September 27, 2010
Jewish Voice for Peace is the largest and most influential Jewish anti-Zionist group in the United States. Despite the neutral tone of its name, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) counts among its objectives an end to U.S. aid for Israel (because of Israel's "repressive policies") and the success of boycott and divestment campaigns against Israel.
In the past few years, JVP has become a leader in the American anti-Israel movement and has assumed a particularly visible role in the renewed Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. JVP's local chapters actively support divestment initiatives on college campuses and have helped anti-Israel student groups pressure their universities to divest from corporations that profit from the "Israeli occupation."
At the University of California, Berkeley – where the campus chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine introduced a divestment resolution in March 2010 that was debated and ultimately voted down by the student senate – JVP activists in the Bay Area worked on attracting support for the resolution from prominent Jewish figures, and attended and live-tweeted the divestment debates to further publicize and promote the effort. While the divestment effort at UC Berkeley ultimately failed, JVP cites its involvement as an important example of the growing participation from "Jewish and Israeli supporters for campus divestment."
Although JVP focuses on boycott and divestment campaigns that specifically target Israeli settlements and the "occupation," the group notes that it supports more radical BDS campaigns that call for a complete economic, academic and cultural boycott of Israel. JVP states that it "reject[s] the claim that these are inherently anti-Semitic. We see them as a non-violent response to the daily violence of the Israeli occupation."
JVP, like other prominent Jewish anti-Zionist individuals and groups, uses its Jewish identity to shield the anti-Israel movement from allegations of anti-Semitism and provide it with a greater degree of legitimacy and credibility. JVP even recognizes its role as such, noting on its Web site that it is "inspired by Jewish tradition" and that the group's Jewish nature gives it a "particular legitimacy in voicing an alternative view of American and Israeli actions and policies" and the ability to distinguish "between real anti-Semitism and the cynical manipulation of that issue."
In an effort to draw attention to Jewish opposition to the state of Israel, JVP's supporters often partner with like-minded groups to sponsor anti-Israel demonstrations and protest pro-Israel events. The group's Chicago chapter, for example, regularly demonstrates outside fundraisers organized by AIPAC and Friends of Israel Defense Forces in its region. JVP's supporters usually hold signs at these protests that read "Not In My Name" or "Starving Palestinians Is Not My Judaism" in an attempt to illustrate that not all Jews side with Israel.
While JVP's activists try to portray themselves as Jewish critics of Israel, their ideology is nothing but a complete rejection of Israel. In May 2008, for example, members of JVP protested many of the celebrations of Israel's 60th anniversary that took place around the country, essentially illustrating that they oppose Israel's very existence. JVP's board members even wrote a letter titled, "We Will Not Be Celebrating," in which they compared the Palestinian Nakba to the Holocaust, stating "as Edward Said emphasized, what the Holocaust is to the Jews, the Nakba is to the Palestinians."
JVP's mission statement is similarly anti-Israel and places the onus of resolving the conflict on Israel, including an end to the "Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem," a peaceful resolution for Palestinian refugees, and the cessation of Israeli "land seizures; destruction of homes, infrastructure, orchards and farms; arbitrary arrests and imprisonment; torture; assassinations; expulsions; curfews; travel restrictions; abuse at checkpoints; raids; collective punishment; and other violations of human rights."
In stark contrast to these detailed requirements, the only stipulation for Palestinians is the cessation of "suicide bombings and other attacks on Israeli civilians." (The mission statement does not mention, for example, that Palestinians should recognize Israel as a Jewish state.)
JVP was founded in 1996 in Berkeley, California, and has since expanded to include 11 active chapters around the country. In recent years, it has embraced online marketing tools and has significantly added to its base of supporters by taking advantage of these mediums. In 2008, JVP reported that 23,000 individuals were "JVP activists." In 2010, they put the number at 100,000. While these figures likely include anyone who has ever signed on to a JVP initiative, requested to receive e-mails, or "friend-ed" them on Facebook, the spike in interest is still notable. Additionally, JVP recently announced that it is opening new chapters in 8 additional cities.