Fwd: Jews & the antiwar movement

Mike Friedman mikedf at amnh.org
Sun Jul 13 21:25:08 MDT 2003

I received the following attack on UfPJ from the Shalom Center. Seems that
liberal zionists are following up on their attacks on ANSWER with
accusations of ant-semitism directed against those in UfPJ who criticize
Israel too harshly and promote actions to end U.S. support for Israeli
apartheid. They have the same strategic line as Sharon and company:
confound anti-semitism and anti-zionism. Their pressure campaign against
UfPJ should be repudiated by all anti-war, anti-imperialist forces.


>Date: Sun, 13 Jul 2003 15:22:05 -0400
>From: The Shalom Center <J-list at shalomctr.org>
>Subject: Jews & the antiwar movement
>To: mikedf at amnh.org
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>July 13, 2003
>Dear Friends,
>I am writing to share with you a distressing report from
>Jewishly committed strongly progressive Jews concerning a
>recent important national gathering of United for Peace and
>Justice, a major US antiwar coalition. Before the report, some
>background. After the report, I will add some comments of my
>The Shalom Center has been a constituent member of two US
>antiwar coalitions: Win Without War and United for Peace and
>WWW is based on several major national mass-membership
>organizations, such as the National Council of Churches,
>NAACP, and Sierra Club. Its only Jewish members are The Shalom
>Center and Tikkun (which to some extent, and increasingly,
>defines itself as a multi-spiritual organization). (The
>failure of other Jewish organizations to join in this
>coalition with groups that even a few years ago they would
>have seen as their natural allies is distressing; we have
>tried to encourage other Jewish groups to join it, to no
>UPJ has as members hundreds of disparate organizations, some
>national, some grass-roots local; some pacifist, some left-
>wing, some anti-imperialist, some progressive. Several Jewish
>organizations are members.
>UPJ held its first national assembly in May on days that
>included Shavuot, the Jewish festival that celebrates the
>revelation of Torah at Sinai. For that reason, The Shalom
>Center did not take part in the gathering.
>Some Jewish groups did send representatives, and we kept in
>close touch with several of them. We asked Charles Lenchner to
>write a report, for public circulation, on his sense of how
>the gathering dealt with issues of special concern to Jews.
>Charles is a leader of Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel,
>in Washington.
>He and Malka Fenyvesi -- a member of the JPPI board -- have
>sent the report that follows. It represents their own personal
>views, not those of any organization. Charles, who holds US
>and Israeli citizenship, has taken part in a number of Israeli
>groups and actions devoted to a just peace between Israel and
>an emerging Palestine and devoted to the protection of
>Palestinian human rights.
>Their report is disturbing and distressing. I welcome your
>comments and thoughts.
>Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Director
>The Shalom Center
>Report to The Shalom Center on the Chicago UFPJ Conference
>1. Jewish Peace Groups and the Conference
>UFPJ held an organizing conference on June 6-8. More than 350
>organizations took part and over 500 delegates attended. The
>main results of the conference were deciding on process,
>campaign priorities, and electing a steering committee.
>A number of Jewish peace groups had representatives at the
>conference: Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel, A Jewish
>Voice for Peace, Jews Against the Occupation, Brit Tzedek
>V'Shalom, Support Sanity, and Tikkun. It should be noted
>however, that the conference took place on the Jewish festival
>of Shavuot, which certainly prevented some Jewish leaders and
>activists from attending.
>There were far more Jews present than representatives of
>Jewish peace groups.
>2. Experiencing Anti-Semitism
>Most of the Jews we spoke to in a serious manner stated that
>they experienced anti-Semitism at the conference. Generally,
>it was the result of subtle behavior. In almost every
>instance, one could argue that it was something else besides
>anti-Semitism. In other words, a bunch of Jews felt hostility
>which seemed anti-Semitic, but which could be interpreted
>differently in each case. Taken as a whole though, it seems an
>odd coincidence. It left us feeling unsafe.
>Jewish groups not invited, seen as opponents to be outvoted.
