Jewish Voices for a Just Peace: Not what it says on the tin

Michael Coetzee says the organisation's views are in fact at the extreme end of the political spectrum

This essay is for Jeremy Gordin.

Jewish Voices for a Just Peace (JVJP) has been getting a lot of publicity lately, which they've used mostly to complain about not getting any publicity. This fringe group of anti-Israeli activists is well versed in Newspeak, but it doesn't take much digging beneath the surface to reveal the ugly reality behind their supposed struggle for 'peace'. In fact, probably the only words in their name that are used in a manner in keeping with their common definitions are 'for' and 'a'. 

A friend recently asked me to explain why I oppose JVJP, and suggested that I learn about the 'broad grey area that exists between the one-staters of Hamas and the one-staters on the Israeli right'. This article grew out of that discussion, during which I suggested that if anyone can do with an education I'm grey areas, then it's the likes of JVJP founder Rina King & Co. 

JVJP claims to simply be providing balance, trying to ensure that voices other than an uncritical pro-Israeli one is heard. I agree that it's necessary and healthy for a wide variety of opinions to be aired. There's no shortage of this in the local media, including the Jewish media, and certainly not in the Israeli media. 

But let's get back to broad grey areas. In reality, there's a great black chasm between uncritical support for anything the Israeli government does, and marching around with keffiyehs, praising Hamas and BDS, and tweeting things like, and I quote, "The way you counter anti-Semites is to show there are civilised Jews!" Replace anti-Semitism with racism and Jews with blacks if it's not immediately obvious how repugnant that statement is.

Here we have the problem, in a nutshell. JVJP claims to be all about just making sure that there's a balanced conversation by providing a voice critical of Israeli actions. But it's actual behaviour and positions are far removed from anything balanced or reasonable. Their views are in fact at the extreme end of the political spectrum, more extreme than anything held by Benjamin Netanyahu or Mahmoud Abbas.

The JVJP logo even recalls the Palestinian flag. There were Britons who objected to the Allied bombing tactics used against Germany, but that did not suddenly translate into marching around in brown shirts, wearing swastikas and shouting 'Heil Hitler'. In not supporting Israel's right to exist in any shape or form, in calling for one state that is majority Palestinian, in finding common cause with the avowedly genocidal and antisemitic Hamas, JVJP finds itself at an extreme, the other end of which you'd need to go far to the right of Netanyahu to find.

There's also an immense amount of hypocrisy and playing the victim going on here. These people have complained, on live SABC television, about not being allowed to air their views. In interviews on they have complained about the same thing. King, in an SABC interview, claimed that the media coverage during the latest Gaza war was predominantly pro-Israel. This is patently absurd and divorced from reality.

The coverage has been by far biased against Israel, as anyone not living in fantasy land could see. Below yet another fact-deprived Steven Friedman lament in the Mail & Guardian, the newspaper's ombudsman,  Franz Kruger,  even wrote that being balanced wasn't necessary in covering this conflict (once again we can dispense with the rules that count for everyone else). The Broadcasting Complaints Commission  found that "there was no doubt more time had been given to the Gaza sympathisers.

However, the amount of time given was not the test, but the quality and content ... [i]n any case, where foreign matters are broadcast, the higher level of balance which is required in regard to South African affairs of public importance is not required". Then there were the complaints that JVJP couldn't find a public space in Johannesburg-JNB to host their Breaking The Wall event. They told us about this while hosting the event at Constitution Hill...

If the members of JVJP find that their positions are not welcomed by the majority of Jews, then they should go look at their positions, not their audience. If you take an extreme position, one that is too extreme even for the Palestinian Authority, then of course you're going to be treated as controversial. Despite what it claims, JVJP is not interested in just providing balance and a platform for dialogue.

Look at their friends and cheerleaders, which include holocaust deniers, blatant anti-Semites and the sort of people who pose for pictures with Hamas leader Khaled Meshal, and BDS. This is the same BDS that is not supported by the Palestinian Authority (PA), by ordinary Palestinians, according to opinion polls, and who even Noam Chomsky believes are missing the point.

Both PA president Abbas and senior PA negotiation Saeb Erekat want nothing to do with BDS. Who they actually represent is another issue, but why, for the purposes of this discussion, does JVJP support them? Do they know better than the Palestinians what's good for them?

Which brings us to the colonialism at the heart of groups such as JVJP. While supposedly fighting "colonialism" (one wonders how Muslims Arabs first came to live in the Levant), so many groups of this ilk are themselves guilty of the worst sort of colonialist mindset. In this worldview, everything the Gazans or the Palestinians in general do is a result of something Israel did. They apparently have no agency of their own, and are powerless to decide for themselves not to fire rockets at civilians or build tunnels to massacre children. 

Then there's the fact that Hamas, which JVJP views as noble freedom fighters, runs a regime far more oppressive than anything that goes on in the occupied territories. Hamas has no time for the liberal values espoused by anti-Israeli leftists. Gays, lesbians, feminists, atheists, Jews - Hamas wishes death upon all of these, which I guess makes it a good thing that JVJP and BDS supporters can do their work while living in some sort of self-imposed exile.

There's something not quite right with the fact that so much of the left is engaged in a vicious campaign against by far the most liberal country in the entire region. Who can, with a straight face, claim that the Israeli government is more oppressive than the Saudis, or al-Assad? Who, if given the choice between living in Israel and any country within about 2 000km, would choose another country?

Not very far away, Islamic State fighters are crucifying people and massacring entire villages. A suicide bomber just killed 50 children in Nigeria. But the single most pressing issue in the world for JVJP, more important even than the oppression Palestinians suffer under Hamas rule, is the fact that Israel exists when they believe it shouldn't. 

Which brings us back to the question of what their real motivation is. What really drives them? Their actions and positions make it clear that it's none of the things they claim. For some reason they choose to place themselves on the side that promotes suicide bombings, genocide and fascist government.

It's not hard for any rational, objective person to realise that there's a massive moral difference between goals and actions of the Israeli government and the goals and actions of Hamas. As American atheist author Sam Harris eloquently pointed out, we know what Israel would do if it could do anything it wanted to, because it can. It could kill every man, woman and child in Gaza tomorrow, if it wanted to.

Instead, it goes to greater lengths than any other military in the world to prevent civilian deaths. We also know what Hamas would do if it could do anything it wanted to: kill every single Jew in Israel. We know this, because that is not only what their official charter says, but is also what they are continuing to try and do to this very day. Yet we are supposed to believe that the supporters of the latter are the guardians of human rights and peace. 

There are none so blind as those who will not see, and few things as destructive as a voices not guided by the light of reality and truth.

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