IF IT’S NOT GENOCIDE, WHAT WORD SHOULD WE USE?

July 25, 2017

By  on June 30, 2017

 

I TAKE ISSUE with the Jewish Currents editorial, “Supporting the Black Lives Matter Platform, Its Slander of Israel Notwithstanding” (Autumn, 2016), in which the magazine unfortunately joined the pack of the hands-in-the-air-I’m–shocked-and-horrified Zionist groups that condemned the Movement for Black Lives — a very large coalition of which Black Lives Matter is one organization — for using the words “genocide” and “apartheid” in relation to Israel’s policies toward the Palestinian people.

The editorial acknowledges agreement with several of the points raised by this prodigious platform statement, and expresses the hope that liberal Jewish groups will not be turned off by it. However, at the same time, the editorial goes to considerable lengths to disparage the platform, by using, in addition to “slander,” such language as “self-important jargon,” “an affront,” and “posturing.” It ends with a gratuitous patronizing remark (not much appreciated by the Black community,  surely) that the “#Black Lives Matter movement would be well advised to follow the example of Dr. King. . .” (my italics).

Since the Movement for Black Lives is, in my opinion, one of the most important coalitions to arise in decades, what JC says about it is correspondingly important. In this response, I am not dealing primarily with the word “apartheid” as it relates to Israel, since by now it has wide currency, ranging from statements by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and rock stars to UN conventions and reports by B’tselem, the well-respected Israeli human rights group, that as long ago as 2004 declared Israel’s road policy to be an apartheid practice.

Let me deal, instead, with the word in the platform that caused the commotion: “genocide.” First of all, let’s go to what the platform says, under the heading Invest-Divest:

The US justifies and advances the global war on terror via its alliance with Israel and is complicit in the genocide taking place against the Palestinian people. The US requires Israel to use 75 percent of all the military aid it receives to buy US-made arms. Consequently, every year billions of dollars are funneled from US taxpayers to hundreds of arms corporations, who then wage lobbying campaigns pushing for even more foreign military aid. The results of this policy are twofold: it not only diverts much needed funding from domestic education and social programs, but it makes US citizens complicit in the abuses committed by the Israeli government. Israel is an apartheid state with over 50 laws on the books that sanction discrimination against the Palestinian people. Palestinian homes and land are routinely bulldozed to make way for illegal Israeli settlements. Israeli soldiers also regularly arrest and detain Palestinians as young as 4 years old without due process. Every day, Palestinians are forced to walk through military checkpoints along the US-funded apartheid wall.

NOW, FOR SOME BACKGROUND:

Some of your readers may know that the Black community has had a long and tormented relationship with this word, “genocide.” In 1946, a year after the end of World War II, the National Negro Congress petitioned the United Nations for help in dealing with systemic racial discrimination in the U.S.  The NAACP followed suit in 1947, with its “Appeal to the World,” similarly urging redress, written by Dr. W. E. B. DuBois and two other Black scholars and lawyers. The UN did not respond.

On December 9, 1948, the UN approved the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.  What the Convention actually says is:

Article 1

The Contracting Parties confirm that genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and to punish.

Article 2

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

a) killing members of the group;

b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; and

d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.

e) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Article 3:

The following acts shall be punishable:

a) genocide;

b) conspiracy to commit genocide;

c) direct and public incitement to commit genocide;

d) attempt to commit genocide;

e) complicity in genocide.

In 1951, Paul Robeson and William L. Patterson, head of the Civil Rights Congress, presented the 100-page, flawlessly documented petition, “We Charge Genocide,” to the UN, seeking justice for African Americans using the convention it had so recently approved (as pictured at the top of this article).  Patterson, a master of impassioned prose, described the misery suffered by the Black population in the U.S. in the introduction to “We Charge Genocide”:

Out of the inhuman black ghettos of American cities, out of the cotton plantations of the South, comes this record of mass slayings on the basis of race, of lives deliberately warped and distorted by the willful creation of conditions making for premature death, poverty and disease . . .

Patterson offered important clarifications:

It is sometimes incorrectly thought that genocide means the complete and definitive destruction of a race or people. However, the Genocide Convention . . . defines genocide as any killings on the basis of race, or, in its specific words, as “killing members of the group.” Any intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, racial, ethic or religious group is genocide, according to the convention.

Needless to say (or perhaps it is not needless?), these giants of the Black community got nowhere with these efforts. In fact, for their trouble, the U.S. government seized the passports of Robeson and Patterson, who were then unable to travel outside the U.S. for several years, and subjected them to a host of other punishments. (The U.S. government lifted DuBois’ passport in 1951 for other reasons.)

At the time — the near-height of McCarthyism, let us not forget — there was little support for the idea that Black people could claim to be victims of genocide.  The press, by and large, ignored “We Charge Genocide.” However, I.F. Stone, the independent American journalist, was favorably disposed.  And so was . . . drumroll . . . none other than Jewish Currents, in its original incarnation, Jewish Life.

ACCORDING TO Jewish Currents’ Sid Resnick Archives, not only did Jewish Life reprint a speech from Patterson (January, 1952) about “We Charge Genocide,” it used the word in the headline of an article (“Genocide in Florida,” February, 1952) and it editorialized (February, 1952) as follows:

While recognizing this common enemy [racism and fascism], it is a disservice to fail to grasp that the situations of the Negro and Jewish peoples in this country are qualitatively different. There is a tendency to make careless and superficial parallels of the situation of the two peoples. Such comparisons obscure the fact that the Negro people, as a people, are subjected to second class citizenship and Jim Crow so as to enforce on the whole Negro people unrelieved oppression that adds up to genocide.

It should come as no surprise that the Movement for Black Lives would choose to apply this particular word, since it has lived in the DNA of the Black community for nearly sixty-six years. For example, Dr. Joy James reflected in 2009 in her article, “The Dead Zone: Stumbling at the Crossroads of Party Politics, Genocide, and Postracial Racism,” on the “absence of analysis engaging antiblack racism and genocide in Western democracies,” and commented:

Harvard scholars have published tracts on the word nigger, tracing the etymology and reflecting on emotional connotations.  Yet genocide, which has a much more fearful impact on national consciousness and material well-being, is less rigorously analyzed as part of the black condition . . . For those who disdain or refuse the term genocide, despite the compatibility of black conditions with the standards of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Elimination of Genocide, one must ask, ‘What language would you use?’”

Now to the merits of the case. Can the word be used by Black people to describe themselves?  Can the word be used by Black people to describe others? Is the word accurate?

There are actually well-respected entities that agree that the State of Israel is guilty of genocide. Chief among them is the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which issued a paper in August, 2016 that quoted Martin Shaw, a scholar of genocide, who wrote in his article, “Palestine in an International Historical Perspective on Genocide” [Holy Land Studies, 2010]: “Genocidal action aims not just to contain, control or subordinate a population, but to shatter and break up its social existence.  Thus genocide is defined, not by a particular form of violence, but by general and pervasive violence.”

The CCR paper said that “While there has been recent criticism of those taking the position that Israel is committing genocide against Palestinians, there is a long history of human rights scholarship and legal analysis that supports the assertion.” CCR concluded that

the killings of Palestinians and their forceful expulsion from mandate Palestine in 1948, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, and the violence and discrimination directed at Palestinians by the Israeli government have violated a number of human rights protections contained in international human rights law, genocide being among them.

Finally, though your editorial describes the reaction to the statement’s use of the word from many organizations (the Zionist Organization ofAmerica, the Anti-Defamation League, Tru’ah, the movement for Reform Judaism, and J Street), for some unfathomable reason you neglect to say one word about Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), the fastest-growing Jewish organization on the left, which now has 225,000 people on its list and sixty-five chapters throughout the country.  Within a matter of days, JVP went publicly on record endorsing the BLM position paper “without reservation.”

TIME FOR FULL disclosure: I know only too well that the word “genocide” is controversial (to say the least), and I also know that some people on the left whom I respect — people who support the Movement for Black Lives and who do feel that Israel has violated countless international human rights standards — think the word has become too broad. I confess that I myself probably would have hesitated to use the word for another reason: after fourteen years in the Israel/Palestine movement (and several trips to Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza), I knew only too well what was going to happen. Here at home I have been called everything you can imagine — by people in our community who would not know a thoughtful dialogue if they fell over it — because I’ve witnessed and felt and spoken about the problems cited by the MBL statement and CCR.

But after hesitating, I looked up the actual words in the Convention and did some research, especially about how some in the Black community have viewed genocide, and came to see that  I was wrong and these young Black activists were right. They tried to get people to think.  They thought it was worth it.  They were brave and they paid the price. If readers want to know their reaction, they can see Rachel Gilmer, one of the named authors of the Invest-Divest section of the Movement for Black Lives’s position paper, talk about it at jewishvoiceforpeace.org/galleries/nmm-2017-virtual-access.

To sum up: Echoing Dr. James, if the situation of the Palestinians under Israeli control is not genocide, what is it?

We have to begin having some serious conversations, everybody.

 Dorothy M. Zellner, a longtime civil rights and Israel/Palestine activist, has written regularly for Jewish Currents and is one of JC’s volunteer production assistants.

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Finding the Inspiration to Stand Up for Each Other: An Interview With Sister Aisha al-Adawiya

July 25, 2017
Saturday, July 22, 2017By Donna Nevel, Truthout 
   Community leader Aisha al-Adawiya (known as Sister Aisha) embodies a life grounded in a profound commitment to pursuing justice, social transformation and deep, meaningful relationships. I met Sister Aisha many years ago during the struggle to save the Khalil Gibran International Academy, the first Arabic-English dual language public school in New York City. I was drawn to Sister Aisha’s beautiful energy and spirit and soon realized that many of the women I was organizing with from within Muslim communities looked up to her deeply as a mentor, role model and inspiration, and that this was true of partners from other communities, like myself, as well. Given the challenging moment we are in, I wanted to interview Sister Aisha to learn from her wisdom and her generous self.

Born and raised in Alabama, Sister Aisha came to New York in the early 1960s right after high school to pursue a singing career. She was raised in the Black church and sang in her church choir. Describing herself in those years as “a free spirit,” she lived in Greenwich Village until moving to Harlem. Seeking a spiritual home, she said that “Islam found me” in 1972. She encountered Malcolm X, “was blown away by him, and began my education as it were. Malcolm X continues to be my mentor.” She has worked for more than 30 years at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem and is currently the administrator of its Scholars-in-Residence Program. She recounted how the founder of the Schomburg Center began collecting documents because he was told by a teacher that Black people didn’t have any history — a history, she said, that she also hadn’t known growing up. 

Sister Aisha founded Women in Islam, Inc. in 1992 to bring the voices of Muslim women into critical community discussions that were local, domestic and global in scope. The organization was born soon after the story broke about rape camps in Bosnia. Sister Aisha began to speak out about what was going on and said that, at some point, she was challenged. “Here you are, an African American woman showing up for Bosnians. What does that have to do with you? I was compelled to speak out after hearing about women being herded into rape camps. And the majority of the women being victimized were Muslim.”  She realized that, because there weren’t visible voices from Muslim women on this issue, “I felt the need to construct something that would enable us to engage in this conversation, and to do what we continue to do.” Women in Islam, Inc. has, since its inception, stood up for Muslim women, been a space for Muslim women to discuss who they are and the role of women in Islam, and engaged collectively in the struggle for human rights and social justice.

