Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

"We're Not Waiting," Say 600 Participants in JVP National Meeting

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

"We're Not Waiting," Say 600 Participants in JVP National Meeting

Article excerpt

In a gathering marked by "enormous urgency and solemnity," as their executive director characterized it, a sold-out crowd of some 600 advocates of long-overdue justice for the Palestinians gathered in the Hyatt Regency at Harbor Place in Baltimore, MD March 13-15, for the biennial National Membership Meeting of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). They proudly proclaimed the meeting's theme: "We're Not Waiting."

Even more on their minds than Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's recent address to a joint session of Congress was Israel's egregious 51-day assault on Gaza seven months earlier, with its unspeakable brutality and wanton destruction of human lives, homes, schools and infrastructure. In her opening remarks at the start of the three-day meeting JVP executive director Rebecca Vilkomerson called Gaza "the tension we're all holding that I want to name."

Since its founding in 2004, Jewish Voice for Peace has grown into a national organization with tens of thousands of followers and 65 chapters throughout the U.S. Significantly, 25 of those chapters have been established since Israel's assault on Gaza last summer.

Despite its name, JVP welcomes all U.S. residents as members, although the great majority of those participating in the national meeting-probably at least 500 of the 600 in attendance-were proudly and unabashedly Jewish, and there to act on their deeply held "Jewish values."

A key feature of the JVP national meeting was the impressive number of participatory workshops-more than 50 in number. Topics included "Assaults on Academic Freedom," "Messaging and Media," "Brass Tacks and Tough Questions about JVP's Future," "Starting a Conversation about the Nakba" and "Let's Talk about Zionism." Of special interest to attendees were the workshops linking racial and ethnic discrimination and military and police violence in the U.S. against African Americans and Hispanics, with the institutional discrimination and violence taking place in the occupied territories and in Israel itself. Such workshops included "From the Southwest Border to Palestine: Occupation, Militarization, and Resistance" and "Organizing Against Islamophobia and the Intersection with Israeli Politics."

The well-attended "#BlackLivesMatter: From Solidarity to Liberation" workshop was led jointly by Palestinian activist Ahmad Abuznaid, a U.S.-educated lawyer born in East Jerusalem who co-founded Dream Defenders, and African American Aja Monet, a noted poet and stage performer born in Brooklyn, New York. Many other workshops and four of the six plenary sessions included African-American and/or Palestinian speakers.

Other workshops explored issues within the American Jewish pro-Palestinian-justice community. These included the "Jews of Color Caucus: Racism in the Progressive Jewish Community," "Beyond the Jewish Non-Profit Philanthropic Complex" and "Demarginalizing/Decolonizing Sephardi and Mizrahi Lives." Caucuses on the intra-Jewish theme included "'Wherever You Go I Will Go: A Caucus for Jews-by-Choice" and "Non-Jewish Allies in JVP."

Still other workshops explored practical aspects of the task of ending the occupation, such as "The Art and Science of Effective Messaging: How We Can Talk about Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions" and "Imagining the Future of a One-State with the Baltimore One-State Solution Working Group."

Rev. Dr. Heber Brown III Details Discriminatory Treatment

The voices and views of 16 plenary speakers and plenary session moderators were heard: Jewish Americans, Jewish Israelis, Palestinians and African Americans. Keynoter Rev. Dr. Heber Brown III, the dynamic African-American senior pastor of Baltimore's Pleasant Hope Baptist Church, emphasized during Friday evening's plenary the discriminatory treatment from customs officials he endured at Israel's Ben-Gurion Airport on his 2010 trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories with Interfaith Peace Builders. "I was the only black man in my group," he explained. …

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