The Antisemitism of the so-called Jewish Voice for Peace

The time has come to state facts: Jewish Voice for Peace is not a “fringe” Jewish organization. JVP is not merely “anti-Zionist.” JVP is the vanguard of a movement of far-left antisemitism. The new JVP campaign “Deadly Exchange” — which alleges a moneyed Jewish conspiracy to kill innocent Americans — reveals how far JVP has fallen down the rabbit hole.

There was already plenty of evidence of JVP’s indulgence of antisemitism. The group has offered a conspicuous lack of condemnation when Palestinian terrorists murder Jewish civilians. The supposed “Jewish Voice for Peace” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is typically silent in the wake of such attacks on Jews. When JVP does react to terrorist attacks on innocent Jews, the reactions seem nearly indifferent in contrast to JVP’s unrestrained outrage in any number of other instances. JVP has never extended solidarity to the half of the world’s Jewish population that lives in Israel, and yet it always stands ready to express their solidarity with non-Jews, even with Palestinian killers of Jews. JVP stands proudly in solidarity with the “Palestinian popular resistance,” Palestinian prisoners, and convicted PFLP supermarket bomber Rasmea Odeh. JVP has never offered such solidarity when Israeli Jews were the targets of murderous terrorists.

JVP is not in complete denial over the possibility of antisemitic anti-Zionism. At one point, JVP cut ties with Alison Weir, not exactly for being an antisemite, but for openly sharing her blood libel with white supremacists. And yet six months later JVP returned to sponsoring talks by Weir. In September 2016, JVP supported the cancelation of a talk by Miko Peled because of his antisemitic tweets. But within days JVP backtracked, claiming “we clearly made a mistake.”

Most notable about JVP, however, has been, as the ADL reported, that it “uses its Jewish identity to shield the anti-Israel movement from allegations of anti-Semitism and to provide the movement with a veneer of legitimacy.” Whenever anti-Zionist groups face allegations of antisemitism, JVP invariably races to defend them.

This is no longer a sufficient explanation of JVP’s actions. On June 4, 2017, JVP intentionally targeted a group of queer youth in a perfidious counter-protest of the Celebrate Israel Parade. The incident was covered fairly extensively in the media, and there is no particular reason to recount the full details here. What went unnoticed but nevertheless caught my eye was what was emblazoned on the JVP demonstrators’ shirts: “DEADLY EXCHANGE.”

The phrase led me to deadlyexchange.org, a JVP campaign to blame Jews for police violence in the United States. The language was written to conceal the true intentions of the campaign. JVP tells us, “the regimes of Trump and Netanyahu converge,” as if to identify linkages between the problematic policies of the two administrations. This is a theme JVP has used frequently over the past months to oppose Trump and Netanyahu as two-of-a-kind. (JVP called them “twins” and used the hashtag #NoToBoth.) But that is not what Deadly Exchange is truly about.

Deadly Exchange alleges a moneyed Jewish conspiracy to murder innocent Americans.

As with most stereotypes, there is an underlying kernel of truth. There are exchanges between U.S. and Israeli law enforcement and armed forces. There is, however, no reason that these U.S.-Israeli exchanges are unusual or especially deadly. And while the campaign superficially appeals to both sides of the exchange, the ultimate goal is to blame the Jews.

This is true in two ways. First, despite the use of “exchange” language, JVP emphasizes that these programs are a one-way street from Israel to the U.S.: “the exchange programs, which are primarily billed as opportunities for U.S. law enforcement to learn counterterrorism tactics from the Israeli military and police.” Second, JVP highlights the role of Jewish organizations (“the majority of the programs are run by Jewish organizations”) in running and funding the exchanges.

On June 28, 2017, JVP officially launched the Deadly Exchange campaign with a slick video that would make Goebbels proud.

The video opens by emphasizing how thousands of U.S. law enforcement officers and officials have traveled to Israel. On the screen is an Israeli shooting range and uniformed Israeli soldiers. Then, as an afterthought, we are told, “Israeli military personnel also travel to the U.S. to exchange tactics with police departments and state agencies.”