The first thing Sister Aisha said to me was, “One woman does not make a movement.” That really does capture her humility and belief system.

Reflecting on the current moment, Sister Aisha spoke about how busy we all are right now. But she is concerned that “a lot of us are in reactionary mode. It’s not going to end if we spend our energy and resources just reacting.” Thinking about how to move forward in a different way, she said, “I’m reminded of the Black arts movement and all those … people who were just brilliant and awe-inspiring and how they really fed us and people in the movement through their art. Art may be our last frontier here,” she added. “How do we get back to that? How do we re-engage the arts so that we can have deep expression coming from artists and artistic creativity as we continue to speak truth to power?”

Pausing for a moment, she said, “I’m really trying to reorient myself to the more artistic side of my brain.”

She then spoke about the commonalities in the different struggles for justice. “We are all struggling on so many fronts with few resources except for our will and commitment to what we think is right. More and more of us — and I see it happening so much now in the Muslim community — are recognizing the importance and power of coming together and joining efforts with one another and across our communities. It’s about much more than being an ally. It’s about being family.”

She began speaking about the young man, Micah David-Cole Fletcher, who survived in Portland after being one of three men attacked by a white supremacist when they tried to stop his racist tirade against two teenagers, one of whom was wearing a hijab and one of whom was Black. The other two men who were attacked, Ricky John Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, didn’t survive. “Look at how this young man took it upon himself to say what he did about the two young girls who were assaulted — that we should be focusing on them and not on him. From his hospital bed, he was holding up his thumb. You could feel his indomitable spirit. That is much more than allyship. That is way beyond solidarity. This is humanity here.”

She paused before speaking more about what we can learn from Micah’s experience. “How do we harness that? That is an inspiration for anybody and everybody who wants to look for hope in any direction.” And then she spoke for a moment about her own role. “How can I support that in any way, and help cultivate that in ourselves and the younger generation? I’m thinking about that a lot.”

“I’m really in awe of this young man and of those people who are just there to stand up. I’m speechless, really. This is exactly where I believe we need to move as human beings. Standing up for each other in a real authentic way. No cameras rolling. Just the human spirit calling on us to say, ‘This is not right and I have to say something’.”

Clearly profoundly moved, she continued to talk about what had happened in Portland. “These two men lost their lives doing that, and this young man who survived, he shined the light back on those girls. How can you — how can we — inspire that sort of commitment? I don’t think they had a choice. They just knew they had to do it.”

Speaking about our challenges at this particular moment, Sister Aisha said she thinks that “the work is much the same, but I do think we need to try to find new tools. For example, I want to dig deeper, more spiritually. I think about Native American cultures and communities a lot. Theirs is a history and reality that often gets ignored or minimized. Yet, we have so much to learn from them and their experience. This is where my spirit is moving me. When we talk about interfaith work, we have to remember that there is a whole world of people with deep spiritual connections, including those who may not adhere to a formal religion, but are committed to human dignity.”

At the end of our conversation, Sister Aisha spoke about our needing to think more about ways to bring our whole political and spiritual and artistic selves into the different facets of our work. “We need to create platforms for people in our communities to express themselves when they have something they want to say. They need to know their voices matter and that they have something to contribute because they are human, because they are part of the human race, because we are all part of humanity together.”

While it is, of course, true that no one person makes a movement, Sister Aisha’s wisdom, grace, compassion and kindness have powerfully impacted so many of us and our movements. She is a leader and visionary we all hold dear.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

DONNA NEVEL, a community psychologist and educator, is a coordinator of PARCEO, a participatory research center. She is a long-time organizer for justice in Palestine; against Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism; and for justice in public education. She is a founding member of the Network Against Islamophobia, a project of Jewish Voice for Peace, and co-author, with Elly Bulkin, of Islamophobia & Israel (2014).

 

 

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NYC Protestors Drink Salt Water In Solidarity With Palestinian Hunger Strikers

May 25, 2017

Donna Nevel

Donna NevelCOMMUNITY CONTRIBUTOR

Donna Nevel is a community psychologist, educator, and founding member of the Facing the Nakba project, Jews Say No!, and the Network Against Islamophobia, and was a co-founder of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice.

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Jews Say No!, an NYC group I am a part of, and the Grannies Peace Brigade recently participated in the salt water challenge in solidarity with more than 1500 Palestinian hunger strikers, who have entered the 38th day of their strike. The Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails began the hunger strike on April 17th, and the salt water challenge, a social media campaign to show solidarity with the strikers, began with a call by the son of imprisoned Palestinian leader, Marwan Barghouti.

Thousands of individuals and groups have taken the salt water challenge across the globe in support of the Palestinian prisoners. Numbers of the mothers of the prisoners have also courageously joined the strike in solidarity with their sons. Palestinians have held rallies and called a general strike across the West Bank in support; South African anti-apartheid leaders went on a solidarity strike; and students in the U.S. called for a one day fast in solidarity with the prisoners. Support for the prisoners is widespread. The Israeli government has not only failed to respond adequately, but prisoners have been subjected to harsh treatment and retaliatory measures. As a result, the strike has continued and numbers of prisoners have been taken to medical facilities because of seriously deteriorating health.

The demands put forth by the prisoners are clear, fundamental rights. They include access to medical care; allowing regular family visits; and an end to solitary confinement and administrative detention (imprisonment without charge), flagrant violations of human rights. As Barghouti stated in a recent NY Times op-ed, “Palestinian prisoners and detainees have suffered from torture, inhumane and degrading treatment and medical negligence.” He also wrote that “hunger striking is the most peaceful form of resistance available. It inflicts pain solely on those who participate and on their loved ones, in the hopes that their empty stomachs and their sacrifice will help the message resonate beyond the confines of their dark cells.”

