Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, March/April 2020, pp. 46-47
By Walter L. Hixson
JEWISH VOICE FOR PEACE, the preeminent Jewish organization championing Palestinian rights, is attempting to mobilize its grassroots organizing efforts to have a more direct impact on American national politics. “The goal is to build power outside DC to bring power to DC,” explained Rabbi Alissa Wise, interim co-executive of JVP.
Having developed a grassroots base of 18 chapters and 70,000 members, JVP recently launched JVP Action to spearhead the effort to “become more involved politically.” The multiracial, intergenerational group seeks to “organize American Jews and allies to win progressive legislation, change public conversation, and elect progressive candidates—from city councils to the White House.” (See www.jvpaction.org for more information.)
Unlike AIPAC and other right-wing pro-Israel lobby groups, as well as centrist Zionist groups such as J Street, JVP seeks to map out “a path for Palestinian rights to become a core part of the progressive agenda.” In 2015 the group fully endorsed the BDS call for boycott, divestment and sanctions targeting Israel. Early in the century, before the BDS call existed, JVP, founded in California in 1996, had championed the boycott targeting Caterpillar, the Peoria, Illinois-based company that supplied Israel with earth-moving equipment to facilitate Palestinian home demolitions after a Caterpillar bulldozer killed International Solidarity Movement activist Rachel Corrie on March 16, 2003.
Other JVP initiatives include Deadly Exchange, which calls attention to “programs that bring together police, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), border patrol, and FBI from the U.S.” with their Israeli counterparts. The Deadly Exchange report, authored by Researching the American-Israeli Alliance (RAIA) in partnership with JVP, emphasizes that the U.S. and Israeli security states share and promote “worst practices” such as “extrajudicial executions, shoot-to-kill policies, police murders, racial profiling, massive spying and surveillance, deportation and detention, and attacks on human rights defenders.”
In launching Deadly Exchange, JVP took on the Anti-Defamation League, which fuels the police and security exchange programs between Israel and the United States. “We’ve had a few victories,” Wise notes, citing two police departments in the northeastern U.S. that canceled planned exchange programs after being lobbied by Deadly Exchange.
JVP also partners with activist groups and members of Congress in support of the “No Way to Treat a Child Campaign,” which targets Israeli practices of detention and mistreatment of children. Since 2000 more than 10,000 Palestinian children, most between 11 and 15 years old, have been detained and subject to abuses such as chokeholds, beatings, coercive interrogation, and in some cases torture.
NEW LEADERSHIP FOR JVP
JVP is currently searching for a new executive director following the departure, after a long tenure, of Rebecca Vilkomerson. Wise, 40, who plans to resume her position as deputy director when a new executive is found, grew up in a “very Zionist family” in Cincinnati and went on to become a rabbi. In her youth she traveled to Israel several times and never questioned the “Zionist myth of a land without a people and a people without a land.” After attending a protest rally In Israel in 2002, she began to grasp the impact of Israeli policies and the repression of Palestinians, which ignited her sense of activism and ultimately led her to JVP.
While change “doesn’t happen overnight,” Wise notes, “We’ve actually seen a lot of progress.” The “American Jewish community is swiftly changing” and younger Jews especially are increasingly aware of Israeli repression. “Young Jews on college campuses are seeing that the grotesquely right-wing Israeli government doesn’t match their own liberal values. JVP is instigating this generational shift.”
While promoting Palestinian rights, JVP condemns “the dangers and harms of weaponized antisemitism”—the leveling of false accusations against critics of Israeli policies. Politically driven false accusations “make it a lot harder to fight actual antisemitism,” Wise notes. JVP “has a lot of experience with this issue” and is committed to “building a broader Jewish coalition” against the weaponization of antisemitism.
Contributing editor Walter L. Hixson is the author of Israel’s Armor: The Israel Lobby and the First Generation of the Palestine Conflict (available from Middle East Books and More), along with several other books and journal articles. He has been a professor of history for 36 years, achieving the rank of distinguished professor.