>* One of the mornings, a group met calling itself the
>'Palestine Caucus,' for the purpose of discussing proposals on
>the Palestinian issue. None of the Jewish organizations were
>invited, nor was the representative of the U.S. Campaign
>Against the Occupation (a leading member of a Jewish
>organization as well).
>* During discussions on campaign proposals on Israel/
>Palestine, a number of representatives of Jewish organizations
>spoke out about concerns over language and content. (For
>example, against using the word 'apartheid' and against
>calling for divestment from Israel.) What happened is that the
>discussion became a debate between 'Jews' and those seen to be
>more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. The 'Jews' lost the
>vote. The reason this is problematic, is that on most other
>issues the goal was to reach consensus, to find a way to work
>together - but not in this case. (Needless to say, Jews
>present did have diverse opinions, as did non-Jews.)
>* On the last day, an angry debate took place on the question
>of working with ANSWER on an International Day of Action to
>take place on Rosh Hashanah. A vocal minority felt that this
>would be very important, even though others understood why
>scheduling a demonstration targeting Israeli occupation on a
>major Jewish holiday might be unwise - especially given the
>history of anti-Semitism at ANSWER events. One speaker
>declared that Rosh Hashanah was an appropriate day for
>scheduling an anti-Occupation event, because 'if the Israelis
>can take away Palestinian land on Yom Kippur, then we can sure
>as hell demand that they return it on Rosh Hashanah."  [This
>is a paraphrase based on our recollections, not a direct
>Crude remarks and antipathy
>* A Jewish delegate was addressing the need for a more
>inclusive anti-discrimination statement, one that included
>both Jews and Muslims. He was quickly told that Jews ran all
>the US media and business so his request was not relevant or
>* Another incident occurred when a Jewish peace activist was
>wearing a T-shirt with the word "JEWCY" on the front, and was
>confronted by a man who demanded that she explain her views on
>Palestine - but walked away without waiting for an answer.
>* Jews who were out there as representatives of Jewish groups
>experienced people walking away, overheard derogatory remarks
>aimed at 'those Jews who don't get it,' and saw how some
>people were simply uncomfortable at having to deal with Jewish
>Most frustrating of all - no role for Jewish peace groups
>*  On the Israel/Palestine issue, Jewish groups have opinions
>that flow from their experience and knowledge as groups
>working primarily on this issue. In expressing that wisdom,
>they aren't demanding special rights for Israel or for the
>Jewish people. They are asking to be included in decision
>making as holders of important knowledge. The perception
>however, was that a bunch of not-very-radical Jews were trying
>to make sure that UFPJ isn't as pro-Palestinian or anti-Israel
>as it 'should' be.
>* If someone were to suggest holding an event on Easter, would
>this be seen as anti-Christian? Our opinion is that it would
>merely be stupid and insensitive, not anti-Christian. But the
>debate over scheduling an event on Rosh Hashanah brought forth
>hostility towards those arguing that it would be a mistake; in
>essence, voices were heard demanding that the Jewish special
>interest not be catered to. In vain, Jews tried to explain the
>difference between acquiescing to a Jewish interest, and
>simply rejecting a bad idea. This is where the sense of
>insecurity became much stronger.
>Because Jews aren't really a 'minority'
>* At this conference, there was consensus around the idea that
>certain groups should be given preferential treatment: people
>of color, gays and lesbians, women, and youth. The steering
>committee was formed with this in mind, as each group had a
>target of representation. For example, women and people of
>color should comprise 50 per cent, and if not - special
>actions could be taken. Groups not targeted in this manner
>include immigrants, religious folk, and low/high socioeconomic
>* When Jews are out and about in a highly visible manner as
>Jews, they confound expectations. Jews who are invisible, or
>who distance themselves from a Jewish constituency ("I'm not
>like those other Jews..."), are accepted without reservation.
>But Jews demanding to be seen as part of a Jewish community
>are seen as suspicious, as though they are tainted with the
>same kind of nationalism that makes Israel so problematic.
>* What we hear: "Why can't your religion be a personal matter?
