Judith Butler - Jewish Voice for Peace advisory board members respond

Butler, Judith, Ronnie Gilbert and Aurora Levins Morales. Jewish Voice for Peace advisory board members respond to efforts by the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation and others to police acceptable forms of Jewish identity and cultural expression. Jewish Voice for Peace. November 19, 2009.


Judith Butler, Ronnie Gilbert and Aurora Levins Morales - Jewish Voice for Peace advisory board members respond to efforts by the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation and others to police acceptable forms of Jewish identity and cultural expression.

The San Francisco Jewish Community Federation ran an ad entitled “Setting the Record Straight“ in the October 16 edition of j. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California. The next week, j. printed another op-ed entitled “To heal post-‘Rachel’ rift, Federation needs a new policy.” As members of the Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) Advisory Board, we must respond to both of these statements.

Like the Federation, we value the contributions of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival over the past 29 years. JVP has been proud to support the Festival by co-presenting several films in recent years. The Festival has been an important cultural force in the Bay Area Jewish community precisely because of its commitment to presenting a wide variety of ideas and perspectives and its willingness to explore controversial issues. As such, it is critical that the Festival’s programming choices not be subject to undue pressure from funders.

We are therefore dismayed that the Federation is attempting to put constraints on the Festival’s choice of speakers and co-presenters, in order to stop them from choosing Jewish Voice for Peace and the pacifist Quaker group, the American Friends Service Committee, as co-presenters in the future.
Furthermore, in the October 23 j. op-ed, three individuals set themselves up as a Jewish community version of the House Un-American Activities Committee, demanding a blacklist for alleged “anti-Israel” organizations.

Jewish Voice for Peace is an organization of Jews working for peace, security, justice, and human rights for both Israelis and Palestinians. We believe that ending the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is the only way to achieve a just peace and is in the best interests of Israelis and Jews everywhere. These beliefs are shared by thousands of Bay Area Jews, and hundreds of thousands of Jews across the U.S and around the globe. It is unacceptable for the Federation, an organization that claims to promote “mutual respect and accommodation of diversity within Jewish life,” to attempt to shut out our organization and the large and growing segment of the Bay Area Jewish community that JVP represents.

Netanyahu has thumbed his nose at Obama’s request for a settlement freeze, and his foreign minister, a West Bank settler, refuses to participate in the peace process. It is not realistic to expect this government to make any meaningful moves toward peace without outside pressure. The boycott/divestment/sanctions movement (BDS) encompasses a variety of tactics and targets, and people of good will do disagree about their use. We at JVP are not of one mind about this movement. But we all agree that boycott/divestment/sanctions is a non-violent approach to applying pressure on the Israeli government. And we believe that no one should be demonized for using nonviolent forms of protest in the effort to change policy, especially policy as deadly serious as this.

For too long, our community institutions such as the Federation have remained silent in the face of ever-growing Israeli settlement expansion, human rights abuses and other policies which have created major obstacles to peace. For too long, their “support for Israel” has in practice meant tacit support for policies that undermine the cause of peace and security, endangering both Israelis and Palestinians.

JVP’s 90,000 supporters include countless individuals of all ages who play vital roles in upholding and strengthening a diverse and dynamic Jewish community through their participation in religious life, culture, academia and politics. And our numbers are growing. We reject this attempt to isolate and silence the growing number of U.S. Jews who see our work as an important expression of Jewish values. We invite members of the Jewish community who believe in full equality for all people to join us. We urge all those who disagree with our beliefs or our tactics to recognize that ethical debate is part of our tradition, and to embrace the full breadth and diversity of Jewish identity, thinking and expression. Finally, we invite all Jews, whether or not you agree with us, to defend freedom of expression in our community as an essential part of any lasting solution.

Judith Butler is Professor of Comparative Literature and Rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley.

Ronnie Gilbert is an American folk singer and writer, and was a member of the singing group the Weavers with Pete Seeger. The Weavers were blacklisted in the 50s.

Aurora Levins Morales is a poet, essayist, community historian and activist.