Peretz Centre, Vancouver Supports the Continuing Palestinian Nakba

…now is the time for Jewish people (to quote Ilan Pappe) to focus on what is just, not simply what seems possible or convenient at this current juncture in time.

This year, the Zionist organizations in Vancouver celebrated “Israel’s 64th Independence Day, Yom Ha’atzmaut” on April 25, 2012 at “The Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts”. The event was presented by the “Jewish Federation” of Greater Vancouver, sponsored by the “Jewish National Fund”, Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, ”Jewish Independent” and the Executive Hotel Vintage Park, along with 55 “Community Partners” including the “Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture”.
We know that many social justice and pro-Palestinian organizations have held some of their public meetings at the Peretz Centre, believing that the Centre is “secular” and progressive. We believe at this crucial junction in Palestinian history that all those who support the Palestinian struggle should be aware of whom they are dealing with; and further, if they support the Palestinian civil society call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions BDS against Israeli Apartheid, they must also boycott all those who support the settler colonialist project in Palestine.
When we learnt of their most recent “Partnering”, we wrote the following letter to the Peretz Centre.
“It has come to our attention that your name was one of many organizations that are “Community Partners” in the “Celebrate Israel’s 64th Independence Day, Yom Ha’atzmaut” (see Jewish Independent March 23, 2012, page 16, the back page). This is not the first time that your “secular” organization celebrates Israel’s “independence day”. We have been boycotting your centre and all events that were held in it since your first such endorsement of our Nakba (forced dispossession), although we have refrained from taking a public position.
Recently, leading Palestinian activists in the diaspora (of which I was one) issued a statement criticizing Gilad Atzmon for both his actions and statements on “Jewish identity”. The debate that has opened up around this issue requires us to also be critical of people of Jewish background who refuse to openly condemn Israel’s Apartheid policies towards the Palestinians and/or those supporting these Zionist policies. The time is now for all people of good conscience, especially those who identify as being of Jewish faith, to publicly distance themselves from these racist and discriminatory practices. In so doing, they will also further the struggle against anti-Jewish sentiment and prove, especially to the Palestinians, that many Jewish people are not willing to blindly follow “tribal loyalties”. Silence at this crucial point in history is complicity and can only be viewed as such.
We intend now to go public. Please respond to this email with any information that might clarify your position.
Thanks for your attention.”
We then received two emails from Richard Rosenberg, the president of the “Peretz Centre”. He told us in the first email dated April 6, 2012 that: “if we were to withdraw from the ‘Community Partners’ we would once again be marginalized in the Jewish community” and “On Thursday, April 19th, we will be having an executive meeting of the Peretz Centre, and your concerns will be discussed”. In his second email on May 1, 2012, he reiterated what he said previously and added that “Recognizing the Independence Day of Israel does not at all commit us to endorse current Israeli policies”…and that “the Peretz Centre is essentially not a political nor a lobby group.”
We believe that Mr. Rosenberg and his executive preferred to ignore our points and bury their heads in the sand. We regret to tell them that “recognizing the Independence Day of Israel” is a political stand that denies the Palestinian people their rights and their existence. Furthermore, by recognizing the pro-Israeli Zionist organizations as “the Jewish community”, the Peretz Centre is also contributing to promoting anti-Semitism and hurting the wellbeing and interests of all Jews by attributing to them the war crimes that Israel commits. We wish that all of the Peretz executive and membership attended the meeting that was held in Vancouver for the Israel historian Ilan Pappe on May 5, 2012, or that they have read Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi’s book the Original Sins.
As we said in our original letter to them, it is incumbent on Jewish people all over the world, including in Israel, to disassociate themselves from the Zionist settler colonialist project, a project that is directly responsible not only for denying the Palestinian their rights and humanity, but also for promoting anti-Semitism against Jews. We believe that Jews who claim to support the Palestinian people and still claim loyalty to the Israeli state (the Zionist settler colonialist project) are not helping the struggle to combat anti-Semitism. One recent example of this “tribal” loyalty is the recent position of Norman Finkelstein on the objectives of the BDS movement.
Progressive Palestinians can NOT carry this anti-racist struggle on their own and they should not be asked to nor expected to; now is the time for Jewish people (to quote Ilan Pappe) to focus on what is just, not simply what seems possible or convenient at this current juncture in time. They have to reclaim their humanity and stop patronizing those who are partnering with Israeli Apartheid, war crimes and the continued ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.
Hanna Kawas, Chairperson
Canada Palestine Association