Candidate Q&A Beth Harris 1. Why are you interested in running for the JVP National Board?

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1 Candidate Q&A Beth Harris 1. Why are you interested in running for the JVP National Board? When I was nominated by an Ithaca JVP chapter member to serve on the Board in 2014, I had just retired as a college professor and decided to devote more time to Palestine solidarity activism. During my last three years on the JVP Board, I have learned much about the requirements of leadership in a national organization that is growing quickly and the complexity of board, staff and member relationships. I have also learned about our evolving institutional culture of accountability, which is infused with a commitment to help each other do our best work in order to achieve our common goals. My discussions with Board and staff members convinced me that my experience would be valuable during a second term. The inspirational JVP National Membership Meeting in Chicago reinforced my belief that JVP has a powerful and unique role to play at this political juncture in the struggle for Palestinian rights and liberation, as well as in broader movements for social and racial justice. 2. Please summarize your history working for justice in Israel/Palestine. I began my work for justice in Israel/Palestine in Seattle in 1995 as the chairperson of the Tikkun Olam committee in Congregation Eitz Or. We opened up spaces in our synagogue and broader Seattle Jewish communities to discuss Israel s military occupation and US unconditional support for Israel from the perspectives of Palestinian and Israeli human rights activists. As a professor at Ithaca College in 2000, I began to research and write about resistance to Israel s demolitions of Palestinian homes and the roles of religious, artistic and solidarity witnesses in exposing and resisting injustices in Palestine/Israel. Between , I also expanded the curriculum in the IC Politics Department to examine the Israeli legal infrastructure for managing its military occupation and documentation of colonial histories, human rights abuses and strategies of resistance in Israel, Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq. Since my first trip to Palestine/Israel in 2000, I have helped to found and participated in several local organizations in Ithaca, including JVP-Ithaca, the Committee for Justice in Palestine and the Reform synagogue s Israel- Palestine Social Justice Working Group. I have spoken publicly about multiple aspects of the struggle for justice in Israel/Palestine in diverse venuesincluding academic forums in the US and Palestine; faith-based congregations, meetings and conferences; protests; community events and media forums. I have also participated in boycott and divestment campaigns, lobbying and acts of civil resistance. I have served on the JVP national Board since Have you ever served on a non-profit Board or similar governing/leadership body? If so, please share a little information about what your experience/role was, whether the organization was local, regional or national, etc. Serving on the JVP Board Nominations 1

2 committee in 2015 and 2016, I grappled with the challenges of electing leadership with the skills and capacity to effectively guide our organization while our budget was doubling; chapters were spreading across the country; and multiple councils and networks representing different sectors were forming. Our staff has now grown to over 50, and both our membership and supporter bases have expanded significantly. While my own background was in social movement organizing, I have learned from fellow board members and staff about strategies to create an accountable, financially sustainable, efficient and effective organizational infrastructure to facilitate and manage our growth. Currently I am serving on JVP Membership committee, composed of Board, staff and member representatives. In addition to my JVP work, I serve on the steering committee of the Tompkins County Immigrant Rights Coalition and a bi-national planning committee for the School of the America s Watch Border Convergence. In the past I have served on local boards and steering committees for many local social justice organizations, as well as worked as a regional organizer for the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, a national solidarity organization. 4. Tell us about your strength as a leader? Your main challenges? Tell us about working within a team/group? My perspective is grounded in heartfelt, ethical and strategic commitments to solidarity with those who are oppressed and marginalized and an evolving critical analysis of the dynamics of political change on personal, community, national and international levels. I ask challenging questions while providing support to staff, Board members and activists facing difficult predicaments. I am committed to working collectively to find solutions to vexing problems. I believe that effective organizations rely on leadership with complementary skills and insights. One of my greatest challenges is pacing myself when faced with multiple demands. I struggle with finding the right balance between thorough planning and the confidence to move quickly when necessary without as much information as I would like. My commitment to a nuanced analysis and multifaceted approach to organizing can complicate my efforts to be concise and focused. Understanding my challenges, appreciating the dynamic nature of our work, and working with an effective team helps me to find pragmatic approaches to leadership. 5. Please describe your involvement or affiliation with other Jewish and/or social justice organizations and how that would contribute to your effectiveness on the JVP Board. I have served on the boards of two Jewish faith-based communities, a Jewish renewal congregation in Seattle and a Reform Jewish synagogue in Ithaca, NY. From these experiences, I have gained insights about the challenges and possibilities of working on Palestinian human rights and solidarity in faith-based Jewish communities where social justice concerns are a component of communal Jewish identity while the congregations lack an explicit congregational commitment to collective action. Working with Christian communities rooted in liberation theology and indigenous communities whose resistance is faith-based, I have 2

