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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom

Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace

Boston Workmen's Circle calls for support for Annapolis Conference

The Jewish Advocate

November 21, 2007

By Rachel L. Axelbank

The Boston chapter of the Workmen’s Circle is at the forefront of a growing call for American Jewry to focus on the Middle East peace process and support the upcoming Annapolis conference, which is set to convene later this month.

At a recent meeting of the national Workmen’s Circle board, Michael Felsen, president of the Boston Workmen’s Circle and a member of the national executive board, agreed to collaborate with national leadership on a resolution regarding the conference.

The resolution, which has been formally adopted and issued by the Boston chapter’s board and is now endorsed by the national board as well, calls on “the organized American Jewish community, and on all American Jews, to raise their voices in support of the Annapolis summit.”

According to Felsen, he and his Workmen’s Circle compatriots had noted that many of the larger organizations that often represent the Jewish community were not “speaking clearly or favorably about an upcoming peace process that not only the U.S. is now prepared to get actively engaged in but that the Israeli government and Palestinian authority are now committed to as well.”

“There really is a serious concern among many people that if this summit is unsuccessful it would not be surprising to see yet another – and perhaps even more incendiary – spiral of violence,” Felsen added. “The more visibility that the process gets and the more concern people at all levels voice that it’s really important to get this done, the more we
hope that it will translate into action.”

The local chapter of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom (BTvS) has gotten in on the act, too, working to raise community awareness of the conference and to elicit congressional support for it. The group has been soliciting clergy signatures on a BTvS-initiated letter urging American Jews to support peace talks at Annapolis, sponsored an educational talk on the
conference, and solicited congressional signatures on the Ackerman-Boustany letter, which commends Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for her efforts to reinvigorate the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

“This is an important issue for our community to understand,” said Beth Wasserman, community liaison for the BTvS chapter in Boston. “If you care about Israel and about Israel achieving peace, having a peace conference should be a call to jump up and support that immediately.”

When the Ackerman-Boustany letter closed on Monday, it had been signed by all 10 members of the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation.

And on Nov. 15, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston issued a statement in support of the conference, emphasizing its support for Secretary Rice’s efforts and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s call for Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, as well as the “hope for a willingness to compromise.”

JCRC Executive Director Nancy K. Kaufman said she agrees that there is a need for support for Annapolis but not with the assessment that support is or has been lacking.

“I just came back from the GA [General Assembly of United Jewish Communities] in Nashville – everyone was discussing it,” Kaufman said. “Are people jumping up and down the way they did around Camp David? No, because we learned our lesson from Camp David. [But] everyone in the community is cautiously optimistic that the parties are coming back to the table.”

Nevertheless, on Sunday, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency published an opinion piece written by Ori Nir, a spokesman for Americans for Peace Now, which was republished in the Canadian Jewish News with the headline “Where is Jewish support for Annapolis?”

And Lisa Gallatin, executive director of the Boston Workmen’s Circle, explained that communal response had seemed disproportionately low to the potential presented by the conference.

“We see Annapolis as offering more hope of concrete progress than we’ve seen in a while and yet we saw an American Jewish community that was being conspicuously quiet about Annapolis,” Gallatin said. “We should be educating our members, reaching out to elected leaders and government officials, writing Op-Eds in support of the idea that there’s the possibility of a resolution to the conflict and that it’s in everybody’s interest.”

In a recent Op-Ed penned for the Boston Globe, Consul General of Israel to New England Nadav Tamir upheld former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin as a model of activism in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, urging the community to support Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and Palestinian leaders Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad in the Annapolis conference.

According to Tamir, it’s important for those who support the conference to be vocal so as to not be drowned out by the voices of those opposed to the conference and its objectives.

“There are many reasons to be skeptical, but we believe that it’s crucial to do everything in our power to make it succeed,” Tamir told the Advocate. “We’re not talking about achieving final status agreement or a peace agreement – we’re talking about re-energizing the peace process.”


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