Monday, November 21, 2011

Jewish Voice for Peace at AAR/SBL

I spent the morning going through the book exhibit, and came upon a booth for Jewish Voice for Peace, where I argued with them for a long time. Not much enlightenment on either side - we were really talking past each other (not that I expected anything else). They are here trying to get people to support their divestment from TIAA-CREF campaign. I argued that punitive measures like this are guaranteed to alienate most Jews both in the U.S. and in Israel, but they kept saying that divestment had an effect on getting rid of apartheid in South Africa. I objected to the comparison of Israel with apartheid South Africa, and we disputed over the issue of Israeli Arab representation in the Knesset. They issued a rejoinder that even in the Iranian parliament has one token Jewish representative. I didn't bother arguing that Israel is nothing like Iran. I agreed with them on some of their diagnoses of the problems (settlement building, Bibi's intransigence, the perverse map of the separation wall which shuts whole Palestinian towns off by surrounding them with a wall - Kalkiliya and Walaje spring to mind) - but not on the solution. It was frustrating, and I felt angry that they were even here at AAR/SBL. I've been going to annual meetings since 1985, and I don't remember ever seeing a booth on political issues - even in the heyday of anti-apartheid campaigns or protests against the Iraq War.

Jon Haber of Divest This! has many times described the disruptive effect of groups like JVP, which try to bring Middle Eastern politics into organizations that basically have nothing to do with them, in order to push their own agenda. They drag their own agenda into unrelated groups, and cause nothing but discord and bad feelings. This is in sharp contrast to groups like J Street or the American Task Force for Palestine, which work openly to persuade people of their political views in the political arena. They lobby Congress or the President, they hold conferences of various kinds, they organize local chapters that engage in letter-writing or citizen lobbying. They do not try to take over groups that have nothing to do with the Middle East to further their own ends.


  1. Too bad your ears were closed in the conversation, Rebecca. Had you listened, or read one of the many fliers available on the table, you would have seen that the TIAA-CREF campaign aims not at "divestment from" the fund, as you write, but to mobilize fund members (nearly 20,000 so far) to urge it to uphold its purportedly socially responsible principles by divesting from five large corporations that profit from Israel's illegal occupation and other violations of international law.

    Moreover, your blinders are showing when you accuse JVP of introducing "politics" into the AAR/SBL exhibit floor. (No need to comment on the absurd allegation that JVP is trying to "take over" a huge academic conference.) If you looked around the huge hall, as you say, surely you saw the many booths promoting "tours of the holy land." Undoubtedly, they work in conjunction with Israel's Ministry of Tourism, a highly political office with a clear agenda. And among the publication booths, did you not notice the many books extolling the virtues of modern Israel, while others advised readers on how to counter "new anti-Semitism," conveniently defined as any meaningful criticism of Israeli policies? You should watch out, as your own healthy objection to settlements and the annexation wall is surely suspect in those eyes.

  2. Really? The discussion I had with the people at the table indicated that they thought TIAA-CREF should divest from Caterpillar and four other corporations that they argue profit from the occupation. If you take a look at the JVP website on this issue - - you'll see that's what they're calling for.

    Touring Israel to view archaeological sites or to go to Jewish or Christian holy sites is not a political act - it is for the purpose of education or religious pilgrimage.

    Nor, for that matter, do I think it a particularly political act for a publisher to advertise a book on Israel. There were a number of anti-Israel books on display as well - I think the publishers are mostly interested in making money, not making political statements.

    You may see politics in everything, a lamentable position that has been imported from left-wing politics, but I do not.

  3. Rebecca, thanks for offering your intelligent voice to an emotionally charged issue and exposing an activist group for its irrationality and imbalance.

  4. Congratulations! This post was included in the November 2011 Biblical Studies Carnival. This is quite an achievement. My word, yes.

  5. Thanks, Deane, for the notice of my presence in that august list of worthy biblioblogging. We'll see if it drives any traffic to my site....