Jewish Voice for Peace Portland Chapter Condemns US Cuts to Humanitarian Aid to Palestinian Refugees

For Immediate Release
February 4, 2018
Portland, OR

In mid-January, the US State Department announced that the United States would withhold $65 million from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), a move that would impact upwards of 5.6 million Palestinian refugees.

“We are gravely concerned with and condemn this latest attack on the Palestinian people, our country’s transparent attempt to extort a surrender to the dictates of the Trump administration’s retrograde policies in the Middle East,” said Carol Landsman, a member of the Portland chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace.  “It is no accident that the US has targeted a humanitarian agency for this punishment, revealing once more a cruel obsession with imposing the greatest amount of human misery upon the most vulnerable.”

In addition to the withholding of $65 million payment to UNRWA, the State Department also moved to renege on a $45 million pledge it had made to the agency in December for food aid for the West Bank and Gaza.  While denying that these cuts are punishment for Palestinian protests of the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Donald Trump’s tweets believe that claim.  “… We pay the Palestinians HUNDRED [sic] of MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect,” tweeted Trump on January 2nd.  “[W]ith the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them”.

“It is clear that these massive cuts to aid for the neediest of Palestinian refugees is intended to punish and pressure the Palestinian Authority to accept the dictates of the US as our country moves to impose Israel’s conditions for negotiations,” said Rod Such, another member of the Portland JVP chapter.  “More than ever, the long-standing US complicity in Israel’s expanding and illegal occupation is now open and clearly visible, and deserves equal condemnation and challenge.”

The impact of the US cuts to UNRWA will be widespread and devastating.  This UN agency is responsible for funding health clinics and schools for upwards of two million people living in Lebanon, Jordan, as well as the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.  The UNRWA spokesperson, Christopher Gunness, described the consequences of the cuts as “the most serious financial crisis in UNRWA’s 70-year history.” (CNN, Jan. 17, 2018).

“We are witnessing the deliberate and dangerous escalation of tensions in an already highly charged conflict,” said William Singer, another member of the JVP chapter.  “Our government will be directly responsible for the closing of hundreds of schools and health clinics, increasing the desperation and misery of hundreds of thousands of people.”

Singer explained that the recent US policy moves erode the prospects for negotiations towards a peaceful and just resolution to the decades-old conflict in three ways.  “First, this emboldens the most chauvinistic, racist elements within Israeli society to continue the aggressive expansion of Israel’s illegal settlements and to resist any meaningful recognition of the legitimate rights of Palestinians; second, it undercuts and discredits Palestinians who are committed to negotiations; and third, it cruelly reinforces the lived experience of relentless oppression that provides growing strength to violent extremist organizations throughout the region.”

JVP-Portland is urging people to call their representatives in Washington, DC, to protest the UNRWA cuts and to demand that the US restore funding immediately.

Local Chapter Members React to Israeli Blacklisting of Jewish Voice for Peace

For Immediate Release
January 12, 2018
Portland, Oregon

Local chapter members react to Israeli blacklisting of Jewish Voice for Peace, affirm their support for Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions targeting Israeli state despite risk of travel ban.

Late last week, Israel revealed a blacklist of organizations that support BDS, the boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign which aims to end the decades-long illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.  Israel says it will bar leaders and activists in these organizations from entering the country.

“We can’t say we were surprised that our organization, Jewish Voice for Peace, was placed on this list since several members had already been previously barred from entering Israel,” said William Singer, a long-time Portland member of the local chapter.  “This merely reinforces our conviction both that the BDS movement is growing in importance and effectiveness, and that the Israeli state’s image as a vibrant democracy is crumbling to reveal the corruptions and criminality that Palestinians have long experienced and recognized.”

Singer said that he hopes this travel ban will encourage greater compassion among those directly affected, as well as friends and family, towards the many people who have been so much more seriously impacted by the US travel ban targeting Muslims.  “I don’t want to minimize the deeply emotional impact this will have on people with close family connections in Israel and on those whose solidarity work involves travel to the occupied territories, which will also be restricted by this travel ban,” said Singer.  “We just have to emphasize that these restrictions pale in significance when compared to the suffering inflicted upon the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza each and every hour, restrictions on travel, housing, access to healthcare, and the ever-present threat of violence and death.”

