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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom

Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace


The following is an article from The Jewish Bulletin of Northern California, from August 16th, 2002

Leftist Jews organize as alternative voice on Israel
by Alexandra J. Wall

A new organization of American Jews hopes to become an alternative, leftist voice -- but just as loud as AIPAC's mainstream voice -- regarding Israeli policy. According to those in Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee is the dominant voice in the American Jewish community and therefore tends to speak for all American Jews when it comes to Israel.

"We want to be and will be an alternative voice for the American Jewish community," said Marcia Freedman, a Berkeley peace activist. "At the moment, Congress hears only one voice and that's AIPAC. We don't believe that AIPAC represents a majority of American Jews."

Brit Tzedek, which describes itself as "pro-Israel, anti-occupation," hopes to change that. "The idea is to demonstrate very palpably that we are speaking for large numbers of American Jews when we speak," said Freedman.

Freedman was a founding member of Brit Tzedek, which was launched in April, and was recently named its national chair.

Called the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace in English, the group has formed chapters in 14 cities, with one of the largest in the Bay Area. About 100 people in San Francisco attended its kick-off fund-raiser in July, getting an even higher attendance than a similar event in New York, which featured Gloria Steinem.

The goal of the group is to attract paying members -- it counts about 550 nationwide currently -- and its leadership hopes to have 5,763 six months from now and eventually, tens of thousands.

AIPAC has 60,000 members. Freedman is confident that Brit Tzedek's membership can reach the size of AIPAC's. "I can't say we'll have the same kind of money AIPAC does, but we can surely have as many or more members. I think there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of American Jews that agree with us but have felt silenced in many settings."

In its defense, AIPAC spokeswoman Rebecca Needler said AIPAC does work with whichever government is in power to ensure a strong relationship between the United States and Israel.

One-third of Brit Tzedek's advisory council of 95 people consists of rabbis, including Jonathan Omer-Man of Berkeley. Local advisory council members include David Biale, Chana Bloch, David Cooper, Nan Fink Gefen, B.Z. Goldberg, Aurora Levins-Morales, Adrienne Rich and Lincoln Shlensky.

Oakland-based Penny Rosenwasser is the only local member in addition to Freedman who sits on the organization's board of directors.

What differentiates the group from other leftist groups like Americans for Peace Now is that APN raises money for the Israeli group Shalom Achshav and is not a membership organization.

Brit Tzedek also goes further than APN politically, in that it explicitly calls for a shared Jerusalem, with East Jerusalem serving as the capital of a future Palestinian state. It also calls for a "just solution" to the Palestinian refugee issue, which Freedman says is akin to what was expressed at the negotiations at Taba, Egypt, in January 2001, with Israel acknowledging partial responsibility for creating the refugee situation, and suggesting some form of reparations.

Brit Tzedek launched its first national campaign recently, with the organization calling for establishing a fund to bring West Bank settlers back within the Green Line.

A recent poll conducted in Israel by Peace Now found that 70 percent of settlers in the West Bank said they would evacuate their homes, if they were asked by the government.

"It's important to understand that most of the settlers are not there for ideological reasons, but moved there for economic incentives," said Freedman, who spends half the year in Jerusalem. "Other than the fact that it's occupied territory and dangerous, they have a wonderful quality of life and have invested everything they have."

Brit Tzedek has suggested setting up an international fund -- with the United States being a major contributor -- to offer grants to any settler who wants to move back to Israel proper. The idea was lauded in an editorial earlier this month in the Chicago Tribune.

Brit Tzedek is also working on a campaign for inclusiveness within the Jewish community.

"There's this clich everywhere of three Jews and five opinions," said Freedman. "Now we have five Jews and one opinion."

She also cited "strong pressure within the Jewish community to unite behind the belief that Israel's existence is being threatened."

Brit Tzedek hopes to encourage synagogues, federations and other communal organizations to encourage diverse points of view when it comes to Israel.

"We see our goal as influencing opinion within the American Jewish community and thereby influencing American foreign policy of the United States," said Freedman.

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