Will the Jewish Federation of San Francisco drive more people into the arms of BDS (boycotts, divestment and sanction)?

Judith Butler, Ronnie Gilbert and Aurora Levins Morales respond

Posted on November 16 2009 by Cecilie Surasky under BDS , Censorship.

Here is an embarrassingly McCarthyite response to the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival”s decision to a) screen the film Rachel by Jewish-Israeli filmmaker Simone Bitton, b) invite Cindy Corrie to speak and c) ask Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and the American Friends Service Committee to co-sponsor (as they have for many years).

A full-page ad complete with billowing Israeli flag and blue skies appeared this week in the San Francisco Bay Area”s Jewish newspaper, J, urging the SF Jewish Federation to pass this resolution at their November 19, 2009 board meeting:

“The S.F. Jewish Federation will not support events or organizations that demonize or defame Israel. Nor will it support organizations that partner in their events with individuals or groups that call for boycotts, divestment or sanctions (BDS) against Israel.”

Exemplifying the disproportionate role that big money plays in the institutional Jewish world, the first signer in a list of 36 is real estate investor Sanford Diller, know for his record-breaking $35 million donation to The University of California at San Francisco (UCSF). He is also a funder of well-known Islamophobe, Daniel Pipes, the Taube/Diller distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. Diller signed a prior letter in the J which he and another real estate investor, Israel 21C chair Zvi Alon, and the Hoover Institute”s Abraham Sofaer, claimed the right to determine who, essentially, is Jewish and who is not.

This is a remarkable resolution which may very well pass, even though clearly none of its authors have stopped to consider its implications. The resolution would bar Jewish Federation funding recipients from partnering not just with groups, but with individuals, who support any form of boycotts, divestment or sanctions.

Given its vague wording, if the Jewish Community Center or a campus Hillel invites anyone from Adrienne Rich to Joe Klein to Howard Zinn or Naomi Klein, or any number of Jewish and Palestinian Israelis to speak, they will lose Federation funding. It means the Jewish Film Festival can”t show any more Yes Men or Udi Aloni films. And it certainly will categorically bar countless Palestinians from ever setting foot on the stage of a Bay Area Jewish institution, lest that institution lose its funding.

In July, the ($400 million) Koret-Taube foundations wrote this error-riddled missive critical of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival:

“It is partnering with Jewish Voice for Peace and the American Friends Service Committee, two virulently anti-Israel, anti-Semitic groups that support boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israel. Both are closely associated with the International Solidarity Movement and other groups that aid and abet terror against the Jewish State. These groups cross the line for inclusion in the Jewish community. “

In a different statement, billionaire investor Warren Hellman also said the Federation would pressure the film festival to adopt new policies regarding co-presenters and guests.

So far the festival has lost 5 board members and tens of thousands of dollars in funding.

Emblematic of how the battle lines are being drawn, 3 major Jewish thinkers and artists have responded to these efforts. Judith Butler is a true academic rock star, one of the world”s sharpest thinkers on gender, power and identity. A grand dame of political folk music, Ronnie Gilbert is something of an expert on McCarthyism: she was blacklisted, along with Pete Seeger, when they were part of the bestselling singing group, The Weavers. And finally, Aurora Levins Morales, who is Latina and Jewish, is one of the most artful and wise voices anywhere on plural identities in the Jewish world. They also happen to be on the Advisory Board of Jewish Voice for Peace (sponsors of Muzzlewatch), the Jewish group that is the primary target of these efforts to ban Jews (and Quakers) from the community.

Jewish Voice for Peace advisory board members respond to efforts by the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation and others to police acceptable forms of Jewish identity and cultural expression.

By Judith Butler, Ronnie Gilbert and Aurora Levins Morales

The San Francisco Jewish Community Federation ran an ad entitled “Setting the Record Straight” in the October 16 edition of j. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California. The next week, j. printed another op-ed entitled “To heal post-“Rachel” rift, Federation needs a new policy.” As members of the Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) Advisory Board, we must respond to both of these statements.

Like the Federation, we value the contributions of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival over the past 29 years. JVP has been proud to support the Festival by co-presenting several films in recent years. The Festival has been an important cultural force in the Bay Area Jewish community precisely because of its commitment to presenting a wide variety of ideas and perspectives and its willingness to explore controversial issues. As such, it is critical that the Festival”s programming choices not be subject to undue pressure from funders.