Where is American Jewish community support for the Palestinian prisoners? Where is the call from American Jewish organizations to Israel’s leaders demanding they honor the call from the prisoners for their basic needs and rights. The Israeli government’s appalling treatment of Palestinian prisoners is well-documented. There is simply no rationale for not supporting the rights of the Palestinian prisoners.

The demands of the hunger strikers will hopefully be met soon, but we know that international pressure and support can be critical at moments like this. This is a challenge to the American Jewish community to make our voices heard loud and clear in support of the Palestinian hunger strikers, whose demands are simply a call for dignity and humane treatment.

Read more: http://forward.com/scribe/372922/nyc-protestors-drink-salt-water-in-solidarity-with-palestinian-hunger-strik/

Jews Say No! And Granny Peace Brigade take the #SaltWaterChallenge in solidarity with Palestinian hunger strikers

May 23, 2017

The Salt Water Challenge

Today, there are 6300 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons; this number includes 300 children and 500 administrative detainees (those imprisoned without charge or trial).

Since April 17, Palestinian Prisoners Day, more than 1500 of these political prisoners have engaged in an open-ended hunger strike. Today is Day #37. These prisoners have refused to eat food, only consuming salt water to maintain their health, until the Israeli government meets their demands for basic human rights as stipulated by the Geneva Convention. Freedom and dignity are universal rights inherent in humanity – to be enjoyed by all human beings.

The demands of these hunger strikers include:

  1. An end to administrative detention
  2. An end to solitary confinement
  3. An end to the denial of family visits
  4. Access to proper medical care and treatment, and
  5. The right to access distance higher education

On Monday, May 22,  Jews Say NO! and the Granny Peace Brigade stood in the rain at Broadway and 96th Street in NYC to join a growing, worldwide, social media campaign – #SaltWaterChallenge – to draw attention to the plight of Palestinian political prisoners. As supporters of these hunger-strikers, we drank salt water to stand in solidarity with those who refuse a life of humiliation.

Now, we challenge you to do the same.

 

 

 

Zionism, The Nakba And Feminism

March 15, 2017

Donna Nevel

03/13/2017 
Palestinian women forced to leave their homes during the Nakba

In a recent op-ed in the New York Times, author Emily Shire asked, in relation to the International Women’s Day Strike that included a call for the decolonization of Palestine, if the feminist movement has room for Zionists like herself. She went on to explain: “I identify as a Zionist because I support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.”

What is Shire actually saying? Some history is required to answer that question. An understanding of Zionism cannot be separated from an understanding of the Nakba (the catastrophe in Arabic), which refers to the expulsion of approximately 750,000 Palestinians from their land and homes during the establishment of Israel in 1948. The history of the Nakba has been thoroughly documented, including by Palestinian, Israeli, and other historians.

I know about Zionism from my own relationship with it. I had some serious unlearning to do. When I was younger, I, too, identified as a Zionist (a “socialist feminist Zionist”) until I realized that my image of Zionism as the Jewish national liberation movement was seriously misguided. Instead, I learned that what had been done and was still being done to Palestinians in the name of Zionism was theft of land and denial of a people’s right to freedom and national liberation. It was about the privileging of those who were Jewish over Palestinians. This was not just about Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian lands that began in 1967, but was fundamentally about what happened before and during the creation of the State, and what continues to happen today.

In Israel, as well as in the U.S., the Nakba is often disregarded or denied altogether. Instead, the focus is on the creation of Israel as a haven for Jews, completely ignoring the mass dispossession of the Palestinian people.

But the Nakba is not only about the past; it is ongoing. Palestinian women, men, and children continue to be pushed off their lands and their homes and denied their basic freedom and rights. Israeli apartheid is woven into the fabric of society, and it is taking brutal forms. Home demolitions, ongoing construction of settlements, land confiscation, arrests, torture of prisoners, and military assaults are just some of what Palestinian families endure on a daily basis, not to mention lack of access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment, and the right to live with dignity.

What Shire’s feminism seems to ignore is that Palestinian women are forced to give birth at checkpoints; their homes are bulldozed because permission to build is denied from racist Israeli authorities; Palestinians face systemic discrimination wherever they are living; and mothers and fathers live in fear that Israeli soldiers or settlers will injure, imprison, or kill their children.

Zionism and Israel have always afforded preferential treatment to Jewish women—and men—over Palestinian women and men, in all aspects of life. This is the Zionism and the Jewish state Shire says is consistent with her feminism.

Instead of asking whether Zionists have a place in the feminist movement, perhaps the question that Shire should be asking is: How can someone who considers herself a supporter of feminism, which is a movement for justice and liberation that challenges patriarchal power and all forms of oppression, also consider herself a supporter of Zionism, a movement that denies the basic values of equality and fairness.

The women’s day strike was intentionally and critically rooted in an anti-colonial feminism that is liberatory and multidimensional and that has as its foundation a deep commitment to social transformation and to resisting “the decades long economic inequality, racial and sexual violence, and imperial wars abroad.” If Shire has an interest in being part of such an inspiring movement, rather than supporting Zionism, she might want to stand with the Palestinian-led grassroots movement for justice and with the growing number of women around the globe who are committed to equal rights for all peoples living in Palestine and Israel. What could be more feminist than that?

Donna Nevel, a community psychologist and educator, is a coordinator of PARCEO, a participatory action research center. She is an organizer for justice in Palestine/Israel; against Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism; and for justice in public education. She is a founding member of Facing the Nakba Project, Jews Say No!, Parent Leadership Project, and Network Against Islamophobia, and was a co-founder of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice in NYC.

