June 2004
By Aliza Becker, Executive Director

Congratulations to our new board members Aaron Ahuvia, Rabbi John Friedman, and Ivan Handler. We are also pleased to welcome back David Albert, Cherie Brown, Nan Fink Gefen, Steve Masters, and Donna Spiegelman.

Brit Tzedek received a generous grant from the Nathan Cummings Foundation to hire a chapter organizer [Job Description] to focus on developing our 30-plus chapters across the country. As a chapter-based, grassroots organization, Brit Tzedek is committed to bringing our pro-Israel, anti-occupation message directly to our Jewish community through the personal outreach and local media work of our chapters, as well as via our national efforts. The organizer will be based in our New York City office.


Boston Raises Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace Profile at Town Hall Meeting
The Boston Chapter raised its local profile and broadened its network considerably through its participation in the Boston Jewish Community Town Hall Meeting on 'Prospects for Peace in Israel.' The event was sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston (JCRC), Combined Jewish Philanthropies, American Jewish Committee, and a major Boston-area synagogue.

Through targeted and persistent outreach, the chapter mobilized its members to attend in large numbers in order to give voice to the Boston-area Jews who favor a negotiated two-state solution to bring a just and peaceful end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As a result, 15 of the 34 people who made public statements at the event were Brit Tzedek members.

The strength of Brit Tzedek's presence was clearly visible to the event's organizers and the participants alike. After the event, one of the chapter's Steering Committee members and two other members wrote letters to the editor about the event that appeared in the Jewish Advocate, the Boston Jewish newspaper. Steering Committee members also stayed in touch with the event organizers about following up with a community event about the Geneva Accord. In large part due to the visibility and respectful participation of Brit Tzedek members in this Town Hall Meeting, the JCRC subsequently co-sponsored a Brit Tzedek talk by former Member of Knesset Naomi Chazan in May, the first time the JCRC has co-sponsored a Brit Tzedek event in Boston.
Washington State Chapters Draft Peace Resolution for State Democratic Platform
Washington state Brit Tzedek members successfully took Brit Tzedek's "pro-Israel, pro-peace" message all the way through the caucuses to the Washington State Democratic Convention where it was incorporated into the state's Democratic Party platform. The chapter's efforts were supported by a coalition including people affiliated with the Young Democrats, the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Federation and Democratic officials and delegates from around the state.

Beginning at Washington Democratic precinct caucuses in February 2004, an Israeli-Palestinian peace resolution drafted by the Washington chapters progressed through the 37th State Legislative District convention to the King County convention (Seattle is the largest city in the county) and ultimately into the state platform, passing easily in each setting. The chapter's hard work in the Jewish community and general media focused attention on their efforts. Intense lobbying persuaded the Democratic state platform committee to present our platform plank to the state convention. During floor debate, an effort to replace our two-state text with "one-state" failed, but a surprise amendment removed reference to two states.

The final Washington Democratic platform now reads: "The United States should commit to vigorous, serious, evenhanded and persistent engagement towards a peaceful resolution of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, promoting negotiations that lead to a viable solution and ensure security and good quality of life for the Israeli and Palestinian peoples."

Ann Arbor Chapter Reframes Debate over Local Protest
The Ann Arbor chapter responded publicly to a Jewish community-wide controversy involving weekly Shabbat morning protests outside the local Conservative synagogue staged by Jewish Witnesses for Peace & Justice - and Friends, wherein the picketers carry signs which read 'Stop US aid to Israel,' 'Free Palestine,' 'End the Occupation,' and similar slogans.

