In newly affluent Brooklyn neighborhoods like Ditmas Park, replete with organic food, cafes, and a bar that doubles as a flower shop, posters bearing the message “Refugees Are Welcome Here”—illustrated with a sketch of an Arab man tucking a child inside his jacket—is a signature of progressive politics. The refugee sign has been appearing in local storefronts since the onset of the civil war in Syria, a conflict that has unleashed the worst such crisis in recent history. Created by Brooklyn-based artist Micah Bazant, the image on the poster is drawn from a photograph of a Syrian man and his son, taken at a refugee camp. “I wish I knew who that father was,” Bazant told Newsweek.
Most people of goodwill share that sentiment, but what few realize is that the group that popularized “refugees are welcome” is far more radical than such a message suggests. The poster quickly spread beyond the New York area thanks to Jewish Voice for Peace, an advocacy group with chapters in multiple cities. Even Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of Hamilton, once tweeted a photograph of it with a caption: “Seen at my local bodega. God bless. Good morning!”
Despite its innocuous name, Jewish Voice for Peace is a staunchly pro-BDS group—Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions—and described by the Anti-Defamation League as one of the ten most influential and active anti-Israel organizations in the United States. According to the ADL’s 2013 report, “JVP consistently co-sponsors rallies to oppose Israeli military policy that are marked by signs and slogans comparing Israel to Nazi Germany, demonizing Jews, and voicing support for groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.”
Funding sources for these campaigns—which include street blockades in front of Hewlett-Packard and the New York Jewish Federation headquarters, as well as storming the offices of U.S. senators—are “not transparent,” according to NGO Monitor. The nonprofit watchdog reports that Jewish Voice for Peace has received more than $2.5 million from sponsors of Electronic Intifada, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and other funders for activities that include “Engaging in Antisemitic Rhetoric and Ignoring Antisemitism,” “Justifying Palestinian ‘Resistance’ and Embracing Terrorists,” and “Support of BDS.” In tweets that range from cryptic to rambling, JVP’s deputy director Ari Wohlfeiler denounces capitalism while describing himself as a “professional fundraiser who is pretty good at getting rich white techies to hand it over.” Meanwhile, the campaign’s slogan pays tribute to the 1970s radical and current fugitive Assata Shakur. Posters in support of the Black Liberation Army militant and convicted cop-killer (known in court as JoAnne Chesimard) read “Assata Shakur is welcome here.”
“Somebody brought the poster two years ago,” one Ditmas Park proprietor told me. “They were canvassing the street and giving them out to businesses. I wasn’t even here.” She confessed that she had not known about Jewish Voice for Peace, but planned to keep the poster up, at least for now.
Photo: Lynn Friedman/Flickr