Jewish Voice for Peace Condemns Illinois Politicians’ Exploitation of Anti-Semitism to Defend Israeli Policies
Rauner, Mendoza and Zopp’s use of anti-Semitism to justify their support of Israeli repression of Palestinians, including through Islamophobe-funded trip to Israel, cheapens struggle against bigotry.
CHICAGO, IL – Jewish Voice for Peace-Chicago condemns two recent examples of Illinois politicians conflating support for Israel’s repression of Palestinian rights with combatting anti-Semitism and hate crimes. Israel is a nation state, not a religion or ethnic group, and is subject to criticism like any other nation. It relentlessly violates the human rights of Palestinians through home demolitions, illegal land grabs, humiliating checkpoints, and extra judicial executions. ”Solidarity” with Israel does nothing to discourage hate crimes, and opposition to Israeli policies is not antisemitism.
On March 8 in remarks at the Illinois Holocaust Museum Humanitarian Awards dinner, Governor Rauner pledged to strengthen Illinois’ law targeting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement for Palestinian human rights by “prohibiting state contracts for companies that boycott Israel.”
Last week Illinois State Comptroller Susana Mendoza and Deputy Mayor of Chicago Andrea Zopp participated in an Israeli government-sponsored “Women in Leadership” delegation to Israel. Comptroller Mendoza justified her participation by pointing to Governor Rauner’s March 8 statements regarding “an uptick in anti-Semitic threats and acts of vandalism…in Illinois and around the country,” adding that “Illinois’ leaders ‘cannot stay silent on hate’” and therefore it is important to “reaffirm our state’s strong cultural, religious, political and economic ties to Israel.”
We agree that anti-Semitism and all forms of racial and ethnic bigotry require action, yet we do not accept that visiting Israel, or criminalizing peaceful opposition to its numerous human rights violations, is in any way a stance against hate. Nor is solidarity with Israel equivalent to support for Jews.
By targeting supporters of Palestinian human rights, public figures both feed into the worsening climate of hatred toward Arabs and Muslims and distract from the key role the Trump administration continues to play in fanning hatred towards Muslims, Arabs, Jews, People of Color, LGBTQIA people, women and immigrants.
It is ironic, given the stated aims of combatting bigotry, that the trip was co-sponsored by the American Israel Friendship League (AIFL), an organization which includes notorious Islamophobes and right-wing extremists on its board, as well as Jewish leaders who have excused President Trump’s racist, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic actions due to his support for Israel. Some examples include:
Retired General Paul Vallely, Chairman Emeritus of the Center for Security Policy’s Military Committee. The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled CSP a “conspiracy-oriented mouthpiece for the growing anti-Muslim movement in the United States,” and calls its founder Frank Gaffney “one of America’s most notorious Islamophobes.”
Former Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who once claimed that “the vast majority of the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims” want to impose “Islamic law on the world.”
Irwin Hochberg, who sits on the board of the Middle East Forum, whose founder Daniel Pipes the Southern Poverty Law Center identifies as a leading “Anti-Muslim Fearmonger.”
Ron Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress, a strong defender of Israel’s illegal settlements on stolen Palestinian land in the West Bank. Lauder is also Chairman of the Jewish National Fund (JNF), an organization which has long come under fire for actively displacing Palestinians both in the West Bank and within the Green Line to make way for Jewish-only communities. Lauder has defended Trump and his administration from widespread accusations of anti-Semitism, pointing to Trump’s support for Israel.
Legitimizing Israel’s repression of Palestinian rights by participating in this trip in no way combats anti-Semitism. It is perfectly legitimate to criticize the State of Israel’s systematic oppression of Palestinians. It is not legitimate to equate criticism of Israel with anti-semitism. Expressing solidarity for the state of Israel is a poor way to indicate a stance against ethnic hatred.
The best way to combat anti-Semitism is to do so as part of the struggle against all forms of hate – in particular the ongoing onslaught against the U.S. Muslim community, expressed not only in random acts of violence, but through municipal, state and federal actions targeting “sharia law”, the use of highly paid anti-Muslim extremists as “experts” in government circles, and of course federal executive orders and Illinois policies targeting Muslim and Syrian immigrants. Jewish Voice for Peace-Chicago encourages our elected officials to join that struggle, rather than exploiting fears of anti-Semitism to undermine the liberation movement of the Palestinian people.
JVP-Chicago is the local branch of Jewish Voice for Peace (www.jvp.org), a national, grassroots organization inspired by Jewish tradition to work for a just and lasting peace according to principles of human rights, equality, and international law for all the people of Israel and Palestine. Jewish Voice for Peace has over 200,000 online supporters, over 60 chapters, a youth wing, a Rabbinic Council, an Artist Council, an Academic Advisory Council, and an Advisory Board made up of leading U.S. intellectuals and artists.