Thou shalt not bear false witness

South African Jewish Voices for a Just Peace (JVJP) recognises that the growth of our organization has sparked debate in the Jewish community (see, for example, Jewish Report 14 November 2014) over the ongoing conflict in Israel-Palestine. We think it is unfortunate that in some of this debate the organisation has been misrepresented. We therefore welcome the opportunity to clarify to the community and public at large what JVJP stands for.

As our name implies, JVJP supports a just resolution to the decades-long conflict in Israel/Palestine. Such a resolution must accommodate the full realisation of rights, for all people in the region, as defined under international law. With this in mind JVJP opposes all violations of these rights that are both harmful to the lives of Israelis and Palestinians and perpetuate the conflict, undermining the prospect of a peaceful solution. Central to these violations is the ongoing occupation, by Israel, of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The West Bank is occupied by Israel’s military forces, with its Palestinian residents subjected to daily human rights violations, including curtailed freedom of movement. Settlement expansion continues to threaten the potential for a just and lasting peace. As an organisation committed to the achievement of such a peace, we stand resolutely opposed to these policies of the Israeli government. At the same time we abhor any and all attacks on civilians, whether perpetrated by Hamas, the IDF, or any other entity.

We maintain, as is the official position of most Jewish communal bodies, that the only solution to the conflict is a negotiated settlement between the parties, as was achieved in South Africa. As JVJP we do not feel it is for us to prescribe what kind of state(s) should be worked towards in Israel/Palestine. We welcome into our ranks – as was the tradition of the Zionist movement prior to 1948 – those who wish to see two states, one state, a binational
state or some other formulation, and encourage a vibrant debate over which of these will most ably fulfill the aspirations of the majority of people from Israel/Palestine. In order to achieve any meaningful resolution, negotiations need to be undertaken in good faith.

JVJP has not officially adopted any campaigns that call for boycott, divestment or sanctions (BDS), nor do we have any institutional affiliation with BDS South Africa (BDSSA) or Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) in the United States. The claims that have been made in this regard against both JVJP and progressive rabbis Alexander and Shaked are therefore simply unfounded.

JVJP calls for an end to the occupation, to the blockade and to human rights abuses on both sides. We wish to ensure that a Jewish voice is heard in South Africa that speaks out against human rights violations and the dangers of the occupation. There is a sizable, often silent, minority of South African Jews that is angered by the unwavering and unconditional support that mainstream Jewish communal bodies express towards all the actions of the Israeli government.

To foster debate, there is a necessity for safe spaces for diverse Jewish opinions on Israel. This inclusive space is open to all members of the community, whether school children, adults, or rabbis who oppose human rights violations in Israel/Palestine. Our campaigns have focused on opening such a space, as well as on raising awareness and seeking understanding of the crisis in the region. We have extended invitations to both members of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) and the Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) to our events, as participants and panelists, in order to build bridges and promote understanding within the community. We are open to engaging with other segments of the community and public who are also dedicated to a cessation of the human rights violations that have become routine and to achieving a just peace in Israel/Palestine.

We are lucky to live in a country in which freedom of speech and association are constitutionally enshrined rights and in which a vibrant media thrives. It is regrettable that debate is not as open within the Jewish community and that intolerance is shown towards views such as those held by JVJP; this extends to the active vilification and silencing of prominent dissenting voices.

We look forward to an ongoing open, respectful and productive engagement with other elements of the community, one that avoids baseless attacks and focuses instead on the real, urgent issues at stake in this debate.

Rina King 076 785 7944

Jessica Sherman 084 485 6704

Leonard Shapiro 071 365 7045