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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom
Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace
Local Man Joins Board of Jewish Peace Group
Kansas City Jewish Chronicle
A semi-retired tax attorney and longtime local peace activist, Abrams said that, having recently sold his securities business, he has more time to devote to a group like BTVS.
In late 2003, frustrated with the grinding conflict in the Holy Land, he began casting about for a new organization around which to organize and promote a two-state compromise. It wouldn't suit his purpose to join one of the groups that simply and uncritically "rally 'round the flag" for Israel.
Abrams flirted with forming a chapter of Tikkun, the progressive group led by San Francisco Rabbi Michael Lerner, but Abrams found the group too diverse, both in terms of issues on which it focuses and its mainly non-Jewish membership. Abrams wanted to focus on bringing an American Jewish voice to bear on the question of war and peace in the Mideast. He learned about BTVS and began pursuing chapter-building activities.
BTVS's founding president is former Knesset member and pioneering Israeli feminist Marcia Freedman, who now lives in Berkeley, Calif. BTVS has a national office and executive director on staff in Chicago, and other chapters in cities across the country. Nationally, membership is around 5,600, with "supporters" estimated at nearly 30,000.
"I thought it was important to have a grassroots organization, but one that had the capacity to deal with a national organization," Abrams said.
Formerly, Abrams served as a national trustee for the National Conference for Community & Justice. He has been a board member of NCCJ's Kansas City chapter since the early 1970s. For a time, he chaired the now-defunct Christian-Jewish-Muslim Dialogue Group of Greater Kansas City. He was, at one time, president of the Kansas City chapter of the American Jewish Committee and served on AJCommittee's International Relations Commission.
'We can do a lot'
BTVS's local activities have included showing documentaries with discussions afterward. It was a co-sponsor of the recent visit to the KC area by two members (one Jewish; one Arab) of Israel's Bereaved Parents Circle. Abrams sends out a weekly e-mail, with stories culled from news media, political and social groups. And BTVS is co-sponsoring the Sept. 12 visit to Kansas City by Israeli storyteller Noa Baum, who will perform her work "A Land Twice Promised" at the American Heartland Theatre.
"What can any individual who's not a politician or a diplomat do?" Abrams asked rhetorically. "We can do a lot, as individuals, by wanting this to happen; by being involved in organizations like temples, synagogues, youth groups, church programs. The more people who say 'We want this to happen, the more our politicians will hear us. By saying 'This is important to us,' they will become more involved."
For now, Abrams said, the local BTVS chapter consists of him and a handful of regular supporters. Membership dues are $35 a year; $18 for students.
"The objective is not to collect dues, but to be of assistance in bringing about a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian question, making Israel a more safe and secure and democratic country," Abrams said. "At the same time, it takes contributions and membership to make that happen. .... If we had 10 or 15 people who were really committed to this, it would be even more successful.
"But the more events we sponsor, the more people we hope to interest in the group."
KC BTVS will show the Oscar-nominated 2001 documentary film "Promises," which details the lives of Israeli Jewish and Palestinian Arab kids, at its next meeting, set for 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 15, at the Jewish Community Campus.
What does BTVS believe?
With a platform calling for an end to Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the sharing of Jerusalem, Brit Tzedek v'Shalom is not uncritical in its support for the Jewish state. But KC chapter leader Allan Abrams says that's the point -- to provide a space for Jews who want to be involved but who feel alienated by the "my country, right or wrong" ethos of the American Israel Public Affairs Council.
In its mission statement, Brit Tzedek says it is "guided by the mitzvah, or obligation, to pursue peace and justice this is rooted in both secular and religious Jewish traditions. We believe the vast majority of Israelis and Palestinians long for an enduring peace and that security for Israel can only be achieved through the establishment of an economically and politically viable Palestinian state, necessitating an end to Israel's occupation of land acquired during the 1967 war and an end to Palestinian terrorism."
The group's Web site, btvshalom.org, lists among its "founding principles" the notion that "Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories . . . are a major obstacle to peace, a tremendous financial burden to Israel and do little, if anything, to enhance Israel's security. ... they bring grave harm to the Palestinians living under Occupation." BTVS calls for bringing the settlers "safely home to Israel." It seeks "the termination of terrorism and state-initiated violence against all individuals, with special care being taken to avoid harming civilians. We seek to build a future in which both peoples use non-violent means to resolve social and political inequities."
Within the context of a peace agreement (a viable Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 borders alongside Israel. . . . A just resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem that takes into account the needs and aspiration of both peoples . . ."), BTVS is explicit in favoring "the establishment and recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of both sates."
Rick Hellman is the editor for the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle