Thursday, September 2, 2010

JVP's specious McCarthyism charge

The blog MuzzleWatch, which is associated with the organization Jewish Voice for Peace, has published what must be the least substantial charge of McCarthyism in history. JVP' is a small group whose stock in trade is promotion of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. A handful of JVP members are frequently trotted out to testify against Israel at hearings concerning divestment measures proposed by universities and religious groups. The organization essentially serves as a fig leaf for anti-Israel activists working within academia and the mainstream Protestant denominations. BDS activists within these institutions can push to single out Israel among all nations for punishment, then point to JVP support as evidence that this is not based on personal bias.

MuzzleWatch has found that Josef Olmert, the brother of Israel's former Prime Minister, has written a column in which he advocates a campaign to promote arguments to counter the BDS movement within universities. In his column, Olmert referred specifically to academics who have signed pro-BDS petitions, proposing that abti-BDS arguments should be addressed to them directly.  Two sentences in the column put Olmert on JVP's fighting side. He wrote:

I possess a list of thousands of American academics calling for a boycott of Israel. The number of Jews among them is overwhelming.

The mere fact that Olmert, an adjunct professor at American University, said that he "possess(es) a list" was enough to send the extremely hypersensitive MuzzleWatch over the brink. In response, they write

What’s next, Un-Jewish-American Activities hearings at every Hillel? In a threefer, Olmert manages to reproduce the paranoia of the Old “I have here in my hand [a list of communists]” McCarthyism as well as its obsession with the number of Jews and State Department employees amongst its enemies.
I have here in my hand a list of 205 . . . a list of names that were made known to the Secretary of State as being members of the BDS Movement and who nevertheless are still working and shaping policy in the State Department. . . .
Just kidding, that was actually Joe McCarthy, and I switched out the words “Communist Party.”

Great comparison. On the one hand, an adjunct professor whose brother is a virtually disgraced former PM has a real list of people whose views he believes should be addressed with respectful counter-arguments. On the other hand, a powerful U.S. Senator lies to the entire nation that he has a list of traitors, destroying countless lives and careers and distorting the nation's political discourse for the better part of a decade. Pretty much the same thing, right?

Apparently JVP wants us to believe that Josef Olmert is not advocating arguing against BDS, but is secretly preparing to institute a Zionist loyalty oath and blacklist anti-Israel professors. Why do I think that JVP may have the story wrong?


Dvar Dea said...

Stalinists types making accusation of McCarthyism.

radicalarchives said...

I read the Muzzlewatch post, too, and also thought it was bad.

However, your description of JVP as "a small group whose stock in trade is promotion of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement" is not accurate.

JVP as a group only advocates for "divestment from and boycotts of companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. This includes companies operating in or from occupied Palestinian territory, exploiting Palestinian labor and scarce environmental resources, providing materials or labor for
settlements, or producing military or other equipment or materials used to violate human rights or to profit from the Occupation."

ie - they are not supporting an academic boycott, nor a boycott of any Israeli goods (made in the green line) nor of sports teams. this is usually what comprises BDS.

Rebecca said...

Adam, I usually agree with you about Muzzlewatch and similar groups, but I also have some alarm about what Joseph Olmert said. I went to the original website where his remarks were published and he doesn't give any information about this list of thousands, including many Jews, who are in favor of BDS.

There is a list out there on the internet put up by an organization called Masada2000, which is called the "Dirt List." My name is on that list, and I am a Zionist who supports Israel. I hope that if he has a list, it is of people who actually willingly signed something that they believe in, rather than being a list compiled by someone who was labeling other people.

Adam Holland said...


The anti-Israel measures supported by JVP, such as those proposed by factions within the Presbyterian Church, United Methodists and in the City of Seattle, call for forms divestment which are in general terms of the kind you describe. However, the specific terms are worded in a deliberately vague, overly broad and deceptive manner. Under the provisions of these proposals, it would largely be left to the discretion of the administrator of the funds in question to determine whether a particular party was good or bad. That Santa Claus approach is, by definition, arbitrary and capricious. For that reason alone, they should not be supported, and, in the case of municipalities or other governmental entities, would not pass legal muster.

Beyond that, the singling out of Israel for such treatment above all other nations in the world compounds this arbitrariness and calls into question the motivation for it. That's where JVP comes into the picture. What groups like Naturei Karta are to Ahmadinejad and the Holocaust denial movement, JVP is to the pro-BDS factions within universities and Protestant churches. They're professional beards.

Also, contrary to what you write, JVP in fact does support artistic boycotts such as that attempted against the Israel Philharmonic when they played in Los Angeles in 2008. I wrote about that here. In that instance, they were part of a coalition that sent loyalty oath-like letters to each of the musicians in the Israeli Philharmonic, demanding to know they're position on Israeli-Palestinian relations. When responses were not received by date demanded in the letter, JVP and other groups protested outside the concert hall holding signs reading "BOYCOTT ISRAEL". That seems pretty clear, no?