>And if you insist on identifying demographically, why as Jews
>and not some other category (mentioned above)? And why can't
>the left be 'anti-Israel' the same way it was wholly against
>South Africa? And why can't the left be simply pro-Palestinian
>the way it was simply pro-ANC? Why do Jewish peace groups
>insist on complicating things and being a thorn in our side,
>unlike our far left wing Jewish friends who support us?"
>The UFPJ leadership
>Some leaders within UFPJ are very strategic regarding Jewish
>peace groups. They are careful about language, support our
>presence, and seek outcomes that we can live with. This needs
>to be said because it contrasts with other interactions at the
>conference. However, despite efforts to get an Israeli or
>Jewish peace camp leader to address the conference, this was
>not done. (Even worse; it was promised, but not done, and no
>Jewish group was asked for help.) The biggest difficulty seems
>to be this: UFPJ does not see a special role for the Jewish
>peace camp, and is not making an effort to work with Jewish
>peace groups in ratcheting up cooperation around Israel/
>Palestine. We hope this will change. It is very important not
>to treat the UFPJ leadership as the problem.
>There are some members of the newly elected steering committee
>who have promised to serve as a liaison between Jewish peace
>groups and UFPJ. However, this promise is as yet unfulfilled.
>We fully support UFPJ's efforts to make combating oppressions
>part of both the structure of the organization and the grander
>peace and justice movement. This is what makes our feelings of
>marginalization difficult, painful, and contradictory. We
>cannot imagine other groups being treated in this way. The
>concern with inclusiveness on the one hand, and the repeated
>hostility towards out and proud Jews on the other, needs to be
>In peace & solidarity,
>Charles Lenchner
>Malka Fenyvesi
>Additional comment by Arthur Waskow:
>In most human beings, there is a tug toward demonizing groups
>in which some members of the group have acted  hurtfully and
>destructively.   That is what Al Qaeda did when out of rage
>against some specific actions of the US government, it killed
>thousands of Americans. It is what some Americans and some
>parts of the US government did after 9/11 when they attacked,
>demeaned, imprisoned, and expelled immigrants from Arab and
>Musliom countries -- acts less lethal than 9/11 but still
>destructive.  Both of these kinds of demonization and
>dehumanization were denounced and opposed by progressive and
>antiwar groups.
>Yet some individuals, and perhaps some groups, within the
>antiwar movement have also sometimes fallen into some aspects
>of demonization and dehumanization. This has mostly been
>occasioned by or explained on the basis of certain specific
>acts of the Israeli government, but the hostility engendered
>by these acts has sometimes not been confined to the actors
>alone, but broadened to include  Israeli society as a whole or
>Jewishly focused and motivated Jews, as a whole -- even
>strongly progressive Jews who strongly oppose those actions of
>the Israeli government.
>Charles and Malka's report shows how hurtful and dangerous
>this can be -- dangerous not only to the targets, but also
>both ethically and politically to those who fall into such
>acts of demonization and dehumanization, which undermine
>efforts to find and involve new allies for progressive and
>antiwar work.
>I do not think this attitude pervades the antiwar movement in
>general, or UPJ as a whole. But I do not think that UPJ has
>been prepared to hear and vigorously respond to this syndrome.
>If this syndrome is not confronted, it may by default take on
>What should be done? I think UPJ leadership should be prepared
>not to squelch free speech inside the movement but to clearly
>and publicly  rebuke such remarks as those mentioned in
>Charles' and Malka's report above. And to act the same way if
>aspersions are made (as also happened at Chicago) on religion
>in general -- as if Martin Luther King, Martin Buber, Dorothy
>Day, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz
>were not motivated by religion.
>And I think UPJ as a whole should recognize that progressive
>Jews who work explicitly and vigorously out of Jewish values
>and identities are a "minority community" -- in numbers,
>power, and treatment -- in the progressive community, in the
>Jewish community, and in American society.
>UPJ is too valuable a gathering of opposition to let it fall
>into the dangers of demonization. We need its opposition to
>the Bushcroft policies of building empire abroad, while at
>home shifting enormous wealth to the already super-rich,
>undermining civil liberties and the labor movement, and
>shredding schools, health care, pensions, and environmental
>Shalom, Arthur
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