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September 13, 2017 3:09 pm

Who’s Bankrolling Jewish Voice for Peace’s New Anti-Israel Campaign?

avatar by Miriam F. Elman


Muhlenberg College students leaving for a Birthright Israel trip. Photo: Facebook via Hillel: Taglit-Birthright Israel.

Why is a highly-regarded philanthropic organization financing a radical, anti-Israel extremist group that is now campaigning to shut down the largest and most successful Jewish educational endeavor on the planet?

On June 22, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) awarded the California-headquartered Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) a second grant for general support for its operations.

The two-year award, totaling $140,000, is meant to assist JVP’s program goal of advancing a “just and durable peace” in the Middle East. The grant is an indication of RBF’s confidence in JVP’s leadership and its activities. It brings the RBF’s contribution to JVP’s “peacebuilding” efforts to a respectable $280,000 (an earlier $140,000 grant for the same program goal was awarded back in 2015).

Funding a constituency for peace is laudable. But by financing JVP, the reality is that the RBF is supporting anti-Israel demonization and antisemitic activism that is actually contributing to the intractability of the Middle East conflict.

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JVP enables, legitimizes and mainstreams antisemitism by providing a façade and veneer of Jewish legitimacy for the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement — among other things. Appropriating the language of human rights and social justice causes, JVP presents itself as an organization committed merely to ending Israel’s “occupation” and to advancing civil liberties and democracy through non-violent means. But its tactics and affiliations tell a very different story.

The truth is that JVP’s leadership and activists promote and uplift killers of Jews, and stand proudly with heinous terrorists; they partner with extremists individuals who delegitimize Israel, while propagating negative stereotypes of Jews; they usurp Jewish holidays and faith-based traditions in order to vilify Israel as a violent outlaw state; they bully, harass and ostracize Jews who identify with Zionism; they work to deflect allegations of antisemitism by always claiming that they, “as Jews,” support their racist allies; and they openly produce anti-Jewish propaganda and traffic in age-old antisemitic canards and tropes about Jewish money and power.

JVP advances this virulently anti-Israel and anti-Jewish agenda via a relentless series of heavily-hyped national campaigns. It’s most recent initiative — called “Deadly Exchange” — which was rolled out this spring and revamped over the summer, blames Israel and major Jewish American organizations for policing problems in minority communities, including police shootings. JVP’s program thus sets Jews up as part of, and the driving force behind, a white supremacist power structure oppressing people of color.

Fast on the heels of this repugnant campaignJVP’s latest initiative — “#ReturnTheBirthright” — takes aim at Taglit-Birthright Israel, an organization that, since 1999, has sponsored short trips to Israel for 18-26 year-old Jews. These trips are aimed at strengthening these young people’s Jewish identity and connection to Israel.

What’s more, the timing of JVP’s campaign isn’t random. JVP is trying to convince young Jews not to sign up for Birthright Israel trips at the very moment that college students across America are returning to campus — and registration for winter Birthright visits are underway.

Basically, JVP’s latest campaign openly and brazenly targets a popular college study abroad program, in an attempt to stop American-Jewish youth from participating in a rewarding educational opportunity that enables them to engage with their peers overseas.

JVP wants American-Jewish youth to boycott a way of learning about their heritage. Instead, the group is encouraging these college kids to go on any one of 47 “alternative tours” to Israel and the West Bank. These trips include tours with outfits with innocuous sounding names, such as the International Solidarity Movement and Green Olive Tours. But none of these organizations are benign. In fact, most of them are vehemently anti-Israel organizations that support the global BDS movement, and work to isolate, delegitimize and demonize the Jewish state. They deliver anti-Israel propaganda while egging on tourists to clash with Israel’s police and security forces at checkpoints and at Palestinian protests.

Taglit-Birthright is a hugely successful program that builds up a life-long love of Jewish life, and a deepened connection to Israel for those who take these trips. In nearly 20 years, the program has brought more than 600,000 Jewish young adults to Israel. They’ve come from 67 countries (including 50 US states) and from nearly 1,000 colleges. While in-country, 80,000 Israeli peers have connected with them during the visits.

Indeed, it’s because Birthright is so effective in fostering a generally favorable view of Israel that JVP is now targeting it with a malicious campaign, which distorts the many scholarly studies that have measured Birthright’s impact. JVP unfairly accuses the program of bias, even though multiple studies have shown that Birthright doesn’t move participants to the political right.

For JVP, honoring Jewish values has long meant working to erase the Jewish state. It finds Birthright anathema to its goals precisely because in JVP’s bizarre rendition of Judaism, the love of Zion is excised and the land of Israel isn’t related to Jewishness. “Return the Birthright” is obnoxious, but after years of malicious anti-Israel campaigns, it comes as no surprise for JVP.

The only real question is why a renowned and storied philanthropy, which admirably professes to care deeply about contributing to human understanding and a more peaceful and sustainable world, is nonetheless willing to finance a radical, fringe group that’s obsessed with diluting support for Israel within the American Jewish community and the US public at large.

Strangely, despite all the good that it does elsewhere, the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation seems to continue to have little problem in giving its money to a gang of racists who hold positions that are the very opposite of justice, dignity and human rights.

(Note: the above column is excerpted from “Rockefeller Brothers Fund finances Jewish Voice for Peace as it launches new anti-Israel campaign” in Legal Insurrection, which was originally published on September 10, 2017. Click here for the full article).

Miriam F. Elman is an associate professor of political science and the Robert D. McClure professor of teaching excellence at the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs, Syracuse University. She frequently speaks and writes on the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) anti-Israel movement. Follow her on Twitter @MiriamElman.

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