Israel, Justice, Politics

The Mishpocha

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.”
In their own words:

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.”

31 thoughts on “The Mishpocha

  1. Why should we listen to them when they are incapable of listening to us? Because they heckled a prime minister of Israel? That’s the ticket to fame?
    The entire discussion about tactics is misguided. This isn’t at all about tactics – the tactics JVP chose reflect the deeper truth: these people don’t want a reasonable discussion, they want their way. No.

  2. Let me get an honest reaction here from BZ, KFJ, CoA, Justin, maybe even dlevy (where has he been?).
    Suppose that a pro-settlement group interrupted Bibi’s speech, heckling him for betraying the values and policies on which he became Prime Minister, and the plurality of Israelis who put him in office. What would be your reaction, and would we be having a discussion over tactics, or principles?

  3. If Bibi was actually dismanteling settlements, and the right responded in protest, I think that on this blog we would be having a discussion about how serious we though that policy was, what this rift meant for his government, and whether the public reaction to that disruption seemed to portend good or ill for that enterprise. In fact, we had all those discussions in 2005, when right-wing groups were rioting in the streets in reaponse to the disengagement. Those tactics were much more extream than disrupting a speech. I was living in Jerusalem in the summer of 2005, and I vividly recall driving by a religious neighborhood on a bus, and watching mounted cops try to corral protestors who where burning tires in the streets.
    There is quite a wide bearth between incivility and violence, though they are connected. We saw that very clearly at the GA, where incivility was responded to with violence. In my estimation choosing incivility (especially in cases of gross injustice and loss of life) is appropriate. So, yes, I think that certain causes do allow for different tactics.
    That said, it is always worth having separate conversations about tactics and message, so that the political message of any group can be judged on its own merits. We all then choose to affiliate or not affiliate with a movement based on both message and tactics, but evaluating them separately also helps us identifies allies and friends who we may share political community with, even as we may dissent from their chosen tactics.
    In this case I applaud JVP on their message and tactics. They were clear, strong and disruptive without being violent. And they advanced the message that Israel is delegitimated by its policy and conduct, not on account of poor PR from Israel or malice on the part its of critics.

  4. I wasn’t in Israel in 2005; I’m speaking from an American Jewish context, which is considerably more tame. So, incivility – “especially in cases of gross injustice and loss of life” – is an appropriate form of issues engagement within the American Jewish community. Got it, CoA, thanks. Anyone else?

  5. yasher koach,
    I do also believe that only in time will the truth that the occupation and its auxiliary persecutions will fall. The policies of the Israeli government will continue to destruct the possibility of Jewish sovereignty in the land where its traditions were first offered up to the world. We know that Zionist culture has not only been unkind to Palestinians, and fed off their own hatred, but that Zionism has also been destructive to itself, creating in the minds of Jewish youth a disgust and rejection for their diasporic selves. All of Israel is in DIaspora until the Y.L. Peretz comes riding up through the valley on a horse. Big up to the JVP. Big up to Justice and an end to fascist flavors in our shabbos cholent!.

  6. Whether JVP’s particular message with whatever its nuances are is getting discussed, SOMETHING is gettin discussed. This protest–or whatever we’re calling it–has generated a worthwhile conversation at an event that’s generally an echo chamber.
    And that’s good.

  7. I think there is always a time and place for civil disobedience, especially when the debate is not actually happening. Tactics such as those employed by JVP force the debate. So, were Bibi to dismantle settlements and were the right to respond with peaceful civil disobedience during a speech, that’d be fine. But how did the right respond when Sharon dismantled the settlements in Gaza? By sending their kids to prevent the army from doing its job… How are they responding in the settlements now? By ignoring freezes on construction (on the ground there never really was any freeze) and by stockpiling weapons. Literally stockpiling weapons. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. These weapons are not to fight their Arab neighbors. They’re to fight the soldiers who come to dismantle their settlement. So before you accuse the youngens at JVP of “incivility” and proceed with your inherently dishonest attack on those whom you disagree with, take a look at the marked difference in approach to peaceful protest and arms stockpiling.
    The other part of it is this–the “right” is wrong. JVP is right. It’s as simple as that. There is no defending the occupation. There is no defending the erosion of democratic values in Israel. Anyone who does defend it is simply wrong. It’s like defending terrorism or corruption. There’s not a huge gray area on these issues. So, were the right to protest in order to extend the occupation and maintain the erosion of democracy in Israel, well, that’d just be grotesque. And as CoA noted, the reaction to the JVP protesters shows very plainly that those whom they are protesting deserve it.
    Welcome to America, where civil protest is a constitutional right accorded to all citizens irrelevant of how much you may disagree with them. Dissidence is not a crime in this country, so why would you suppose that we would dismiss the right of pro-occupation, anti-democracy protesters to voice their opinions? Their opinions would be wrong, but they’d still have a right to protest.

