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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom
Jewish Alliance for Justice and PeaceAdvocacy Days Speaker Highlights
Amjad Atallah, former advisor to the PLO's negotiations affairs department and PA president Mahmoud Abbas, described the importance of grassroots activists in building momentum towards peace in his keynote address Sunday night. Building a grassroots organization is crucial, he argued, and the only way to make substantive change, in the occupied territories as well as the US and Israel. In fact, it was Hamas' solid grassroots network that allowed for its victory in the January Palestinian parliamentary elections. Now Fatah needs to rebuild its own grassroots to fight against the Islamist movements. Atallah called on the US to empower a Palestinian partner to conduct negotiations on behalf of Palestinians, and to do so quickly. He praised Brit Tzedek as "creating a powerful counterweight to the industrialization of the peace process," and stressed that interim unilateral measures would not lead to peace.
Diane Balser, Executive Director of Brit Tzedek, opened Monday morning's policy briefing with a brief address stressing the strength of Brit Tzedek's message and the accomplishments of the past year. She emphasized the importance of a unified message and maintaining a long view of our project. "If peace doesn't come tomorrow, we're not packing up," she said. "We're here to build peace with the understanding that we need to build and sustain a long-term grassroots movement." Staying unified as an organization and keeping to a united message will sustain us and lead us to more successes. The key is to bring good judgment to the political debate. "We didn't get spooked by the Hamas victory," said Balser. "We kept to our message, to our direction, and to where our intelligence should point people."
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (OR) joined Brit Tzedek at the Monday evening Congressional Reception, praising Brit Tzedek's ability to "help people take a step back, look at the facts, challenge some of their assumptions, and deal with the rich diversity of opinion that is to be found dealing with the Middle East." Rep. Blumenauer expressed appreciation for the voice Brit Tzedek added to the debate on Capital Hill. "One of the things that I've discovered is that there's a rich diversity of opinion among supporters of Israel and the Jewish community," he said. "Too often in Congress we are dealing with bumper stickers, we're dealing with slogans, we're dealing with the lowest common denominator. This is providing the context, the nuance, the challenging ideas." Rep. Blumenauer said he looked forward to working with Brit Tzedek in the future and emphasized that our efforts could not be more timely.
Marcia Freedman, President of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, delivered a keynote address at the opening plenary regarding peace prospects between Israelis and Palestinians. "It is important to engage with moderates," she explained. "Only Abbas can effectively bring other moderates into the political process." The good news from the Israel, she continued, was that the conclusion has finally been reached among Israel's voters, politicians, and military that the occupation must end and settlers must be evacuated. "Yet Israel is moving closer and closer to taking unilateral decisions," she lamented. A final end to the conflict will only be brought about by a negotiated resolution, and this requires Israelis to become more involved. "How long will it take? What will it cost?" she asked. "How many lives will be lost until then?"
Lara Friedman, Legislative Director of Americans for Peace Now, spoke about the success of Brit Tzedek's recent advocacy on the House version of the Palestinian Sanctions bill. The debate over the bill was a valuable opportunity to go on record about our opposition to terrorism while pursuing a pro-US, pro-Israel policy, Friedman said. She reported that it was the most serious and focused policy debate on our issue that she had yet seen, and Brit Tzedek's grassroots effectively influenced the tone of the debate and the course of the bill. "AIPAC over-reached," she said. "They expected the bill to pass over-whelmingly within days. People in AIPAC were probably astonished to see themselves thwarted so many times. They saw what we can do when we are organized and active." The success in Congress, said Friedman, was to show that the pro-Israel, pro-peace voice is both credible and sensible, and Congress members are grateful for that.
Rob Levy, Brit Tzedek's Washington representative, spoke at length to participants about recent Congressional legislation relating to the peace process. In particular he explained the major differences between the House and Senate versions of the Palestinian sanctions bill. Levy also discussed the positive impact of Brit Tzedek's advocacy on the Congressional deliberations surrounding both versions of the bill. He reported on the significant improvements being made at the time to S. 2370, the Senate version, over the more punitive and unnecessarily restrictive House bill, H.R. 4681. Both the House and Senate debates on the legislation addressed the concerns and recommendations advocated by Brit Tzedek's grassroots work, as our talking points were officially entered into the Congressional record. Throughout the conference key aides in many Congressional offices cited Levy's work on the hill as critical to Brit Tzedek's success.
Carinne Luck, Director of Grassroots and Chapter Development at Brit Tzedek, addressed Advocacy Days participants at the Monday morning policy briefing and during the Monday afternoon Advocacy training session. She stressed that the most important facets of organizing at the grassroots level are developing personal relationships, and sharing the Brit Tzedek message with others. By promoting dialogue and becoming leaders in our local communities, Brit Tzedek will continue to be effective in achieving our goals of advocacy and education, and be able to mobilize our home districts in support of a negotiated two-state settlement. Luck was instrumental in organizing all aspects of Advocacy Days, and oversaw the smooth running of the three-day gathering. She applauded participants for their passion and conviction, two characteristics, she added, critical to grassroots success.