3 experienced the power of faith-based ritual to inspire and fortify profound political transformations. I believe that haverot (small communities of Jewish fellowship) that are explicitly not Zionist and committed to social can also play a significant role in mobilizing and sustaining resistance to Israel s repressive and discriminatory policies. The broad scope of my political experience helps me to contextualize my work on the JVP Board. I have experience doing solidarity work with Latin American struggles for liberation, indigenous people, undocumented immigrants, Black communities, and prisoners in the US. I have participated in grassroots women s movements that grapple with the power dynamics and impact of violence in both personal and public contexts. I have worked in organizations where activists contend with different levels of privilege and access to legal rights. I have often worked in coalitions and organizations that include both faith-based and secular activists. 6. JVP is growing quickly and aspires to continue growing. What experiences, perspectives and skills would you contribute to the Board in this growth phase? (This can include, but is not limited to: finances, fundraising, legal advocacy, media work, cultural work, prior board experience, activism/grassroots organizing, etc.) JVP s current growth has multiple dimensions, including its infrastructure, budget, membership, alliances, impact on public discourse and range of roles in political resistance, mobilization and transformation. As chair of the Board Nominations committee last year, I participated in an outreach strategy to find JVP Board members with particular skills we need to effectively and responsibly manage our growth. The positive impact of our new Board members is already palpable. As a member of a local chapter and the national Membership committee, I am positioned well to explore creative, effective solutions for serving our increasingly diverse and geographically dispersed JVP membership, while developing and honing collective political power rooted in common ethical and political commitments. At the 2017 JVP National Membership Meeting, I had the pleasure of working with activists in JVP-NY to implement a Telling Our Stories video project that will provide online portraits of diverse individual JVP members sharing their journeys to JVP and Palestine solidarity activism. This fruitful project involves JVP chapter activists, a member of the JVP Cultural Workers and Artists Council, a Board member, JVP staff and individual members from around the country. As part of this project, my interviews with JVP activists who had just attended the inspiring gathering organized by the Jews of Color and Sephardi/Mizrahi Caucus were incredibly moving. We are treading new ground in exploring how to share resources, skills, and visions from multiple bodies within JVP and to make our interviews available widely. In response to the growing numbers of JVP members who do not yet belong to JVP chapters, networks or councils, I am working with the JVP Membership committee to develop a proposal for a national JVP committee or working group that can develop its own collective identity and organizing strategies within cyberspace. 3

4 7. What excites you about the future of JVP and what concerns do you have? How would you address that concern(s)? I will focus on three areas of JVP s work that inspire me now: expansion of the JVP base; implementation of the national Deadly Exchange campaign; and increased influence of Jews of Color and Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews on JVP s leadership, membership and program. To increase our political clout to change US and Israeli policies, JVP has set ambitious goals to double our online supporters and add approximately 8,000 new JVP members every year for the next five years. These goals to expand JVP s base will require allocating increased organizational resources and the creation of new membership outreach strategies, including the development of more JVP leaders in our chapters, councils and general membership with the confidence, commitment and skills to establish and implement outreach strategies. Our national campaign and programs must consistently incorporate its members and supporters on multiple levels. The new Deadly Exchange campaign provides opportunities to link struggles for justice within the United States and in Palestine/Israel. This campaign is particularly timely and important in this Trump/Netanyahu era, when the sharing of Israel s and the US s worst practices concerning state repression has become increasingly dangerous. It is important that the solidarity with groups in the United States most affected by these repressive practices is substantive, not just symbolic. The same is true for solidarity with Palestinian activists for social justice. Collaborations between Black Lives Matter, Dream Defenders and Standing Rock activists with Palestinian and JVP activists have provided models for what this can look like. Globalizing intersectional divestment activism can provide bridges between social movements within the United States and Palestine. Since the 2015 JVP National Membership Meeting, the Jews of Color and Sephardi/Mizrahi Caucus has had a stunning impact on JVP s work, instigating our Ashkenazi-dominated organization to reexamine how our organizational infrastructure has reinforced white privilege and to appropriate resources for Jews of Color, Sephardi and Mizrahi activists to increase their leadership in JVP organizing. Institutional change has been initiated with our hiring processes and pools for Board nomination have included more JOCSM candidates. Resources were allocated for the JOCSM Caucus to organize a ground-breaking gathering the day prior to the 2017 JVP National Membership Meeting, internal JVP trainings led by JOCSM activists, and the publication of the Caucus s insightful Unruly racial justice blog. I would like to see the roles of Jews of Color and Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews continue to transform our organizing strategies by consistently incorporating the experience of Jews of Color and Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews into the JVP narrative of Jewish history and Zionism. While Jews of Color, Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews face common experiences of discrimination and erasure in Jewish communities, each collective identity is positioned differently in creating solidarity relationships. For example, Mizrahi Jews can reinforce commonalities between cultures and histories of Mizrahi Jews and Muslim, Christian and secular Arabs in the Middle East. Israeli policies have 4

5 attempted to assimilate Mizrahi Jews into an Ashkenazi-dominated Israeli nationalism that divorces them from their Arab roots to prevent solidarity and shared political action against racist Israeli policies. Challenging the normalization of this fragmentation could profoundly transform the balance of forces within Israeli civil society and the face of Jewish solidarity with Palestinians struggles for human rights and liberation. The Israeli Mizrahi Black Panthers set a foundation for this kind of work. JVP could provide resources for bringing together Israeli and US Mizrahi Jews to collectively develop a common analysis, multi-lingual educational materials and strategies for developing alliances. This kind of effort would have to be planned carefully to avoid the pitfalls of normalization. 8. Member leaders who are familiar with your skills and work and could serve as references: JVP Board members Seth Morrison, Grace Lile and Glen Hauer; JVP Membership Coordinator Samantha Brotman; and former JVP-Tucson chapter leader Deborah Mayaan. 9. Is there anything else that we should know about you? No, thanks for asking. 5

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