Thoughts after the Paris attacks – Raymond Wofsy, member of Jews Say No! educator/activist living in Paris.

November 16, 2015

Jews Against Islamophobia, a coalition of Jews Say No! ( and Jewish Voice for Peace-NY (, would like to share the thoughts of Raymond Wofsy, member of Jews Say No! and educator/activist who is living in Paris.

I am so sad today. My heart goes out to the families and friends of
the people who were killed and who are still in the hospital.

I feel very touched by these murders. Friends of mine were in close
proximity, and friends of friends are in the hospital or were killed.
One of the restaurants that was attacked is next to a vegan spot that
Felix and I go to often. All of these places are places I know well
and that I could easily have been at or near on Friday.

It feels hard to mourn because so much of the collective mourning here
seems to be centered around nationalism, the French flag, and
celebrating how wonderful France is. I cannot separate French
nationalism from colonial racism, Islamophobia, and imperialism. So
how do I feel my feelings right now? I am sad, upset, angry, but I do
not agree with the French government and I do not valorize the French
state. I am trying to hold all this together and to mourn in a way
that feels right to me.

I believe, as analysts have said, that these terrorist attacks were
not the beginning of a war in France, but the manifestation of wars
France is already participating in, specifically by bombing Syria.
France was at war, is at war, and now we are seeing what war looks
like in our own city. Terrorist attacks happen in many places and
they only get this type of attention when they target Europeans or
people from the U.S. I am especially close to Paris because this is
my home right now. I have been given a glimpse of what it feels like
to live with this type of violence and death, and I am thinking of the
millions of people who live with this type of fear everyday.

In a country where it is illegal to wear a hijab in public buildings,
where my Arab friends talk how strangers look at them with racism and
fear on their faces, about being afraid to go outside, and where
violent anti-Muslim attacks increased 500% after the Charlie Hebdo
attack, I am very afraid of what is to come. I am also heartened by
some of the analysis I am reading in friend’s Facebook posts and in
articles from activist organizations. I am trying to end on a
positive note here, hopeful that we can stand together against this
Islamophobic backlash, which has already started.

It’s the world

November 16, 2015





November 2, 2015



 Nov. 2, 2015   Jews Against Islamophobia (JAI) and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ) are outraged to learn that the NYPD has continued to spy on the Muslim community and calls on the Mayor and City to put a halt to this discriminatory practice immediately. Despite Mayor De Blasio’s statement when he took office that it is unfair for law enforcement to single out people on the basis of their religion, the Gothamist reported that an undercover NYPD officer had been spying on a group of Muslim students at Brooklyn College as late as December 2014, eight months after he took office.

Pretending to have converted to Islam, the undercover NYPD officer spied for four years on women from the Brooklyn College Islamic Society solely because they are Muslim. Such surveillance undermines civil liberties and injures the people and community being targeted.

In 2011/2012, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press series documented that the NYPD had engaged in a far-reaching surveillance program that burrowed deep into the lives and institutions of New York-area Muslim communities. Informants were placed in mosques, Muslim student organizations, and Muslim-owned bookstores, businesses, and cafes. Some infiltrated Muslim student groups on college campuses at six branches of the City University of New York, as well as at colleges outside the City.

“That Muslim students at Brooklyn College were spied on like this makes a farce of anything De Blasio said about protecting people on the basis of their religion,” stated Candace Graff, member of JAI. “We need to speak out far and wide against this spying and intimidation.”

 According to JAI member and CUNY emerita professor, Rosalind Petchesky, “The Muslim community continues to face discrimination on a daily basis—in employment, through acts of violence and hate crimes against them, and through continued state-sponsored Islamophobia. It is shameful that students at Brooklyn College—or anywhere—have to endure this kind of discriminatory treatment. It is not only the City that is responsible. Chancellor Milliken’s office and the administrations of Brooklyn College and all CUNY campuses need to be adamant about protecting our students against bias, spying, and harassment.”

 As Alan Levine, civil rights lawyer and member of JAI, wrote in a 2012 piece in the National Law Journal on NYPD’s Unconstitutional Surveillance, “The Muslim community should not have to wait a day longer for city officials to abandon a practice that so flagrantly affronts principles of equal justice and religious freedom.” This remains equally true in 2015 and must stop immediately.

 Jews Against Islamophobia is a coalition of Jewish Voice for Peace—New York ( and Jews Say No! in NYC (  Jews for Racial and Economic Justice can be reached at

Jews say no to occupation! Jews say yes to #BDS! @ Broadway & 96th. #NYC.

