>No Peace from the Jewish Voice for Peace

>            A couple of months ago, I signed up for the newsletter of the Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP).  As a half-time resident of Tel Aviv, I desperately want peace in the Middle East.  And I subscribe to the JVP’s stated yearning for security, justice, and peace for both Israelis and Palestinians.  Moreover, I too see the extensive Israeli settlements on the West Bank and the harsh treatment of its Palestinian residents (via checkpoints and barrier walls) as significant obstacles to peace.  So I figured that I and JVP have enough shared perspective to warrant my interest.    

            At the same time, I have always perceived some obstacles to peace posed by the Arab or Palestinian side.  Arab rejectionism of peace has been a long-time factor — starting in the 1948 war, reaching a crescendo in 1967 with the Arab League’s 3 no’s (“no” to recognition, “no” to negotiation, and “no” to peace), continuing through the Yom Kippur war of 1973, and extending to Arafat’s rejection of an offer of a Palestinian state at Camp David in 2000 and the P.A.’s rejection of Ehud Olmert’s peace proposal in 2008.  The annihilationist determination of Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and others has also struck me as a threat to peace in the Middle East.  When Israel left Gaza and Southern Lebanon, the opening was quickly seized to rain rockets onto civilian targets in Southern Israel and Kiryat Shmona; today, Iran supplies even longer-range, more powerful missiles for those annihilationists to pursue their goal.  (My Tel Aviv apartment is now within their range, to say nothing of Iran’s nuclear threat).  Hamas, dedicated both to destruction of Israel and to radical fundamentalism on every inch of Palestine, somehow looms in my mind as an obstruction to peace.  Its violent seizure of control of Gaza in the summer of 2007, its cross-border launching of over 10,000 warheads, its fundamentalist incitement in Gaza mosques and schools, and its repression of all dissent seems to me to bode ill for Palestinian commitment to peaceful co-existence.  I don’t know the degree of Hamas influence on the West Bank, but its control of Gaza and its potential role in a Palestinian state are real concerns within a peace process.
            In short, I hoped that JVP, in its stated dedication to a just peace, might address the spectrum of concerns confronting the peace process.  What I have confronted instead in the dispatches from JVP is a barrage of shrill, one-sided condemnation of anything and everything about the State of Israel. 
            JVP appears to uncritically accept and endorse every negative portrayal of Israel.  An example is a November 9, 2009, posting by Rela Mazali featuring a letter from an Israeli Arab university student group urging a Norwegian university to boycott Israeli academic institutions.  The students assert that Israeli universities suppress free expression, in particular by harassing any lecturer dissenting from “official ideology.”  I know enough about Israeli universities (having spent 6 years on the faculty at Tel Aviv University) to know that academic freedom is quite robust in Israel.  Indeed, Israeli academia includes numerous figures, like Neve Gordon at Ben Gurion University, who regularly disseminate decidedly unorthodox views on government policy.  The very existence of dissident student groups and their freedom to publicly chastise their universities, as in the letter in question, tends to refute the claim of suppression of academic freedom.  JVP, though, expresses no doubt or question about the students’ accusations.
            Another JVP tenet is unquestioning acceptance of the Goldstone report as gospel truth.  A November 10 post from Lincoln Shlensky adopts the Goldstone perspective that the Gaza operation of January 2009 was an unprovoked assault (rather than an effort to protect 300,000 Israeli civilians from the 80 to 100 warheads per day then raining down on them).  You don’t have to be a legal scholar (though I was) to recognize the distortions and inadequacies apparent in the Goldstone report.  That report exhibits shameful myopia in its exclusive reliance on Gazan sources thoroughly intimidated by Hamas and its glib dismissal of contemporary press reports contradicting witness assertions. (Of course, Israel didn’t help matters by its stupid refusal to cooperate with the Goldstone mission).  The portrayal of Operation Cast Lead as a purely gratuitous assault amazes and antagonizes the vast majority of Israelis who applauded the IDF effort to end the regular cross-border rocket barrage. Indeed, the recent eclipse of the peace movement within Israel is in part due to widespread recognition that the tactics of both Hamas and Hezbollah warranted a military response.    
A group that wants to promote a just peace has to understand the needs and perspectives of both sides.  Bias can be expressed by exclusive focus on the asserted misdeeds of one side to a dispute.  JVP almost gloatingly trumpets the sad Israeli phenomena of disproportionate funding of orthodox Jewish schools and yeshivas as well as the disadvantages of non-orthodox residents from orthodox religious regulation of marriage, divorce, and conversion. (Nov. 9).  Hello!!!!???  Secular and non-orthodox Jews are well aware of those phenomena and struggle (through democratic channels) to correct the injustices involved.  Parallel struggles go on as to infrastructure discrimination against the Arab sector.  These flaws in Israel’s operation are well known and warrant the democratic struggle.  But JVP utters nary a word about Hamas’ promotion of Sharia, Hamas’ violent suppression of any dissent, and constant inculcation of religious hatred.  Not a whisper about the systematic abuse of Christian Palestinians by fundamentalist Moslems.  JVP’s tunnel vision is blind to the rockets and missiles being smuggled into annihilationist hands.   
The bottom line is that JVP’s tone of unrelenting hostility distressingly echoes the daily anti-zionist polemic seeking to delegitimize Israel.  JVP does nothing to promote Israeli acceptance of a 2-state solution to the Middle East conflict when it ignores the legitimate security concerns of Israel’s population.  I’m not sure which is more depressing – the image of Jewish settlers pouring their talents and energies into Judah and Samaria rather than the Negev and the Galilee, or the image of bright Jewish observers (such as JVP) spouting derision of Israel.  Neither of these forces is advancing a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians.    

– Norman L. Cantor