JVP Endorses Antisemitism

Israel, Durham City Council, Israel Resolution

Earlier this month, Voice4Israel published a statement explaining how the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement opposes the very existence of Israel. Now we have learned that the Triangle North Carolina chapter of the Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), true to its BDS mission of abolishing Israel, recently promoted the “Miko Peled NC Tour” on social media.

Peled promotes the idea that it is unlawful to recognize Israel and has repeatedly stated, it is “time to make Israel Palestine again.” In 2018 Peled tweeted, “Using the name ‘Israel’ legitimizes the genocide, ethnic cleansing and apartheid. If we reject those, then we must use the name ‘Palestine.'”

Progressive and conservative publications alike have rebuked Peled for antisemitic comments. For example, in 2016 the progressive Jewish Forward called-out what they described as Peled’s “string of anti-Semitic tweets.” In these tweets, Peled portrayed Jews as “sleazy thieves” and compared Israel to the Nazis. Legal Insurrection, a conservative-leaning publication, has detailed Peled’s antisemitism and anti-Zionism for years explaining, “Peled does not accept Israel’s existence. He considers all of Israel occupied territory, illegitimate, and in need of liberation.” In one of his many disturbing tweets, Peled stated, “Jews who support #Israel don’t mind the Nazi like methods of oppression.”

In 2017, Mondoweiss – one of the most anti-Israel publications on the internet – rebuked Peled for discussing free speech and the holocaust in a way that “was a major dog-whistle for all kinds of Holocaust deniers and revisionists.”

Miko Peled used this hat as his avatar on Twitter in 2016.

Mondoweiss added, “He [Peled] is quite clearly whistling to Holocaust deniers.” In a deeply troubling 2017 tweet, Peled wrote, “in fact Israelis are NOT victims of the Nazis or anyone else…”

In 2017, the British shadow secretary of the Labour Party publicly condemned Peled, saying, “We should have absolute zero tolerance when it comes to the quite disgusting and pitiful antisemitism that sadly we’re sometimes seeing on social media these days.” This is striking because the Labour Party itself has been widely accused of antisemitism.

In 2016, the Princeton Committee on Palestine — an intensely anti-Israel organization — uninvited Peled from speaking due to what they called his “anti-Semitic and hateful” statements. Even JVP’s national office and its Executive Director called Peled’s tweets antisemitic and publicly supported canceling the Princeton talk.

Voice4Israel, Miko Peled, JVP
Rebecca Vilkomerson, Executive Director of the anti-Israel group calling itself JVP, supported the cancellation of Miko Peled's talk at Princeton due to antisemtism.

Anti-Israel activists immediately began accusing JVP leadership of being closeted Zionists. The message was loud and clear – JVP’s denouncement of left wing antisemitism would not be tolerated by anti-Israel activists. A few days after condemning Peled for antisemitic language, the national office of JVP attempted to slightly walk back their criticism by saying that Peled used “reckless” language due to his “privilege.” Oddly enough, JVP never deleted their widely circulated social media posts accusing Peled of using antisemitic language.

The anti-Israel left is so disturbed by Peled’s statements that even many BDS activists have denounced what they have called his antisemitic comments. Yet, even after JVP’s national leadership and other anti-Israel groups condemned Peled for hateful and antisemtic remarks, the Triangle chapter of JVP chose to endorse Peled’s three local North Carolina speaking events in 2019.

While JVP calls itself Jewish, in reality, it is part of the antisemitic movement to boycott, divest, and sanction only Israel. In Voice4Israel’s recent statement titled BDS Attacks Come to the Triangle, we explained that the BDS movement consistently rejects the right of Israel to exist and practices antisemitism by demonizing and delegitimizing Israel, by holding Israel to double standards, and by comparing Israel to Nazi Germany. Local BDS activists refer to themselves as anti-Zionists.

Voice4Israel fully supports freedom of opinion and expression in our community. We also believe that Jewish congregations should strive to uphold their values and stated missions which include love and support of Israel. As Voice4Israel has recently pointed out, a few JVP members hold leadership roles in our local synagogues. The anti-Zionist actions and goals of JVP— which include employing antisemitic elements, embracing convicted terrorists, and endorsing hateful speakers — we feel should not be given legitimacy or a voice by our treasured Jewish institutions.

BDS Attacks Come to the Triangle

Israel, Durham City Council, Israel Resolution

What is BDS?

BDS is the movement to boycott, divest, and sanction Israel. BDS targets only one country — Israel — which is the only country with a Jewish majority population. 

