Opinion: Should Jewish Voice for Peace register as a foreign agent?

JVP’s Deadly Exchange program has close ties to the BDS National Council, a group that serves as the Palestinian arm of the BDS movement and helps coordinate international BDS efforts.

By Sean Savage, JNS

The BDS group Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) has launched several campaigns in recent years targeting the legitimacy of the Jewish state. Among them has been its Deadly Exchange program, which seeks to end police exchange programs between the United States and Israel.

A closer look at JVP’s Deadly Exchange program reveals the close ties between the campaign and the BDS National Council (BNC), a group that serves as the Palestinian arm of the BDS movement and helps coordinate international BDS efforts. The BNC operates the website Bdsmovement.net, which serves to educate and update readers on the BDS movement.

Two employees of the BNC have had ties with the advisory council for the Deadly Exchange campaign: Garik Ruiz, the North America advocacy adviser for the Palestinian BNC (Ruiz stopped working for the BNC in August 2018); and BNC founding member Omar Barghouti.

Given these international ties, there are those who have been asking whether JVP should register as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

“If you look at the facts of prior FARA prosecutions and how the law was applied to those facts, then the JVP Deadly Exchange campaign fits squarely within the scope of FARA,” Marc Greendorfer, founder of the Zachor Legal Institute, told JNS.

Greendorfer pointed to the example of the FARA prosecution last year of Pakistani national Nisar Chaudhry.

“This case had facts that are remarkably analogous to the Deadly Exchange campaign: an agent (Chaudhry) for a foreign principal (the government of Pakistan) worked in the United States to counter negative U.S. views on Pakistan by engaging in purportedly educational interactions with the media, government officials and activists,” he said.

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According to the Foreign Agents Registration Act, a “disclosure statute requires persons acting as agents of foreign principals in a political or quasi-political capacity to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of those activities.”

“In substance, this is what the Deadly Exchange campaign does,” said Greendorfer.

“You have an agent (that part of JVP that works on the campaign) engaging in lobbying with local activists, government officials and the media on behalf of the foreign principal (the BDS National Council and its constituent members, which include, among others, Hamas and the PLO, each of which constitute elements of the government of the Palestinian Authority) to influence government policy in the U.S. (i.e., for law enforcement to sever ties with Israel).”

Deadly Exchange is a campaign organized and managed by Jewish Voice for Peace. The goal of the campaign—to end police exchange programs between Israel and the United States—is based on the charge that the “worst practices” of each police department are being studied and shared. Initiators of the campaign argue that the exchange results in a more dangerous society that is more oppressive to racial minorities in both countries. JVP asserts that Israel and the United States are exchanging discriminatory practices that include racial profiling, mass surveillance, spying and extrajudicial killings.

The reason for targeting police exchange programs between the two countries in particular stems from JVP’s role as an American-based BDS organization and its mission to “challenge the political, economic and military relationships between the U.S. and Israel that have enabled the sustained oppression of Palestinians for many decades.”

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Targeting police training programs

Over the past few years, JVP’s Deadly Exchange program has targeted a number of police programs across the country. In November 2017, JVP organized protests in 15 different cities, urging the Anti-Defamation League to end its U.S.-Israel police training programs. In April 2018, the campaign succeeded in Durham, N.C., when its city council voted to stop police collaboration with Israel.

More recently, in late December, the Vermont State Police and the Northampton Police Department in Massachusetts canceled their scheduled trips to Israel for a training program. This program was organized through ADL’s Resilience and Counter-Terrorism program, which consists of a week-long lesson in Israel where U.S. police officers train with Israeli military, police and secret service.

The law essentially is dormant.

In an earlier statement to JNS, ADL defended its program, saying that the police exchanges focus on helping to prevent terrorism, as well as to help communities rebuild in the aftermath of terror.

“The seminar enables participants to study how Israel works to thwart terrorism within its framework as a democratic and multicultural nation,” an ADL New England spokesperson said. “Participants meet with senior officials from Israeli and Palestinian law enforcement to learn about the challenges they face and how they overcome them, and learn as well about community resiliency in the aftermath of terror and tragedy.”

Similarly, two major police associations in Georgia have reaffirmed their support for the program.

Extensive ties with BDS, Palestinians likely unknown

Given the Deadly Exchange’s ongoing campaign targeting U.S. police department’s training programs with Israel, it is likely unknown to many local U.S. officials of the extensive ties between JVP, the BDS movement and the Palestinian government. As such, registering under FARA would make these ties public.

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“There is extensive documentation of the fact that the BNC is part of the Palestinian government’s campaign against Israel and they engage in BDS activity,” which includes the Deadly Exchange campaign, “to affect U.S. policy regarding Israel and ties to Israel,” said Greendorfer.

“A foreign principal under FARA is not just a formal government or political party, it’s any foreign organization, and the BNC is clearly a foreign organization,” he said, and a political movement as well.”

“The fact that there are BNC members,” he continued, past and present, “working on the JVP campaign solidifies the fact that the campaign is acting as an agent of the foreign principal. It’s a prima facie violation of the plain language of FARA.”

Nevertheless, the enforcement of FARA is notoriously inconsistent as only the Department of Justice can prosecute such cases. As such, Greendorfer said that foreign groups are using this to its advantage.

“Since there is no private right of action under FARA (i.e., only the government can litigate FARA actions), the law essentially is dormant at this point, and foreign groups are taking advantage of that lack of enforcement to spread propaganda and work to change U.S. policies.”

While Greendorfer believes that JVP should register under FARA—in addition to other groups active in the BDS movement and tied to the BNC, such as Students for Justice in Palestine, Dream Defenders, American Muslims for Palestine and Muslim Students Association—it is unlikely that there will ever be enforcement of this.

“The real question for me, though,” said Greendorfer, “is whether the Department of Justice will ever engage in a consistent and widespread enforcement of FARA.”