Organizing Against Islamophobia: Reflection And Analysis To Strengthen Our Work

February 1, 2017

Donna Nevel community psychologist and educator

MIAMI PROTEST

Muslim communities and those being targeted by the relentless, ongoing Islamophobic, racist, and xenophobic assaults coming from so many directions are organizing with great integrity, strength, and intention. We know these assaults are not new, but the moment calls for all sorts of resistance. Community-based groups and coalitions like DC Justice for Muslims, housed at the Washington Peace Center, in Washington, DC and Desis Rising Up & Moving (DRUM) in NYC (and many more) are engaging in powerful organizing rooted in years of deep work within their communities.

Those of us who are partners in this work and committed to not remaining silent or complicit are joining efforts that require both immediate responses and long-term planning. Social justice groups, faith communities, and other community members are attending community meetings, joining protests, and participating in actions led by Muslim and other impacted groups.

In addition to participating in day-to-day actions, we know that our own reflection, analysis, and deeper understanding can help strengthen our work. Many of us who are not being targeted can too easily carry Islamophobic assumptions propagated by the media, by our own communities, and in the public sphere. There are several issues that are integral to our discussions, analysis, and organizing: for example, the connections among Islamophobia within the U.S., the “war on terror” and U.S. imperialism, and the ways in which Islamophobia and Israel politics intersect.

Those of us working with the Network Against Islamophobia (NAI), a project of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) have spent the past few years creating curricula and resources on Challenging Islamophobia and Racism. These materials are designed to help strengthen our work within our communities and to enable us to be effective, principled, creative, and thoughtful partners in the broader movement for justice.

The curricula and work result from deep relationships, organizing, and learning with many different communities and individuals. NAI is deeply appreciative of the work and inspiration of our partners from Muslim and other communities targeted by Islamophobia and racism, and we honor their leadership and vision.

JVP CHAPTER, SEATTLE

Visit the Network Against Islamophobia to download the curricula and resources.

In 25 Cities, Communities Say NO To Islamophobia

December 24, 2016

Donna Nevel

 

2016-12-23-1482493954-7641033-springfield-thumb

Photo from JVP Western Mass, Springfield, MA

On Wednesday evening, Dec. 21st, in 25 cities across the United States, Jews, Muslims, and other communities joined together to say with clarity and strength: No to Islamophobia; No to Racism: Yes to Justice; Yes to Dignity for All Communities. Organized to coincide with the holiday of Chanukah, which begins Saturday evening, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and its Network Against Islamophobia (NAI), together with JVP chapters and partners, initiated the actions to reignite their commitment to challenging all forms of Islamophobia and racism.

Written on eight candles in the shape of a Chanukah menorah, the commitments were read aloud for all to hear and take in. Among the commitments:
• We condemn state surveillance of the Muslim, Arab, and South Asian communities.
• We fight anti-Muslim profiling and racial profiling in all their forms.
• We protest the use of Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism to justify and perpetuate Israel’s repressive policies against Palestinians;
• We challenge, through our words and actions, institutionalized racism and state-sanctioned anti-Black violence.

In Kingston, New York, participants braved the cold to join the action called for by the newly created Hudson Valley JVP chapter. In Sacramento, hundreds of people stood together for a creative program ending with a question from the organizers, “How will you follow through on your commitments?”—and suggestions of opportunities, educational events and actions.

In Austin and New Haven, in Ithaca, Portland, and Raleigh—and in cities large and small— community members held their candles, visibly and with conviction.

In Chicago, the local JVP chapter partnered with American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and other groups to call upon Governor Bruce Rauner to reverse his position of pausing the relocation of Syrian refugees and, instead, to welcome and support their resettlement with all the resources at his disposal.

A vibrant march co-organized by JVP Boston made its way through the streets of downtown Boston. Hundreds of people participated, and the large group of social justice groups* that cosponsored the event expressed a commitment to addressing a wide range of issues.

2016-12-23-1482495344-8116853-cairphotoschanukahaction.jpg

Photo from CAIR FL, Lincoln Road, Miami Beach

 

And in Miami Beach, where I live, CAIR FL and JVP joined to create an event that brought many communities together. In addition to music and readings, a number of children read signs they had made with words of “compassion,” “justice,” “respect,” “equality,” and “a world without Trump,” in response to being asked what words came to mind when they thought of the world they wanted to live in.

The Chanukah actions are part of a broader commitment to engage in this work thoughtfully and consistently and to stand against all forms of Islamophobia—whether it is a hate crime in the street or violence resulting from US domestic or foreign policies. JVP’s Network Against Islamophobia has as its foundational principles being accountable partners in the larger movement led by Muslims and those who have been directly impacted by Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism, and, at the same time, doing the work within Jewish communities to bring these issues to the forefront. That also means engaging within our communities in learning together through workshops and discussions about the multiple ways in which Islamophobia is manifested and how we can do this work most meaningfully and effectively.

Muslim communities and other impacted groups have been organizing for a very long time. The very positive recent decision by President Obama to dismantle the regulations that enable the NSEERS (Special Registrations) program to exist grows out of years and years of organizing by groups like DRUM (Desis Rising Up and Moving) in NYC and by other groups that have been directly targeted by these government policies and programs. As that organizing continues to grow, JVP and NAI hope to be genuine partners in this work.

Community-building was also a key part of Wednesday’s actions, something that is much needed at this time. Participants made their commitments, not just for the evening, but as part of long-term, sustained, collaborative work for justice.

*The cosponsors of Boston’s actions included American Friends Service Committee, Northeast Palestine Advocacy Project, Boston Coalition for Palestinian Rights, 1for3.org, Common Street Spiritual Center, Muslim Justice League, Arlington Street Church/Boston – Social Action Committee, UU’s for Justice in the Middle East – MA Chapter, Cambridge Bethlehem People to People Project, Black Lives Matter Cambridge and JETPAC Inc.

