The Crisis in Israel, Gaza and Lebanon

"A Report from the Ground:  The Humanitarian Situation in Israel and the Palestinian Territories" with Rabbi Arik Ascherman & Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj
Sunday, July 23 at 2:00 PM EDT (1 CDT/12 MDT/11 PDT)

"The US Role in the Current Crisis" with Dr. Stephen P. Cohen & Dr. James J. Zogby
Thursday, July 27 at 9:00 PM EDT  (8 CDT/7 MDT/6 PDT)

Listen to and read the transcript of Brit Tzedek's July 23 conference call with Israeli policy analyst Daniel Levy.

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Read Brit Tzedek's Resource Page on the Mideast Crisis

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Rabbi Arik W. Ascherman is the Executive Director of the Israeli organization, Rabbis for Human Rights  (RHR). RHR, the only organization in Israel that is made up of rabbis from all of the denominations, serves as a rabbinic voice of conscience in Israel, giving voice to the Jewish tradition of human rights. They promote justice and freedom, while campaigning against discrimination and inhumane conduct. In May 2006, they received the prestigious Niwano Peace Prize.

Rabbi Ascherman was born in the US and was ordained by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. He joined RHR as co-director in 1995 and became Executive Director in 1998.

Rabbi Ascherman is married to Rabbi Einat Ramon, the first Israeli born woman to ordained be as a rabbi. To date, they are Israel's only rabbinic couple.

Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj is the founder and Medical Director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, an independent health service which provides urgently needed support, such as rehabilitation for torture victims, to the large number of people affected by the upheaval of the Intifada and the organised violence of the Israeli occupation. He currently lives in Gaza and is an expert on the mental impact that the violence in the area has on children growing up there, a subject on which he has written extensively in both Arabic and English.

El-Sarraj is a member of the International Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims, and the Co-ordinating Committee of the Campaign Against Torture Victims. His open criticism, including of the Palestinian National Authorities, has placed him in great danger, resulting in his arrests on numerous occasions, where he experienced torture, prolonged solitary confinement and lack of access to an attorney.

Dr. Stephen P. Cohen is a leader in the practice and theory of unofficial diplomacy know as Track Two Diplomacy. Since 1975 when he first traveled to Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and the Palestinian areas as part of a team of university professors, he has pioneered behind the scenes efforts in bringing Arabs and Israelis together. Having developed relationships with governmental leaders and decision makers for more than twenty-five years, he brings to leaders of Israel, the Palestinians and the Arabs, as well as top American officials, original ideas and approaches to advancing peace and peaceful relations.

Dr. Cohen founded the Institute for Middle East Peace and Development in 1979 to serve as facilitator and private intermediary in peace-making and peace-building and has served as its President ever since. He is the National Scholar of Israel Policy Forum and in the last years he has been a visiting professor at Princeton University and Lehigh University.

Dr. Cohen began his professional career as a professor at Harvard University where he had earned his Ph.D. in Social Psychology and initiated the first problem-solving workshops of Israelis and Palestinians. The unique seminar, co-taught with Herbert C. Kelman, on Social Psychological Approaches to International Relations launched Cohen's integration of his work in small group interaction (he had published a major scholarly book in the field) with his deep involvement in the evolving history of Israel and the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

As a Lady Davis Fellow at the Hebrew University and Visiting Professor in the 1970's, Dr. Cohen was able to become one of the first to lecture in Egypt on the potential for peace with Israel and to serve as a behind-the-scenes confidant of Israel's Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan and President Sadat in the launching of the peace process. He set up the first meetings between Shimon Peres and Anwar Sadat and between Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Abba Eban with the leaders of the Egyptian National Democratic Party. These meetings were the initiation of Shimon Peres and Yossi Beilin as pioneers in peace efforts of Israel and the engagement of Osama El Baz as premier peace theoretician and political advisor of Egypt and the Arab world. During the autonomy talks Dayan and Boutros Boutros Ghali, then Acting Foreign Minister of Egypt and later Secretary General of the United Nations, encouraged Dr. Cohen to create an American-based institution as a venue of confidential Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab dialogue and other peace efforts.

