As many Jews around the world today observe Tisha B’Av – a fast day that marks the anniversary of the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem and the Jewish people’s exile from the land of Israel – one Jewish group is spending the day protesting Israel.
Jewish Voice for Peace, a driving force behind the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel in the U.S., is helping organize a “Day of Action” outside the offices of TIAA-CREF, a major financial services institution, across the country. The protests are being held under the auspices of “We Divest,” a coalition founded and led by JVP. TIAA-CREF is being targeted because it has investments in several multinational companies that work with Israel.
The financial giant is holding its national shareholders meeting today in Charlotte, North Carolina. Protests will be held there and outside TIAA-CREF offices in Ann Arbor, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Ithaca, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Seattle.
Though today’s protest was not timed to coincide with Tisha B’Av, JVP’s activists have noted and appreciated the significance of the connection elsewhere. Yesterday, “The Palestinian Talmud,” a blog run by JVP’s Rabbinical Council, featured an entry about Tisha B’Av that promoted the “Day of Action” against Israel.
While the mainstream Jewish community views Tisha B’Av as an opportunity to rededicate its commitment to political sovereignty and support for the Jewish state, the blog post challenged the notion that the Jewish people need a land of their own, saying: “More times than I can count I’ve heard that Jews will not be safe in the world without Israel to protect us. My family and teachers and friends point to time after time of Jews being knocked down, kicked out, killed and say: it will happen again, no matter what. I look at that history and say: it can be different, it has to be.”
The author, a Reconstructionist rabbinical student named Jessica Rosenberg, acknowledges that many Jews spend the day reciting prayers (known as Kinot) that mourn the destruction of the Temples, but notes that she will observe the fast by reading stories and poems about “Palestinians who’ve been dispossessed and expelled from their land.” Rosenberg acknowledges the difficulty of connecting mourning about Jewish trauma with criticism of Israel (in her words, the “Palestinian history and trauma that my community has to reckon with our part in causing”), but commits to starting this “new ritual.”
This exploitation of Jewish tradition to promote an anti-Israel agenda is classic JVP. The group has even previously published a Passover Haggadah that rededicates the 3rd cup of wine to BDS and adds an olive to the Seder Plate to mark the Palestinian struggle.
In advance of today’s meeting, TIAA-CREF was presented with a BDS resolution supported by some of its investors. The company, however, chose not to put the resolution on the ballot of resolutions that will be considered because, as they expressed, the occupation isn’t a “significant social policy issue.”
The “We Divest” campaign was initiated in 2010 by JVP, which began circulating a petition at the time calling on TIAA-CREF to divest. At present, the petition has close to 21,000 signatories. In 2012, JVP announced that the “We Divest” campaign was being transformed into a coalition comprised of JVP, the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, Adalah-NY, the US Palestinian Community Network, Grassroots International, and the American Friends Service Committee. As part of its efforts to pressure TIAA-CREF to divest from the companies that work with Israel, the “We Divest” coalition holds regular protests and teach-ins and other events promoting TIAA-CREF divestment.