Liberal Jewish organization sidelines Jewish Voice for Peace

By Jerry Haber / cross-posted with permission from the Magnes Zionist blog

Does Jewish Voice for Peace have a place at the Jewish communal table?

I expect the answer to be “no” from people on the right wing of the Jewish communal spectrum; after all, some of them barely tolerate J-Street. But as an old-fashioned liberal, I am still naïve enough to believe that people who call themselves “liberal” or “progressive” will answer “yes”. After all, JVP does not call for emptying Palestine of Jews, or driving them into the sea. It doesn’t call for the violent destruction of the Zionist regime, or sending Jews back to their country of origin. Here is a paragraph from its mission statement:

JVP opposes anti-Jewish, anti-Muslim, and anti-Arab bigotry and oppression.  JVP seeks an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem; security and self-determination for Israelis and Palestinians; a just solution for Palestinian refugees based on principles established in international law; an end to violence against civilians; and peace and justice for all peoples of the Middle East

If anybody in J Street or Ameinu doesn’t subscribe to the above, then they should turn in their membership cards. Where JVP differs from those organizations, aside from their tactics, is that it does not mandate any one particular political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, i.e., how the self-determination of Israelis and Palestinians should be fulfilled, the way that liberal Zionist organizations do. Its concern is primarily for the welfare and self-determination of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, Jews and Arabs, and not for any particular political structures. That is a broad enough tent to include many Jews and Palestinians, Zionist, not-Zionist, and anti-Zionist. This is not to say that all members of JVP are agnostic or don’t have definite views on the subject. But, as I understand their mission statement, JVP doesn’t take a stand as an organization on the question of three states, two-states, one-state, federation, etc. JVP recognizes that there have always been differences of opinions on these questions, within and without the respective communities.

Enter Kenneth Bob, president of Ameinu, which claims to represent “liberal” and “progressive” values. Bob banishes JVP from the Jewish communal table for its willingness to include people who are agnostic on the ultimate political solution to the century-old conflict between Jew and Arab:

That is what separates progressive Zionists from JVP. We cannot be “agnostic” about the most central issue in the conflict, the importance of a solution that includes two states for two peoples, Israel and Palestine. It is ludicrous to suggest that one can be involved in the Jewish communal discourse about the future of the Middle East without having an opinion on whether Israel should exist.

“Ludicrous?” Not “mistaken” or “misguided’ but “ludicrous? Is it ludicrous for Ameinu to sit around the Jewish communal table with Zionist organizations that are not agnostic about denying the Palestinians their claims to self-determination in their homeland? No doubt Bob would claim that this denial separates Ameinu from the Zionist Organization of America – but will he call for its banishment from the Jewish communal table?

For the president of an organization that calls itself “liberal” it is not enough for JVP to state explicitly in its mission statement that Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs have a right to self-determination. Apparently, a Jewish organization must explicitly pledge allegiance to the particular form of Jewish self-determination adopted by the state founded in 1948 as a result of the expulsion of a majority of Palestinian’s Arab inhabitants. Only that will satisfy an organization that calls itself “liberal” and “progressive”. Bob elevates the steadfast commitment to the existence of State of Israel to the status of a Jewish article of faith. Maimonides famously held that Jews had to believe in the existence of God to be considered part of the Jewish community. Now belief in God has been replaced by belief in a particular political regime.

Should JVP have a place at the Jewish communal table? Let there be a litmus test for Jewish organizations, but let it be their commitment to the survival and thriving of Jewish people everywhere. Require that an organization observe rules of civility and decorum at meetings like the GA, and leave it up to JVP to decide whether a place at the Jewish communal table is worth moderating its tactics. But is there anything more pathetic than a liberal Zionist group, often badgered by the right, attempting to exclude groups on its left like JVP? Whether it does so out of genuine conviction, or out of a desire to legitimize itself at the expense of delegitimizing others, it is a disgraceful move.

Or so thinks this old-fashioned liberal.