Israeli soldiers killed two Palestinian teenagers in recent days as the teenagers protested the announcement that the US will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.  (Ha’aretz, Jan. 11, 2018).

Others in the Portland chapter also felt there were implications beyond how the ban would affect individuals.  “I don’t have any close friends or family in Israel, so the blacklist doesn’t affect me in an immediate sense,” said Adam Segal, another JVP-Portland member.  “However, it does reinvigorate my sense that my work with JVP is necessary and just.”  Segal believes the ban reveals some important truths.  “We hear often the defense of Israel that it is the “only democracy in the middle east,” and yet I have to wonder what sort of democracy feels the need to actively ban its critics from entry,” Segal explained.  “I do want safety and prosperity for Israelis, but I also insist on justice for Palestinians and accountability for an Israeli government that persists in defying international law.”

“Boycotts have been a time-honored means in many struggles for liberation and social justice,” explained Carol Landsman, another member of JVP-Portland.  “Whether it was the Montgomery Bus Boycott of the Civil Rights movement here in the US in the 1950s or the divestment campaigns targeting South Africa apartheid in the 1970s and 80s, people of conscience have adopted these nonviolent tactics to bring about meaningful, significant and lasting social change,” said Landsman.

The travel ban targeting JVP and other organizations is seen as part of a broader strategy to attack and weaken the growing BDS movement in the US. Earlier this week, members of JVP-Portland and other local groups testified in the Portland City Council meeting calling on the commissioners and the mayor to speak out against anti-BDS legislation that is now making its way through the US Congress.

Portland Human Rights Commission Endorses Occupation Free Portland

Portland Human Rights Commission Endorses Occupation Free Portland

October 29, 2015
For Immediate Release
City of Portland Human Rights Commission Endorses Occupation-Free Portland’s Proposed Statement to the Socially Responsive Investments Committee

PORTLAND – On October 7, 2015, the Portland Human Rights Commission (HRC) unanimously voted to support Occupation-Free Portland’s request to the City’s Socially Responsible Investments committee (SRI) to place four U.S. companies on the City’s “Do Not Buy” list: Caterpillar, G4S, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola Solutions.

As a commission guided by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, HRC based its decision to endorse Occupation-Free Portland’s letter solely on the four companies’ involvement in human rights violations in Israel and Palestine. This was not an issue relating to religion or nationality, but solely on human rights impacts, and a request to the City of Portland to divest from companies profiting from violent conflict.

HRC’s endorsement of the letter was specifically for the Occupation-Free Portland request to be presented to SRI, where that City body would use their process to determine whether the request fits their guidelines for recommendation to Council.

The process that led to HRC’s endorsement of the letter began with public testimony at HRC’s September 2, 2015 meeting. After hearing from numerous community members, HRC requested additional information and additional time for review; and communicated to attendees that the commission would hold a vote at the October 7, 2015 meeting. This process allowed Human Rights Commissioners a full month between the time the request was introduced, to the time at which the vote took place.

Regardless of any post-meeting renouncements, the unanimous vote stands unless another full-Commission vote takes place.

“Our job as Human Rights Commissioners is to hear and take action on human rights issues,” said Audrey Alverson, HRC vice chair. “This work, by default, is difficult and uncomfortable and often involves push back. We recognize that many issues we are asked to consider are complex and multi-faceted; and as a commission, we work to hold true to our mission of upholding the ideals expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the ideal that those rights are endowed to all human beings, regardless of their politics. Our decisions may be unpopular to some or even to the majority, but human rights issues wouldn’t exist if these positions were popular.”

As an all-volunteer advisory body to City of Portland’s elected leaders, the HRC is not charged with making decisions nor declarations on City policy, but rather with advising elected leaders on human rights issues within the city. One avenue through which HRC’s advisory statements and endorsements are informed is by receiving community input in a variety of forums, including regularly scheduled public comment at HRC’s monthly meetings.

The HRC works to eliminate discrimination and bigotry, to strengthen inter-group relationships, and to foster greater understanding, inclusion, and justice for those who live, work, study, worship, travel and play in the City of Portland.

For more information, please contact Jeff Selby at jeff.selby@portlandoregon.gov

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