The Power of the
By Diane Balser, National Advocacy Chair & Rob Levy,
We are presently closing in on an historically
significant victory in the U.S. Senate!
The Feinstein/Lugar resolution, a bi-partisan
resolution that calls for active U.S. engagement to resolve the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, currently boasts 33 cosponsors--a
third of the Senate--and stands a chance of passing before the
Senate leaves for August recess this Friday. The resolution
calls on President Bush to make a two-state solution a "top
priority," urges him to appoint a Special U.S. Envoy for Middle
East Peace, and welcomes the Arab League Peace Initiative.
The Significance of
The Feinstein/Lugar resolution is significant for
its constructive, pro-engagement content in a Congress that
regularly introduces legislation that demonizes Palestinians,
places sanctions on desperately needed aid, and otherwise
undermines U.S. efforts to promote peace negotiations. It
is also unique for the level of and kind of support it has been
garnering. The present roster of signers includes senior members
from both parties and five Jewish Senators (see the full list of cosponsors).
It has been four years since the last positive,
pro-active peace legislation regarding the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict was introduced in the Senate; a 2003 resolution in support of peace proposals
such as the Geneva Accord garnered only seven cosponsors (more
than four times fewer than we have today). The last time
pro-active peace legislation actually passed the Senate was
during the Olso era in the mid-1990s!
Whether or not the bill passes the full Senate,
the level of support it has garnered represents a wind of change
in Congress as more and more Senators are willing to go on
record in favor of a two-state resolution and active U.S.
engagement to bring it about.
In the House of Representatives, the Davis
Resolution (H.Res.143) similarly calls on President Bush
to appoint a Mideast peace envoy and currently has 49 cosponsors, including eight Jewish
Representatives and several freshman Members of Congress.
This resolution continues to move along, albeit at a slower
pace. And with both of these resolutions, we have seen members
of Congress who were not previously comfortable voting with us,
now publicly signing on.
To be sure, these resolutions are only one step on
a path to the full emergence of the pro-Israel, pro-peace voice
in Congress, and they themselves will not change U.S. foreign
policy alone. Congress has a fairly limited role in directing
foreign policy, constrained to appropriating funding and
passing non-binding "Sense of the Congress" resolutions that
express Congress' opinion on a particular issue or event.
At the end of the day, it is the Administration that will have
to do the heavy lifting on providing the type of vigorous U.S.
engagement for which Brit Tzedek advocates.
Nevertheless, these resolutions represent a
growing sentiment of the "people's voice" demanding a change in
U.S foreign policy. For years, Congress has sent a message
to the White House and the rest of the world that the U.S.
role's in the conflict is simply to maintain the status
quo. The growth in support for pro-peace,
pro-Israel resolutions like these begins to change that
perception. And after these resolutions pass from the
spotlight, we will be back with new ones, and with them, more
and more signers and votes.
How Did We Get Here?
Over our five years of existence, Brit Tzedek has
grown and become increasingly more effective. In the last
few years, along with a constellation of other pro-peace Jewish,
Christian, and Arab-American groups, we have made several small
but significant gains that include promoting the Hyde-Capps letter to Secretary Rice (2005),
opposing and winning significant modifications to the Palestinian
sanctions bill (2006) and the Nelson-Ensign letter (Feb. 2007), and
promoting the recent Davis and Feinstein/Lugar
resolutions. Brit Tzedek has emerged as a key player among
the pro-Israel, pro-peace forces in Washington—bringing
the unique strength of our committed and active grassroots base
of American Jews.
We are doing what has never been done
During National Advocacy Days 2007, Brit Tzedek
activists had meetings with over 100 Congressional offices
(including 30 in-person meetings with Members), capitalizing on
relationships we have been building over the years.
Subsequently, over 20 Senators and Representatives we met with
signed on to the Feinstein/Lugar and Davis resolutions.
Our continuing calls, emails, and meetings are bringing in new
cosponsors to this day.
Brit Tzedek's growth and effectiveness has been a
direct result of our ability to reach American Jews where they are and
mobilize them to take action. Through the work of our over
36,000 supporters and 39 chapters, we have established that
there is more than one way to be pro-Israel—that you can
speak as a pro-Israel and pro-peace Jew and not be marginalized.
We have also been forthright in helping our community understand
that the long-term security of Israel is inherently dependent on
reaching a negotiated peace agreement with the Palestinians.
Over the past five years, our voice has grown
stronger, our efforts more focused, and our message more
unified. We speak in one voice in Congress and in the American
Jewish community: It is pro-Israel to be pro-peace.
In addition to the growing impact of the work of
Brit Tzedek, the present political situation has also been
noteworthy in increasing receptivity to our message. The ongoing
debate over the President's foreign policy and the Iraq War,
while not examining the root cause of the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict, has generally both challenged and opened up a broader
discussion over the nature of diplomacy for the first time in
The Iraq Study Group's findings, publicized in
December 2006, have become central to the debate again, as
Americans begin to accept the strong connection between
resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict and broader U.S. interests
in the Middle East. There is an emerging consensus around
the need to change policy and put more energy into ending the
violence between Israelis and Palestinians. The Bush
Administration does not want to leave office with a completely
failed policy, and the new Congress appears to have realized
that they need to demonstrate that they are behind creating some
genuine change in Middle East strategy.
Challenges Into the Future
The Bush Administration has just put proposed a
new peace initiative that has aspects that many of us in Brit
Tzedek and in other parts of the pro-Israel, pro-peace camp
strongly question. We welcome the President's support, for
instance, for the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, as well as
his statements in support of renewed peace negotiations and an
international conference, but we are concerned by the continuing
policy to isolate Hamas and deepen the divide between
Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Such an approach
risks a dangerous resurgence of intra-Palestinian violence and
attacks against Israel, and is likely to undermine the
legitimacy and feasibility of negotiations. More
generally, we have serious concerns about whether this
Administration will ever actually match its rhetoric around a
two-state solution with the sustained, vigorous diplomacy
necessary to make real progress towards achieving
Thus, we have much work to do. We have not yet
created a strong enough wave of advocacy, have not yet
communicated clearly enough the growing understanding within the
American Jewish community and in the halls of Congress that a
final status, negotiated two-state agreement is an absolute
necessity. Until a politically and economically viable
Palestinian state is created in the West Bank, Gaza, and East
Jerusalem, Israel will be neither stable, nor secure.
Fully aware of the challenges ahead in our pursuit
of U.S. leadership for a negotiated two-state resolution, we are
pleased to acknowledge the progress we are making along the
Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, The Jewish Alliance
for Justice and Peace
11 E. Adams Street, Suite
Chicago, IL 60603
Phone: (312) 341-1205