  8. Yes. And let’s be clear.
    First, this issue is not isolated to American Judaism, that is part of the point. The Prime Minister of Israel was headlining the major conclave of the OJC, an event which occures regularly in Jerusalem.
    Second, it is generally considered impolite to disrupt a speaker. That is why I used the word “incivility.” The general tenor of their conduct, however, was rather civil. Bibi was not personally attacked, the protesters left peacefully after making their point, and, as I hope this correspondence makes clear, deep thought went into crafting the action, precisely because all of us in the Jewish left have personal connections to Jewish Israelis, Jewish Americans, and Palestinians. The best actions balance care, connection, clarity of message, and effectiveness in achieving long range and short range goals.

  9. DAMW, you didn’t answer the question. So, is any form of action acceptable so long as it gets a discussion going? Let your imagination marinate a little as you evaluate the possibilities.
    Justin, no one has criminalized dissent. There exist a variety of mediums for presenting divergent views within the Jewish community and to suggest otherwise is simply dishonest. The question is whether interrupting dignitaries through incivility should become standard fare. CoA thinks so, as does leyb. DAMW is massaging the issue. Make your choice.
    As for stockpiling weapons, you my friend have no idea what you’re talking about. The IDF is withdrawing from many Jewish communities in the Shomron. These villages are not stockpiling weapons, they’re taking over the role of static defense previously handled by the IDF – perimeter surveillance and observation posts, first response teams, etc. This is being done with the blessing of the Defense Ministry – an outsourcing of local security that reduces the need for an IDF footprint. I, for one, think that such self-sufficiency is absolutely crucial to ensure Jewish and Arab lives in any two state solution. No one is going to evacuate these villages, under any Israeli government, and they have to responsibly prepare for a variety of contingencies. I know the people involved, and their only concern and passion is the defense of their communities.
    CoA, I got it. Prior to taking part in incivil (or is it uncivil?) direct action, the participants must prepare compelling back-stories which prompted them to take the conversation to the next level. I think to remove this from the American context is not helpful – the Israeli and American Jewish political atmospheres and cultures are widely divergent, as we all know. If American Jews are going to start acting like Israeli Jews, of all stripes, then I think we should let everyone know the revised etiquette.
    Thanks, guys, I much appreciate the discussion. Still waiting to hear from two heavy-hitters, BZ and KFJ, and DAWM, if he wishes to flesh out his earlier remarks.

  10. Victor, I’ve been here intermittently, but I got a full-time job on the Jewish internet over at, so I haven’t had as much time to hang out at Jewschool. It’s nice to be missed.

  11. Victor, I’m happy to engage because I wrote the original post, but why are you calling out particular Jewschool posters by name? They don’t owe you, or anyone else, any particular enunciation or explanation of their positions.
    As should be abundantly clear from the differences between KFJ’s post on this topic and mine, there is no unanimity on these points (or really any points) among Jewschool posters. What kind of answers from these folks will make you happy? KFJ’s post clearly indicates that he has”little taste for these theatrics,” and thinks that “there are better ways to instigate the conversation.”
    As for your specific comments addressed to me. I don’t really want to see a breakdown in communication and constant shouting and disruptions. What I really want to see are two things. 1) For Zionism to cease being a litmus test for participation in the mainstream Jewish community, such that antizionists and zionists can sit at the table together. 2) For the OJC to stop deluding themselves with this “Jewish and Democratic” bullshit and take a consistent stand for liberal democracy and human rights both in the US and abroad. Getting there from here is going to take a diversity of tactics. I have some hope that the first may happen, and little hope that the second will.

