themselves Zionist have different interpretations of what that label means in the present political moment, to them personally, and historically. But when people refer to “Zionism” today, political Zionism is often what they mean.
“Anti-Zionism” is a loose term referring to criticism of Israeli state policies, and/or moral, ethical, or religious criticism of the idea of a Jewish nation-state.
There has been debate, criticism, and opposition to Zionism within Jewish thought for as long as it has existed.
Jewish anti-Zionists span a political and religious spectrum, from religious and secular progressives who view opposition to Zionism as an anti-racist praxis, to ultra-Orthodox Jews who oppose Jewish dominion until the time of the Messiah, to anarchist Jews who oppose the very concept of nation-states, Jewish or otherwise.
There are also many non-Jewish anti-Zionists whose perspectives may be informed by moral criticism of the policies of the Israeli government, problems with the impact of Zionist thinking in Israel on non-Jewish residents, and/or a criticism of ethno-nationalism more broadly.
Many Palestinians take anti-Zionist positions or identify as anti-Zionist because of the current and historical practices of the Israeli state.
No! Criticism of Zionism should not be conflated with antisemitism. Israel has openly adopted Zionism as an animating political belief, which informs their policy decisions.
Those political beliefs and policies can and should be subject to critical debate.
At its founding, JVP made a conscious choice as an organization to abstain from taking a position on Zionism, because we felt it closed off conversation in the Jewish community.
But our Palestinian partners had long theorized Zionism as the root cause of the Palestinian condition. More and more of our members not only agreed, but understood Zionism as damaging to Jewish identity and spiritual life.
In 2014, it became clear that we needed to clarify our position in order to effectively continue doing our work.
Over the next few years, our process included education and discussion with our members, including major conversations at our 2017 National Member Meeting; surveys; consultations with our constituency groups including Rabbis, artists, and students; feedback from JVP staff, Palestinian members, activists and thinkers, along with feedback from Jewish people of color and Sephardi & Mizrahi Jews; and finally, a new position in 2018 drafted by our board.
Zionism began in the late 19th century in the context of a set of huge changes in the political, cultural, and social landscape of Jewish life in Europe, along with the general rise of nationalist movements and nation-state political forms.
For Jews in Europe, this meant a sharp rise in violent antisemitism. Jewish people — even though they had lived in Europe for centuries — were fundamentally excluded from the ways European nations defined themselves. This resulted in violent, targeted, anti-Jewish massacres in Russia, known as pogroms; the development of anti-Jewish conspiracy theories like Protocols of the Elders of Zion; and the re-emergence of older antisemitic tropes, like blood libels, which claim that Jewish people use the blood of Christian children in rituals.
Some Jewish people responded to this antisemitism by attempting to assimilate into the European countries they lived in; this often proved impossible. Many Jewish people — over 2.5 million — left as refugees, coming to the United States or other parts of Europe. Others, most famously the Bund, rejected the concept of nationalism altogether or turned to revolutionary socialism.
A small number, notably Theodore Herzl, often seen as the founder of Zionism, thought that Jews themselves constituted a separate people, and should therefore have a state of their own.
Herzl and other early Zionist thinkers were also very influenced by European settler colonial thinking, often explicitly making the case that a Jewish state in Palestine would be a European colony similar to the British presence in India.
There are several main ways in which Zionism can cause harm to Jews:
- By conflating Judaism with support for Israel, it forces people critical of Israel to choose between their ethical commitments and their Jewish faith.
- The argument that “Israel represents all Jews,” can lead non-Jews to believe that opposing the racist, violent policies of Israel means opposing Jews.
- When Zionist organizations defend Israel, they do so fiercely — regardless of whether their target is Jewish!
- Zionism, as a political ideology and as a movement, has always hierarchized Jews based on ethnicity and race.
It’s true. Zionism is and was an Ashkenazi-led movement that discriminated against Jews from across the Middle East and North Africa, whom it termed Mizrahim (the ‘Eastern Ones’).
In the early 1950s, two years after the Nakba, the Israeli government facilitated a mass immigration of Mizrahim. Unlike their Ashkenazi counterparts, the new Mizrahi immigrants were not permitted to settle in the central cities or live in housing they could eventually come to own.
Instead, the Israeli police were deployed to compel Mizrahi immigrants to remain in the transient camps and later development towns in Israel’s periphery, as a means to expand the state territory and prevent Palestinian return.
During the 1950s Mizrahi immigrants were also subject to medical experimentation facilitated or performed by the Israeli government, and several thousand babies and toddlers were forcibly taken from their parents by the Israeli government. These children, two-thirds of whom were Yemeni and a third of whom were from Tunisian, Moroccan, Libyan, Iraqi and Balkan families, were taken by physicians and social workers and given up for adoption by Ashkenazi families.
From the first waves of immigration in the 1980s, Ethiopian Jews have experienced racism on the part of the government and the Israeli public, exclusion from the public sphere, discrimination in education and employment, and exposure to physical and verbal violence.
They also remain unrecognized as Jews by the Israeli religious establishment and religious councils because of racial prejudice. Ethiopian mobilization for racial justice consolidated since 2015 has called for an end to institutional discrimination, police harassment, arrests without cause, false accusations and indictments about assaulting police officers, and the denial of due process, all of which have long been experienced by the Ethiopian community.
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