We are therefore dismayed that the Federation is attempting to put constraints on the Festival”s choice of speakers and co-presenters, in order to stop them from choosing Jewish Voice for Peace and the pacifist Quaker group, the American Friends Service Committee, as co-presenters in the future.

Furthermore, in the October 23 j. op-ed, three individuals set themselves up as a Jewish community version of the House Un-American Activities Committee, demanding a blacklist for alleged “anti-Israel” organizations.

Jewish Voice for Peace is an organization of Jews working for peace, security, justice, and human rights for both Israelis and Palestinians. We believe that ending the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is the only way to achieve a just peace and is in the best interests of Israelis and Jews everywhere. These beliefs are shared by thousands of Bay Area Jews, and hundreds of thousands of Jews across the U.S and around the globe. It is unacceptable for the Federation, an organization that claims to promote “mutual respect and accommodation of diversity within Jewish life,” to attempt to shut out our organization and the large and growing segment of the Bay Area Jewish community that JVP represents.

Netanyahu has thumbed his nose at Obama”s request for a settlement freeze, and his foreign minister, a West Bank settler, refuses to participate in the peace process. It is not realistic to expect this government to make any meaningful moves toward peace without outside pressure. The boycott/divestment/sanctions movement (BDS) encompasses a variety of tactics and targets, and people of good will do disagree about their use. We at JVP are not of one mind about this movement. But we all agree that boycott/divestment/sanctions is a non-violent approach to applying pressure on the Israeli government. And we believe that no one should be demonized for using nonviolent forms of protest in the effort to change policy, especially policy as deadly serious as this.

For too long, our community institutions such as the Federation have remained silent in the face of ever-growing Israeli settlement expansion, human rights abuses and other policies which have created major obstacles to peace. For too long, their “support for Israel” has in practice meant tacit support for policies that undermine the cause of peace and security, endangering both Israelis and Palestinians.

JVP”s 90,000 supporters include countless individuals of all ages who play vital roles in upholding and strengthening a diverse and dynamic Jewish community through their participation in religious life, culture, academia and politics. And our numbers are growing. We reject this attempt to isolate and silence the growing number of U.S. Jews who see our work as an important expression of Jewish values. We invite members of the Jewish community who believe in full equality for all people to join us. We urge all those who disagree with our beliefs or our tactics to recognize that ethical debate is part of our tradition, and to embrace the full breadth and diversity of Jewish identity, thinking and expression. Finally, we invite all Jews, whether or not you agree with us, to defend freedom of expression in our community as an essential part of any lasting solution.

Judith Butler is Professor of Comparative Literature and Rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley.

Ronnie Gilbert is an American folk singer and writer, and was a member of the singing group the Weavers with Pete Seeger. The Weavers were blacklisted in the 50s.

Aurora Levins Morales is a poet, essayist, community historian and activist.

A small number of wealthy machers can use their economic clout to try to determine Jewish morality, but in the end they will fail, and they will have no one to blame but themselves. This McCarthyite behavior is exactly what radicalizes Jews, young and old alike, and send us screaming into the arms of the comparatively more thoughtful, moral and nuanced promoters of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.

When institutional Jewry”s so-called leaders stand so brazenly against the entire human rights world, as they have time and time again; when they plug their ears while singing “nah nah nah nah” as more and more land and lives are taken; when they fight every mild effort to get Israel to stop its settlement expansion and repression of Palestinians and, increasingly, Israeli human rights activists, what exactly do they expect?

That good, decent, compassionate people who care deeply about equality and justice for both Palestinians and Israelis, will shut up and go away? No, we will escalate our nonviolent methods.
You, Jewish leaders, have left us no choice. You started the BDS movement. Only you can stop it.

Trying to ban free speech and free thought; trying to ignore Israel”s continued egregious violations of human rights and its march towards the right; trying to fight any and all forms of criticism and truth-telling only sends more people to the other side. When will you understand that? Instead, consider choosing to build a world in which both Palestinians and Israelis have the same rights and opportunities. That would be, without doubt, good for the Jews.

-Cecilie Surasky
Jewish Voice for Peace, Muzzlewatch

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