Despite saying “Israeli military personnel,” we are shown logos of not just the IDF but also the Israel Police parachuting into the U.S. from a military jet. And while the narrator omits any mention of American armed forces, the only images provided are in fact of the most innocuous meetings imaginable with U.S. Chiefs of Staff. One image is from a 2016 visit to Israel by Gen. Joseph Lengyel, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, to observe an IDF Home Front Command exercise that trained emergency responders to help civilians. The other image is of a 2012 meeting between then-IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz and his American counterpart Gen. Martin Dempsey. Already the video is heavily emphasizing Israel and Israeli militarism and de-emphasizing the U.S.

Next is a short montage of video of Israeli security forces overlaid with claims about both countries’ “well-documented records of violating basic human and civil rights.” Of course every state has a record of violating basic rights, and no additional details are presented. Then we are shown images of Netanyahu and Trump and told their administrations are “magnifying these human rights abuses.” The examples given are increased settlement construction in Israel, “ramping up deportations and Islamophobic travel bans in the U.S.,” and border walls. None of these, frankly, is a particularly egregious human rights violation compared to those in any number of other states. Settlement construction is technically not a human rights violation at all but rather a violation of the law of armed conflict. Border walls can have human rights repurcussions but are not unlawful in themselves.

This is followed by an explanation of “What is really being exchanged?”

First, “arms.” Sort of. The line immediately following is a Naomi Klein quotation not about weapons but about Israel serving as “the world’s shopping mall for homeland security technologies.” That is not quite “arms,” and it does not actually say anything about U.S. purchases from Israel. What the narrator then tells us is that the U.S. gives Israel $3.8 billion annually and weapons. In reality this mostly means that the U.S. gives Israel the money to buy weapons from the U.S. We are told further that these are “weapons such as tear gas used against peaceful protestors in both countries.” Alongside this we are shown b-roll from Bethlehem and Ferguson.

Notice the insidious flourish? The U.S. gives Israel tear gas. And tear gas is used against peaceful protestors in both countries. What JVP has done is to blur the lines so completely as to make a casual viewer fall into a trap. Which direction did the weapons go? Which direction did the money go? At the end of the day, the U.S. sent Israel free weapons, and the money remained in the U.S. Absence of fact, however, did not stop JVP from insinuating that Israel should be held responsible for the use of tear gas in Ferguson, which of course Israel had nothing to do with.

Worth noting too is the b-roll from Bethlehem. While the narrator insisted Israel uses tear gas against “peaceful protestors,” RT, the source of that video, tells a different story. RT describes its November 2015 footage as follows:

Clashes erupted between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian protesters in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Friday. Israeli soldiers fired tear gas at protesters who were hurling stones at soldiers and burning tires in the street. The clashes came during a period of tension and violence in the region. [emphasis mine]

Indeed, stone-throwing is clearly visible in the full clip.

Also worth nothing is that despite being a campaign about “deadly exchanges,” the most prominent example here is tear gas, which is not especially deadly. In the end, JVP offers nothing in this segment to substantiate a deadly exchange of arms.

Second, “tactics.” But not exactly. This entire segment is about “non-stop” Israeli surveillance in the occupied territories. (The narrator says “military occupation of Palestinians,” which is technically incorrect. The term “military occupation” applies only to territory, not people.) We are shown images of video surveillance. It is true that Israel conducts video surveillance of Palestinians. It is also true that Israel surveils its own streets and people. Indeed, most governments conduct “non-stop” surveillance in some form.

The idea that surveillance is part of a “deadly exchange” of tactics with the U.S. is farcical, if only because surveillance is not exactly deadly. And the only actual exchange substantiated in the video is one of surveillance technology, not tactics.

In this vein, we are told that “U.S. companies pitch in” to support Israeli surveillance of Palestinians. The screen fills with nine corporate logos.

Two of these are actually Israeli companies. Elbit Systems of America is the American subsidiary of an Israeli company. Cellebrite is an Israeli company now owned by a Japanese company. A third, G4S USA, is no more American than the U.S. subsidiary of HSBC Bank. A fourth, Urban Shield, is not a company as much as an annual emergency preparedness exercise for first responders held by various state and local government agencies in the U.S. Israel has participated over the years. So have France and Denmark.