During a 2019 interview, the co-founder and leader of the BDS movement, Omar Barghouti, explained that boycotting Israel would continue even after the establishment of a Palestinian state. In other words, the BDS movement denies the very right of Israel to exist.

BDS Rejects the Right of Israel to Exist

Barghouti does not hide the BDS movement’s goal: “Definitely, most definitely we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine. No Palestinian, rational Palestinian, not a sell-out Palestinian, will ever accept a Jewish state in Palestine.”

The BDS Movement website refers to the “right of return” as “the most important of all Palestinian rights.” For many BDS activists and leaders, this envisions a one state solution in which millions of Palestinians move into Israel — not into the future state of Palestine — thus eliminating Israel. In Barghouti’s own words, “If the refugees were to return, you would not have a two-state solution, you’d have a Palestine next to a Palestine.”

BDS Demonizes Israel with False Accusations of Apartheid

One of the ways BDS activists and anti-Zionists attack Israel is by the false and defamatory accusation that Israel practices apartheid. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) responds: “Arab citizens of Israel enjoy the full range of civil and political rights, including the right to organize politically, the right to vote and the right to speak and publish freely. Israeli Arabs and other non-Jewish Israelis serve as members of Israel’s security forces, are elected to parliament and appointed to the country’s highest courts. They are afforded equal educational opportunities, and there are ongoing initiatives to further improve the economic standing of all of Israel’s minorities. These facts serve as a counter to the apartheid argument, and demonstrate that Israel is committed to democratic principles and equal rights for all its citizens.”

In the New York Times column Why Israel Is Nothing Like Apartheid South Africa, a South African journalist explains, “I am acutely aware of Israel’s problems and faults, but it is nothing like South Africa before 1994. Those who accuse Israel of apartheid — some even say, ‘worse than apartheid’ — have forgotten what actual apartheid was, or are ignorant, or malevolent.”
 
Tshediso Mangope, a member of the African National Congress, explained, “The argument by BDS supporters that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be solved with a one-state solution, following the South African model of democracy, is false and dangerous. This assessment is heavily supported by my experiences in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, as well as my experiences as a black South African who experienced apartheid…Expecting people with a bitter history of persecution, like the Jewish people, to abandon the idea of a Jewish state, the only state that has guaranteed them freedom and security, is not only unreasonable, but also unfair.”
 

BDS in North Carolina

Here in North Carolina, BDS activists refer to themselves as anti-Zionists and have attacked and harmed the Jewish community. Most notably, the local chapter of the euphemistically named Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) led the campaign to have the Durham City Council pass the “Israel Resolution” which made Durham the first city in the U.S. to boycott police training specifically with Israel. 11 local rabbis referred to this as a “punch in the gut” to the Jewish community.

Tweet by local BDS organization identifying themselves as anti-Zionists.

In 2018, BDS activists led by JVP went to Durham City Hall and told the Mayor and City Council lies saying that Israel is the last country in the world to respect human rights and Israel trains U.S. police officers to return to the U.S. as killers. JVP’s petition — signed by six out of seven council members before being delivered to the Council to be turned into the “Israel Resolution” —basely alleged that training American police in Israel “helps the police terrorize Black and Brown communities here in the U.S.” 

In 2018, a local JVP leader wrote a public email to five fellow JVP members and to Mayor Pro Tempore Jillian Johnson opposing a leader of the Durham Hispanic community as a candidate for Durham City Council because the candidate, a Latino woman, attends Beth El Synagogue. Rather than distance themselves from their leader’s antisemitic email, JVP recently doubled down on hate by featuring a picture on social media of this leader attending an August, 2019 JVP leadership retreat.

BDS and Anti-Zionism in Our Jewish Institutions 

Love of Israel is a basic tenet of our mainstream Jewish institutions and synagogues. In 2018 the Union of Reform Judaism proclaimed that “Zionism and love of Israel” are “core beliefs and central tenets of North American Reform Jewish life.” The Jewish Federation of Durham-Chapel Hill explains, “We view Israel as a core element of Jewish life.” A goal of Hillel International is to “inspire every Jewish college student to develop a meaningful and enduring relationship to Israel and to Israelis.”

