Progress & Backlash in 5782 – Newsletter by Executive Director Stefanie Fox
I started this newsletter as a regular place to share analysis and updates, workshop organizing strategy, and lift up what is happening throughout our organization and the broader movement for Palestinian rights. Would love to hear your thoughts, now and always: email@example.com.
Shana Tova to all!
Hoping you’ve had a meaningful entry into 5782. I have loved being guided through this season by the robust virtual offerings of the JVP havurah network and rabbinical council. It’s amazing to see the proliferation of non and anti-Zionist havurot and synagogues, taking root across the country, both within and next to JVP. We started livestreaming services in 2016 not because of global pandemic, but because of the utter isolation so many anti- and non-Zionist Jews felt trying to connect to Jewish community and ritual. This year, values-aligned services were available all over the country, a testament to the reach and growth of our movement.
Last week marked 21 years since the start of the Second Intifada. As you likely know, the Second Intifada was initiated by Sharon’s military attack on Al Aqsa Mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam. The era was defined for many by the horrifying execution of 12 year old Mohammad al-Durrah, who an Israeli soldier shot point-blank as he cowered in his father’s arms. The spark ignited by this horrifying scene juxtaposed with Sharon’s violent incursion on Al Aqsa lit the tinder laid by decades of Israeli settler colonial expansion under the auspices of a false and failed “peace” process. Camp David culminated only in the clarity that Israel would never willingly accede to Palestinian demands for basic rights.
In marking the uprising and repression of the Second Intifada period, it’s striking to note the parallels to the uprising this Spring, which was also provoked by Israeli aggression at Al Aqsa, defined by the horrifying Israeli state murders of Palestinian children in Gaza, and set against increasing protest of Israel’s ongoing land theft and the utter impunity granted by the U.S. — the same in policy from Clinton to Trump to Biden.
At the same time, the Unity Uprising and its impact and aftermath around the world also mark a certain departure. I am understanding more deeply every day the profundity of the general strike this May, seeing how it refused and resisted the very fractures driven into Palestinian resistance during the First and Second Intifadas. It also marked the emergence of a new generation of Palestinian leaders, who came of age through the brutality of the Second Intifada. Salem Barahmeh writes:
“As a generation we carry with us a deep trauma living through one of the most violent and crushingly oppressive periods of Israel’s military occupation. This generation saw the ugliest of human nature and to what lengths a regime would go to crush and destroy another people…For many of us from that generation, the Second Intifada infused in us the understanding that there is no peace without justice. We want peace and crave a normal life but not without freedom, equality, rights and being considered human. We won’t stop until we build that world.”
We continue to see this fire and world building all through historic Palestine. Take the village of Beita. Villagers have been mounting a #SaveBeita campaign against the settler outpost established on Mount Sabigh in May. For now, nightly village demonstrations have forced the settlers to decamp from their heavily guarded outpost — a striking victory in the face of nearly impossible odds. Mohammed el-Kurd, in his new post as the Nation’s Palestine Correspondent, wrote a beautiful profile of these nightly protests, capturing the spirit and power of their resistance:
“The defenders understand that sainthood is no longer a prerequisite to international solidarity, so they march and chant without shame. They corral the town, tires ablaze on their shoulders, and the minarets announce an uprising…When compared to the Israeli military, the Defenders of the Mountain don’t have much going for them in this battle. What’s a slingshot to a sniper? But to look a rifle in the eye and still say your truth is to be a giant.”
We can’t talk about resistance this month without discussing the six prisoners who tunneled their way out of Gilboa prison with a spoon. Palestinians around the world celebrated this embodiment of sumud, steadfastness. How better to illustrate that quality than years spent digging the way to freedom? As Palestinians around the world celebrated, Israeli forces engaged in a campaign of collective punishment and hunted down the men.
This prison break was also an important time to remind ourselves of the role of incarceration as a tool of Apartheid. 800,000 Palestinians have been detained by the Israeli authorities in the last 50 years of Israeli Occupation, meaning that 40% of Palestinian men have been arrested at least once. What’s more, each year, the Israeli military arrests and prosecutes around 700 Palestinian children. Understanding the centrality of imprisonment to the maintaince of Israeli regime, it’s easy to see why the break set off a “tidal wave of hope for Palestinian society.” Dalia Hatuqa, in Jewish Currents, writes A Prison Break Liberates the Palestinian Political Imagination: “‘The miraculous breakout from Israel’s most high-security prison showed that freedom, even in the darkest of circumstances, is possible with persistence and ingenuity’.” I was especially stuck by waking up the day after the prison break to a picture from the Israeli embassy in DC, where young Palestinian activists had left piles of spoons — a warning, and a promise.
