Sunday, November 20, 2011

Jewish Voice for Peace at AAR/SBL

I spent the morning going through the book exhibit, and came upon a booth for Jewish Voice for Peace, where I argued with them for a long time. Not much enlightenment on either side - we were really talking past each other (not that I expected anything else). They are here trying to get people to support their divestment from TIAA-CREF campaign. I argued that punitive measures like this are guaranteed to alienate most Jews both in the U.S. and in Israel, but they kept saying that divestment had an effect on getting rid of apartheid in South Africa. I objected to the comparison of Israel with apartheid South Africa, and we disputed over the issue of Israeli Arab representation in the Knesset. They issued a rejoinder that even in the Iranian parliament has one token Jewish representative. I didn't bother arguing that Israel is nothing like Iran. I agreed with them on some of their diagnoses of the problems (settlement building, Bibi's intransigence, the perverse map of the separation wall which shuts whole Palestinian towns off by surrounding them with a wall - Kalkiliya and Walaje spring to mind) - but not on the solution. It was frustrating, and I felt angry that they were even here at AAR/SBL. I've been going to annual meetings since 1985, and I don't remember ever seeing a both on political issues - even in the heyday of anti-apartheid campaigns or protests against the Iraq War.

Jon Haber of Divest This! has many times described the disruptive effect of groups like JVP, which try to bring Middle Eastern politics into organizations that basically have nothing to do with them, in order to push their own agenda. They drag their own agenda into unrelated groups, and cause nothing but discord and bad feelings. This is in sharp contrast to groups like J Street or the American Task Force for Palestine, which work openly to persuade people of their political views in the political arena. They lobby Congress or the President, they hold conferences of various kinds, they organize local chapters that engage in letter-writing or citizen lobbying. They do not try to take over groups that have nothing to do with the Middle East to further their own ends.

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