Letter in Support of Representative Keith Ellison

November 16, 2016

 

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November 16, 2016

We are writing in support of Representative Keith Ellison, one of two Muslims in Congress, whom we know as an ethical individual committed to equal rights and justice for all people.

We are saddened and angered by the campaign against Representative Ellison and the baseless charges of anti-Semitism made against him. We know that he has strong support from Jewish political and community leaders and that the campaign against him is being spearheaded by forces that wrongly equate criticism of Israeli government policies with anti-Semitism and, in many instances, foster anti-Muslim narratives.

During this period of great division in our country, we need more voices like Representative Ellison’s.

Jews Say No!  

New York city

New York City Council hearing on BDS

September 10, 2016

imgresThe two sides of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement squared off in New York’s City Hall on Thursday, with BDS activists disrupting a hearing where city council members discussed a resolution condemning BDS. The resolution doesn’t add penalties, but displays a hostility to a non-violent act of free speech, BDS supporters say.

Click to read Resolution 1058-2016 or see the wording after Donna’s testimony below.

Testimony  of Jane Hirschmann and Donna Nevel before the New York City council on 9/8/16

My name is Jane Hirschmann and I am representing a group called Jews Say No! We are a NYC based group of Jews who stand up for human rights and justice in Palestine. We believe that it is in the best tradition of the Jewish people to criticize, argue, think and think some more about issues of justice and fairness and to protest human rights abuses where they exist. Indeed for many of us that is one of the main lessons of the Holocaust. Also as Jews we have a particular obligation to speak out concerning Israel, which purports to speak for Jews everywhere.

As the daughter of Holocaust survivors anti-Semitism concerns me deeply. But to suggest as this resolution does, that the BDS movement is anti-Semitic or an attempt to delegitimize Israel is unfounded rhetoric and defamatory. This resolution and similar ones nationwide have been promoted by the Israeli lobby and segments of this community to distract people from the real issues at hand—Israel’s human rights abuses and blatant disregard for the law. This resolution is based on the premise that if you protest the inhumane behavior and policies of a nation state, you are delegitimizing that state, and in the case of Israel, you are anti-Semitic.

The United Nations and several International courts have made it very clear that Israel is in violation of international law. These violations include the 60 year illegal occupation of the West Bank; the illegal settlement expansion which contravenes long standing U.S. policy and hinders any serious peace effort; the theft of Palestinian lands; the blockade of Gaza and the horrific slaughter of thousands of Gaza civilians, to name just a few. Protesting and boycotting Israel for its lawlessness and violence against the Palestinians is not anti-Semitic. It is pro human rights. Can one criticize a country and their abuses without saying that those engaged in this criticism are either delegitimizing the country or, as in this case, are anti-Semitic? In fact, the notion that our protest of Israel’s abuses delegitimizes Israel is preposterous. Israel by persistently acting in an illegitimate way is delegitimizing itself. Every time it violates human rights standards, it delegitimizes itself; by occupying the West Bank it delegitimizes itself; by building a wall it delegitimizes itself, by stealing Palestinian homes and water it delegitimizes itself; by destroying Gaza it delegitimizes itself. And I could go on and on.

On the issue of boycotts I ask you to remember the bus boycotts in Montgomery. Did the boycotts delegitimize Alabama or did the racist policies delegitimize the State? Or take the boycott of South Africa for its apartheid policies. Did the boycott delegitimize the country or was it the conduct of that country? What about the most recent boycott initiated by Governor Cuomo against North Carolina over their anti-LGBT law. Was this an attempt on the Governor’s part to delegitimize that State or just a peaceful non-violent method to protest and force change by using economic and social pressure?

We in the BDS movement are also using this same time-honored, non-violent method to protest the activities of a nation state—Israel. We are not protesting the Jewish people per se because Israel does not represent nor speak for Jews all over the world. Opposing a country’s policy, is not opposing all of its residents nor is it delegitimizing the country. In the case of Israel we are simply joining a growing portion of the International community to Boycott, Divest and Sanction Israel until it ceases its inhumane treatment of the Palestinians; until the occupation has ended; until the right of return is recognized; and until Palestinians can live in dignity with all the same rights as Israelis.

This Israeli campaign to stifle first amendment activity, including the BDS movement is an attempt to delegitimize our constitution and the city council should not be a party to this.

Jane Hirschmann, one of the co-founders of Jews Say No!

Testimony before the New York City council

 Donna Nevel, Board Member, Jewish Voice for Peace

As part of my commitment to speaking out and supporting the movement for justice in Palestine and Israel, I would like to speak about why I consider it my responsibility to stand in support of the movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) and why I strongly oppose the resolution being put forth today. As a board member of Jewish Voice for Peace, a national organization dedicated to a just peace for Palestinians and Israelis, I am speaking here to represent the growing numbers of progressive Jews who support this global movement for justice.

The BDS movement is motivated by a call for solidarity from the international community. In 2005, a broad coalition of Palestinian civil society called for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law and ends its violations of Palestinian rights.

The resolution under discussion shamelessly and shamefully distorts the BDS movement’s goals. BDS is about leveraging pressure to compel a state to change its behavior and respect human rights. The BDS movement is not permanent; this pressure is needed only UNTIL Israel complies with basic principles of equality.

BDS has garnered such strong international support among concerned people, including Jews, across the globe because people of conscience oppose decades of denial of a people’s basic human and national rights.

One of the false and destructive accusations being made is that it is anti-Semitic to support BDS. This is not only a highly irresponsible accusation, and harmful to those fighting for justice, but it also does an injustice to the reality of actual anti-Semitism when it occurs.

It is not discriminatory in any way to hold a nation-state accountable for its human rights abuses and for violations of international law. There is nothing anti-Semitic about that in any rational definition of anti-Semitism.