The BDS inspired Israel hatred in the Triangle area became very concrete when a local synagogue board member, who is a also a BDS activist in the role of a JVP leader, announced on social media that they encouraged the Durham City Council to single out Israel in its now infamous “Israel Resolution.” This BDS activist even bragged on Twitter, “I am…a leader in my synagogue.” Many community and congregation members were dismayed to find out that a synagogue leader used their status as a synagogue board member to promote BDS with local government. This same individual currently co-chairs this same synagogue’s Adult Education Committee. The past co-chair of this same committee is also a local JVP leader. Thus, the very synagogue committee that was charged with planning Israel-related programming has been led by anti-Israel activists. This committee even went so far as to publish a website with the synagogue’s picture and name linking it to anti-Israel, pro BDS materials. Thankfully this website was taken offline. With so many BDS supporters in key leadership positions, it is sadly no surprise that this same synagogue featured a BDS presentation led by a JVP activist. 

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President Emeritus of the Union for Reform Judaism and a past rabbi at Judea Reform Congregation in Durham, warns, “BDS speakers have no place in American synagogues. They do not simply oppose Israeli policies; they oppose Israel’s very existence.”

BDS in Local Academia

Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are academic leaders in BDS activism and anti-Israel demonization.

Duke University Press: BDS’s Publisher of Choice

In the article Ivory Tower Bigots, Tablet Magazine explained, “for those seeking an ardently anti-Zionist classroom, Duke University Press has found its scholarly niche as the BDS movement’s publisher of choice.” 

In 2017 Duke University Press published the Right to Maim by Jasbir Puar, a BDS leader. In the book — which one historian called “academic garbage” — Puar writes about what she calls “Israeli tactical calculations of settler colonial rule – that of creating injury and maintaining Palestinian populations as perpetually debilitated, and yet alive, in order to control them.” Puar states, “Debilitation is extremely profitable economically and ideologically for Israel’s settler colonial regime.”

In the “The Right to Maim,” Puar presents thinly veiled comparisons of Israelis to Nazis when she wonders if Gaza is “not a death camp but a debilitation camp,” asks, “Is Gaza an experimental lab for the production, maintenance, and profitability of biopolitical debilitation?” and states, “The understanding of maiming as a specific aim of biopolitics tests the framing of settler colonialism as a project of elimination of the indigenous through either genocide or assimilation.” It is important to note that according to the State Department, one example of antisemitism is “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.”

As reported in 2018 by a Voice4Israel board member, seven members of Duke University Press’ Editorial Advisory Board, charged with granting “final approval” to manuscripts, have signed initiatives related to boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. An eighth member of this board promoted BDS on social media. In other words, a majority of Duke University Press’ Editorial Advisory Board supports BDS related initiatives against Israel. In addition, at least three of their staff members are anti-Israel activists. The official Duke University Press Twitter account has made more than 20 Tweets which include “#BDS.” Considering its staff, advisers, and social media presence, it is no surprise that Duke University Press has a long, disgraceful history of publishing anti-Israel and antisemitic screeds camouflaged as scholarly work.

Antisemitic UNC/Duke Conference

In 2019 the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies hosted the “Conflict Over Gaza” conference which was in reality, three days of anti-Israel indoctrination. North Carolina Congressman George Holding asked the Department of Education to investigate this conference writing, “According to first-hand accounts, the conference had a radical anti-Israel bias…A video recently surfaced depicting the main musical performer, rapper Tamer Nafar, singing a brazenly antisemitic song.” 

Nafar encouraged his audience to sing along with him, saying “I cannot be antisemitic alone.” After the video of this antisemitic performance was made public, this conference became national and international news (see video above).

Many speakers at this joint UNC/Duke conference were BDS activists. For just one example, in a single conference presentation, titled “The (De) Development of Gaza: Economy, Women, and Youth,” both speakers, Sara Roy and Laila El-Haddad, and the moderator, Rebecca Stein, were all on record as having supported various boycotts of Israel. Perhaps the blatant antisemitism on display at this BDS oriented conference even surprised UNC and Duke officials because halfway through the event a conference organizer demanded that audience members stop recording. A Voice4Israel board member attempting to document the academic sponsored antisemitism on display was ordered by an event organizer to cease.

While the antisemitic song at the conference made big news, there were many other deeply troubling aspects of this UNC/Duke conference (read a three part conference report: part 1, part 2, part 3). For example, a Jewish student at Duke politely approached a presenter during a break. The presenter, a BDS activist, refused to speak with him but then spent considerable time at the conference speaking with anti-Israel activists. Those who observed these interactions report that it felt like a boycott of Jewish students. This raises the question — are some faculty and officials at UNC and Duke encouraging or allowing Jewish students to be treated differently and discriminatorily on campus?

