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Local jews stand against occupation

By Vince Briggeman, Special to the Berkeley Daily Planet
Monday March 18, 2002

Dr. Amichai Kronfeld called the publishing of a quarter-page advertisement in the New York Times condemning the Israeli occupation a modest contribution to an ongoing struggle.  

Kronfeld, one of four Bay Area residents spearheading the Jewish Voices Against Israel’s Occupation (JVAO) group, saw a nine-month project reach one of its goals Sunday in the publishing of the ad that summarized its position on the conflict in Israel, and ended with three simple statements: The Settlements must go. The Occupation must end. There can be no peace without Justice. 

A recent letter to the Berkeley Daily planet and other responses the JVAO’s position has received from the Jewish community indicate an enormous diversity of opinion within the community.  

The letter, which would represent the extreme in some of this dialogue spoke of “ the covert and overt tide of the Bay Area anti-Semitism,” and referred to militant “ pro-Palestinians” as “self-hating Jews” and “Uncle Isaacs.”  

But Kronfeld says in response to that no one Jew has the right to dictate how all Jews respond or behave. 

“I’ve earned the right to criticize Israel,” he said. “ It’s not a matter of self-hating. It’s a brutal occupation that is going on. It’s clear who is being occupied and who has all of the power.”  

Dr. Bluma Goldstein, a former Berkeley professor of German Literature and Philosophy, and the chair of the Jewish Studies program there from 1995-2000, echoed Kronfeld’s opinion of the diversity of opinions within the Jewish community about Israeli occupation. 

“I think there are a lot of Jews in the area who have a lot of different opinions,” Goldstein said. “It’s difficult to say. The problem arises when someone believes he can speak for all Jews, and that anyone who disagrees needs to be eliminated or cast out. I find that very problematic.”  

According to Kronfeld, it was Goldstein, a long-time political activist, who hatched the idea for the Times advertisement. The two of them, along with Dr. David Glick and Annette Herskovits, not only had to reach a group consensus on the issues at hand, but also needed to raise a sizable amount of capital. 

A full-page ad in the Sunday Times Op-Ed section runs for $114,000. But with the backing of more than 600 supporters — all reporting to be Jewish — as well as a plug for the group in the most recent issue of The Nation, the funding came through. 

“We decided on the Times because it has the broadest base,” said Goldstein. “We started with the idea of a full-page ad, but decided in the end that we needed to cut it down. Fortunately, we got a lot of help from a lot of people.”  

“I’m so happy we were able to pull it together,” said Kronfeld. When we began, we thought, ‘How expensive could this really be?’ We were kind of naive when we started out.”  

Kronfeld is Israeli and fought in both the Six Days’ War of 1967 and the October War in 1973.  

The group’s mission began last June. The unforeseen events of Sept. 11th only intensified the urgency of their message. Since then, increased violence and the perception that the conflict is moving further from resolution has given the JVAO’s message even more relevance, according to Kronfeld. 

“If anything, September 11th proved to us that a resolution in the Middle East was not only a moral imperative, but also essential to the security of the United States,” Kronfeld said. 

The JVAO advocates the establishment of an international peacekeeping force in the region as well as an end to further Israeli occupation in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.  

But the group “ as Jews and U.S. tax-payers” also calls upon the American government to suspend military aid and reduce financial aid until an evacuation of the occupied areas is completed. The funds should then be redirected toward aiding the “devastated infrastructure of Palestine.”  

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority should “make every effort to curtail acts of violence against Israeli civilians. 

Both Kronfeld and Goldstein say that a move back to the pre-1967 borders is the most integral step in the progress of peace, followed by the eventual development of a two-state agreement. In order for this to happen, the United States must play a larger, more active role. 

Kronfeld feels any problems concerning the legitimacy of the American Jewish perspective on issues so geographically removed, don’t apply in his case. 

“It’s not just the Palestinians who deserve better. The Israelis are not living in paradise.”  

As for potential opposition to the JVAO ideology in the Berkeley area, Goldstein told of a past lecture at the Berkeley International House by Palestinian activist Hanan Aschwari, who has made an appearance on the McNeil-Lehrer Report in support of the Palestinian cause.  

“There were a few students definitely there to disrupt things,” Goldstein said. “There’s no question that there is a group of students heavily supported by the Jewish Federation.  

“But that sort of thing, again, is just a section of the population.”