The video singles out Hewlett Packard for developing the biometric ID cards that Palestinians must have to pass through Israeli checkpoints. While there are a number of reasons to oppose biometric ID cards, there is nothing especially unusual about them. Over 1 million Israelis also have HP’s biometric ID cards, and a new Israeli law will go into effect on July 3 to require all Israelis to use them (link; link). The narrator says Israel uses the cards at checkpoints “to collect facial, fingerprint, and retinal data,” as if Israel’s raison d’être is to creepily collect bodily data. In reality these ID cards were introduced to make it easier to Palestinians to pass through checkpoints — to reduce their interactions with Israeli soldiers and to speed up the process. Even if you find that purpose to be unconvincing, it is nonetheless disingenuous to omit it entirely.

Third, “ideology.” But the substance of this section is entirely this: “The exchange trips advance racist policies and target social justice movements as security threats.” There is nothing to support this claim, which makes it impossible to fully disprove it. Even so, there are a few things to point out. Most importantly, racist policies are not necessarily ideological. Put somewhat simplistically, one can do racist things without being a racist. Additionally, the poor grammar suggests that the exchange trips themselves “target social justice movements,” which is nonsensical. Then there are the images on the screen.

Only one, from a July 10, 2016 Black Lives Matter demonstration in Baton Rouge, shows violence. But I found no connection between that incident and Israel.

The second is from a July 27, 2015 Black Lives Matter protest in Toronto. Toronto is in Canada. Canada is not a part of the United States or Israel.

The third is from a March 7, 2015 women’s march on Qalandiya checkpoint in the West Bank. Israeli security forces did use force on the protestors, but only once the protestors approached the Israelis’ position and tried to climb a gate. The Israeli forces did not “target” the march so much as the march came to them. Otherwise the demonstration apparently progressed without incident. JVP cropped the image to cut out the woman who, despite leading the march, was busy texting.

The Deadly Exchange campaign video continues with a montage of guilt-by-association to blame Israel for the NYPD’s Islamophobic policing, the Trump administration’s increases in deportation rates, and police brutalization of black and brown communities. The assertion seems to be that counter-terrorism training programs in Israel somehow make Americans more racist. There does not seem to be much attempt to allege an assertion that this racism is “exchanged” in the other direction.

The narrator specifically mentions “former Ferguson police chief Timothy Fitch,” who attended a week-long Anti-Defamation League counter-terrorism training in Israel in 2011. Fitch retired in January 2014. The shooting of Michael Brown, which ignited the Ferguson protests, occurred in August 2014. Does any intelligent person seriously think there is a significant causal connection there?

The narrator also invokes police officers who participated in Israeli training programs before attacking protestors at Standing Rock. This seems to be completely imaginary (this is the only source on the allegation, and it boils down to “those officers and the Israelis use the same weapons and tactics so obviously they trained in Israeli settlements in the West Bank”), and in this supposedly deadly exchange the fatality count was exactly zero.

There is no actual substance to any of this, no serious attempt at a causal connection. There is only the wink wink to tell you the Jews are sowing racial discord and violence in America. The only substantive connection that this has is to Nazi ideology, which viewed Jews as a poisonous race that works to subvert race relations between other racial groups.

The narrator next asks, “Who is making this deadly exchange possible?” If there was any doubt as to the antisemitic conspiracism of the video, the narrator’s answer should remove all traces of it: Those responsible, those deserving of blame, are Jewish organizations.

JVP believes that “Jewish communal institutions should not dispatch police, ICE, and FBI agents to swap tactics with an occupying army, and ending these exchanges…” JVP intends to “hold accountable the Jewish institutions who run and fund the Deadly Exchange.”

The image of Jewish organizations as a hidden and moneyed force behind the degradation and manipulation of governments is classic antisemitism.

This video is a smear, designed to paint Jews with blood and hold Jews responsible for state violence. There is an almost total absence of substance. In place of evidence are bare-faced insinuations, misrepresentations, and alleged causation that is so attenuated as to be laughable. The world is facing serious problems of racism and significant incidents of the abuse of state power. Jewish Voice for Peace’s answer is to blame the Jews. This Deadly Exchange campaign is a bridge too far. The group is no longer struggling with an untenable position or merely covering for the antisemitism of others. It is now openly producing antisemitic propaganda. It is time for everyone opposed to antisemitism to unambiguously declare Jewish Voice for Peace to be nothing other than an antisemitic organization.