BDS Apologists and Appeasers

Some BDS apologists, including some well-meaning Jewish leaders, are quick to say, “Not all BDS activists oppose the right of Israel to exist” and “Not all BDS activists are antisemitic.” 

Under President Obama’s leadership, the State Department of the United States provided three examples of ways which “anti-Semitism manifests itself with regard to the state of Israel.” Demonizing Israel, holding Israel to double standards, and delegitimizing Israel. A fourth has recently been added: comparing Israel to the Nazis. The BDS movement consistently does all four.

At Voice4Israel, we fully support freedom of speech. This freedom includes our right to speak out against the bigotry and antisemitism that BDS promotes, attracts, embraces, and tolerates.

Lessons Learned from Local BDS Attacks

In 2018, the mainstream Jewish community and our allies suffered a terrible “punch in the gut” when the Durham North Carolina City Council compromised with BDS activists to make Durham the first city in the United States to boycott police trainings specifically with Israel. As terrible as this has been, one silver lining is that many local Jews, Jewish leaders, and our allies have become aware of the anti-Israel bigotry that BDS activists advocate in our community. 

Local synagogues and Jewish institutions are waking up to the reality that Jewish leaders need to be vigilant in supporting and safeguarding the values of our beloved Jewish institutions. 

Other Resources on BDS

The Voice4Israel suggests exploring the links below:

Duke and UNC Should Not Host Hateful, Anti-Zionist Conference

Rabbi Lev Cotlar is Director of Education at Congregation Sha’arei Israel in Raleigh, NC. 

Rabbi Cotlar wrote UNC and Duke University officials to express his concerns about their planned anti-Israel conference camouflaged as a conference on Gaza. 

“I wrote this letter to some of the contacts in the link below, I think it’s important that we voice our opposition to something as biased and anti-Israel as this on campus, being disguised as academic discourse.” -Rabbi Lev Cotlar

Open Letter to Duke University President Vincent Price and UNC Officials 

Dear President Price,

I hope you are doing well. Many people in the Jewish community here in Raleigh have approached me expressing concern about the upcoming conference on Gaza scheduled from March 22-24 being co-hosted by Duke and UNC. After looking into the course schedule and its presenters, it sadly appears to be no more than another anti-Israel affair camouflaged as a discussion about Gaza. I was horrified to discover that several presenters have compared Israelis to Nazis and many promote boycotting Israel. Opening the conference is speaker Laila El-Haddad who has tweeted “Israel is a terrorist state” and has charged Israel with “equating [Palestinian] children with human cannon fodder.” Additionally, El-Haddad has compared Gaza to the Holocaust. Other speakers and moderators, including Sara Roy, Rebecca Stein, and Sara Shields, are known to be highly critical of Israel and promoters of boycotting Israeli academic institutions and supporters of the BDS movement (Roy even had the audacity to draw “parallels between the behavior of Israeli soldiers and Nazis during the Third Reich.”) Likewise, the conference will include a number of videos featuring artists discussing the hardships of living in Gaza and blaming Israel for the hardships. Not one Israeli artist or civilian is represented to share their experiences of living under the fear of Gazan rockets, mortars, tunnels, and incendiary devices intended to kill, terrorize, burn, and kidnap Israelis

As President of a highly prestigious institution such as Duke University, I respectfully request that you reconsider co-hosting this hateful, anti-Zionist and anti-academic conference. It is clear that this is not about having a balanced and unbiased discourse, but rather another opportunity to demonize and delegitimize Israel, without even giving her a voice to defend itself by featuring any pro-Israel presenters or artists. It is becoming increasingly difficult to identify as a proud Jew and/or Israel supporter (most anti-Israel students and organizations don’t make the distinction) on campuses across the country due to the toxic anti-Israel atmosphere, and I fear that this conference will only contribute to that environment of hate. Once again, I implore you to take action to ensure that Duke remains a safe and comfortable environment for all students by cancelling this upcoming unbalanced and biased conference.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Lev Cotlar
Director of Education
Congregation Sha’arei Israel

Be like Rabbi Cotlar and Make Your Voice Heard

Contact the following UNC and Duke leaders to voice your concerns about this unbalanced and biased conference against Israel.

Duke President Vincent Price (919) 684-2424 vincent.price@duke.edu

UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz 919-962-1365 chancellor@unc.edu

Duke Chair, Board of Trustees, Jack O. Bovender, Jr. boardchair@duke.edu

UNC Board of Governors, Chair Harry L. Smith, Jr. public@bog.northcarolina.edu