I’m happy to say that I will be blogging here for Meretz USA and am very grateful to the organization for giving me this forum.
Some of you may be familiar with me. For the past two years, I have been the Director of the US Office of B’Tselem. Prior to that, I was Director of Education and Policy for Jewish Voice for Peace for a bit more than five years. I have my own blog, The Third Way, at http://mitchellplitnick.com/ and have also been writing under the pseudonym Moshe Yaroni in various outlets including another blog, Realistic Peace in Israel-Palestine.
I’m often asked about my time with Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and the question has usually been framed as something like “Did you leave JVP because they were getting too radical?” I was asked this question again by a member of Meretz USA, and the answer seemed a good way to introduce myself in this forum.
It’s a bit of a story. I was a member of JVP from 1999-2008, a member of the first Board, and one of the first two staff members, starting in late 2002. From the beginning, I represented a fairly extreme end of the group, which would be, depending on the term one chose for it, the “right wing,” “moderate,” “Zionist,” “pro-Israel,” or centrist wing. I never liked any of those terms, but it describes the reality I lived in the group.
It was always difficult and stressful to balance that with being the group’s lead spokesperson, as I’m sure it would have been if I had been on the opposite end of the group.
The idea of JVP has always been (and as far as I know, still is) to create a grassroots political group where Zionists and anti-Zionists and everyone in between could come together around a common principle of ending US support for the Occupation. The group has always adhered to those principles, but the formulation naturally attracted more folks who were uncomfortable with the more “pro-Israel” approach of groups like Americans for Peace Now, Brit Tzedek and now J Street.
I was quite comfortable with those kinds of groups, but also felt that a voice was also needed that spoke in Jewish tones to the rest of the world, not first and foremost to other Jews. That and opportunity brought me to JVP, where I made many friends and had stunning and wonderful experiences. But also where I often felt I struggled with many of the people I was supposed to be working with.
When I worked there (and to some extent, due to my efforts), JVP’s Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) stance was more subdued, with the campaign to get Caterpillar to stop selling its D-9 bulldozers, often used in house demolitions, to Israel being the major focus; I also tried to downplay the plank in JVP’s position about suspending US aid to Israel.
For my last couple of years there, I was weary of being the moderate face which I felt wasn’t really representing the majority of the membership. I believe that was neither good for me, nor for the organization, and I think the ensuing couple of years shows I was right. I’ve gotten more credibility in the circles I wanted to be recognized in since I’ve left, and JVP has gotten a much greater following now that they are clearer in their stances without my complicating the message, which, to some extent, I think I was doing.
But I am also sympathetic to many of JVP’s views. For example, while I don’t like the idea that the US would ever cut off aid to Israel, I also don’t think it’s very healthy for Israel that it knows very well that no matter what it does that aid is not going to be threatened under present conditions. I also agree in principle with boycotting the occupation, although I still don’t think it is very effective in the long term as a tactic. I think it has increasingly polarized debate and diplomacy and increased Israel’s bunker mentality while affecting very little in the halls of power in the US, Europe and of course, Israel.
I wrote about the BDS question under a pseudonym, Moshe Yaroni, here http://realisticpeace.wordpress.com/2010/04/16/principled-opposition/ and here http://zeek.forward.com/articles/116395/
JVP might not have been the perfect place for me, but my experience there was very positive and led to much of what has come after. I understand that JVP is too radical for some people, but the groups is full of Jews who are proud of their heritage and are concerned for the future of Israelis and Palestinians equally.
They’re also a lot bigger than many think, with nearly 100,000 subscribers to their e-mail list, the last I heard. I think it behooves those of us in what we call the pro-Israel, pro-peace camp to find ways to work with them on the matters we all can agree on. There are more of these than areas of disagreement, even if those disagreements are sometime very passionate.