Brit Tzedek's Ann Arbor chapter, like much of the larger Jewish community, views these protests as divisive and ultimately counterproductive to any constructive dialogue about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As chapter and board member Aaron Ahuvia stated in an article in the Ann Arbor News, "It immediately frames the dialogue in a hostile, antagonistic way. It gets people talking about how, frankly, they hate the people (standing) outside Beth Israel." [Full Article]

In response the chapter authored a collective letter to the editor of the Washtenaw Jewish News calling on the protesters to "reconsider their activities [because in]... protesting against Israeli government policy outside a synagogue, this vigil is serving to obscure the distinction between specific policies of the current Israeli government and Jewish individuals, most of whom are American citizens and have no direct input into Israeli government policies and whose individual opinions about those policies are widely diverse." [Full Letter]

The chapter's letter was positively received within the Jewish community including a number of rabbis and lay leaders, thus putting the young chapter on the map as an integral part of the community. According to Ahuvia, "By actively voicing our objections to the protest we are seen by many Jews as 'on their side,' which indeed we are. The lesson we would pass on to any other group facing a similar situation is that we can only be politically effective if we stake out a center-left position and don't allow ourselves to be marginalized. That requires drawing a clear boundary on the left as well as the right. Inappropriate political activities like this protest outside a synagogue present an opportunity to make the boundary clear to the wider public." 

IDF Captain Yonatan Shapira, a distinguished Air Force Reserves rescue and assault helicopter air pilot and a military selective refuser, will speak at Brit Tzedek v'Shalom sponsored events in New York City (July 12th at 7:30 PM Congregation B'nai Jeshurun, 257 W. 88th St. between Broadway and West End), Boston (July 14th at 7:00 PM Temple Beth Zion's Community Hall, 1566 Beacon St. in Brookline) and Chicago (July 15th). In 2001 Shapira was called back to active service from the reserves to join an elite Black Hawk squadron, but in 2003 he was dismissed from service when he refused to participate in aerial attacks on populated areas in the occupied territories believing the attacks to be illegal, immoral and contradictory to Israel's real security needs. For up-to-date information about Shapira's appearances [Click Here].

Brit Tzedek v'Shalom and Meretz USA will co-sponsor a national tour of Naomi Chazan, a former Meretz Member of Knesset and a long-time peace activist [Tour Info] this autumn. The tour will include Atlanta, Bloomington, Chicago, Los Angeles, New Haven, Madison and San Francisco. Stay tuned for details.

Arthur and Judith Obermayer recently made a challenge grant offer of $10,000 to enhance Brit Tzedek's community building efforts through educational and public events programming. The Obermayers will match dollar-for-dollar donations targeted for this purpose up to $10,000. Your support is thus needed to leverage this generous offer. To donate to this challenge, please write "challenge grant" on the memo-line of your check and send it to Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, 11 East Adams Street/Suite 707, Chicago, IL 60603 OR fax your credit card information to (312) 341-1206 with said designation. If you prefer to donate online, [Click Here] and write "challenge grant" in the gift information section of the form.

- Brit Tzedek's presentation of 10,000 signatures to President Bush and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was covered by the Jerusalem Post [Full Article] and the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) [Full Article].

- Brit Tzedek's leadership was quoted extensively in the JTA news service's recent five-part series on the changing relationship between US Jews and Israel. These articles were published in Jewish newspapers across the country.

Marcia Freedman, Board President: "Now you get 10 Jews, one allowed opinion. Everything else is traitorous," she said. "It's intimidating to be told, 'You're threatening Israel by saying that.'" If you're told that what you're saying is dangerous, you start being quiet." [Full Article]

Judah Ariel, Board member and Chair of the Campus Outreach Committee: "A lot of students are very pro-Israel but their sympathies lie with Labor or Meretz, not with Likud or the settlers," he said. "Brit Tzedek helps them find ways to express their Zionism and their support for Israel in the way we believe is the only option for Israel. I wish it were possible for the groups that make up the pro-Israel community to be more open to the democracy and debate that is one of the great things about Israel." [Full Article]

Steve Masters, Board member and Chair of the Advocacy and Public Policy Committee: "There's more than one way to be pro-Israel," said Steve Masters, 44, a Philadelphia lawyer who was a founder of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, which describes itself as a pro-Israel, pro-peace and pro-human rights organization. [Full Article]

To continue to build on Brit Tzedek's success, we depend on your financial support. Please contribute now by sending a check or money order to Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, 11 East Adams Street/Suite 707, Chicago, IL 60603 OR faxing your credit card information to (312) 341-1206. If you prefer to donate online, [Click Here].

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