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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom

Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace


Nuts and Bolts of Organizing in the Mainstream Jewish Community
led by Reena Bernards


If we want to succeed in changing policy, we have to work with the mainstream Jewish community, because it is the most mobilized constituency on U.S. Middle East peace policy. As a result, it has the most significant influence on shaping policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Jewish community exercises its influence on this issue, primarily through the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). AIPAC is a lobby, not a PAC (Political Action Commitee). However the Jewish community has scores of PACs that are very influential in political campaigns throughout the United States. Informally, AIPAC's policies set the stage for how these PACs exert influence on politicians, identifies who is a "friend" of Israel and who is not, and can quickly bring constituent and donor pressure to bear on any member of Congress who waivers from supporting AIPAC's positions. It works the same way as the NRA, AARP, or any other highly organized interest group which can threaten to quickly move either large numbers of votes and/or campaign contributions for or against a candidate. On the issue of Middle East peace policy, there is no countervailing force willing or able to put significant resources into lobbying for a different policy.

American Jews give significant financial support to political candidates. This enables the community to exert a remarkable degree of influence on U.S. peace policy in the Middle East. It does not follow that we have a great deal of influence on tmany other issues, because there are other strong lobbies on both sides of most issues, our voting numbers are small, and the community has set U.S.-Israel relations as the key priority in using its political influence. If politicians vote against these perceived interests, they are immediately told that they will lose political support.

The important role for Jewish peace activists is to work with the mainstream community, and give voice to the range of opinions in the organized community. This gives the U.S. government more room to act as a useful mediator to the conflict, rather than just reflecting the perspective of the Israeli government.

Following are the basic organizing tasks we need to accomplish within the mainstream Jewish community:
  1. Organize one-on-one and build relationships. Impersonal outreach will not work. Instead we need to find people in the community that we can befriend, and be honest in sharing our perspective.
  2. Emphasize where we agree. We support the existence of Israel, are concerned about its security, and we want a safe and peaceful future for Israelis. We abhor the violence perpetrated against the Israeli people, especially civilians.
  3. Find the wedge issues, the openings for discussion in the community now, where there is potential for people to take the next step. There is a lot of agreement for a two-state solution among U.S. Jews. However, much of the community is now behind Sharon's harsh policies in the occupied territories, because they believe it supports Israel's security. Therefore, we have to work with a long-range view, addressing issues such as the impact of continuing expansion of settlements.


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