With the assistance of Cyrus Vance, then United States Secretary of State, the Institute was created at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York in 1979. It projects were supported by American Jewish leading business and communal figures, Arab Americans, and financial support from grants from the Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, the Agency for International Development, and private philanthropists. It is now a registered charity in Canada and a 501(c) 3 in the United States.

The Institute created the first group of Arab and Jewish businessmen cooperating on peace and economic development of the West Bank and Gaza. It was the first to bring major social scientists from Israel, Egypt and the Palestinians into joint research on their conflict. Dr. Cohen created the first secret official negotiations between Israel and the PLO years before Oslo under the supervision of Chairman Arafat and Shimon Peres, and launching the premier intermediaries of Israeli Prime Ministers and Arafat until the collapse of the peace process into the second intifada. Together with a Syrian American colleague, he has been in confidential, off-the-record discussions with Syria's top leadership from pre-Madrid days with President Hafez al Assad and through the Presidency of his successor and son Bashaar Al Assad. He is also a senior member of the United States group led by Ambassador Edward Djerejian engaged in off-the-record US/ Syria dialogue.

Dr. Cohen has developed close relations with Israeli leaders from all parties, Labor and Likud, religious and secular, and with Arab heads of state, foreign ministers, and leading figures in almost every state in the Arab world including the deceased leaders, King Hussein, King Hassan and President Assad as well as the current leader of Egypt President Mubarak, and the new successors of key states such as Lebanon, Syria, Algeria, Yemen and the Gulf States.

Over the years, Dr. Cohen has worked with some of the leading figures in Jewish Life. He was the founding president of the Foundations of Charles Bronfman. He was the first President of S. Daniel Abraham's Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation. He was a partner with Lester Crown and Robert Lifton in the New Middle East LLC. Lester Crown was also Co-Chair of the Businessman for Middle East Peace and Development created by Steve Cohen.

Dr. Cohen is a widely quoted Middle East expert in the New York Times and other publications. He comments regularly on Middle East affairs on radio, television and in newspapers. He has spoken often in meetings of the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations and other Jewish audiences, in Arab meetings and in key venues of discussion of Middle East affairs such as the Council on Foreign Relations. His advice and counsel are sought by government and foreign policy leaders in the United States, Israel and many other countries.

Dr. Cohen is currently National Scholar at Israel Policy Forum, a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote the Middle East peace process in order to strengthen Israeli security and further U.S. foreign policy interests in the region. Every week on Friday afternoon for the last three and a half years he has addressed topical issues via a community conference call, which attracts up to 100 leaders weekly. He recently authored "The Foundations for a Future Peace (ten basic principles for peace making efforts that have been developed within Israel Policy Forum's Study Group)" based on interviews with over one hundred Arab, Israeli and American participants in and critics of the Oslo peace process. Due to the secret nature of much of his work over the past many years, Stephen Cohen could not publish articles that reflected the substance of his efforts. However, behind-the-scenes, he has assisted various leaders in the United States, Israel and Egypt in preparing major policy position papers and public addresses.

In the last years, Professor Cohen has felt it very important to return to the university classroom, where debate on the Middle East has been raging. In the fall semester of 2001, He taught a Graduate Seminar in the Department of Middle East Studies at Princeton in " Conflict Resolution Approaches to Middle East Wars and Internal Wars." In the spring semester of 2003, he taught two undergraduate courses at Lehigh University: " Arab-Israeli Conflict and Peace-making" and "The United States and the Middle East." He has a unique contribution to make in shaping the way that the next generation of young people understands the history, cultural development and education of the peoples and societies of the Middle East. He strives to influence the university students of today in order to prepare them grapple with the enormous challenges of peace making and conflict resolution that are urgently needed to ensure a future of safety and security.

Stephen P. Cohen is married to Elaine R. Shizgal Cohen, Head of School of the Solomon Schechter Day Schools of Essex and Union County of New Jersey. They have three grown daughters, Tamara, Rabbi Ayelet and Maya.

