This is part of a series of articles based on the program of the upcoming PennBDS conference. Check out this landing page to find out more.
With a panel discussion entitled “BDS, Hillel and the Question of Anti-Semitism,” our old friends at Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) finally take center stage on the PennBDS agenda.
As regulars reader know, JVP has been the topic of several seriousand not-so-serious discussions here at Divest This. But since these PennBDS-related postings seem to be evolving towards capstone essays on subjects I’ve been writing about for several years, it’s worth taking time to highlight the significance of the JVP organization and the subjects it has chosen to talk about at the upcoming national BDS conference.
Starting with the obvious, Jewish Voice for Peace is an organization made up primarily (although not entirely) of Jews who advocate for BDS and engage in other activities which are anathema not just to people like me but to the bulk of the American Jewish community (organized and disorganized).
Now some people I know get totally bent out of shape that in any BDS debate the leadership of both sides will likely be Jewish. Personally, I simply take this as a fact of life and while I’ve touched on the subject of Jewish involvement (and even leadership) in anti-Israel activity, getting into a frenzy about the phenomena is about as effective as a Medieval general complaining that his enemy’s cavalry make use of horses.
Like any political group, JVP is free to organize, take positions on issues and engage in the age-old branding exercise of putting the words like “Peace” and “Justice” in their name and mission statements. They are also free to advocate for thing like BDS and all kinds of other goals that other Jewish community members and organizations oppose, although they must live with the reality that as a group pushing a minority opinion, they are obliged to win over others via the force of their arguments and the willingness to engage with their critics.
But this is the very thing that makes JVP stand apart from what I would refer to as “normal politics,” and what makes them such a perfect representative of the BDS phenomenon as a whole.
For it you look at their track record, JVP is not willing to accept its role as representatives of minority opinion, but rather desperately seeks to speak in the name of people who do not share those opinions. This is why they gate crash at events like San Francisco’s Jewish Film Festival or the Federation’s Community Heroes Project (sometimes days or weeks after organizing disruptions at events sponsored by the same community they insist they be allowed to join).
This is why they complain endlessly that they are not given immediate membership and equal status to other Jewish groups I places like campus Hillels, despite taking positions that are diametrically opposed to what those groups have chosen to stand for. Rather than live with the responsibility (and the freedom) of speaking just for themselves (which, as someone representing no one but himself, I can attest has plusses and minuses), their entire project is based on creating the illusion that they speak for a “silent majority,” knowledge of which is being repressed by sinister forces that snuff out all debate about the subjects JVP holds dear.
This is how JVP serves as such a good stand in for BDS as a whole. For just as JVP is trying to barge into the broader Jewish community in order to get into a position to speak in the name of others, so too does BDS use any means necessarily (such as moral blackmail and back-room maneuvering) to try to get their Israel = Apartheid accusations to come out of the mouth of prominent institutions such as schools, churches and municipalities. And when they fail (which is always), their response is not to reflect on how they might be able to actually win the argument, but rather to claim anyone who stands in their way (even by simply criticizing their positions) is guilty of censoring (or “muzzling”) them.
The irony is that just as JVP desperately covets everyone else’s civic space, no organization I can think of is more protective of its own. Joining JVP requires signing of a pledge(which some have deemed a “loyalty oath”) requiring agreement with the overall JVP agenda (including BDS). And while I have light heartedly played with the idea of doing to them what they try to do to everyone else (i.e., joining their group solely for the purpose of claiming to speak for them), the folks at JVP know full well that those of us who criticize them would never sign such a pledge with the sole purpose of subversion.
I’ve talked quite a bit about how JVP’s (like all BDS organizations) refuse to allow comments (i.e., free-flowing discussion) on their many Web sites (including their Muzzlewatch site which they claim was created specifically to open up dialog). And even after they announced a programspecifically designed to engage in the conversations they claim Hillel is repressing, they remain stone silent when offered the chance to engage in a real dialog, as opposed to the type of conversation they would prefer in which they get to set themselves up as a rabbinic authority handing down wisdom to the uninformed.
Just like any BDS organization (including, or should I say, especially PennBDS), the last thing groups like JVP want is the discussion and debate they claim desperately to crave. Rather, they demand that they unconditionally be handed the moral high ground based solely on their claim to stand for “Peace” just as they insist that they be given unquestioned access to community spaces and resources.
And when they don’t get what they want, they scream “censorship,” or claim that their opponents do nothing more than hurl empty accusations of anti-Semitism at them, knowing full well that it is their opponents who truly stand for the openness (not to mention commitment to peace and justice) that single-issue partisan groups like JVP only feign.