Boston Jewish establishment org moves to ostracize venerable Workmen’s Circle for rubbing shoulders with anti-Zionists

Philip Weiss – January 19, 2019
There is great tragic awful news coming out of Boston involving the American Jewish community’s reactionary adherence to Zionism.

The Boston Jewish Community Relations Council, which was founded to fight anti-semitism in 1944, voted overwhelmingly Thursday night to move towards throwing out one of its founding members, the Boston Workmen’s Circle, because BWC had signed on to statements with Jewish Voice for Peace, which is anti-Zionist and supports Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) targeting Israel.

The 62 to 13 vote, in one of the capitals of liberal ideals and abolitionism, is an affirmation that the Jewish establishment stands with Zionism yesterday today and tomorrow, and therefore a thrilling challenge to young Jews, that to save Jewish life in America they will have to break down these institutions or at least organize out of their shadows, so that a positive mission can re-emerge.
Here is the pointed response to the move by Rebecca Vilkomerson of Jewish Voice for Peace:
this sure says it all: @BostonJCRC which includes in its membership CAMERA, ZOA & AIPAC, which hold overtly racist & islamophobic positions, are kicking founding member @CircleBoston out because they have participated in events/letters with @jvplive
There are countless Zionist organizations on the JCRC: the AJC, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Israeli American Council, the Anti-Defamation League.
Let’s review some of the statements issued after this disastrous vote on January 17. First, here’s the principle that the JCRC affirmed:
No member organization of JCRC, through its programs, activities and practices, shall partner with – in particular by co-sponsoring events primarily led or co-led by or by signing on to statements primarily organized or co-organized by – a self-identified Jewish organization that declares itself to be anti-Zionist…
The JCRC report says it moved to act after a July 2018 statement from Jewish Voice for Peace and 40 social justice organizations– including Boston Workmen’s Circle– saying that Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) targeting Israel is not anti-semitic.
Six months ago, a member organization of JCRC signed on to a statement organized by a self-identified Jewish organization aligned with the global BDS movement, a movement that denies the legitimate national aspiration of the Jewish people. That action triggered questions and concerns within our coalition, given our long-established view that support for BDS is contrary to our mission.
The Workmen’s Circle is a 110-year-old organization founded to help Jewish immigrants and dedicated to progressive, secular causes. Its own statement on the January 17 meeting from Jen Kiok, executive director, states that it lobbied “tirelessly” for weeks leading up to the vote to convince the JCRC of the folly of the move, to no avail.
It says the exclusion by the JCRC was long in coming, it wasn’t just that July letter.
Over the past decade, Boston Workmen’s Circle has taken several positions on issues from racial justice, to combating Islamophobia, to the Israeli occupation of Palestine which has led to some of our fellow Council members to call for BWC’s removal from the Council….
Specifically, in the aftermath of the Pittsburgh shooting, BWC organized a vigil against anti-semitism and white supremacy with the Kavod Community, IfNotNow, and Jewish Voice for Peace. Hundreds of people attended, and it was a powerful and much-needed gathering of mourning and solidarity. This brought the long-brewing conflict in the Council to a head around how BWC engages with the issues surrounding Israel/Palestine, the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS), and Zionism.
The JCRC report on the January 17th meeting, penned by Jeremy Burton, is a grandiose declaration of Zionist belief, filled with crocodile lamentations of humility and sadness about Israel’s loss of legitimacy and BDS’s ahistorical, unjust nature.
In our early years, support for a safe, secure, Jewish, democratic state of Israel meant working for the survival of a nascent state and supporting the early upbuilding as it absorbed Holocaust survivors from Europe and Jews expelled from Arab countries. Today it calls us to defend the State of Israel from those seeking to delegitimize its very existence
This is a tragic misunderstanding of mission:
The debate was tinged with sadness and humility.
Sadness that, in their frustration and anger with the government of Israel, some Jews would choose to hold the Jewish state to an unjust double standard; to act from an ahistorical ideology; to be part of organizations that lend credence to noxious and anti-Semitic views outside the Jewish community.
Sadness that at the end of this JCRC process we may ultimately separate from a venerable organization, the Boston Workmen’s Circle (BWC), a founder of our coalition and a home for many Jews in Boston who have no other Jewish space that resonates for them.
By contrast, the BWC statement on the decision is filled with idealism.
Since our founding, our members have held a range of views, deeply-rooted beliefs, and lived experiences regarding Israel/Palestine and Zionism. One of our most important values is to make room for this diversity of opinions and Jewish experiences, and ensure that all Jews have a home at BWC and in the Jewish community.
This issue is much larger than BWC and the JCRC. It’s reflective of the national conversation about who is and is not part of the “Jewish tent”, and the resulting negative impact this has on our collective work against anti-semitism, racism and white supremacy.
We will continue our work of building alternative, inclusive, and liberatory Jewish community together.
The JCRC decision may actually be more honest here, because it is becoming impossible to keep Zionists and non- and anti-Zionists in the same hall. Maybe J Street U is pulling that off, with young people still forming their ideas, but J Street U is now reportedly close to IfNotNow; and IfNotNow is decidedly non-Zionist (and on the path toward greater opposition, I bet).
A second BWC statement says that it the JCRC decision is “dangerous.”
It sets a dangerous precedent of condemnation by association, by placing a political litmus test on Council membership based on partnerships…
the reality is that the Boston Jewish community does not speak with a monolithic voice. The JCRC cannot claim to authentically represent the breadth of the Jewish community if it simultaneously passes and enforces policy designed to eliminate voices from the table. We are particularly concerned about Jews who have long been marginalized within mainstream community and with Jews who are feeling increasingly isolated from Jewish institutions because of red lines like the one approved last night.
Here’s the original statement on BDS organized by Jewish Voice for Peace last July that supposedly caused the first furor on the part of the JCRC. One of 40 social justice groups signing on was Boston Workmen’s Circle.
As social justice organizations from around the world, we write this letter with growing alarm regarding the targeting of organizations that support Palestinian rights in general and the nonviolent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, in particular. These attacks too often take the form of cynical and false accusations of antisemitism that dangerously conflate anti-Jewish racism with opposition to Israel’s policies and system of occupation and apartheid…
The Nobel Peace Prize-nominated, Palestinian civil society-led BDS movement for Palestinian rights has demonstrated an ongoing proven commitment to fighting antisemitism and all forms of racism and bigotry, consistent with its dedication to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Some of the undersigned organizations support BDS in full, others in part, and others have no formal position on BDS. We all affirm the current call for BDS as a set of tools and tactics that should not be defined as antisemitic.
IfNotNow has weighed in:
We stand with @CircleBoston, who are a model of inclusive Jewish community.
It’s decisions like this that prove @BostonJCRC and others irrelevant in the face of the crises facing our community: the growing white nationalist movement and endless Occupation over Palestinians.
And you wonder why liberal hero Barney Frank once confided in Jeff Halper that he saw what was happening to Jerusalem and the West Bank but he couldn’t issue a statement against settlements because Jews in his district would rebel.
J Street and New Israel Fund are members of the JCRC. What will they do in the wake of this decision?
Burton speaks at J Street regularly. Last spring he got upset when he found himself on a panel with a young Jew supportive of BDS. Burton said he had only agreed to appear on the condition that BDS would not be debated; and so he was now in a “complicated position,” the poor man. Will J Street continue to give him a platform while denying a platform to anti-Zionists? Watch this space.
Thanks to Dave Reed.