Stefanie Fox picked a good week to visit the Twin Cities to launch a local chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace (www.jewishvoiceforpeace.org).
While Fox, JVP’s national organizer, was making a presentation in Saint Paul, across the river in Minneapolis, the Presbyterian Church USA gave overwhelming approval to a proposal calling upon the U.S. government to cut off aid to Israel unless it ceases its settlement expansions in the Occupied Territories.
Coming hard on the heels of the Goldstone Report and the uproar over the recent terrorist assault on the Gaza flotilla, the proposal is further evidence that the self-censorship that has stifled any kind of open debate in this country over our “special relationship” with Israel is beginning to fray.
But there’s still lots of work to be done, which is why Fox came to spend a couple of days in Minnesota.
JVP is building local chapters and one of its top targets is Minneapolis-St. Paul, for reasons Fox explained to me during a conversation at Gingko’s coffee shop the day after her presentation.
“In the Twin Cities, there is a long history of progressive activism and it would be foolish for us not to be involved here,” she said. She also pointed out that some 800 people on JVP’s nationwide email list of 100,000 activists live in the Twin Cities.
Jewish Voice for Peace got its start about 20 years ago in the Bay area and went national in 2003. Its most public face is on the Internet; the group is currently spearheading an online petition campaign to convince pension-fund giant, TIAA-CREF, to divest from corporations that profit directly from the Occupation; to date, the petition has gathered some 6,000 signatures.
This tactic reflects the Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) strategy now being pursued by Middle East peace organizations around the world.
BDS seeks to replicate the pressure that brought down apartheid in South Africa, only this time against Israel. BDS is also the goal of the Minnesota Break the Bonds campaign and is supported by other local peace groups like the Coalition for Palestinian Rights. It is being taken seriously enough by the Israeli government and its U.S. backers that, in a twisted chain of logic, it is being equated with denial of Israel’s right-to-existence – and therefore with “terrorism.”
It’s a linkage that worries Fox – but that isn’t going to stop her and her fellow Jewish activists from speaking truth to power.
“We know that when something is framed as a threat to Israel’s security, all bets are off,” she observed. “It is alarming to think that non-violent protestors might be targeted in this way.
“But that’s not stopping folks as far as I can tell. The power of BDS in response to the daily violence of the occupation speaks much more loudly than any attempts at muzzling us.”
At the same time, she and other activists know that the “daily violence of the occupation” can only continue so long as the United States goes on lavishing political, military, and, above all, financial support on Israel.
We hear about the $3-plus billion in direct aid Israel receives from us each year, but the true value of our aid goes far beyond even that overweening sum.
In 1980, the State Department commissioned a study of the total value of all direct and indirect U.S. aid to Israel. The study was spiked by the Reagan administration and only later released in a highly redacted form. Even so, the document revealed that the combined amount of U.S. assistance to Israel in the form of direct aid, forgiven loans, special trade deals, tax deductions claimed by Americans donating to Israeli organizations, and other subventions actually added up to some $20 billion a year. And that was in 1980. We can safely assume that the total is much higher now.
At a time when we are closing schools and libraries, forcing American students to pay higher and higher tuitions, and telling our long-term unemployed to take a hike, the continuation of this kind of assistance to any foreign nation would be insupportable – no matter what the circumstances. That it should be ladled out to a nation that spies on us, defies our arms export control laws, ignores UN resolutions and is guilty of wholesale humans rights violations and war crimes, is beyond insupportable. It is unconscionable – and inconceivable if the recipient were any other nation in the world.
It is has long been clear that the only way this insanity can be stopped is if enough American Jews – people of conscience, acting in the best tradition of Jewish teaching and history – resist attempts to silence dissent by national Jewish organizations and step forward to say “No more. Not in my name.” The appearance of groups like JVP – and the work of activists like Stefanie Fox – give reason to hope that, however slowly and painfully, we will perhaps one day be able to reach that goal.