A Message of Transition
by Diane Balser, Outgoing Executive Director

It has been a real pleasure to have served as the Executive Director of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom this past year.

The struggle to achieve a just peace between Israel and the Palestinians is one which has always been deeply important to me, and I have been an active volunteer leader in Brit Tzedek almost from its inception. I'm grateful to have had this opportunity to lead the organization and play a more public role in the effort, and look forward to continuing in a volunteer leadership capacity in the organization, particularly around advocacy.

I came into this position just before the implementation of Gaza Disengagement, and am leaving just after the UN Ceasefire that brought a halt to the second Lebanon War. The year between was marked by enormous upheaval for Israelis and Palestinians alike, with barely a day of rest as Brit Tzedek and the rest of the US peace community has continued to respond. I have a real sense of pride in our organization and what we have been able to build as a team together.

The goal of Brit Tzedek is, as it has always been, to influence US foreign policy in order
to vigorously promote a negotiated, two-state settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. During this tumultuous year, as in the past, we have been able to take consistently current and principled stands around all the many crucial events that have unfolded and to win over growing numbers to our positions. From the struggle over disengagement, through the violence in Gaza, and up to the recent war in Lebanon, we offered a home to those American Jews who are pro-Israel -- but cannot believe that continued force will solve Israel's problems.

Despite -- or possibly because of -- the difficulties of the current situation and painful hostilities of the summer, we continue to grow our grassroots base. A growing number of American Jews see the importance of solving both the larger Middle East crises and the critical Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and are choosing to join our efforts.

There have been a number of significant developments in our organization this year:

  • By creating a Washington DC office and hiring a Washington Representative, we have firmly established ourselves as a strong, visible presence in the nation's capital, and along with our peace community allies, are demonstrating with our words and deeds that the American Jewish community has many voices, many ways to express concern for Israel and its well-being.  

  • The effectiveness of our Washington office is dependent on the effectiveness of our grassroots, and over the past year we have seen growth in both the numbers and sophistication of our chapter activists. Through their work -- organizing on a local level, writing letters to the editor of their local papers, meeting with their legislators and staff, and communicating Brit Tzedek's message to the local Jewish communities -- they create the solid base necessary for building a viable presence among the nation's policy makers.

  • Our media presence has increased exponentially with the assistance of Rabinowitz-Dorf Communicatoins, as well as the volunteer efforts of chapter activists in writing letters to the editor and submitting op-eds to their local papers. The importance of this cannot be overestimated -- quite simply, these efforts provide the path for those who are searching for a new way to express their support for Israel.

Future Vision

Though we are rightly proud of our successes to date, there is still much to do.

There are many obstacles to peace but also fresh opportunities. The war in Lebanon and its aftermath, with the ongoing conflict in Gaza and the West Bank, sets the context for the present situation. Difficulties have heightened and there has been tragic loss of life, but we must not lose sight of the important possibilities that have emerged. 

The Lebanon War effectively "regionalized" the conflict, allowing for the possibility of a long-term, comprehensive settlement, not only between Israel and the Palestinians, but between Israel and the Arab nations with which it does not yet have peace agreements. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains, of course, at the crux of these developments, and we must continue to push for its resolution. 

Getting from where we are to such a settlement won't be easy. It needs to start with simple diplomatic initiatives backed by the United States and the international community, and will require a change in US foreign policy. This, however, is the only real hope we have of ending the bloodshed. With such a settlement could come the realization of the Jewish and Israeli dream -- a secure Israel living in peace and cooperation with its Arab neighbors. 

What we need to do:

We need to expand our base, to gain the support and involvement of greater numbers of American Jews.

We need to develop our message and aggressively bring it to as many people as possible, to communicate the notion that a negotiated two-state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the only viable chance for a peaceful future.

We must vigorously organize our voice effectively as American Jews, to reach decision makers and change minds -- and policy.

Most importantly, we must remain true to our mission and principles, despite any future challenges of escalating violence or official intransigence.

I am grateful and proud to have served as your Executive Director. Thanks to the very talented staff of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom who I enjoyed working with tremendously: Aliza Becker, Deputy Director; Carinne Luck, Director of Grassroots and Chapter Development; Rob Levy, Washington Representative; and the many other hardworking staff and consultants. Thanks to the excellent volunteer leadership of Brit Tzedek, particularly Marcia Freedman, our president. I look forward to working with our new Executive Director, Diane Cantor. I know that she will bring a lot to this organization.

Thank you for all your efforts. One person, one conversation, one changed mind at a time -- this is the work of Brit Tzedek. Without you, it couldn't happen.

Thank you,

Diane Balser

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

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