On occasion this blog, AmericanTribune.org, posts articles by authors that I believe are informative and of interest to my readership. The following article by Barry Sheppard, an American correspondent for Australia’s Green Left Weekly, is one of those exceptional posts…
Barry is a Revolutionary Socialist and was a central leader of the US Socialist Workers Party [SWP] for most of his 28-yr membership.
He’s authored the definitive history of the SWP, The Party: The Socialist Workers Party 1960-1988, A Political Memoir, Volume 1: The Sixties, and Volume 2: Interregnum, Decline and Collapse, 1973-1988.
For most of its existence since 1948, Israel has had the support of most Jews in the U.S. There were dissident voices, to be sure, especially among Jewish members of socialist and communist organizations.
The radicalization of young people in the 1960s witnessed a layer of young Jews questioning Israeli policies toward Palestinians, and Israel’s support of apartheid South Africa and the U.S. Vietnam war as anti-imperialist consciousness grew.
But the generalization that most Jewish people in the U.S. continued to support Israel remained true.
That is beginning to change, on different levels. This is important; because U.S. imperialism’s military and economic support of Israel is key to the maintenance of the Jewish-supremacist [Zionist] state. As more American Jews speak out in opposition to Israeli policies, that can have an impact.
The emergence and growth of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) is an important indicator. As they proclaim, “We represent a growing portion of Jewish Americans. Israel claims to be acting in the name of the Jewish people, so we are compelled to make sure the world knows that many Jews are opposed to their actions.
“There are often attempts to silence critics of Israel by conflating legitimate criticism with anti-Semitism. Israel is a state, not a person. Everyone has the right to criticize unjust actions of a state.”
JVP was started by three undergraduate students at UC Berkeley in 1996. It grew gradually, and by 2007 its members decided to expand into a national org of mostly volunteer activists, funded by grassroots supporters in order to be more effective.
Two early members were Cindy Shamban and Marge Sussman. Cindy explains, “I got involved after I moved to San Francisco in 1978. I decided it was time to educate myself on the issues, that I could no longer remain ignorant…. Through readings and discussions I joined an organization called Jewish Alliance Against Zionism.”
Marge adds, “I remember around that time we were at a Jewish feminist conference in San Francisco, and we were targeted with all the ‘you’re a self-hater’ attacks. And there was no support at all. It was just taboo. Everything was open for debate at that conference – except Israeli policies toward Palestinians!” They began working with JVP around 2001. “It was a small group that met in living rooms,” Cindy notes.
After going national, the group grew, as the truth about Israeli policies became more widely known. The Israeli war against the people of Gaza in 2008-2009 with its heavy loss of life and massive destruction opened many eyes, as did the attacks on ships with humanitarian supplies bound for Gaza to break the Israeli blockade.
JVP has really taken off in the last 3-yrs, increasing its full-time paid staff to 28. After last year’s even more massive and destructive of life and property in the renewed all-out war against Gaza, and the 2015 Israeli election in which Netanyahu announced there would never be a Palestinian state on his watch and that he considered even Arab citizens of Israel to be the enemy, JVP membership has tripled. It now has over 60 activist chapters and over 200,000 online supporters. Plans to expand membership and staff in 2016 are in the works.
One aspect of JVP’s work is coalition building, including with Arab, Iranian, Muslim and Christian organizations. When a diverse coalition of Palestinian civil society orgs called for an international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign in 2005, JVP increased its involvement in many boycott and divestment campaigns.
BDS is demanding that the occupation be ended and the Wall torn down; end discrimination of Palestinian citizens of Israel; and to “respect, protect and promote the rights of Palestinians to return to their homes.” Supporting BDS in action and not just words sets JVP apart from most other Jewish peace groups.
Another thing that puts JVP in the vanguard among Jewish groups is its assertion that “We believe that a just and comprehensive peace between Israelis and Palestinians can only happen through acknowledgement of the Nakba of 1947-9, which led to the creation of millions of Palestinian refugees,” referring to the term that means “catastrophe” in Arabic.
Concerning a solution to the conflict, JVP says, “We support any solution that is consistent with the full rights of both Palestinians and Israeli Jews, whether one bi-national state, two states, or some other solution. It is up to Israelis and Palestinians to reach a mutually agreed upon solution. However, we also believe it is our obligation to offer honest analysis about the diminishing likelihood of a two-state solution given decades of Israeli settlement expansion and the current Israeli leadership’s open resolve to block the creation of a Palestinian state.”
About the right of return of Palestinians, JVP says that it “supports the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including the right of people to return to their countries. Peace will only be possible when Israel acknowledges the Palestinian refugees’ right of return and negotiates a mutually agreed, just solution based on principles established in international law including return, compensation and/or resettlement.”
With such positions, it is no wonder that supporters of the Jewish-supremacist state attack JVP, as they do all who criticize Israel. The American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) are among the most vocal.
As far back as 2010, the ADL singled out JVP, noting its work on campuses. It said, “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 … 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.”
The gist of the ADL attack was that JVP acted as a “shield” against Israel’s assertion that BDS is anti-Semitic. In their view, JVP members are “self-hating” Jews who function as part of an anti-Semitic movement.
Another indication of many American Jews breaking with unconditional support to Israeli policies has been bitter divisions over the international deal on Iran’s nuclear program. “Debate on Iran Fiercely Splits American Jews,” was a headline in the New York Times.
The article talked about sharp discussions in Jewish congregations and organizational meetings. This even extended to attacks on Jewish members of Congress who supported the deal, including that they were “kapos” – Jewish [“police”] collaborators with the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto and elsewhere.
AIPAC, the Israeli lobby with very deep pockets, spent tens of $millions in efforts to kill the Iran deal, an effort which ultimately failed. The NY Times noted that this signaled a diminution in the power of the lobby. Polls indicate that only a minority of American Jews, especially among the younger generation, opposed the deal.
The difference between Obama’s Washington and the Israeli gov’t over the Iran deal was real. Obama wanted to pull back from a confrontation with Iran that could lead to war, while Netanyahu wanted to step up that confrontation in the hopes of attacking Iran.
The whole issue of Iran’s nuclear program was presented in hyped and false terms by both U.S. neo-cons and Israel, posing an Iranian bomb as a present and inevitable threat. Noam Chomsky has pointed to a CIA analysis, which said that even if Iran developed nuclear weapons, they would function as a deterrent [as have nukes to date].
The image of the U.S., with its vast nuclear armaments, the country that started the atomic arms race and the only country ever to use such weapons against not one but two cities, quaking in fear of Iran, is ridiculous.
Israel is armed to the teeth with hundreds of nuclear weapons [poised on ballistic missiles and submarines covering the entire Middle East and Southern Europe]. Any offensive use of a nuclear weapon by Iran would lead to its immediate vaporization.
What the US and Israel fear is such a deterrent, which could tend to constrain their own military aggressions in the region, as Chomsky’s expressed.
The division between the US and Israel over the Iran deal, doesn’t mean any change in Washington’s support of Israel. Indeed, Obama indicated renewed and extended military and financial backing of the imperialist [colonial-settler] outpost in the Middle East.
Special thanks to Barry Sheppard for this excellent commentary…
Dr. Publico (Nick Medvecky, PsyD), September 2015…