Thursday, August 22, 2013

Independent Jewish Voices in Alberta

I joined Independent Jewish Voices a few years ago when I became frustrated with the situation in the Middle East, and how, if you are Jewish, you are expected to think a certain way politically. I also disagree with the way politics and faith are purposely interconnected on this issue: if you are Jewish, you are expected to support Israel unconditionally. Finally, and probably the most concerning, is that fact that any debate on the issue of Israel - any disagreement - is immediately shot down in conversation and the person branded as a self-hating Jew or an anti-Semite (a ridiculous accusation to someone who self-identifies as being Jewish).

Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) provides an alternative voice for Canadian Jews like me. It is a political organization that counters groups like B'nai Brith and the Canadian Jewish Congress, which are political (not religious) organizations claiming to speak for the entire Jewish population in this country.

Over the last couple of years I have spoken for IJV at a number of rallies concerning human rights for Palestinians. Most recently, I spoke at Al Quds Day on August 2. What I say in this video pretty well sums up my views and the purpose of IJV:

IJV has chapters in individual cities, with representatives on a national steering committee which shapes the direction of the organization. I decided it was time for more of a voice from the Prairies and recently joined the IJV steering committee as the representative for Alberta. With a few members in Calgary and Edmonton combined, it made more sense to have a province-wide chapter rather than one for both cities.

I have been spending some time trying to attract new members. It's not easy - even amongst "progressive" Jewish people, there can be fear of retribution over speaking out, as well as ambivalence on the whole topic itself. Non-Jewish people are also welcome to join - the only difference is that non-Jews cannot join the steering committee or vote at an AGM. The reason for this is for IJV to maintain its identity as a Jewish but non-Zionist organization.

Membership is confidential (unless one chooses to make it public, like I did) and requires very little in the way of a time commitment. Mostly, members receive emails that contain information about current BDS campaigns (SodaStream is the big one right now), news items of concern, and petitions. BDS, to explain for those who don't know, means Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions. IJV is the first national organization in the world to adopt BDS, in 2009.

I will be starting up a low-traffic email list for Alberta members, and possibly organizing one or two in-person events over the coming months (likely discussion circles over coffee). However, for now, if you are someone who is concerned about the one-sided viewpoint concerning the actions of Israel that is propagated by the mainstream; if you are concerned about the human rights violations of the Palestinian people; if you believe in truth, social justice, and peace: please consider joining IJV.

On a personal note, for the record, I am not anti-Israel and have never spoken against Israel's right to exist as a country. I believe that most of the people who live there want peace and that the actions of the Israeli government and IDF are to blame for much of the suffering that continues in that region.

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