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The Pro-Palestinian OWS Offshoot

Liza Behrendt defends group’s mission, direct action against Birthright

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I’ve expressed my qualms about tethering Occupy Wall Street to the pro-Palestinian cause. Along with the Boston marchers who briefly “occupied” the Israeli consulate up there, the most prominent example of this might be Occupy the Occupiers, an informal offshoot of Young Jewish and Proud (itself the youth wing of the left-wing Jewish Voice for Peace), which earlier this month released a statement declaring, “Let us stand up to the 1 percent in our own community—the powerful institutions that support Israel’s corporate-backed military control of the Palestinian people and act as the gatekeepers for our community.” Its first act was a direct action against a Birthright alumni event featuring Steven L. Pease, author of The Golden Age of Jewish Achievement.

I spoke this morning with Liza Behrendt, a member of Young Jewish and Proud who helped organize the direct action and compose the Occupy the Occupiers statement.

How did Occupy the Occupiers come about?
A lot of people involved with Young Jewish and Proud continue to be active in Occupy Wall Street, and we’ve been really inspired by the different directions the messaging of Occupy Wall Street has gone. For example, Occupy the Department of Education was really exciting. Small actions all around have expanded the basic message to address certain issues. Bank accountability and raising taxes on the 1 percent and providing more social services are things a lot of people get behind. But why is it we care about taxing the 1 percent? It’s because of all the issues. It’s because of our values. So, there’s really this opening for a lot of people who have been involved in fighting oppression. It gives it a wider reach than if it had only been about banks.

What made you choose that Birthright event for your first direct action?
It succinctly exemplified a problem of the agendas of Jewish institutions. There are a lot of people who were upset with Birthright because of how they portray the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on their trips, but this was an example of them going beyond that. The very fact that they are having a Wall Street series, titled “Wall Street Series,” I think shows how out of touch they are with broader social movements. It was sort of comical that they would focus their attention on that. And this book in particular rang problematic to a lot of us, in that it’s saying—it’s called The Golden Age of Jewish Achievement, celebrating why Jews are so successful, without a critical take on privilege and oppression. At a time when the public eye is really on inequality and the impossibility of gaining success in this country, it felt offensive to be glorifying a group that has maintained a degree of privilege. On top of that, the role models that Steven Pease presents and highlights are not role models that progressive Jews can get behind. He spends a lot of time on Lev Leviev, for example, who became enormously wealthy through the blood diamond trade and has a huge investment in illegal Israeli settlements.

My main concern is that tarring OWS as anti-Israel is among the easiest ways for the right to discredit the movement, and while they’re certainly going to try to do that no matter what, this is just making their jobs easier. Tell me why I’m wrong.
I think it’s an important concern. I think that the right is going to find any way they can to smear Occupy Wall Street. When we have this kind of momentum and are doing really huge publicly, whether it’s support in the polls or just the vast number of people that are turning out to support us, I think it’s really limiting ourselves to be thinking about those right-wing people and giving them more reasons to smear us. Of course we should be strategic about our messaging. I have not talked to anybody, and I don’t think there are too many people, who would be supportive but would stop supporting simply if they knew anti-occupation activists were taking part. There are a lot of controversial views. There are a lot of people who oppose the Federal Reserve! There are policy prescriptions people have in the park that a lot of people don’t agree with.

It’s such a broad movement that we are limiting ourselves and the people we can reach if every step we take we second-guess ourselves about giving the right more reasons to hate us. I think we should be thinking, Who can we reach? Who can we draw in?

I also wonder if the energy isn’t better spent on things that the vast bulk of the movement agrees on, and specifically on the basic economic message. Tell me why I’m wrong.
We’re very clear in our statement that that is how we relate it to Occupy Wall Street. Power and wealth is unevenly distributed in the Jewish community, and this is a problem for Jewish institutions: that certain donors have a disproportionate influence over the agendas of Jewish institutions, and this is alienating to people. Jewish organizations are so stuck because they’re pressured into following an agenda, or else they can’t operate anymore. This is not a democratic community when you have this kind of control. And it’s not something unique to the Jewish community, of course—it’s symptomatic of larger economic inequality. The Jewish community is not immune to these problems—I think a lot of times it’s viewed as a privileged group, that most Jews are well off. It’s important that we bring Occupy Wall Street into the Jewish community. Economic inequality is the root, and on top of that comes all these societal problems. Uncritical support for Israeli policies is something that is really attributable to the disproportionate influence of right-wing donors. And this is why so many Jews who oppose the occupation are being censored across the country.

