Jewish Voice for Peace was formed in 1996 by three Bay Area women, and is now a national organization with over 70 chapters and 500,000 online supporters. We spoke with Dana Bergen, a JVP activist for 20 years and a former board member of the organization, about JVP’s work.
Jewish Voice for Peace was formed to counteract Jewish institutions who claim to speak for all Jews and defend everything Israel does. And we felt the need for it to be clear that not all Jews support or defend what Israel does and those organizations don’t speak for all of us; that’s the origin of JVP. When I joined, I felt a particular responsibility as a Jew to speak out because of this, and because Israel represents itself as “we’re doing this for all the Jews.”
In JVP, we hold it as a guiding principle that the movement for Palestinian liberation needs to be led by Palestinians. A lot of what we do here in the Bay Area is work in support of Palestinian-led activism. Palestinians are the people most impacted, and therefore, the people to be in the leadership.
We support the BDS movement and the principles in the Palestinian Civil Society Call for BDS. It calls on the international community to engage in Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel until three conditions are met: an end to the occupation, full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel, and the right of return for Palestinian refugees. That’s a summation of the goals of the movement at this point in time.
Block the Boat was a recent BDS action that was organized by AROC, with participation from lots of different groups and activists. Our JVP chapter focused on providing financial and logistical support — coordinating and driving shuttles to and from BART, providing things like snacks, water, masks, and hand sanitizer, and helping get the word out. It was really exciting that we succeeded in turning the boat away.
People ask about the changes in the Israeli government, but in terms of the situation of the Palestinians, it doesn’t make much difference who’s in power in Israel. What happens is the rhetoric may become more blatant, but it’s all been going on for decades. Israel keeps taking more and more Palestinian land and violently repressing the Palestinians, and it’s been going on under multiple different governments. And so our work as JVP is really focused on things like supporting the BDS movement and pressuring our own government to put conditions on military aid or to stop sending military aid to Israel. This is essential because pressure has to be put on Israel from the outside. That’s the only way change can happen.
Another role we have as a Jewish organization is to address the throwing around of false charges of anti-Semitism that pro-Zionist institutions use to try to suppress Palestinian activism and punish it. It’s a serious problem; so that’s a role that we can play as a Jewish group to speak out about that and say that criticism of Israel is not antisemitism, anti-Zionism is not antisemitism.