Extra – Hold the front page!
It’s obviously the silly season and the JC is short on news. Having been ignored for months on end JfJfP now makes the front page and a leading article on page 2 by Jeremy Newmark, chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council as the JC reveals that we had a debate at our ‘recent’ annual meeting (it was two-and-a-half months ago, in May) on the question of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. You can even read the full results of our signatories’ survey on the JC website!
Much of the report is factual but presented in as distorted a light as possible. We are as usual incorrectly referred to as ‘the anti-israel organisation’, ‘anti-zionist’ (JfJfP being neither of these), that we want to ’cause maximum damage to Israel by extending boycotts’, that JfJfP leaders reportedly worked with the PSC leadership to cripple (a) motion’ against working with a group run by Holocaust deniers…. and that we are ‘the useful idiots at JfJfP’ who give PSC political cover.
We will of course submit a response. But don’t hold your breath. The JC has consistently shown itself unwilling to allow our voice to be heard unmediated and undistorted and we expect no less on this occasion.
Richard Kuper, Information and Policy Officer, JfJfP
In case you have difficulty finding the materials on the Jew Chronicle website, here are the two relevant articles by Leon Symons and Jeremy Newmark:
Leon Symons, 30 July 2009
The JC has revealed plans developed by Jews For Justice For Palestinians (JFJFP) to cause maximum damage to Israel by extending boycotts.
At the anti-Israel organisation’s recent annual meeting, activists discussed a survey of its members which showed clear support for a comprehensive boycott. More than 400 JFJFP activists responded to the survey.
The meeting considered three options, based on the survey results: “1. That we maintain our present position; 2. That we will consider, on a case-by-case basis, smart boycotts against the occupation; 3. That we will consider, on a case-by-case basis, smart boycotts but
not restricted to the occupation.”
The meeting voted for the third option, which would enable JFJFP to initiate or support boycotts of all Israeli goods and services.
In a letter sent to members on Monday, after the meeting, the executive recommends option two, which would widen the group’s activities beyond its current focus on the settlements to taking in everything connected to what it terms the “occupation”.
This would mean boycotting companies, goods and services that could be shown to be connected directly to the Occupied Territories. That would include targeting those who refuse to say whether or not they worked in the Occupied Territories.
In explaining the detail of this option, the JFJFP executive say: “By targeting Israel’s policy of colonisation, this also avoids the accusation — important for an organisation like JFJFP — of being anti-Israel.”
Recommending option two, the executive say it is, among other things, best “for minimising the inevitable misrepresentation of our position in such a way as to make work directed at those who belong to Jewish communal organisations much harder than it is at present”.
The survey shows that the executive is worried about the impact of adopting a wider boycott strategy on the group’s reputation among Jews. Question two asks: “Do you think adopting a broader boycott position would make JFJFP more, or less, attractive to Jews in Britain who take issue with Israeli policy but have not chosen to express that concern by becoming a JFJFP signatory?”
Two-hundred and forty seven out of the 417 respondents said they thought JFJFP would be much less attractive. Another 96 stayed neutral.
JFJFP currently supports a ban on the importation of all settlement produce and claims it was “a very significant contributor to the process whereby the UK government strongly objected to the mislabelling of goods produced in the occupied Palestinian territories”.
It also supports the boycott of companies such as Caterpillar, which it says is “involved in home demolitions and the destruction of, for example, olive groves in order to build the barrier”.
It backs the boycott of companies involved in supporting settlements and demands “an end to the sale of arms to Israel and any purchase of arms or security equipment from Israel”.
The meeting also included a series of workshops exploring how anti-Israel activists should respond to various situations, using recent events as the basis for discussion.
These included the Zionist Federation’s hire of the Bloomsbury Theatre, the Edinburgh Film Festival’s acceptance of Israeli sponsorship and the announcement of a Leonard Cohen concert in Israel.
The revelation that Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JFJFP) is reviewing its policy on boycotts of Israel is no surprise. Until now, JFJFP has flaunted its non-policy on boycotts; it supported occasional campaigns against Israeli-linked companies, while indulgently appearing on the “anti” side of public debates on an academic boycott. As with almost every issue of substance, such as a commitment to a two-state solution, JFJFP preferred to fudge on a boycott.
But this year, after their annual conference voted to actively support boycotting Israel, JFJFP’s leadership decided to survey their members, to discover their views on the subject.
(Oddly, JFJFP’s so-called members include anyone who has ever signed any version of their declaration. Less than a third of these responded to the survey, a self-selecting group rather than a proper sample.)
The results are clear. Fifty-nine per cent of JFJFP members support a total boycott of Israeli goods, 61 per cent support divestment from any company that invests in Israel, and half want a boycott on tourism to Israel.
So why has JFJFP not come out in support of these policies? The answer is revealed by the next survey question — 60 per cent of JFJFP members acknowledge that adopting a public boycott position would discourage other Jews who are critical of Israel’s policies from joining their organisation. They know it would frighten the horses, so have generally kept their extreme views hidden to encourage more recruits.
Why the change of policy now? At their annual conference, JFJFP ran a workshop on boycotts where they discussed a number of real-world examples. Reading through these examples is instructive. All of them involved another organisation — such as the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) — asking JFJFP to join an existing boycott move.
It seems like this is a regular occurrence; when anti-Israel activists start a campaign, they call up the useful idiots at JFJFP or Neturei Karta for political cover. Perhaps JFJFP had begun to feel bad at saying “no” too often, or perhaps they were worried that they were out of step with the rest of the anti-Israel world, concerned that their loyalty to the cause is being questioned.
Anti-Zionist Jews are accepted by the anti-Israel movement so long as they are more zealous and extreme than anyone else; a Jewish pro-Palestinian group that won’t lead the boycott campaign will be treated by groups like the PSC with the lurking suspicion that they aren’t really “one of us”.
This costs JFJFP credibility in the internecine internal politics of the Jewish anti-Zionist world, credibility that it had to work hard to attain in the first place. In March 2007, another such group — Jews Against Zionism — put a motion to PSC’s conference to stop the PSC working with a group run by Holocaust deniers. JFJFP leaders reportedly worked with the PSC leadership to cripple the motion.
There is now little doubt that JFJFP stands poised to join the movement to boycott Israeli goods, sports teams, theatre groups and even holidays. JFJFP itself is a fringe group with no real traction in the Jewish community or the wider world, but its change in stance is important; it is another sign that the debate around Israel is shifting, that it’s becoming impossible for a group to be seen as pro-Palestinian unless it’s pro-boycott. This shift doesn’t help Palestinians at all, it impacts upon the Jewish community, and it contributes to the creeping delegitimisation of Israel.
In recent years, as the agenda of their leadership has been exposed, respected Jewish campaigners for Palestinian rights such as Norman Geras, David Hirsh, John Strawson and Linda Grant have distanced themselves from JFJFP. So the real question for the remaining signatories to JFJFP’s declaration must be: was this what you signed up for? If not, what are you going to do about it?
Jeremy Newmark is the chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, and on the board of the Fair Play Campaign Group, which opposes boycotts that target the people and supporters of Israel.