Jewish Voice for Peace teach-in backs calls for cease-fire, embargo

JuPong Lin, an artist living in Amherst, performs a reading of her play “Phoenix in the Holy Land,” which outlines the transcript of the charges of genocide to Israel brought before the International Court of Justice by the government of South Africa. Lin read the play as part of a 24 hour “teach-in” protesting the war in Gaza held the Unitarian Society church in Northampton. 

JuPong Lin, an artist living in Amherst, performs a reading of her play “Phoenix in the Holy Land,” which outlines the transcript of the charges of genocide to Israel brought before the International Court of Justice by the government of South Africa. Lin read the play as part of a 24 hour “teach-in” protesting the war in Gaza held the Unitarian Society church in Northampton.  —CONTRIBUTED/MOLLY ARONSON

A sign welcoming people to a 24-hour “teach-in” protesting the war in Gaza held the Unitarian Society church in Northampton.

A sign welcoming people to a 24-hour “teach-in” protesting the war in Gaza held the Unitarian Society church in Northampton. —CONTRIBUTED/MOLLY ARONSON

By ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

Staff Writer

Published: 06-14-2024 4:40 PM

NORTHAMPTON — As the war in Gaza grinds on into an eighth month, opposition to it continues to grow in the U.S. and particularly in the Pioneer Valley, just as a potential cease-fire proposed by President Joe Biden on May 31 and endorsed by the U.N. Security Council appears to be gaining traction.

At the same time, the Israeli Defense Forces stepped up its campaign targeting the southern Gaza city of Rafah on Thursday, with tanks rolling into the western part of the city amid intense helicopter, drone and artillery fire, apparently continuing to flout Biden’s warning that he would cut off the supply of U.S. weaponry if Israel went ahead with its attack on Rafah.

The two issues — a cease-fire and an arms embargo — are uppermost in the minds of Pioneer Valley activists.

Molly Aronson, a member of the group Jewish Voice for Peace, said calls for a cease-fire must also be accompanied by an arms embargo on Israel, saying it was the only way to stop further casualties in the Gaza Strip.

“Even if we had a permanent cease-fire today, with the shipping of weapons to the Israeli military, that cease-fire still means mass killings,” Aronson said. “Our message right now is very clear, and it’s to stop arming Israel.”

Over the weekend of June 8-9, the JVP held a “24-hour teach-in” in downtown Northampton at the Unitarian Society church. The teach-in coincided with the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, which is traditionally accompanied by an all-night study of the Torah.

Rather than the studying of religious texts, however, the event featured several Jewish and Palestinian intellectuals teaching traditional rituals from both cultures. The teach-in also highlighted local Palestinian voices and the history of Jewish opposition to Zionism, the ideology begun in the 19th century that eventually led to the creation of the state of Israel.

Speakers at the event included Ahmad Khalidi, a Palestinian political and strategic analyst, Michel Moushabeck, founder of Interlink Books in Northampton, and Joe Levine, a professor of philosophy at UMass.

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“There were two really important themes throughout the day. One of those themes is that it is an Israeli-manufactured myth that Jews have always supported Israel and always supported Zionism,” said Aronson, who attended the event. “Then the second theme was to hear from Palestinian community members about historical experiences of growing up under Israeli occupation.”

The views expressed by Aronson and members of Jewish Voice for Peace, once considered to be on the fringes of the American mainstream, have appeared to gain wider acceptance since the outbreak of the war in Gaza. Though the war began with a Hamas attack that killed over 1,200 Israeli citizens and took hundreds hostage, Israel has since come under intense international scrutiny for its military action in the Gaza strip, with over 36,700 Palestinians killed and 83,000 others wounded, according to the Gaza health ministry.

According to a Gallup poll, the number of Americans who view Israel favorably has decreased by 10% since the start of the war, and only 36% of Americans approve of Israel’s military action in Gaza. For young adults ages 18 to 34, the percentage of people who view Israel favorably dropped by almost half, from 64% to 38%.

Aronson said the Pioneer Valley chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, which was founded nationally in 1996 and locally in 2014, has seen a “huge increase” in members since the start of the war. She also said that since the United States is a major source of military aid to Israel, it was the responsibility of Americans, including American Jews, to speak out against the war.

Aronson also cited a survey conducted by the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs, an Israeli think tank, that showed that a third of American Jews agreed that Israel’s actions in Gaza constituted a genocide of the Palestinian people.

“The Biden administration and the U.S. government continues to fast-track financial military support for Israel,” Aronson said. “We’re beyond horrified that our tax dollars are still being used to inflict a genocide against innocent civilians in Gaza, and really throughout occupied Palestine.”

The teach-in is just one of hundreds of demonstrations and other responses that have cropped up across the Pioneer Valley since war broke out between Israel and Hamas on Oct. 7. Last week, members of the antiwar group Demilitarize Western Mass blockaded a gate in front of L3 Harris, a defense contractor with offices in Northampton, attaching themselves to a truck filled with concrete. In May, more than 130 were arrested on the UMass Amherst campus after protesters set up an encampment on the South Lawn of the Student Union.

Other dissenters of the war have taken more drastic measures. Nick Mottern, a member of the Demilitarize Western Mass group, recently started circulating a petition online to impeach President Joe Biden, accusing him of being complicit in war crimes resulting from the Gaza campaign. Mottern, together with local residents Peter Kakos and Jeanne Allen, have been protesting through a fast, refusing to eat from sunup to sundown, to advocate for the U.S. to apply the Leahy Law to Israel, which prohibits the U.S. government from funding or assisting foreign military units “where there is credible information implicating that unit in the commission of gross violations of human rights,” according to the U.S. Department of State.

Politicians at a more local level have also raised calls for a cease-fire, including U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, whose district includes Northampton, Amherst and most of Franklin County. On the social media site X, formerly known as Twitter, McGovern shared a post on Monday by UNICEF regarding the situation in Gaza, saying “There is no security argument that justifies the starving and bombing of children and innocent civilians.”

McGovern also said he would not attend a planned July 24 address to Congress by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, telling news site Axios, “I wish it wasn’t [happening].”

Although U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield stated that Israel accepted the terms of Biden’s Security Council-endorsed cease-fire deal, Netanyahu has expressed skepticism of the terms, saying that Israel is committed to destroying Hamas. Hamas, for its part, has demanded changes to the plan, some of which the U.S. has deemed unacceptable.

Alexander MacDougall can be reached at amacdougall@gazettenet.com.