Steve Masters, National Chair of Advocacy at Brit Tzedek, led a training session Monday afternoon on the tools of effective advocacy. The goal of the meeting focused on developing the best methods for constituents to communicate Brit Tzedek's message in a Congressional meeting. Masters underlined the importance of setting specific goals for each meeting, and the usefulness of organizing each delegation's presentation to maximize success. The training session culminated in whirlwind preparatory meetings between the participants of each delegation, which allowed for the newly-learned skills to be practiced and fine-tuned. The success of the following day's Congressional meetings would not have been possible without Masters' input and leadership.
Rob Malley, former Clinton special assistant for Arab-Israeli affairs delivered a keynote address Sunday evening, discussing recent developments in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the current prospects for a negotiated two-state settlement. The best approach for all sides under the current circumstances, Malley said, would be a policy of "Do No Harm": No party should do anything that could jeopardize the chances for a return to a diplomatic process. The U.S. can play a constructive role by working to create the political circumstances in which positive developments can occur. In this way we can move steadily toward a negotiated two-state solution. In fact, Malley said, many of the basic elements of a final settlement are already agreed upon: The Clinton Parameters, the Taba Agreement, and the Geneva Accord already constitute the fundamental aspects of an eventual two-state agreement. "Anyone who says otherwise is dreaming," he added.
David McCloud, Director of Middle East Programs for USAID, spoke about the dramatic impact of the Hamas election victory on American material assistance to the occupied territories. "Normally whoever wins a general election is who we have to deal with," said McCloud, "but this was not possible in the case of Hamas. We had to make sure material assistance would not get to Hamas." If Hamas meets the specified requirements the US may reconsider its approach. "In the meantime," he explained, "the supplemental plan approved by the Quartet will neither obligate nor expend money that goes through the PA." Restrictions on USAID will continue until the Administration submits a report to Congress on how USAID is managing its programs in light of the Hamas victory. "The only money available to USAID is the money we have now," said McCould. "The organization can make no new financial commitments and can make no contact with the Palestinian Authority."
Rep. Betty McCollum (MI), a key leader in opposing the recent Palestinian sanctions bill (H.R. 4681), encouraged Brit Tzedek to continue in its work. "It is important that you are here because there is an understanding in Congress that AIPAC speaks for each and every one of you," she told the crowd of about 100 at the Congressional Reception. "There is a perception that there is only one voice on behalf of what the goal and how to work towards the goal for peace in the Middle East is." It is up to Brit Tzedek, said Rep. McCollum, "to let people know that the Jewish community is a family that doesn't speak with one voice. Your voice is important. It needs to be listened to. It needs to be respected. And it needs to be counted on strongly."
Jeremy Rabinovitz, Chief of Staff for the office of Lois Capps (CA), spoke to Advocacy Days participants about what Brit Tzedek's growth has meant to Congress. "Your calls, your letters, and visits all make an impression," he said. "More and more, we have noticed your presence in the Jewish and mainstream media." In the end, Brit Tzedek's grassroots activism paid off when Representatives saw it was ok to vote against the Palestinian sanctions bill. "Brit Tzedek did a great job countering the thought that the bill was about direct aid to Hamas," explained Rabinovitz. The stage was set, he announced, so that in the future "Congress members and staff will know there are two voices in the Jewish community."
MJ Rosenberg, Director of Policy Analysis at the Israel Policy Forum, applauded the tremendous victories of the peace forces this past year and commented on the challenges ahead. "We really got on the map," Rosenberg said. The only reason the peace camp doesn't win the big debates, he explained, "is because we don't have the money—we do have the facts though." The vote on the Ros-Lehtinen bill (HR 4681) was party politics, he continued: Democrats wanted to avoid a vote in which only Republicans were in favor of the bill, while only Democrats voted against it. The problem, Rosenberg said, is that we have so few people that will "stick their heads out" for us. "The test of liberalism is whether you are brave on issues that might cost you." On a more positive note, he said, "we forced AIPAC to spend their political capital when they weren't expecting it. We cost them something they thought they shouldn't have had to spend."
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (IL) discussed the changing definition of what it means to be pro-Israel. "Because of our Jewish community, there really is not a threat to the US-Israel relationship. It is very, very strong and it is not going away. Now we are at a point," she said, "where we can talk about what are the specific paths that we advocate, that you advocate, that we ought to be taking." Rep. Schakowsky stressed the importance of Brit Tzedek's message and our presence in Washington right now. "Your voice is very, very important. It is a so much different voice than people have heard sometimes in our offices, and represents the diversity of thinking in the Jewish community here in the United States, and is more reflective of actual diversity of opinion in the state of Israel." She noted that both of her own Rabbis sit on Brit Tzedek's Rabbinical Council and that she had many good friends as well as family at the Congressional Reception with us that evening.