You say this is bringing Occupy Wall Street to the Jewish community. Do you want the reverse to happen as well—for Occupy Wall Street itself to begin to propound and absorb these Jewish concerns? Or are you content simply to take the broader message and apply it to this smaller community?
I’d say the latter: We’re more about bringing it to the Jewish community.

Occupy the Occupiers: A Jewish Call to Action [Mondoweiss]
Occupy Bursts In on Birthright [New Voices]
Earlier: Stray Flotilla Tweet Raises Questions About OWS
The Problem With OWS’ Palestine Association
More Thoughts on Linking OWS and Israel

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Income inequality is not rooted in Wall Street but in global labor competition.

And Israel has tried twice to hand the Palestinian territories back in return for diplomatic recognition and a cessation of hostilities, only to be slapped back.

But, hell, who cares about facts?

I would like to know whether Liza Behrendt supports the bi-national solution for Israel, or whether she wants to preserve Israel’s Jewish character?

And should Israelis who descend from exiles from Arab nations receive economic compensation for the injustices done to them?

While we’re on the topic of justice for the dispossessed peoples of the world, what is Behrendt doing about the displacement of the aborigines in Australia, or Spain’s continued occupation of Ceuta and Melilla in North Africa? What about the Kurds getting strafed by the Turkish military, or the British in the Falklands and Northern Ireland? Too remote? What does she think about living conditions among Native Americans on reservations? Does this fall outside her purview, or simply not trouble her conscience?

Because, of course, this has nothing to do selectively targeting Israel and trying to co-opt a movement by tacking on an issue all but unrelated to its professed goals, right?

…or is it in fact the case that, heterogeneous as it may, for one faction at least, Occupy Wall Street is in fact a stalking horse for attacking Israel, in the hopes of furthering the campaign to eliminate all ethnic and religious minorities, be they Christians, Kurds, Copts, Jews or Bahai, from the Middle East? I didn’t see the Behrendt’s group represented in Eli Valley’s cartoon.

And what for the love of humanity is wrong with any group of people trying to foster a love of their traditions? Behrendt adheres to her views about Israel, which are reflexively hostile, but she is entitled to them, and to assemble peaceably and discuss them with others, and even to proselytize.

But what right does she have to try to silence those who take a different view? They are entitled to the same rights she is. Is she merely trying to recreate the conditions that exist throughout most of the Middle East, in which any kind of dissent, or, God forbid, support for Israel, would meet with the severest punishment. Is that what what Behrendt aspires to?

She talks as though her rights to campaign for a cause she believes in have been infringed, but that is in no meaningful way the case. Donors of any stripe can contribute to any cause they wish to support, and those who oppose those causes can challenge them. But the impulse to silence the opposition is wholly contrary the political character of the United States and bespeaks of the kind of temperament that would impose its views willy nilly on a population it failed to persuade through democratic means.

Let’s be honest here and say that Behrendt’s group actually represents the one percent. The only people who pay attention to JVP are people who hate Israel and Jews. More importantly, who funds JVP and groups like it? Look for the petro dollars and you will find the answer. These people are the shills for the rich and the powerful who want to destroy Israel.

Eyeing the IMF’s list of nations ranked according to gross domestic product per capita, 2010, (available on wikipedia), I see

1 Qatar 88,222
2 Luxembourg 81,466
3 Singapore 56,694
4 Norway 51,959
5 Brunei 48,333
6 United Arab Emirates 47,439
7 United States 46,860
— Hong Kong 45,944
8 Switzerland 41,950
9 Netherlands 40,973
10 Australia 39,764

Kuwait is 14. Israel is 28.

