Building an American Jewish Peace Movement
by Diane Balser

We can't win people over if we don't give them a place to go. That is the work of Brit Tzedek.

The following piece was adapted from a plenary of the same title at Brit Tzedek's Western Regional Conference. A full conference report will follow next week.

Brit Tzedek v'Shalom was founded to organize American Jews to advocate for a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Our involvement in this issue is one of Jews deeply committed to the well-being of Israel, seeking a just solution for both peoples. However, we are not involved merely as Jews who happen to live in the United States, but as American Jews, with our own unique interests and need to organize to have an impact on US foreign policy.

As much as we may identify with and support Israel, our base, and our home, is here. Building our base means reaching out to American Jews and communicating to them why it is important for us to have a distinct, American voice for peace.

Each of us brings to this organization a unique, dual identity, both Jewish and American. In earlier generations we had more distinct Jewish communities with a shared identity. Today we are everywhere and for the most part fully integrated as Jews into U.S. society. We are diverse economically, religiously, politically, racially, and geographically.

Some broad generalizations can be drawn, however. The majority of Jews in post-World War II American tend to be politically liberal, valuing a diversity of opinions and concerned with the fate of the disenfranchised. Social justice has been a primary value among American Jews, and Jews have been leaders of many of this country's social movements.

While as Jews we have generally valued a diversity of opinions as well as identities, on the issue of Israel we appear to be monolithic, under the leadership of one lobby in Washington. To many outsiders, it appears as though American Jews control U.S. foreign policy as it relates to Israel. The so-called "Jewish lobby" plays a role, but certainly is not the most powerful influence on US policy. It also creates a misleading impression that American Jews do not have diverse opinions on the conflict.

Brit Tzedek's pro-peace advocacy expresses a deep and authentic Jewish-American voice for social justice and reflects a distinct perspective on what it means to be pro-Israel. We are building a movement with a powerful voice that recognizes that the majority of American Jews would like to see a negotiated two-state final status resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Each of us is an advocate - even if we talk to only one person. Each of us has a right and a responsibility to develop our own voice on the conflict. Indeed, if we don't speak in our own voice, we will not find the passion we need to win people over.

Moreover, in articulating our vision, we create an alternative for the many American Jews who seek something other than the received wisdom of the Jewish lobby. We can't win people over if we don't give them a place to go. That is the work of Brit Tzedek.

Our voice not only gives expression to our personal opinions, but as it grows ever more audible and influential, it helps to break an unhealthy silence. If we truly have Israel's best interests at heart, we must be confidently pro-peace. We need to be organized, we need to be visible, and we need to be vocal. We need to face this issue directly and openly, and we need to act to make a difference particularly within Jewish communities.

The American Jewish peace movement finds itself in a difficult time in the wake of the recent Palestinian elections. The situation seems more complex than ever and some argue that with Hamas' recent victory, peace advocates have lost their credibility.

Yet we know that this is not true. We know that the Hamas victory was not a case of Palestinians rejecting peace, but of voters rejecting a corrupt government, deepening poverty and growing insecurity. When 84% of Palestinians say they hope their government will achieve a peace agreement with Israel immediately following the Hamas victory, how can it be otherwise? We must educate ourselves and move forward boldly. At a time when the notion of "starving the Palestinians" as a way of "breaking" Hamas has legitimacy in the halls of Congress, if we do not speak up, who will?

As Brit Tzedek continues to organize and grow, there are sure to be disagreements. This is healthy. This is human, this is Jewish. But we all agree on one thing: justice demands a negotiated two-state solution. Nothing else will provide real, lasting peace and security for Israel and the Palestinians.

Social activism is deeply embedded in the American Jewish experience. We need to continue to be effective, Jewish social activists today. If we are truly pro-Israel, we can scarcely do otherwise.

Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, The Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace
11 E. Adams Street, Suite 707
Chicago, IL 60603
Phone: (312) 341-1205
Fax: (312) 341-1206
info@btvshalom.org
www.btvshalom.org


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