Chicago Jews protest Jewish United Fund for CPD collaboration
Members of the Chicago chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace and the new, social justice-oriented Jewish congregation Tzedek Chicago rallied outside the headquarters of the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago Thursday evening, protesting what they described as the JUF’s “role in enabling racist police violence by brokering the relationship between the Chicago Police Department and the Israeli military.”
The action, called for as part of a series targeting racism and Islamophobia during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, highlighted what the organizers identified as systemic racism and a record of violence in both Israeli and U.S. societies.
The JUF, the non-profit fundraising and giving arm of the Chicago Jewish Federation, bills its activities as primarily philanthropic and concerned with social welfare. In recent years, however, it has facilitated numerous visits by Chicago police officers and law enforcement to Israel. The trips include conferences on “homeland security” and the Chicago cops on the junkets are drawn from areas of expertise such as counter-terrorism, SWAT, and the “Mobile Strike Force.”
These trips to Israel are not unique to Chicago. “Israel Lobby” groups like the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs boast of having arranged for over 9,500 U.S. law enforcement officials to go to Israel. Zionist organizations and Israeli officials are explicit that they value the role the junkets play in encouraging U.S. law enforcement and policy makers to identify with Israel. An ADL leader said that after the trips, police “come back and they are Zionists.” Proponents of the exchanges argue not only that Israel’s experience is valuable for law enforcement in terms of ‘best practices’ in fighting terrorism, but that its approach to dealing with the Palestinians is relevant to the U.S. domestic and international “War on Drugs.”
The protesters argued the exchanges reveal systemic problems in both countries.
“This exchange of ‘worst practices’ reinforces racist and militaristic methods of population control, racial profiling, and secret surveillance – contributing to a police culture of systematic violence against Black and Palestinian youth,” said Tzedek Rabbi Brant Rosen in a statement announcing the protest.
Chicago has seen numerous protests in recent days following the release of dashcam footage of the 2014 police shooting of 17-year old Black Chicagoan Laquan McDonald.
Protesters have shut down traffic and called for Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other top city officials to step down in the face of what many find to be a slow and dysfunctional process of accountability, and others describe as a cover-up. JVP and Tzedek referenced this and other incidents, including the police killings of Rekia Boyd and Dominique “Damo” Franklin, as evidence of a situation akin to what the groups stand against in Palestine, where Amnesty International says that in numerous cases “Palestinians were deliberately shot dead by Israeli forces when they posed no imminent threat to life, in what appear to have been extrajudicial executions.”
The protest organizers called on Jews to stand with Black demands for “an end to ‘business as usual’” and to hold institutions like the JUF “accountable to the community it purports to represent.” At the action, JVP and Tzedek members accused the JUF of being out of line with their values and will, as members of the Jewish community. A Tzedek member speaking at the demonstration said that “the path of militarization historically spelled disaster for the Jewish people,” and described the JUF’s participation in the exchanges as a “shanda,” the Yiddish term for a shame or disgrace, especially one that reflects badly on Jews at large.
The Chicago action is part of a series called for by Jewish Voice for Peace during the eight days of Hanukkah. The purpose is “to challenge state-sanctioned Islamophobia and racism and to call for the United States to welcome refugees.” In cities across the country, JVP members held up eight signs depicting candles and dedicating each night of the holiday to a different call for Jewish community action against racism and Islamophobia. The messages ranged from combatting rising hate speech to standing against state policies including War on Terror militarism and surveillance and racist police profiling and brutality.
Muslim leaders have described the recent level of Islamophobic rhetoric and incidents as “unprecedented.” The year which began with the terrorist attacks on the offices of French publication “Charlie Hebdo” saw a larger ISIS attack kill over 130 Parisians this November. While Islamophobia and racist bias have long been problems facing the US Muslim community and were severely aggravated after 2001 in the context of 9/11 and the US “War on Terror,” only in the past few years has the Western world seen the rise of mass based Islamophobic political movements, such as the anti-immigrant PEGIDA in the EU and Germany and now the presidential campaign of billionaire celebrity Donald Trump. Trump, who has now called for the nationwide registration of Muslims and a ban on Muslim immigration, appears to be carving out a profile for himself in the Republican field as the most hostile to immigrants and Muslims. Analysts argue that the rise in hate incidents is not purely reactive to terror attacks, but is correlated to organized Islamophobic agitation such as the local campaigns against the construction of Mosques in Tennessee and Massachusetts
Chicago’s JVP chapter has targeted the Jewish United Fund before: during the 2014 Israeli assault on Gaza they interrupted a fundraising banquet attended by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Israeli politician Michael Oren. This October, they organized demonstrationsagainst the annual conference of the Jewish National Fund, a Zionist organization founded to purchase land in Ottoman Palestine which administers 13% of Israeli territory to this day. While JNF describes its work in humanitarian and conservationist terms, and is widely known for collecting money to plant trees in Israel, JVP pointed out the racial exclusivity of JNF holdings and their role in “greenwashing” Palestinian loss of land, accusing them of “planting trees to uproot people.”