Will Behrendt be marching in Kuwait, or Qatar, or Brunei or the UAE?

Is she going to tell those countries to distribute their oil wealth equitably among their fellow Arabs? Because, they don’t do that, of course, despite their means, and their avowed interest in ‘Palestine’.

I applaud and support JVP’s humanitarianism activism and message. Don’t allow the importance of your message to be bullied or muzzled by those who are in blind denial to the sufferings of those living under Israeli military occupation and the monetary and human cost of that occupation to the 99 percent. Peace.

What a fanciful imagination you have, Jules. Who is bullying or muzzling JVP? It is apparently JVP that was attempting to bully and muzzle a speaker at an event hosted by a group whose views do not accord with their own.

Incidentally, it was Graham Greene, a man who deplored the United States with toxic relish, who wrote mockingly of inveterate tendency among political agitators to cling with simple-minded faith to some totemic number, as though characterizing a movement quantitatively endowed it with a kind of mystical truth. Who is the one percent? Who is the ninety-nine percent? If you’re talking about disparities in income, I’ve read that the widening gap actually exists between the upper ten percent in the earnings bracket and those earning less.

Franklin says:

LOL ROFL. One wonders how Tablet can indulge this sort of incoherent psychobabble. Really.

Ezekiel says:

As long as ignorant fools like of Liza Behrend have prominent roles in the occupy movement, there is no place in this movement for me. It should be obvious to anyone with the least bit of interest, that the Israeli “occupation of Palestinian land” – if it is an occupation at all – is motivated by security and/or religious and/or national concerns, and has nothing to do with the plight of the 99% of Americans whose share of the American national prosperity has been steadily diminishing while the power of the 1% has grown boundlessly. But since it is cool to bash Israel, any venue would do, and I’m sure that Liza Behrend thinks of herself as both cool and righteous. In reality, however, the damage she is doing to the cause of the occupation movement, and to social justice in general, is immense, by diluting and confusing the message of the movement, and driving away the rational middle class, whose vigorous participation in the process is the only hope for a better future. If I were a 1 percenter, I would cheer her on, look forward to the disintegration of the movement and to further solidifying the chokehold of the 1 percent on the American economy and political system.

Bill Pearlman says:

Enough with the spoiled little children of JVP. ( who would fit right into a Hitler youth rally ). Ok, we get it. You hate Israel and Judaism. But its nice to see the precedent set in the sense that their events are now fair game.

Bill, it’s plainly evident from all of the incendiary comments you post on Tablet on a consistently angry regular basis that you are just brimming and seething with a sick simmering hatred that I would hope that you can one day can come to grips with and get a handle on because it certainly smacks of an undiagnosed emotional or psychological disorder that is much in need of some professional attention.

Dan Friedman says:

Class warfare and Jew-baiting, the two go hand-in-hand.


Hi. I don’t post “incendiary comments” on Tablet or any other site. So when I state for the record that JVP is a frankly impotent fringe movement that exists to provide the larger pro-Palestinian movement with a putatively-Jewish fig leaf so they can try and repackage themselves as “anti-Zionists”, and that your efforts to save yourselves by groveling at the feet of the international Hard Left/Hamas/Hezbollah groups are doomed to failure, please take that as the view of a political independent who knows what JVP stands for. They’re not a solution to any problems; they are an enabler of them.

Ben, I was addressing Bill. Your comments incendiary or otherwise are your own affair.

Dani ben Lev says:

JVP are hysterical freaks. and nobody takes them seriously. Gunning for free speech and then screaming down people in debates and other public forums is bizarre. If they had a point why not make it in a truly democratic fashion?

on another point just as reactionaries hide behind the term “conservative” so “progressive” has become some bed-pan for the far left in the USA. JVP & Co have taken a leaf out of FOX’s/Tea Party book of Operations and have stooped as low as Billo and other fire brands. Both are to be avoided on the political parquet at all costs, for they bring no viable solutions but are more akin to socio-political jack-off parties. No offense
to my dear gay friends at this point.