Dr. James J. Zogby is founder and president of the Arab American Institute (AAI), a Washington, D.C.-based organization which serves as the political and policy research arm of the Arab American community. Since 1985, Dr. Zogby and AAI have led Arab American efforts to secure political empowerment in the U.S. Through voter registration, education and mobilization, AAI has moved Arab Americans into the political mainstream.

For the past three decades, Dr. Zogby has been involved in a full range of Arab American issues. A co-founder and chairman of the Palestine Human Rights Campaign in the late 1970s, he later co-founded and served as the Executive Director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. In 1982, he co-founded Save Lebanon, Inc., a private non-profit, humanitarian and non-sectarian relief organization which funds health care for Palestinian and Lebanese victims of war, and other social welfare projects in Lebanon. In 1985, Zogby founded AAI.

In 1993, following the signing of the Israeli-Palestinian peace accord in Washington, he was asked by Vice President Al Gore to lead Builders for Peace, a private sector committee to promote U.S. business investment in the West Bank and Gaza. In his capacity as co-president of Builders, Zogby frequently traveled to the Middle East with delegations led by Vice President Gore and late Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown. In 1994, with former U.S. Congressman Mel Levine, his colleague as co-president of Builders, Zogby led a U.S. delegation to the signing of the Israeli-Palestinian agreement in Cairo. Zogby also chaired a forum on the Palestinian economy at the Casablanca Economic Summit in 1994. After 1994, through Builders, Zogby worked with a number of US agencies to promote and support Palestinian economic development, including AID, OPIC, USTDA, and the Departments of State and Commerce.

Dr. Zogby has also been personally active in U.S. politics for many years. Most recently, Zogby was elected a co-convener of the National Democratic Ethnic Coordinating Committee (NDECC), an umbrella organization of Democratic Party leaders of European and Mediterranean descent. On September 24, 1999, the NDECC elected Dr. James Zogby as its representative to the DNC's Executive Committee.

A lecturer and scholar on Middle East issues, U.S.-Arab relations, and the history of the Arab American community, Dr. Zogby appears frequently on television and radio. He has appeared as a regular guest on all the major network news programs. After hosting the popular "A Capital View" on the Arab Network of America for several years, he now hosts "Viewpoint with James Zogby" on Abu Dhabi Television, which can be seen Friday afternoons from 2:00-3:00pm EST.

Since 1992, Dr. Zogby has also written a weekly column on U.S. politics for the major newspapers of the Arab world. The column, Washington Watch, is currently published in 14 Arab countries. He has authored a number of books including two recent publications, "What Ethnic Americans Really Think" and "What Arabs Think: Values, Beliefs and Concerns."

Dr. Zogby has testified before U.S. House and Senate committees, has been guest speaker on a number of occasions in the Secretary's Open Forum at the U.S. Department of State, and has addressed the United Nations and other international forums. He recently received a Distinguished Public Service Award from the U.S. Department of State "in recognition of outstanding contributions to national and international affairs."

Dr. Zogby is also active professionally beyond his involvement with the Arab American community. He currently serves on the Human Rights Watch Middle East Advisory Committee and on the national advisory boards of the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Immigration Forum, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. In January 2001, he was selected by the President to be a member of the Central Asian-American Enterprise Fund and serves on its Board of Directors. Additionally, he recently attained a position with polling firm Zogby International as Senior Analyst.

In 1975, Dr. Zogby received his doctorate from Temple University's Department of Religion, where he studied under the Islamic scholar Dr. Ismail al-Faruqi. He was a National Endowment for the Humanities Post-Doctoral Fellow at Princeton University in 1976, and on several occasions was awarded grants for research and writing by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Defense Education Act, and the Mellon Foundation. Dr. Zogby received a Bachelor of Arts from Le Moyne College. In 1995, Le Moyne awarded Zogby an honorary doctoral of laws degree, and in 1997 named him the college's outstanding alumnus.

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