On March 11-13, a small conference of around 200 gathered on the University of Pennsylvania campus in Philadelphia with potential significance extending far beyond its modest attendance. This was the national membership meeting of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), a group founded in San Francisco in 1996 that, in the wake of the siege of Gaza in late 2008, has aggressively grown into a national organization with 27 local chapters and seven full time staff.
The meeting and its discussions were closed to the press (though this writer was in attendance), but this only highlights the newsworthiness of the meeting in itself. Late last year, the Anti-Defamation League named JVP on a list it released of the “Top Ten Anti-Israel Groups in America,” and since then well-known members of the group have in some cases been met with violence or threats of violence, particularly on the west coast, and lesser forms of intimidation from various Jewish community leaders.
The furor with which JVP is greeted by the official Jewish community centers largely around the group’s outspoken identification with the movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against the Israeli occupation (increasingly known by the acronym “BDS”). There have been principled objections to this movement from some who cannot be accused of being apologists for Israel. Michael Desch wrote a penetrating critique of the movement and its effectiveness for The American Conservative in the spring of 2010, and among those who were quoted approvingly in that article was Rabbi Arthur Waskow.