One of the new clubs making waves on campus this fall is a Macalester chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). JVP’s broad mission statement is 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.” Similar in principle to other clubs, JVP is a national organization with a network of over 70 chapters across the country. While this is the first time that JVP has been present on Macalester’s campus. Macalester has a long history of activism and action around the Palestine-Israel conflict, with clubs such as IfNotNow or Macalester Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights (Mac SUPER).
Technically, JVP isn’t an official student organization yet, as the chairs submitted their proposal last week. However, they have hit the ground running with their faculty advisor, professor Crystal Moten from the history department, and are holding weekly meetings. The need for this club, according to founding chairs Saskia Sackner-Bernstein ’21, Serena Toquan ’22 and Freddy Barragan ’22, comes from their belief that other organizations aren’t strong enough in their stances regarding the Palestinian people’s right to return to Israel and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
JVP aims to act beyond ending the occupation of Palestine. Toquan commented on the political weight that JVP brings, “We wanted to be radical in our stance, and JVP is a way to do that. Instead of having a cultural org, we wanted a political org that was politically driven and action driven.”
The politics of JVP do not align with a singular two state solution. Instead, the website clarifies that JVP’s official position is “any solution that is consistent with the full rights of both Palestinians and Israeli Jews, whether one binational state, two states, or some other solution.” However, they do provide content on their website that calls into question the possibility of a just two state compromise with the given relations between Palestine and Israel. The main goal of the organization is to end the occupation of Palestine and restore equal rights for all citizens in the area.
While JVP is explicit that it is not exclusive to Jews, it does identify with Jewish ideals and use Judaism as a lens for activism. The co-chairs of JVP at Mac feel strongly that, in Sackner-Bernstein’s words, “The core of the issue is a political issue, it’s not a religious conflict. JVP makes an impact when Jewish people say that this isn’t about religion, it’s about politics and human rights.”
As Israel continues to move towards a Jewish theocratic state, the line begins to blur between political and religious intentions in the conflict. This is why confusion often arises as to what ‘side’ Jews, Palestinians and everyone else should be on. JVP is committed to taking away this pressure because its members believe that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is larger than just religion.
Barragan echoes this notion. “The Palestine occupation has connections to imperialism, colonialism, geopolitical tension, oil and capitalism. The way that JVP approaches it is a collective effort to end the things that hurt a lot of people. This isn’t a single issue. It doesn’t impact one group, it impacts everyone.” Barragan said.
In their approach to their work at Macalester, the chairs of the JVP club expressed dedication to educating about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well as activism — they hope to have a healthy balance between the two. At JVP’s first meeting, the chairs recognized that members have varying levels of knowledge about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and passed around an anonymous question box to take away any embarrassment someone might have about asking a question.
In addition to their education based work, the chairs hope to begin movie screenings, organizing with groups that are in Israel and Palestine as well as in the Twin Cities, combating hate crimes on campus and creating a divestment campaign. Sackner-Bernstein ideally sees the divestment work of JVP to be similar to that of Fossil Free Mac and their work with the administration to ensure Macalester does not partner with groups that are harmful to the environment.
Before the JVP chapter can get started on big projects, they are focused on raising awareness and being a force of action within the Macalester community. The weekly meeting takes place at 7:30pm in the Sounds of Blackness Lounge in Turck on Monday nights.
If you’re curious or looking to get involved, checkout jewishvoiceforpeace.org or email Saskia at [email protected]