October 27, 2015


Black-Palestinian Solidarity

October 15, 2015

A New Report Shows That the Palestinian Movement is Under Attack in the US

October 15, 2015

Free Speech/Hate Speech Conversation in White Plains NY Nov. 5

October 15, 2015


An open letter to Mayor de Blasio on the occasion of his trip to Israel

October 14, 2015

October 14, 2015

Dear Mayor de Blasio:

We understand from a recent report in The New York Times that you will be departing tomorrow on a journey to the State of Israel. According to the article, your purpose is to speak at a gathering of mayors in Jerusalem on the topic of “combating anti-Semitism.” While combating anti-Semitism, along with all forms of racism and discrimination, is a valid goal, we write to register our concern that you,as Mayor of New York City, are choosing to follow the ritual of New York politicians who travel to Israel—and do so with political blinders on. That you are being fully subsidized by an individual investor and entrepreneur who resides in Brooklyn, Baruck Eliezer Gross, only underscores the potential for one-sidedness in this trip. For us, as New York City residents and voters engaged in critiquing Israeli policies and supporting those who are charged with “anti-Semitism” for doing so, this news raises some troubling issues.

1. We hope you recognize that your constituents include many Jews, Muslims, Christians, atheists, and others who strongly oppose Israeli policies of occupation, exclusion, apartheid, and relentless suppression of both Palestinian citizens of Israel and those residing in the Occupied Territory.  Your travel to Israel under the circumstances detailed in the news report validates the “With-us or Against-us” ideological perspective of Israel partisans and marginalizes the perspectives of those who suffer from Israeli government policies—including Palestinians in exile in your own city.

2. You should be aware that, since the brutal siege on Gaza of summer 2014 when over 2,500 Palestinian civilians were killed and many more injured and displaced, the military violence against Palestinians (murders of youth, house demolitions, punitive reprisals, incarceration, restrictions of mobility, lockdowns of Palestinian neighborhoods) has escalated massively.  We are concerned that the intent and effect of the visit by the mayor of the largest city in America during this time might be read as legitimating the actions of the Israel Defense Forces and border police in their campaign of violence and repression against Palestinians. We urge you to consider the risk that your office is being exploited.

3. As you address your audience about “combating anti-Semitism,” it is vital that you understand the ways in which the term is used to undermine criticism of Israeli government practices.  The false charges of “anti-Semitism” have been repeatedly used by Israel advocacy groups to smear and silence peaceful, lawful organizations, scholars, and students in the US for speaking out against Israel’s policies—policies that many Israeli Jews also oppose.  As an advocate of social justice and the First Amendment, you should recognize the ways in which criticisms of Israeli government policies are no different in kind than criticisms of US policy. We expect you would be sensitive to this reactionary tactic—and resist it.  Ultimately, the tactic is used to justify or evade Israel’s widely condemned violations of international human rights and to vilify groups that support Palestinian demands for justice.

4. We must ask whether you have considered questions that would be natural for a mayor who asserts a commitment to voices of marginalized communities:  Will your audience in Jerusalem include any Palestinian mayors from the West Bank? Will your talk address Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian attacks as well as anti-Semitism? Would you consider modifying the itinerary of your three days in Israel to include a visit to Palestinian areas in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, to Hebron, to border checkpoints, so you might witness the brutal conditions that Palestinians in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory are subjected to on a daily basis?

Along with this letter, we are including the links to two urgent new reports—one issued by Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights (The Palestine Exception to Free Speech: A Movement Under Attack in the US ); the other byJewish Voice for Peace (Stifling Dissent: How Israel’s Defenders Use False Charges of Anti-Semitism to Limit the Debate on Campus). Both reports document many recent examples of how groups supporting Israel have used erroneous accusations of anti-Semitism and terrorism against professors, students, and public intellectuals throughout the US in order to stifle or suppress views about Israel/Palestine with which they disagree. The targets of these attacks include faculty and students right here in New York City at CUNY, Columbia, and New York University, especially members of Students for Justice in Palestine.

As you review these documents, we would urge you to incorporate some of the realities they describe into your Jerusalem speech, to inject some fairness into the conversation.  We hope they inspire you to visit areas and people (including Jewish and Palestinian human rights groups) most affected by Israel’s security regime. The stature of your office, we believe, compels you to hear the voices of the dispossessed and evaluate the realities on the ground.

We would ask for an opportunity to meet with you after your return to discuss our organizations’ goals of peace and justice with regard to Israel/Palestine and the implications of these reports regarding the suppression of speech on this critical issue, including here in New York City.


Center for Constitutional Rights

Jewish Voice for Peace – New York City chapter

Jews Say No!