There has been a call from Palestinian civil society, whose community is suffering on a daily basis, to join an international effort to hold Israel accountable to changing its behavior. That is ethical; that is a call I embrace.

 On a final and personal note, I support the ethical and yes, dignified call for BDS–as a Jew and as a human being committed to justice and to peace. I have always felt—and continue to feel—deeply connected to my community’s history of struggle and resistance; of the anti-Semitism and oppression we’ve endured. In no way is my support for BDS and my deep commitment to justice for Palestinians at odds with that deep connection to my people. In fact, it grows out of my history and life as a Jewish person who grew up learning from my deeply ethical parents to be proud of who I was but to never think I was better than anyone else or any other people, and to fight against injustice whenever and wherever I saw it.

Therefore, I will continue to support BDS with thousands and thousands of others across the globe UNTIL there is a just solution rooted in ending state policies that are discriminatory and anti-democratic and in insuring equal rights and respect and safety for all.

I hope you will reject this very wrong-headed resolution that attempts to trivialize and distort a critical human rights issue.

Thank you.

 

Resolution condemning all efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel and the global movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction the people of Israel.

By Council Member Cohen, Deutsch, Garodnick, Greenfield, Grodenchik, Kallos, Koslowitz, Lancman, Levine, Maisel, Treyger, Rosenthal, Cabrera, Palma, King, Gibson, Gentile, Espinal, Richards, Koo, Vacca, Van Bramer, Vallone, Johnson, Dickens, Borelli, Matteo and Ulrich

Whereas, The Global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS Movement) is a campaign seeking to exclude the Israeli people from the economic, cultural, and academic life of humanity; and

Whereas, This movement targets not just the Israeli government but Israeli academic, cultural, and civil society institutions, as well as individual Israeli citizens of all political persuasions, and in some cases even Jews of other nationalities who support Israel; and

Whereas, The Global BDS Movement targets Israel and only Israel, while ignoring the world’s myriad despotic regimes; and

Whereas, Israel is far and away the most democratic and open society in the Middle East, with well-established rights for religious minorities, women, and LGBT citizens that far exceeds those of any other nation in the region; and

Whereas, The Global BDS Movement does not recognize the right of the Jewish people to national self-determination; and

Whereas, Some of the BDS Movement’s supporters and leaders have trafficked in unacceptable anti-Semitic rhetoric, including comparison of Israeli policy to that of Nazi Germany; and

Whereas, University-based BDS efforts violate the core goals of the university and global cultural development, which thrive on a free and open exchange and debate; and

Whereas, Both Israelis and Palestinians have the right to live in safe and secure states, free from fear and violence, with mutual recognition; and

Whereas, The Global BDS Movement does not support the two-state solution, a goal which can only be reached through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians; and

Whereas, Israel is an ally of the United States and has a long-standing relationship with the City of New York; and

Whereas, The City of New York has the largest population of Jewish residents in the nation and is home to the largest Jewish community outside of Israel; now, therefore be it

Resolved, That the Council of the City of New York condemns all efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel and the global movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction its government and people.

 

“Shame on Cuomo”: New Yorkers protest

June 11, 2016

Over 300 people protested outside NY Gov. Cuomo’s office, demanding he rescind “unconstitutional” executive order

 

Salon.com FRIDAY, JUN 10, 2016  

"Shame on Cuomo": New Yorkers protest "McCarthyite" blacklist of supporters of Israel boycott movement BDSA protester at a demonstration against New York Gov. Cuomo’s anti-BDS executive order, in New York City on June 9, 2016 (Credit: Jewish Voice for Peace/Jake Ratner)

Hundreds of New Yorkers gathered outside the office of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday, protesting a new pro-Israel policy that legal groups warn is “McCarthyite” and unconstitutional.

Cuomo signed an executive order this weekend that punishes institutions and companies that support a boycott of Israel on behalf of Palestinian human rights.

The New York Civil Liberties Union said the executive order establishes a discriminatory “blacklist” that “raises serious First Amendment concerns.”

Baher Azmy, legal director at the Center for Constitutional Rights, called the new policy “plainly unconstitutional in its McCarthyist vision.”

More than 300 protesters joined the demonstration on Thursday, calling on Gov. Cuomo to rescind the executive order.

Jewish Voice for Peace, a social justice group that co-organized the protest, blasted Cuomo’s executive order as an unconstitutional “attempt to repress the growing movement for Palestinian rights.”

“The overwhelming turnout for this protest speaks to the fact that our political leadership is increasingly out of touch with its constituents,” Beth Miller, an activist with the New York City chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, or JVP, told Salon.

“The sidewalks and streets were packed with hundreds of people, standing literally toe-to-toe, to send the clear message that we refuse to be silenced,” she added.

“Gov. Cuomo’s executive order does not change the fact that it is our constitutional right to boycott, and it does not change the fact that it is right to boycott Israel until it respects and upholds Palestinian rights,” Miller stressed.

A dense crowd of protesters lined downtown Manhattan’s 3rd Ave. on Thursday evening.

(Credit: Jewish Voice for Peace/Jake Ratner)

(Credit: Jewish Voice for Peace/Jake Ratner)

They carried an array of signs and banners. Many expressed solidarity with past struggles.

One man held a sign that read, “Boycott worked in Montgomery and South Africa, and it will work in occupied Palestine.” Montgomery refers to a city in Alabama where a 1955 bus boycott helped kick off the civil rights movement.

(Credit: Jewish Voice for Peace/Jake Ratner)

(Credit: Jewish Voice for Peace/Jake Ratner)

JVP stresses that the “Palestinian-led civil society BDS movement is modeled on the global campaign that helped bring an end to apartheid in South Africa.”

BDS refers to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, an international grassroots movement that promotes nonviolent economic means to pressure Israel to comply with international law and cease its violations of Palestinian human rights. The global campaign was called for by Palestinian civil society in 2005.

