Over the past five years, Brit
Tzedek v'Shalom has been in a unique position to think afresh
about organizing in the Jewish community. With its
two-fold goals of educating a grassroots base of American Jews
and then mobilizing that base to change US foreign policy on the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we have adapted many traditional
organizing strategies to the particular circumstances in which
our activists find ourselves.
This has required breaking with commonly used Jewish
organizational practices, most notably the institutional
tendency to organize in a top-down fashion. Creating a new model
was not easy or quick, in no small part because of the sheer
sensitivity of the issue. Israel, after all, represents our
survival, our safety - without Israel, many feel, there could be
In building our model, it has been important to acknowledge
that while such existential fear can at times be hyper-inflated,
it is often justified - and regardless, it is felt genuinely by
many in our community. One of the cardinal rules of community
organizing is that you organize people where they are, not where
you want them to be.
Thus, our first step has been to provide a safe space for
Jews to question Israeli policy or consider openly what it means
to be truly pro-Israel. It can be a painful journey for many to
consider, often for the first time, that this is not a one-sided
conflict, that Israel too has missed opportunities to create
peace. Only by creating this space do we allow individuals
and communities to expand their frame of reference.
We must next delineate our message clearly and carefully by
re-framing what constitutes Israel's best interest. We
must shift the focus from continuation of a deadly conflict to a
two-state solution that will bring durable peace, thereby
asserting in everything that we do that we are pro-peace because
we are pro-Israel.
The next step has been to create a strategy that allows
members and interested supporters to feel invested enough to
take action, offering meaningful, substantive ways for
individuals to get involved and take steps that can lead to real
change. This includes organizing informative house parties,
meeting with elected officials in their home offices, writing
letters in support of Brit Tzedek campaigns, and so on.
But such work can only be truly successful if approached on a
grassroots level, within an organizational structure that gives
each activist respect and responsibility. This we achieve
through the establishment of local chapters, which in turn take
on the work of educating ourselves and our communities, creating
in-roads to Jewish institutions, and raising the public profile
of the Jewish peace movement. The chapters then work in close
coordination with the national organization to create the
necessary political pressure to change US foreign policy.
At all these stages, Brit Tzedek organizes with care and
consideration for the unique set of local challenges that face
American Jews who wish to change the status quo vis-a-vis
Israel. Due to the deeply traumatic nature and sheer complexity
of this issue, Brit Tzedek's message must always preserve
nuance. There is no one person or institution to blame for the
perpetuation of the violence between Israelis and
Palestinians. There is no single piece of legislation that
could "change everything".
Nor can we rely on some of the better-known "direct action"
modes of organizing. We cannot march in the streets, we cannot
strike, or boycott, or commit civil disobedience - such actions
would drive away many of the Jews we must still win over and
would not move us any closer to our goal.
So instead we have a long-term project: trying to move a
significant portion of the American Jewish community to create a
shift in consciousness. Our Let's
Talk campaign brings all of these aspects into focus: First
we need to allow ourselves simply to talk about the issue, then
we need to educate ourselves, and then we need to take action
and increase the "talking" in our communities.
Our chapters have become increasingly successful at doing
just this, developing sustainable strategies and setting goals
for their own communities. They have become expert at
identifying their local resources and understanding that they
need not just sheer numbers, but also effective group leadership
and the backing of respected Jewish community leaders, to be
They regularly reach out to Jews of all backgrounds and
denominations, as well as Jewish institutions and leaders such
as rabbis and the heads of Jewish federations and Jewish
Community Relations Councils (JCRCs). A key part of this process
is successful media outreach, which allows individual chapters
to amplify their many educational efforts: films, speaker tours,
discussions, panels, house parties.
With successful networking and trainings, the chapters have
been able to engage activists and members in both national and
local advocacy initiatives such as participating in legislative
action alerts, phone trees, petitions, letters to Congress, and
meetings with their Senators and Representatives.
As such, our chapters provide a mechanism for Brit Tzedek to
implement our strategy in communities throughout the country,
demonstrating that we are a powerful national force.
Our recent Grassroots Leadership Training Institute and
National Advocacy Days 2007 exemplified why we have become a
recognized force within the Jewish community, and a growing
voice in Washington. During the Training Institute, chapter
activists participated in, and in some cases led, workshops on
leadership development, on listening and talking to those in our
community who may disagree with us, and on developing local
Perhaps most encouraging, though, was the fact that when
chapter activists met with their Members of Congress and staff,
it became clear that there has been a shift in the perception of
how the American Jewish community deals with the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We met greater receptivity at
those meetings - we were being listened to, as true
representatives of our local Jewish communities. We met
with more Members of Congress directly (over 30 in-person
meetings). And we didn't just receive lip service; since
our meetings in DC, 13 of the Representatives and 11 of the
Senators that we met with have signed on as cosponsors to the
two pro-peace, pro-Israel bills we were lobbying on: the Davis
Mideast envoy resolution, H.Res.143, and the Feinstein/Lugar resolution on
We have gained a rhythm - we have established our model for
organizing. We have figured out what works and what doesn't. We
will keep growing - and we need to keep providing chapters with
ways to win victories small and large, to keep us all truly
engaged, even when the work is so very hard.
Brit Tzedek is becoming more and more effective because we
are following the principle of organizing people where they are,
not where you want them to be. In this way, we have created a
substantive alternative model for what it means to be
It is truly affirming to have been a part of developing this
strategy and doing this work with the thousands of activists who
volunteer hours and hours of their time. Five years into our
organizational history we have proudly arrived at a shared
vision and understanding of our work - at a time when it is
deeply needed in the Jewish community.
Carinne Luck recently departed from her position as
Director of Chapter and Grassroots Development at Brit Tzedek
v'Shalom after nearly three years of service. We wish her
the very best in her future endeavors. Carinne will continue to
be a member of the New York City chapter.