Bill Pearlman says:

Jules, if your start acting like the brown shirts of 1938 then you can’t be surprised when people start showing up at your events for a little payback. And believe me, I can tell that JVP is a bunch of spoiled suburban children who will run home crying to mama when that happens.

This woman and her movement do not represent anyone except themselves.

Their legitimacy is nil.

The Israeli and American Jewish public overwhelmingly support a strong, Zionist state in Israel.

I await her protesting the hell that the Palestinian criminals have created for their own subjugated people.

mike livingston says:

The problem with this analysis is that it is mostly the wealthier, better educated parts of the community that agree with these ideas and the less wealthy, less educated part that loathes them

Cherlie says:

The occupy movement is NOT about Israel & I suppose I resent others trying to hijack the main message with their own agendas… It’s about the 99% on which we agree.

I’d also like to add that my daughter’s Birthright experience was a lot different than that described by these “young, proud” Jews. She returned from Israel with a refreshing view of Palestinians… she especially heard many positive things from the IDF (her Israeli peers) who traveled with her group… all had Palestinian friends… her most favorite experience, camping in the desert with the Bedouins. And she returned with a very positive view of her own identity and the hope for a better world. She went to Israel with an open mind & heart…

On the other hand, Israel’s detractors e.g., the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) & other “peace” groups have targeted Birthright, even encouraging their young & proud supporters to use the program for a “free” ride to “Palestine”… to further the Palestinian cause… (not exactly honest, i.e., hidden agenda :( …)

International Solidarity Movement (ISM) which has encouraged young Jewish supporters to use the program for a “free” trip to “Palestine”… to cause similar disruption there…

Occupy is a world market place of many ideas and the sad attempt to censor and limit the space for their expression is sad in the extreme.

Bill, I am not brown nosing for a “brown shirt,” are you angling for so dubious a wretched reward?

What an ugly aspiration.

arcaneone says:

The Palestinians are being infantalized, because they never, in any fundamental manner, have to make any compromise or adjustment–The one to give in Is Israel. I hope that era is behind us.

C Fineblum says:

There are three separate issues by the anti Israel OWS presenters:

1.The extreme disparity of wealth between the most wealthy and the” 99% ” rest of us.
2. The land dispute between the Israelis ( Mostly Jewish ) and the Arabs living in Israel.
3. The one sided support of the Zionist side of the land dispute by the American
Jewish community including the wealthy and influential part of our community and most of the rest of us.

In reference to the income disparity between the top and the rest of us:

It is a historical fact that if you have
freedom you will have capitalism.

This has been associated with unhappy and well-know extremes of wealth.

On the other hand, capitolism also absolutely requires:

A.Workers who are healthy enough and smart enough to be efficient workers.

B. Customers who are wealthy enough to be
paying customers. This is why wide-spread poverty is not only bad for the poor but also for the rest us. If the workers can’t afford to buy production of industry the system collapses.
Thus, we have minimum wage laws and the protection of Collective Bargining.

2.The Israeli- Arab conflict reqires the mutual acceptance of ” Safe and defensible borders ” You are correct; the “Jewish Establishment” as well as most of the rest of us support Israel. It is slyly inferred that the fact that wealthy American Jews also support Israel, that they and Zionism must be wrong and evil.

The association of wealth with injustice and evil is illogical. Only earnings on investment can fund new factories and employment opportunities.

Jules is an antisemite who posts under various names.

Liza like many OWS brats comes from a wealthy family.

When I see her occupying her own family and demanding that they share their wealth with the poor, especially poor Jews I’d believe that she is sincere.

To me she is just another narcissistic show off who has decided to make the Jewish world her stage.

Like previous wealthy Jewish leftists (Trotsky, Rosa Luxemburg, etc.) she wants to make a career on the graves of the Jewish community.

I would suggest that we occupy the OCW hypocrites.