Those DC spoons are a reminder that the fountain of Israeli impunity flows out of Washington, a reality that’s been excruciatingly clear in Congress over the past few weeks, as the house just voted to authorize an additional $1 billion in funding to the Israeli military. In both outcome and process, the rancor over the Iron Dome vote was a reminder of how far we have to go politically and narratively, even as it also shows notes of our progress. As Beth Miller, our Senior Government Affairs Manager, said on this podcast, “Watching what played out and the conversation that surrounded it is an example of which Democratic leadership and the GOP in particular are willing to play games with people’s lives and score political points in whatever way they can.” Beth details the full story in the podcast above, but my main takeaways are:
1) The fact that we were able to push back on the initial addition is a big sign of the progress we’ve made.
2) Everything that happened after demonstrates the utter lengths to which the mainstream of the Democratic party and the GOP will go to suppress a shift in the status quo of unconditional support for Israel.
Deadly Exchange: Powerful Momentum
This flow of momentum in our campaigns and policy fights, followed by stronger-than-ever backlash from establishment forces, is going to be an escalating dynamic in our work this year. Just this month, in addition to the machinations in DC, we’ve seen this dynamic where grassroots progressive power-buliding hits the wall of intense behind-the-scenes political pressure from our opposition. In LA, Vermont, and Seattle, local BDS efforts that would have been groundbreaking wins ended up in initial, narrow defeat. Undaunted, each of these campaigns will come back stronger and poised to push that tipping point into victory.
The Seattle End the Deadly Exchange Coalition, led by the incredible Palestinian feminist organizers of Falastiniyat and including over 50 local groups, waged a powerful first fight in this campaign. Councilmember Kshama Sawant introduced End the Deadly Exchange Legislation that only lost by one vote: 4-5. The loss came after last-minute technical maneuvering from the Israeli consulate, the ADL, and the local Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) in collaboration with the furthest right members of the council. For a first try, this is a massive success for the Seattle coalition.
One notable win to me is that there was an obvious and acknowledged divide between Jewish institutional position on the bill and the position of the mass majority of Jewish constituents. During public comment each week, and especially the day of the vote, Jewish Seattleites spoke overwhelmingly and compellingly in favor of the bill. During the final comment, 30+ people spoke passionately in favor of the bill, and I’d estimate about 80% were Jews. Less than 5 people spoke against the bill, and they were all employees of national or local Jewish legacy institutions. Indeed, the divide was so striking that the local JCRC director had to acknowledge it in her “victory” email, writing “During public comment on the bill, I heard a number of Jews express support for it.” More and more, pro-Apartheid Jewish organizations simply cannot claim to speak for all Jews.
While the narrow loss was disappointing, the campaign is far from over. The amount of support garnered from City Council in spite of massive institutional backlash may have led to a one vote loss. But it is also the perfect preamble to a win in the next round, and the momentum from the powerful local organizing is unstoppable.
Defunding Settler Orgs: Growing Momentum
We will take all of this learning into the momentum-building in campaigns targeting settler funders. In the Bay, our chapter is launching a Study/Action group to continue their ongoing targeting of MZ Foundation. In Philly, our chapter leveraged their summer’s actions into a full-on campaign launch during a powerful Sukkot action. As member Rachel Kipnes said in Mondoweiss:
“The holiday of Sukkot reminds us that all people are connected to land – but Jeffrey Yass is supporting the forced displacement of Palestinians from their homes. Whether funding apartheid and settlement expansion in Israel, or education privatization and right-wing extremists in the U.S., Jeffrey Yass must be held accountable. That’s why we’re here protesting again – for the third time – and launching the ‘All Eyes on Yass’ campaign.”
And meanwhile, South Florida JVP and coalition partners have also officially launched their Duty Free Americas campaign. I encourage you to watch the whole launch video.
Campaigning — join us for a member call!
I’m hearing from many chapters that were dormant through most of covid but woke fully up in May, and are re-booted with lots of energy, new members, and mobilizing since then. It’s very cool to see the way that groundwork of relationships and history of organizing can be re-activated and renewed. Also hearing about incredible political education happening in almost all our chapters — book groups, lectures, events. And I’m hearing a lot about the excitement for the possibilities of more and better coordinated campaigning this year.
To that end, please save the date — October 26th — for our campaign summit for member leaders! We’ll bring members together to hear about current campaign possibilities and to better understand where energy and interest is amongst our base. This should help us prioritize our efforts and also help members connect in.
I believe that making good on the possibilities pried open by Palestinian leaders last May and June will require us to bring our all to the task of campaigning this year. That’s our best chance of translating the grassroots energy we saw in the streets into strategic campaigns that win real, material change toward an end to Israeli Apartheid. We’re ready.