Adam Holland said...


The keeping of lists is not a problem per se, it's the nature of the list in question where issues arise. In the case of the list you mentioned, the maliciousness and irrationality behind it are very clear. Your inclusion is a badge of honor. On the other hand, Olmert's list, if I read his column correctly, consists of university instructors who have signed pro-BDS petitions. He proposes only arguing against BDS directly to them. If his list should turn out to be the sort of list you describe, I will join you in opposing it in the strongest terms.

Olmert may share his brother's political tin ear in saying that he keeps a list that sounds like an enemies. But he essentially seems to be proposing only debate against the BDS supporters he refers to. What's wrong with that?

Adam Holland said...

errata: "they're position" should read "their position"

radicalarchives said...

Interesting. i will look more closely at the JVP actions, to see whether they were called by local affiliates acting on their own or by the national group. Nonetheless, what I did cite is apparently the national group's stated policy.

In any event, it is clear there is a wide range of opinion in JVP, from hardline anti-zionist to generic two-stater peace camp. The leadership, however, have always struck me as more hardline than they care to let on (the guy who does Muzzlewatch in particular), giving it a 'front-group' kind of feeling sometimes.

Rebecca said...

Adam, I would feel more supportive of what you say about Olmert if he had revealed what list in particular he is talking about and where interested readers can peruse it for themselves.

Rebecca said...

I just took a look at the PACBI website to see who had endorsed their call for the academic and cultural boycott of Israel. (See for the list). 503 people who identify as academics are listed. There are an additional 150 from "cultural workers" (personally, I hate that phrase) and then a number of international endorsers. Are these the people that Olmert has in mind?

I just went through the entire list of 503 academics, and came up with about 30 people who *might* be Jewish. I don't know who most of these people are, so I can't be sure - I'm going by names that sound "Jewish" to me and I could very well be wrong. I know that a few of them are Jewish (like Judith Butler and Joel Kovel).

If only 30 out of 503 people *might* be Jewish, this is hardly the "overwhelming" number that Olmert posits.

If he wants us to take him seriously, he should produce his list, and provide proof of its provenance.

Adam Holland said...


You've completely convinced me that Olmert's public declaration that he has a list was not a good idea, and that his assertion regarding Jews on the list was also foolish. But releasing the list would make matters worse -- much worse. If Olmert would like to reveal the petitions to which he refers, that would be a much better approach. It's hard for me to understand why he wouldn't simply didn't refer to these petitions in the first place, rather than refer to a list.

Adam Holland said...

Apologies to radicalarchives and Rebecca for my posting their comments far too late and possibly out of sequence. I've been inundated with spam comments (as usual) and have been moving. Please keep reading and commenting. Your thoughtful comments are greatly appreciated.

radicalarchives said...

haha, I was wondering if you were censoring me.. Engage did that to me once, which I found pretty amusing.

Anyway since I know that Holland will read this, I will direct you to another kind of commentary on JVP, this from Jeffrey Blankfort at the If Americans Knew website. I am sure that both names need no introduction, but Blankfort has a 180 different opinion of the group then you. So I am not sure what to make of all of this, or of the group itself.

"Blankfort: That seems to be the role that Jewish Voice for Peace has assigned for itself, to make sure that the issue of anti-Semitism is never far from the minds of those engaged in fighting for justice for the Palestinians and where it can inhibit activists from targeting Jewish organizations and institutions that support Israeli policies, such as AIPAC, the ADL, the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish National Fund, and the Jewish Community Relations Councils, locally."

and so on.

Adam Holland said...

Maybe Blankfort would rather not have Zionists of any stripe as allies. He may believe that the only good Jewish organization is a dead one.

His argument sounds ludicrous. How on earth does JVP inhibit criticism of the groups he mentions? On the contrary, whenever those groups criticize JVP or argue with their views, JVP accuses them of trying to silence them. If not for criticism from Zionists and support from a handful of strategically located BDS activists in the mainline Protestant denominations, JVP and it's minuscule membership wouldn't be noticed at all. That what makes JVP's muzzling charges so risible. There's an odd symbiosis there, with the tiny JVP getting more benefit than harm from this teapot tempest of criticism.

I'll read Blankfort's column, but I don't think it will amount to much.

radicalarchives said...

"Maybe Blankfort would rather not have Zionists of any stripe as allies."

that wold be my understanding of his stance.

however, my point in making this post was not to get you to read the rest of Blankfort's terrible column, but to point out that JVP is attacked from one side as being anti-zionists who want to abolish Israel, while attacked from the other for being zionist apologists.


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