Naftali says:

JVP Are the modern version of KAPOS

I think this same philosophy was tried about 100 years ago. It was called mmarxism, socialism, communism. Some sort of “ism” and it didn’t work then and it won’t work now. Same rhetoric, the evil factory owner treats the factory worker poorly, cheats, is too rich.
Whatever this woman believes in and thinks is wrong with world, it would be worth her time to spend more time studying history and less time spouting unfounded rhetoric. If this organization truly thinks that the rich are the problem, they are in for a rude awakening. It’s not the rich, it’s tax loopholes, greed, corruption and myriad of other problems that have blown up. Making everyone equal is unrealistic and counter to human nature. there are always the goody goody’s, the smart, the unethical and there always will be.

Dani ben Lev says:

The Golden Gate should be closed off with bricks and then the entire Bay Area flooded.

That’s quite an enlighten philosophy. Flood them all out and then place them all in Palestinian refugee camps perhaps. I’m sure you’re quite pleased with yourself and that cute and clever quip. Stay sick, I’m sure it suits you.

Arnon, the one sole alias that you operate, flame, and defame under other than Arnon is Aggravated Unrealistic Asshole. It’s a long lonely livid alias but it’s an apt and descriptive one. Good day to you sir, always keep the sun to your back and don’t endeavor to stumble and fall on your glib clowning backside.

Carrie says:

This dolt is given a soap box on this site, a supposedly middle of the road (but really leftist sympathizing) website and in the same breath claims that she and others against occupation are being censored. Is there anything left to say?

Is there anything more pathetic and sad than a whining ignorant self-hating Jew? Why isn’t Liza taking the good fight to the poor oppressed people in Damascus or Tripoli? Liza, when Jews in Sderot are being bombarded by rockets & missiles, where is your outrage? Liza, go back to your hole in Waltham & “keep up the good work”.

ScottB says:

Ms. Behrendt is daft and chutzpadik if she believes she represents the views of 99% of the American Jewish community. In fact, while there is a voluble segment of the community that shares her views, it’s safe to say that the vast majority support Israel and are more than delighted to attend (or have their children attend) Birthright trips to Israel.

Anti-Israel Jews think if they yell and scream and shout people down it will make it look like they have a huge following. They should know that just because they are the loudest in the room does not mean people care what they have to say.

Anti anti anti anti up the ante on anti…your view is so black and white and your shit’s just wired stretched real tight. Grow up girl. There’s a whole lot of gray area out there in the world so get a clue.

Christopher Orev says:

Maybe it’s time for Tablet to kill its comments section? Usually, I’m a proponent of the open forum that comments provide, but the ugly, black-white dichotomy of the ideologically driven responses here is terribly disappointing. Thoughtful comments hardly ever appear and, when they do, readers must wade through the bigoted nonsense of the Left and Right to find it.

for Zlota says:

Wouldn’t killing the comment section be censorship? I personally find it fascinating.

philip mann says:

`maintained a degree of privelage`. This just one week after marking Cristalnacht. Jews finally ,at least for now,have a position where we aren`t chased through the streets. We are able to hold our own,in a limited way, and people feel guilty about it.

By the`s interesting how this article comes in the same issue as the feature about Umberto Eco, discussing secular anti- Semitism.

Self hating is simply put puerile parrot talk which has no firm legs on which to walk. In a land of deep denying self delusion there are proud plumed parrots a plenty in pompous profusion.

b shaffer says:

Marc. Liza Behrendt says “We’re very clear in our statement that that is how we relate it to Occupy Wall Street.” Maybe. But I’m wondering if Ms. Behrendt & Co shout out too loud for anyone to hear. Does she really think that vehemently, if not violently, hijacking someone’s event to co-opt OSW’s populist “people’s microphone” technique to mind-numbing call&repeat propagandist ends plays well to a people with a long memory? Also, Marc, regarding the assertion that “And this is why so many Jews who oppose the occupation are being censored across the country,” I would hope the interviewer would seek out examples, and see if the examples constitute censorship. Not getting invited to, or being welcome at, all venues is not censorhip. Certainly. the internet provides ample media opportunites to get one’s message out. Again, whether anyone listens depends much on the messenger.


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The Pro-Palestinian OWS Offshoot

Liza Behrendt defends group’s mission, direct action against Birthright

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