As I wrote earlier, there is a disreputable modern American Jewish tradition of attempting to use Jewish liturgy and especially the Passover seder as an excuse to promote non-Jewish political issues. When Arthur Waskow created his “Freedom Seder” to make the holiday about American civil rights rather than the Exodus one could at least say it was an attempt to use Judaism to promote a good cause rather than a bad one. Other such attempts to make Haggadahs about immigration, the Labor movement or any other left-wing cause are less defensible. And using Passover to play partisan politics is simply pathetic. But the anti-Zionist group Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP) has now gone completely beyond the pale with a new version of Passover in which Israel is transformed into Egypt and the Palestinians have become the Jews.
This Haggadah, which was brought to our attention by the Anti-Defamation League, isn’t merely an expression of dissent against the policies of the Israeli government about which Israelis and Americans may differ. By appropriating the symbolism of the Festival of Freedom to promote a cause whose purpose is to deny the Jewish people their rights and liberty, the group is committing an act of spiritual vandalism. Identifying Israel with Pharaoh and Egyptians is an effort at delegitimization that crosses the boundary from bad taste to anti-Semitic invective.
The point of this seder is to demonize Israel and Zionism. Though Passover is fundamentally a celebration of the national liberation of the Jewish people, the JVP seder is one in which only the Palestinians have rights and seeks to brand the return of the Jews to their homeland and the creation of their state into an act comparable to the enslavement of the Jews. It even urges Jews to add an olive to their Passover plates along with the traditional symbols as an expression of solidarity with the Palestinians and “an invitation for Jewish communities to become allies to Palestinian liberation struggles.” The authors are apparently so imbued with hatred for Israel that they ignore the fact that those “struggles” have mainly consisted of violent attempts to eradicate the national existence of the Jews.
In this parody of a Haggadah, the ten plagues are represented as Israeli actions and the bitter herbs that Jews eat to remember slavery are used instead to speak of the bitterness of Palestinian existence. Even more egregious is the l’chayim(toast) over the traditional cups of wine to BDS — the economic war on Israel which seeks to boycott, isolate and sanction the Jewish state — and the traditional breaking of the middle matzah which to the JVP symbolizes the destructive impact of Israel’s creation.
To single out the Jewish state for denial of rights in a way that no other country would be treated is an expression of prejudice. One of the standard tropes of anti-Semites is to try and paint Jews as the mirror image of their oppressors. Calling Israelis Nazis is a commonplace slur, but for Passover, the JVP has made them Egyptians and attempted to transform one of the sacred rites of Judaism into a vicious exercise in Israel-bashing.
In doing so, JVP has demonstrated that it has no place within the organized Jewish community or among the society of decent Americans. Their desire to wage economic war on Israel already places them outside the boundaries of normal political dissent. But their compendium of Passover-themed slurs is an act so despicable that it merits their being shunned the same way we would any other hate group.