There has been quite a bit of conversation both on this blog and in the Jewish press and blogosphere on both the tactics and content of the recent JVP action at the GA. I have to say I was really inspired to see the coverage and conversation generated by these protests. More than that, I am inspired by the statements behind them. Talking back to Bibi was a way of getting heard. The message, contained in their Young Jewish and Proud declaration, makes it clear why we should, in the words of Peter Beinart, “expect more of this.”
We are not apathetic. We know and name persecution when we see it. Occupation has constricted our throats and fattened our tongues. We are feeding each other new words. We have family, we build family, we are family. We re-negotiate. We atone. We re-draw the map every single day. We travel between worlds. This is not our birthright, it is our necessity.
Not only should we expect to hear this message getting louder and stronger, we should be prepared to listen. Jews, committed to their identities, histories, and traditions, are increasingly seeing how the ongoing occupation and human rights abuses, the loyalty oath, and the stunted discourse on Israel and Zionism within the OJC are making a perversion out of the lessons of Jewish history (which illustrate that oppression and othering can be a deadly mix), and of Jewish teachings (which, in Rabbi Sid Schwarz’s formulation, are “dedicated to expanding the boundaries of righteousness and justice in the world“).
I’ve recently been corresponding with one of the organizers about JVP’s choice of message and their tactics. In light of the all the debate around that action, I wanted to share some of that correspondence here. In talking with her it is clear that there were significant conversations within the group about both tactics and messaging. The first thing she emphasized was that the goal of this action was not the disruption itself. “Our original idea,” she told me, “was actually the opposite, that the disruption of Netanyahu’s speech would be silent and dignified.”
My friend continued,
But the most experienced protester on the team rightly said that people would take down our signs within seconds and we would be unable to make our point. We also considered singing. After lengthy discussion, we decided we had to yell “Young Jewish Proud!” and then the sign content. We all agreed it was the absolute right decision, but we had to sacrifice the feeling of solemnity we had preferred. We weren’t there to “heckle”- we were there to take a stand.”
We knew people would not be pleased, but we didn’t anticipate the level of violence and frankly it was not our intention to make people in the room look ugly. I have mixed feelings about that- I dont consider federation people “The Other”. That’s family in there, for almost all of us, so I don’t take pleasure in the unmasking of the mob mentality. On the other hand, I understand it’s critical for our movement that it has been revealed-many others in the room were shocked. But we would not have purposely engineered it with that particular group.
It may be difficult to understand, but the courage and connectedness required to go in there and both symbolically and literally confront one’s family required that we actually go deeper into our Jewishness. Before everyone departed to go to the hotel, we all said who we were bringing into the room with us. Some brought friends who had been killed at Bil’in, others friends and loved ones in Palestinian refugee camps, but nearly all brought the spirits of our grandparents or ancestors who we knew wanted us to be there, to stand up for the heart and soul of a just Jewishness that has grown dimmer in recent decades. I sent them all in with the protection of my departed uncle who first brought me to a GA 5 years ago, who was on the board of the jewish federation when he died last year, and who joked with me that after all of our fights and struggles, he had finally gone “to the dark side”— our side. There was a strong sense that we were doing this as much for our own liberation as for Palestinian liberation.
When abuse is happening, we cannot just “keep it in the family,” we need to turn up the spotlight to stop the abuse, while we also work to help the family heal. Sometimes the family wants to protect the abuser, or just wish that the problem would go away. Kudos to JVP for taking an inspiring stand for justice and for Judaism, for working to end the abuses and to change the conversation about Israel “around the family table.”