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Be wary of groups claiming to seek ‘justice’

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Students for Justice in Palestine holds a rally in Wellington, New Zealand, in 2014. WILLIAM STADTWALD DEMCHICK PHOTO

We live in a remarkable time. Roughly 120 years ago, after 19 centuries of exile, the Jewish People began to return to our homeland in large numbers. For almost as long, leaders of the Palestinian Arabs, who had lived under Turkish rule since the 15th century and came under British rule in 1918, have resisted the return of the Jews.

All of us living today were born into this ongoing conflict, which continues, with no end in sight. On June 16, Hadas Malka, a young border policewoman working in Jerusalem, was ambushed by residents of the Palestinian village of Deir Abu Mash’al. On June 17, Malka was buried at a funeral attended by thousands of Israelis. At the same time, the village of Deir Abu Mash’al, located in area B, 24 kilometres northwest of Ramallah, was closed off, as Israeli troops investigated the murder. Residents rioted and Israel Defence Forces fired on the rioters with rubber bullets and live ammunition. Several arrests were made and several injuries were reported among the rioters.

Israelis have to deal with the murderous activities of Palestinians who enter Israel, legally and illegally, on an almost daily basis. Just as frequently, Palestinians have to deal with the consequences of these acts, when areas under the day-to-day rule of the Palestinian Authority come under the temporary control of Israeli troops, and other Palestinians lose their permits to enter Israel.

As Jews and Zionists, we want Israel to live in peace. And we want the government of Israel to act justly toward all of its citizens and everyone else who falls under its jurisdiction. We want Israel to conduct itself honourably as a member of the international community.

Hadas Malka ISRAEL POLICE PHOTO

Stipulating this, we are confronted with other groups that also claim to be for peace and justice. Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) was founded in 1993 at the University of California, Berkeley. It now has chapters on college campuses throughout North America and New Zealand. Its website identifies its goals as supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign, dismantling of the separation wall and returning Palestinian refugees and their descendants to Israel.

SJP has been sanctioned over the years, due to the behaviour of its members. At Northeastern University in Boston, the group was banned for a year in 2014 for “intimidation” of students. Readers may be familiar with incidents in which members of SJP disrupted presentations by speakers on university campuses. The CJN reported on an incident at York University in Toronto in 2009, in which Jewish students were trapped in the Hillel office by SJP supporters who started banging on the doors. Recently, SJP supporters at Ryerson University in Toronto tried to prevent the Student Society from voting to participate in Holocaust Memorial Week.

Justice is a complicated concept. For Plato, it meant that Philosophers should rule. For most of us, it means equality before the law. It is frustrating to see groups that engage in violence and intimidation claiming to stand for justice.

It is important to understand that by putting the word “justice” in its name, the SJP is preempting the argument. It doesn’t call itself Students for BDS. That would require its member to defend the idea and show why they think it is just. Instead, its name suggests (and its rhetoric openly states) that those who don’t support BDS are against justice for Palestinians. It is important to recognize this rhetorical trick and push back against it. Supporting Israel’s right to determine how best to confront its enemies, and how to control its borders, is not at all the same thing as being against justice for Palestinians.

Just as most of us support justice, most of us know that Israel wants peace. Israel maintains a large standing army for self-defence, not because it seeks war. What then to make of the organization called Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP)? Does its name fairly describe its mission?

‘Just as most of us support justice, most of us know that Israel wants peace’

JVP describe its mission as seeking peace and justice for Palestinians and for Israeli Jews. However, all of its online material focuses on what it sees as wrongdoing by Israel. The group states that viewing the conflict in Israel as a conflict over land is false. According to JVP, it’s a case of a powerful people oppressing a powerless one. The group describes the occupation as a system for depriving Palestinians of their rights, but doesn’t acknowledge that the occupation came about as a result of violence against the Israelis. JVP endorses BDS and works closely with SJP on university campaigns to boycott Israel.

JVP claims to oppose all violence against civilians. At the recent JVP national membership meeting, the keynote speaker was Rasmeah Odeh, who confessed to, and was sentenced for, a Jerusalem supermarket bombing that killed two Israeli students. JVP celebrated this terrorist on its website as a feminist and human rights advocate. It argued that accusing Palestinians of terrorism is a form of persecution and that Odeh’s story is inseparable from Israel apartheid. Odeh claims that her confession was false, but her co-conspirator, Aisha Odeh, described her role in the bombings in a 2004 documentary.

While JVP claims to be for peace, one must look at its actions and its rhetoric to see if this is a true description. JVP’s support for the BDS campaign, for coercive measures against Israel and its use of the “apartheid” libel reveals its true agenda, which is the demonization and delegitimization of Israel. Putting all the blame on one side in a conflict is no way to promote peace.

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