“It was a huge success. We had 300 people attend and it was everything we hoped for,” said Rebecca Vilkomerson the executive director for Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) to Mint Press News. JVP, a national organization advocating for peace and equality between Israelis and Palestinians held its national membership meeting over the weekend in Berkeley, Calif., bringing together activists, students and religious leaders to discuss strategies for peacebuilding and activism.
“The real center of the meeting was the Dr. Vincent Harding, Dorothy Zellner, and Rabbi Brian Walt,” said Vilkomerson. Speakers involved in other social movements spoke to JVP members about their respective involvement in the Civil Rights movement, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the anti-apartheid movement.
“It was extremely compelling,” said Vilkomerson. As the main conference wrapped up Sunday, the JVP Rabbinical Council and student groups will take part in a leadership development day.
Roughly 300 people will gather for the Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) membership meeting in Berkeley, Calif., this weekend, sending a clear message that activists calling for peace between Israelis and Palestinians are breaking through into the national conversation.
The group, claiming roughly 130,000 supporters and chapters in about 40 cities and campuses, has grown considerably in recent years, challenging the clout of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Members (AIPAC) and other conservative pro-Israel lobby groups that have promoted unwavering U.S. support for Israel, including $3.1 billion in military aid each year.
“We’re expecting 300 people from all over the country and we’re very excited about it,” said Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director for Jewish Voice for Peace to Mint Press News. “This is a closed meeting for our active membership. The intent of the meeting is to build community, to talk about collective strategies and to learn from each other and think about where Jewish Voice for Peace is going in the next few years.”
JVP has been at the forefront of the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement in the U.S., a non-violent action designed to apply economic pressure on Israel to end the occupation of the West Bank and negotiate in earnest toward a peace settlement with the Palestinians.
Prominent speakers from the Civil Rights movement, the anti-Apartheid struggle and the current Palestinian BDS campaign will be on hand to speak to JVP members about the histories and strategies of their respective activist movements. Noura Erakat, a Freedman Teaching Fellow at Temple Law School, and Rabbi Brian Walt, an anti-apartheid activist, are among the 10 speakers scheduled to speak.
BDS began in 2005, when Palestinian civil society groups issued a call for a campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights. Many activists, including JVP members, see the proliferation of Jewish settlements on the West Bank as a barrier to peace.
Since the territory was seized by Israel during the 1967 war, Israel has built hundreds of settlements, considered illegal under international law. Today there are more than 500,000 Jewish settlers living on the West Bank.
“We obviously see ourselves as a broad, growing dynamic movement. It is getting stronger all the time. We are seeing change occur. The BDS conversation is taking hold nationally,” Vilkomerson said.
The JVP conference comes on the heels of a divestment vote at the University of California Berkeley, where the ASUC Senate voted 11-9 Thursday in favor student bill, SB 160, calling for a $14 million divestment from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Cement Roadstone Holdings.UC- three companies that the Retirement Fund and the UC General Endowment hold shares in. Proponents of the divestment bill have pushed their university to divest from companies students claim have helped Israel carry out human rights abuses against the Palestinian people.
Previous divestment campaigns have yielded some success for the BDS camp. In a June 2012 decision, The TIAA-CREF retirement fund removed $73 million from Caterpillar Inc. after a lengthy divestment campaign spearheaded by New York University Professors and members of Jewish Voice for Peace. Vilkomerson believes that BDS is in its early stages and could grow considerably in the coming months.
“In the last few weeks alone, a few UC schools have had divestment hearings that have been very intense and very public. There will be many schools having these hearings in the next 6-9 months,” she said.