Many veteran leaders in the struggle against U.S.- and Israel-backed apartheid in South Africa have endorsed BDS.

“The signs we held and messages we wanted to convey — such as ‘We will continue to boycott for justice until Palestinian refugees can return to their homes and land’ — reflect the many ways Israel is violating basic principles of human rights and international law,” said Donna Nevel, an activist with Jews Say No!, another group that helped organize the demonstration.

These are “the reasons that the BDS movement is so critical,” Nevel told Salon, stressing that BDS can help pressure Israel to change its illegal policies.

Gov. Cuomo’s Executive Order No. 157 declares that “the State of New York will not permit its own investment activity to further the BDS campaign in any way, shape or form, whether directly or indirectly.”

The new order, in its own language, establishes “a list of institutions and companies that… participate in boycott, divestment, or sanctions activity targeting Israel, either directly or through a parent or subsidiary.”

Cuomo summarized the new policy: “If you boycott Israel, New York will boycott you.”

JVP Executive Director Rebecca Vilkomerson published an op-ed in The New York Daily News on Thursday warning that Cuomo’s executive order will “set a dangerous and likely unconstitutional precedent for governments to deny groups financial opportunities and benefits because of their exercise of First Amendment-protected political speech.”

“When a chief executive unilaterally signs an executive order declaring that the state blacklist and divest from companies and organizations with a particular political view, we usually call that state repression,” she said.

At the protest outside Gov. Cuomo’s office, activists articulated many of the important reasons that a boycott is necessary. They carried a large banner that read “We will continue to boycott for justice until…”, which was accompanied by smaller signs that listed reasons for boycotting Israel.

Some of these reasons included: “until Israel respects Palestinian human rights,” “until the brutal occupation of Palestine ends,” “until Israel stops demolishing Palestinian homes,” “until Israel absolishes segregated schools,” “until Palestinian refugees can return home,” “until the siege of Gaza ends” and “until Palestinians have freedom.”

(Credit: Jewish Voice for Peace/Jake Ratner)

(Credit: Jewish Voice for Peace/Jake Ratner)

“Despite being planned at a very short notice, the protest had a robust turnout and a powerful presence by hundreds of outraged human rights advocates,” said Hani Ghazi, a member of Adalah-NY, the New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel, the third group that co-organized the demonstration.

Ghazi, a Palestinian American activist, told Salon, “We expect the governor to be democratic and to protect our right to free speech and to practice honorable and nonviolent activism.”

“We expect him to side with his constituents, the people of New York, and not with wealthy corporations that profit from, and institutions that comply with, Israel’s human rights abuses, international law violations and other apartheid policies,” he added.

One protester even donned an enormous papier-mache head that looked like Cuomo’s.

For months, the New York legislature unsuccessfully tried to pass anti-boycott legislation. Cuomo circumvented this legal process completely on Sunday, June 5, signing the surprise executive order.

Dima Khalidi, the founder and director of nonprofit legal advocacy organization Palestine Legal and a cooperating counsel with the Center for Constitutional Rights, blasted Cuomo’s executive action.

“Gov. Cuomo can’t wish away the First Amendment with an executive order,” she told Salon on Monday. “It’s clear that Cuomo is bypassing the legislative process in order to muzzle morally-driven positions protesting systemically discriminatory state policies and a military occupation that is 49 years old this week.”

“As with the constitutionally faulty legislation that was pending in Albany, this Executive Order may not infringe — directly or indirectly — on the rights of New Yorkers to engage in constitutionally protected boycotts to effect economic, political or social change,” she added.

Palestine Legal issued a statement calling the executive order “a blatantly unconstitutional attack on freedom of speech [that] establishes a dangerous precedent reminiscent of McCarthyism.”

Riham Barghouti, another activist with Adalah-NY, accused Cuomo of acting undemocratically in order to implement an unpopular pro-Israel policy.

“Like other politicians, Gov. Cuomo is finding that blind support of the Israeli apartheid state requires repressive, undemocratic measures,” Barghouti said. “He is attempting to silence the growing number of morally conscientious individuals and organizations that support freedom, justice and equality for Palestinians.”

“We, along with our allies, demand that Gov. Cuomo rescind this order punishing supporters of Palestinian rights and BDS,” she added.

(Credit: Jewish Voice for Peace/Jake Ratner)

(Credit: Jewish Voice for Peace/Jake Ratner)

Anti-boycott legislation has been introduced in more than 20 states throughout the U.S. Bills that are likely unconstitutional have been passed in nine states.

Sen. Chuck Schumer heaped praise on Cuomo for his executive order. The New York senator said he is “looking at introducing a federal law to do the same thing” across the country.

Activists say Thursday’s protest was the first action in a new campaign to pressure the governor to repeal the order.

“This is a new low for the state-sanctioned backlash against the movement for Palestinian human rights,” Nic Abramson, an activist with Jews Say No!, said in a statement.

Abramson emphasized that the Palestinian solidarity movement “is growing and strengthening daily.”

JVP stands by the BDS movement. Vilkomerson, the executive director, defended BDS in Salon in February, warning that she and her organization were on the verge of being blacklisted.

“We act in solidarity with the Palestinian call for international grassroots pressure on Israel until it complies with international law and ends its ongoing repression of Palestinian rights,” explained JVP activist Gabrielle Spears in a statement.

She emphasized, “We will continue to boycott Israel until Palestinian children can live without fear of imprisonment and torture, until there are no longer separate roadways for Israeli Jews and Palestinians, until Israel stops bombing and killing Palestinians, and until the checkpoints and apartheid wall are dismantled.”

Ben Norton is a politics staff writer at Salon. You can find him on Twitter at@BenjaminNorton.


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