Alan Levine: Is boycott a bad word?

July 30, 2015

Hillary Clinton recently wrote a letter to Haim Saban, billionaire owner of Univision and uncompromising supporter of Israel, seeking his advice about the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions  (BDS) movement. The movement, she says, seeks to “isolate” and “punish” Israel, and we “need to make countering BDS a priority.” However, her letter does not say what it is that BDS supporters want or believe; not a word about Israel’s human rights violations, an unlawful occupation, collective punishment or any of the other conditions of oppression that prompted Palestinians to initiate the BDS movement for Palestinian freedom and equality.

The inference is that the reasons for BDS do not matter. Boycotts themselves, she implies, are not a legitimate tool in the struggle to achieve human rights. Clinton of course, knows better.

So, too, should the oversight and Government reform Committee’s Subcommittee on National Security. On July 28 the Subcommittee held a lopsided anti-BDS hearing on the “Impact of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement.” Explanatory material for the hearing said nothing about BDS being a movement striving for freedom and equal rights.  No Palestinian or Palestinian-American leaders of the movement were there to testify. It was, in fact, very much like holding a hearing on Jim Crow and excluding African-American leaders.Boycott movements have an important and honorable place in our country’s – and the world’s – history of peaceful protest. In my lifetime, three great boycott movements have exposed and successfully alleviated conditions of injustice and oppression.

In the mid-1950s, the requirement in Montgomery, Alabama that black bus passengers surrender their seats to whites led to a year-long boycott of the city’s public buses. Desegregation of the buses followed. When I went to the south as a civil rights lawyer some 10 years later, those I worked with understood, as have historians since, that the movement for equality and justice in which they were then engaged had begun with the Montgomery bus boycott.

In the mid-60s, farmworkers organized a strike to protest the appalling working conditions in California’s grape-growing fields. Strike leaders appealed for support of a nationwide boycott of California table grapes.  Those who enlisted in what was known as “la causa” spoke not only of conditions in the fields, but hunger and poverty, discrimination against Mexican-Americans and Latinos, and the failure of labor laws to protect our most exploited workers.

At about the same time, opponents of the South African system of black oppression called apartheid began a campaign to persuade their supporters around the world to stop doing business with South Africa. Over the next 20-plus years, anti-apartheid activists organized an economic, cultural, and sports boycott of South Africa that the world came to understand as one of the 20th century’s signature battles for democratic rights.

What unites these great boycott movements is that each spoke with moral clarity on fundamental issues of equality and justice, and each grew out of an understanding that recourse to the ordinary mechanisms of government was unavailable. In my view, BDS is properly understood as a successor to those boycott movements.

The moral clarity of the BDS movement is hardly contestable. The enormous economic, physical, and emotional toll on the Palestinians exacted by the occupation has been repeatedly documented by every international agency that speaks to the issue. Within Israel – that is within the Green Line – Israeli civil rights agencies themselves describe a dual system of government services and benefits that is uniformly inferior for Palestinians compared to Jewish Israelis. In neither respect is there any serious argument that Palestinians are not gravely mistreated.

Notably, Clinton makes no such argument in her letter to Saban, saying only that the comparison to South Africa is unfair. But she knows, among other things, that Palestinians are forcibly removed from land on which Israel says they may not live and that there are roads in occupied territory on which West Bank Palestinians may not drive. Many, including anti-apartheid activist Desmond Tutu and former President Jimmy Carter, recognize it as apartheid.

She also says that the vindication of Palestinian rights, including the creation of a Palestinian state, should be left to direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. But if there ever was any doubt about the current Israeli government’s willingness to negotiate the terms of a Palestinian state, it was laid to rest by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s pre-election vow never to accept a Palestinian state.

Clinton knows that. But in her run for the presidency, it does not seem to matter. Her letter boasts of her record in beating back reports and resolutions that criticize Israel’s human rights violations. Yet there may be a price to pay. Within the Democratic Party, a November 2014 poll shows that the idea of unconditional support for Israel is eroding, particularly among young and African-American and Latino voters. And in recent days, another poll, this one of the Democratic Party’s “opinion elite,” shows growing criticism of Israeli policy towards the Palestinians.

Even if there is no hope for Clinton, the growing grassroots opposition to Israel’s policies reflected in these polls is an encouraging sign. As we have learned from the boycott movements that preceded BDS, it is grassroots support that ultimately drives the success of every movement for freedom and equal rights.

Levine is a New York City civil rights lawyer who has represented social justice activists throughout his career.

Jews Say No! on Bway and 96th- July 14

July 15, 2015






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