Jewish Voice for Peace is ‘All In’ for Palestinian Human Rights
Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) held their National Membership Meeting in Chicago this past weekend at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place.
The meeting was attended by approximately 1,000 members and allies and its finale featured activists such as Rasmea Odeh and Linda Sarsour, the Executive Director of The Arab American Association of New York and one of the main organizers of the Women’s March on Washington.
Deputy Director of JVP National Rabbi Alissa Wise spoke alongside Odeh, Sarsour and minister Nyle Fort during the “All In” themed finale.
Wise has been a Palestine solidarity activist since 1999 when she spent a year at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She, like many American Jews, was raised as a Zionist. She grew up believing that Palestine was a “land without a people for a people without a land.” On her first day on campus in Jerusalem, however, she witnessed a protest about an occupation of which she had never heard, and Palestinian protesters carrying a flag she had never seen. The year that followed, “consisted of unlearning and relearning” everything she thought she knew about Israel.
As it pertains to American-Jewish perceptions of Israel, Wise believes that there is a steady shift happening.
“There is no doubt that the Jewish community is profoundly divided on this issue, more so than it has ever been,” Wise stated. “The myth of Israel as a land without a people for a people without a land just doesn’t fly… Israel being the only democracy in the Middle East doesn’t fly. A lot of young Jews have strong progressive values and when you see the actions especially of the Bibi administration…It’s no surprise that young Jews are saying wait a minute, it doesn’t square.”
Wise believes the rise of Trump in the context of the U.S.-Israel alliance illuminates the values shared by the U.S. and Israel.
There was extreme backlash to the National Membership Meeting especially pertaining to the inclusion of Odeh as one of the speakers. The Israeli Ministry of Public Security issued a statement against JVP calling the meeting “The JVP Hate Conference.”
“The accusations against Odeh stem from a context of long-standing anti-Palestinian and anti-Muslim persecution by both the Israeli state and the United States, policies which are escalating under the Trump administration. In the 50 years of Israeli occupation, an estimated 750,000 Palestinians have been detained by Israeli security forces–constituting approximately 20% of the total Palestinian population. And the rate of conviction for Palestinians in Israel’s military courts is a staggering 99.74%, according to the military’s own statistics,” JVP responded in a statement.
Wise emphasized that JVP stands against torture and sexual abuse. She spoke of having met Odeh and spent some time with her over the weekend. She described Odeh as “warm” and “effervescent” especially given everything she has been through.
Fort was the first to be introduced to speak by Wise. He delivered a powerful message about the personal nature of activism and the necessity for activists to not only resist oppression, but to imagine a new world altogether. Fort, who has traveled to Palestine, did so not because he could relate to oppression, but because he believes that “Palestinian Activists and Black organizers have the capacity to invent the future.” He defined “All In” as being able to “imagine the unimaginable” and having the will to fight for it.
There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when Odeh followed him up. She spoke of her family’s forced exile from Palestine in 1948 then again in 1967. Now, Odeh is being exiled once again, this time from the U.S.
To end her three year legal battle, Odeh accepted a plea deal wherein she will be voluntarily deported but, will not serve jail time. While both the U.S. and Israeli governments did their best to break her spirit, they failed as Odeh insisted during her speech that she must continue her struggle for justice.
Odeh also stated that she lives by three rules: first, she does not allow herself to despair, second, she always seeks higher education and third, she always helps further equality for women. She received a standing ovation both before and after she spoke.
Sarsour followed Odeh and defiantly articulated what many Palestinians feel.
“If what is being asked of me by those who pronounce themselves and call themselves Zionists is that I, as a Palestinian-American, have to somehow leave out a portion of my identity so you can be welcomed in a space to work on justice, then that’s not going to be the right space for you,” Sarsour said. “Because we as Palestinian-Americans, as Arab-Americans, as Muslim-Americans, we will not change who we are to make anybody feel comfortable. If you ain’t all in, then this ain’t the movement for you!”
She recently raised over $90,000 for the victims of a Jewish cemetery that was desecrated in St. Louis. She spoke of the movement for justice given the current political climate in the United States. She asserted that the movements for freedom and equality are getting louder and that the opposition is getting scared.
Even AIPAC recently had a special workshop called “What to do about Linda Sarsour,” Wise pointed out during her introduction of Sarsour.
The backlash from Zionist organizations did not deter supporters. JVP’s National Membership Meeting garnered much support from Palestinian and Jewish allies alike. Some came to deepen their understanding of the connections between Zionism and white supremacy. Others came not only to show solidarity, but also to help map out JVP’s next couple of years of social justice work which, according to Rabbi Wise, is one of the main goals of the conference.