  12. CoA, he’s polling those whom he feels are the furthest to the left, I presume.
    As for stockpiling weapons, you my friend have no idea what you’re talking about.
    Right, so the people I know in Shomron who showed me their weapons stockpile and told me that they were waiting for the IDF to remove them from their homes and that’s what the weapons were for, they were lying. But you know, I don’t know what I’m talking about…
    No one is going to evacuate these villages, under any Israeli government
    you, my friend, are dreaming. Just as was the fate of the settlements in Sinai and Gaza, so too shall the fate be of most settlements in the West Bank. Deal with it, internalize it and accept it. The occupation will end, if it won’t there will be no more Jewish villages or cities of any kind because the state will self-destruct or be destroyed. Thus is the fate of any and all occupying and segregating nations–sooner or later they either reform or end. We’ll see it of China, we’ll see it of Turkey, we’ll see it of Israel, we’ll see it of the US, we’ll see it of all the other occupying powers. History often repeats itself, especially when old mistakes are repeated…

  13. DAMW, you didn’t answer the question. So, is any form of action acceptable so long as it gets a discussion going?
    I wasn’t trying to answer a question. I was just making a comment, but since you asked…
    No, of course, means do not always justify ends. But I’m willing to say that this protest didn’t hurt anyone, so I’m willing to say that I’m okay with it.
    I’m also glad to see members of my generation engaging in some civil disobedience, which I have no taste for. But someone’s got to carry that torch, right?

  14. Also.
    The question is whether interrupting dignitaries through incivility should become standard fare… DAMW is massaging the issue. Make your choice.
    Well, again, that’s your question that I wasn’t trying to answer. But, in attempting to answer, let’s parse it a bit.
    I’ll take issue with the word “incivility,” as you said. This is an odd word to use, given that the protest fit the definition of CIVIL disobedience.
    If the question is whether interrupting a speech for a reason the interrupter believes to be of moral value through civil disobedience is OK or not, I say it’s OK.

  15. DAMW, I think you are confusing civil disobedience – the act of resisting civil (meaning government) authority – with civility, which means courtesy, good manners, politeness, respect. I’ll lump you in with CoA, leyb and Justin – that uncivil (impolite, disrespectful) actions should be an acceptable forms of issues engagement within the Jewish community.
    CoA, I am simply eliciting opinion, nothing more sinister than that. I don’t think the individuals I mentioned are “furthest to the left”, as Justin suggests, but they do represent a cross-section of progressive Jewish leadership. BZ, you don’t have to answer if you don’t wish to, it was just a request. dlevy, you are missed, but I understand, work comes first.
    From time to time, I’m asked for my opinion on the actions pro-settlement groups should take in American Jewish issues advocacy. I’m drawing a baseline from your responses, so that everyone can participate in the public debate on equal terms.
    Justin, I don’t know what nutjobs you speak with. I was referring to the policy planning being conducted by the Jewish leadership in the villages, in cooperation with the Israeli Ministry of Defense, not some lone wolf on a hilltop.
    I find your occupation rhetoric outmoded. The withdrawal of Israeli civil (there’s that word again, CoA, meaning government) authority from Shomron and Yehudah is proceeding apace. That has no bearing on the fate of Jewish communities left behind, and I fail to see how destroying these villages would further the cause of peace, reconciliation and coexistence. Perhaps this is why Salam Fayyad, Abbas, and pro-Palestinian advocates in the US, such as Hussein Ibish, have welcomed Jewish communities to remain as part of a Palestinian state, should it be established. This is the operating reality. The only real advocates for dismantling the settlements are segments of the Israeli left.
    Now, given that reality, the leaders of Jewish communities responsible for the welfare of their inhabitants have begin preparing for self-sufficiency. There are many projects going on that the progressive left doesn’t know about, doesn’t want to know about, and sometimes tries to sabotage – local coexistence, non-aggression, agricultural and mutual aid agreements being negotiated quietly between Arab and Jewish villages.
    In the real world, not everyone is excited about a one-party Palestinian state that cannot exert authority outside the main cities, and everyone who lives in the area is hedging their bets. Nationalism is all well and good, but it wasn’t so long ago that the Arab villages next to Shilo were desperately calling the Jews for support in pitched battles against Arafat’s goons. Meanwhile, the villages near Susiya have gotten quite used to working with the Jewish farmers to extend the village’s modern irrigation system for benefit on Arab fields.
    The real world is more complicated than JVP’s slogans. I chose to deal with that complexity. Others chose to disrupt public events for their fifteen minutes of fame and “I was there” activist button. We all make choices.

  16. I beg you, please show me these examples of the left sabotaging local co-existence efforts among Palestinians and Israelis.
    I’m serious. Please. I’m begging. I really want to see this.

