Jewish Voice for Peace gets grants, opens area office

For a while now, the mainstream Jewish community has viewed A Jewish Voice for Peace as a group of radical Jews who air dirty laundry by criticizing Israel when the Jewish state is under attack. Some go as far as to label the members self-hating Jews.

That probably won't change much, even though JVP has the means to spread its message more widely than before.

Since its founding in 1996, the organization has met in members' homes and has operated without any paid staff. That changed at the end of November.

Not only does JVP now have an office in downtown Oakland, but it has two full-time staff members. Mitchell Plitnick, a JVP activist for the past two years, is director of administration and communications, and Liat Weingart, who most recently worked for the Tikkun Community, is director of campaigns and programs.

JVP not only advocates Israel's full withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but for the United States to stop giving military aid to the Jewish state until such a withdrawal.

"We are basically asking that the United States treats Israel as it treats every other country it gives aid to and closely monitors how the aid is being used," said Plitnick, "that it not be used for human-rights violations."

Until recently, JVP has devoted most of its energies to the Israel-Palestine issue, but with America preparing to go to war with Iraq, the group's anti-occupation T-shirts could be seen along with members of other progressive Jewish groups at Saturday's anti-war rally in San Francisco.

"There's a widespread perception that Jews are behind this war," said Plitnick. Furthermore, "there is a connection between the United States' role in Israel and Palestine and just about everything that happens in the Middle East, including Iraq."

Except for Great Britain, Israel is the only country backing the United States in its proposed war on Iraq, added Plitnick, noting that there is a "great fear among Israelis that an attack on Iraq will be used to increase pressure on the Palestinians."

In Israel, he said, expelling Palestinians from the territories has been discussed in the press, but this idea has not been mentioned much in the U.S. press.

"Clearly this demonstrates the connection," Plitnick said, between the war with Iraq and the Palestinian situation, as the Israelis could use the war with Iraq as an excuse to expel Palestinians. "For these reasons, it's very important that JVP is involved."

According to Plitnick, membership in JVP has skyrocketed since the start of the second intifada 2-1/2 years ago. "People were really motivated to get involved."

And now having two staff members will greatly help the organization with its efforts. The staff and office were made possible when an anonymous individual stepped forward last summer and offered a $30,000 matching grant to JVP. The donor is Jewish and lives in the Bay Area but does not want anymore details known.

It took JVP about two months to raise the funds, and then another individual offered a matching grant of $15,000 through the Vanguard Foundation.

That was the first time the organization launched a serious fund-raising drive, and JVP insiders were surprised at the result. They thought much of their support would come from non-Jews, and as it turns out, 90 to 95 percent of their contributions are coming from Jews.

"Over half is local, but we're getting money from all over the country," said Plitnick, adding that the group is known nationally because of its news service, Jewish Peace News, which distributes articles electronically from mostly the British and Israeli press, along with commentary.

"This is very heartening to us. This really says a lot about how many Jews feel unrepresented by the mainstream Jewish community."

Plitnick promised a much more v

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."