  17. You have no shame. Just last week leftists were caught on video setting fire to fields near Bat Ayin and then blaming it on the Jews. A month ago entire orchards were burned to the ground in Achiya, or was it the olive groves of Shilo. After a while it’s hard to keep them all in order. Call the Shomron regional council and ask how many cases of arson and sabotage the farmers have to deal with on a weekly basis. What do you think this does to relationships between villages? Who is doing all these things? Susiya had decade long peaceful relationships with nearby villages. They used to help one another with the harvests and suddenly Arabs show up with leftists and empty communal water cisterns, make claims on agricultural land that were arid desert in aerial photographs 30 years ago. This is the reality. The settlers get hung with the “price tag” policy that no one in the settlements has heard of or supports. Meanwhile Havat Gilad, a community of women and children built on privately owned Jewish land, was nearly again burned down by firebombers last month, as it is every 3-6 months, sometimes in the middle of the night when everyone is asleep. And as the fire meant to destroy the village burned through the Jewish fields of clover and spread to neighboring Arab trees the Jews were blamed, in AFP no less, and without a single interview on the Jewish side! And Elon Moreh, where two residents were jumped by leftists and beaten with iron bars three weeks ago. None of this would be happening without the incitement by Israeli extremists, who agitate and convince the hotheads among local Arabs to create a disturbance and then get on their cell phones to inform Haaretz and the foreign media of yet another “atrocity”.
    All this is the reality, part of the daily life in the communities, and if you don’t know about it, if you don’t want to know about it, then you don’t support peace, you don’t support coexistence, not really, not with your mind and heart.

  18. I think it’s telling that anti-zionists and Kahanists have the exact same problem with the idea that “Judaism” and “democracy” can be brought together.

  19. I’m not sure what shame has to do with this. I was asking because I was serious. This from the guy who runs around quoting his own blog, which is about as shameless as it gets.
    You didn’t show me examples. You just said things. I was asking because I wanted to see sources. Do you have sources?

  20. Havat Gilad is owned by Moshe Zar. What does wikipedia have to say about Moshe Zar?
    “in the 1980’s he achieved moderate fame for his role in the Jewish Underground, a terrorist group that planted bombs in the cars of Arab mayors (e.g. the Nablus mayor Bassam Shakaa) and plotted to destroy the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem”
    Let’s see how Havat Gilad has fared in the news in the last month. As you said, Jewish land was burned.,7340,L-3983373,00.html
    What’s that? A Palestinian field, you say? Craziness!
    What’s weird is that I can’t find a single article claiming that the fire was started in Jewish fields. Even as a liberal, I might accept the accusation of media bias, but you can generally find at least one source claiming what Victor has said here. You haven’t provided any sources on your claims (yet), so if you have a reputable news source that indicates that the fire started where you say it started, I want to see it.
    However, something else I found was an article from the IDF about protecting Palestinian olive farmers in the area:
    I’m not inclined to think that those farmers need protection from the leftists, but I’m ready to be proven wrong here.

  21. I apologize for the absence; been trying to stay away from blogging this week.
    You didn’t show me examples. You just said things. I was asking because I wanted to see sources. Do you have sources?
    One of the primary challenges in advocating for the Jewish communities in Yesha is the total absence of media coverage of their experience. With the exception of INN, no Israeli news outlet goes into the settlements and speaks to the residents, except to quote some crazy gun-toting idiot, for flavor. Instead, what gets coverage are press releases from the IDF, Civil Administration and human rights groups, which rarely represent the perspectives, challenges and rights of the residents in the communities.
    To understand what goes on in the settlements, you have to speak to people there. There is no other way. So, when you say, “Do you have sources?”, my response is yes. Call up the Shomron regional council and ask for a list of farmers whose property has been vandalized, whose trees have been uprooted and whose fields have been burned. Everyone knows these things on the ground, but they almost never get reported, because the residents don’t believe they will get a fair hearing in the media. When someone destroys their crops, they have no recourse. The media is not interested in their experience, and the IDF rarely goes into the Arab villages after firebombers and vandals. If no one got hurt the residents are usually told to just to swallow the loss.
    I’ll give you one example, a rare exception which penetrated the English language version of Ynet today:
    Suspicion: Anarchists torched field near settlement
    Look at the dateline: “Published: 11.18.10”
    This attack happened at Bat Ayin, and it’s just the tip of the violence and vandalism that the residents of Bat Ayin have to deal with, with no recourse, but that’s a separate story. You might remember Bat Ayin, because I mentioned it in my comments on November 14th:
    “Just last week leftists were caught on video setting fire to fields near Bat Ayin and then blaming it on the Jews.”
    The ynet article was published on Nov 18, and it appeared in no other news outlet that I’m aware of. How did I know what would happen in 4 days? Am I psychic? Or did I talk to someone with close friends in Bat Ayin who told me the entire story? It’s like that with everything else that I’m saying. You have no idea what’s going on in the settlements because there is close to zero serious coverage devoted to them.
    KFJ, the IDF is withdrawing from security duties throughout the West Bank. My source is Marc Prowisor, of Shilo, who was a security coordinator for the settlements in the central region for a decade and now coordinates equipment purchases for first response teams (who are gradually assuming security functions previously handled by the IDF). I can email you his contact info if you like.

  22. Baalam’s Donkey,
    I didn’t see your Havat Gilad post until just now. Again, professional news reporting from the settlements is far and few in between. INN is really the only one out there, but I consider their work product amateurish.
    For what it’s worth, then, here’s an INN story about the burning of fields at Havat Gilad.
    Here’s a related article that popped up when I did a search for Havat Gilad at INN.
    There is nothing stopping Jpost or Haaretz from driving 15 minutes to these places and doing good journalism. They just don’t.

  23. Lightning has struck. Haarets today carries a story (or is it an editorial) providing a glimpse of the vandalism and destruction to Jewish property in the territories. As I said earlier, even the one case at Bat Ayin is a drop in the bucket compared to what that community faces on a regular basis, as the article describes.
    It is fair to raise the question, why are we just hearing about this now? I think the answer is that Jewish settlers have become the world’s newest untermenschen. Just read the comments on the haaretz article.
    KFJ, I forwarded your info to Marc. I think he’s on a speaking tour right now.

  24. vandalism and destruction of property v. systematic military operations, arrest raids and restriction of water rights…

  25. It goes…
    homicide bombings, rocket attacks, etc. vs systematic military operations, arrest raids
    “Restriction of water rights” is largely a myth. Palestinians receive their water from Israel’s water authority, under terms agreed to by both sides during the Oslo Accords. Read for yourself. That’s more of a summary. A link is provided within the summary to a comprehensive report put out by Israel’s Water Authority. Read that too.
    As I said, the settlers are a global untermenschen. Everyone agrees this is so, the entire world, and everyone is really glad, jovial even, to be united against a small, marginalized community without access to media or competent political representation to defend itself. It just feels so good, doesn’t it? You can say anything you want about them and everyone will agree. Really, try it, say the most abhorrent thing you can imagine, and you will be applauded, because deep down, we all know they deserve it. When their fruit trees are destroyed, they deserve it. When they are shot on the roads, they deserve it. When their children are stabbed or stoned or murdered, they deserve it. Say it proudly, THEY DESERVE IT! We all know it’s true. They have no rights – not to property, not to livelihood, not to their very lives. If they were murdered en mass tomorrow, the killers would be global heroes, because the settlers deserve nothing. They don’t bleed. They don’t cry. They don’t feel. They don’t dream. They don’t hope. No punishment will suffice for these dregs of humanity, these inhumans. They deserve it, all of it, and much more. So say we all.
    With one abstention.

  26. this “dark era” of censorship is nothing more than a computer filter.
    your order or historical events in inherently faulty. The occupation did not begin in reaction to suicide bombings. There is a long history that led to Palestinian nationalism and militarism. Things don’t occur in a vacuum. Rational people don’t make the claims you say they do. Rational people feel that settlers have a right to life and property, just not at the expense of somebody else’s life and property. Your hyperbole is just a little laughable. I can’t speak for others, but I have friends who are settlers. I cry with them. I would love for them to be peaceful and respectful citizens of whatever nation they choose to live in. But we can’t deny the reality of history and the reality of today. The “plight” of the settlers PALES in comparison to the plight of the Palestinians, and to say the settlers, as a state sponsored endeavor, has not contributed greatly to that plight. As to the so-called “myth” of water restrictions, political writings are fine and well–reality is a whole other manner. You have clearly spent some time and are familiar with settlers and settlements, but how familiar are you with the reality of Palestinian life? Because in my experience of spending time in both settlements and Palestinian villages, there is a very apparent lack of balance in water distribution.

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