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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom
Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace
Town Hall Meetings Transcripts
Question and Answer with Brit Tzedek President Marcia Freedman and the Boston Chapter in Brookline, MA, in November 2002Q: With regard to the two-state proposal: What sort of state is envisioned for the Palestinian Arabs, and, in particular, would it be a democracy, and are there organizations like this one on the Arab side that represent the Palestinian Arab people as a peaceful movement, so that, for example once the state is formed, what is there to prevent Hamas from doing exactly what it's doing right now?
A: Let me take the last part of your question first: There was a recent poll put out by Search for Common Ground that shows that 90% of Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip would support a non-violent resistance movement. What they have is not a peace movement, but what they have is support for a non-violent resistance movement. It has tried many times to get off the ground and very often just doesn't succeed, because it's dangerous for the Palestinians to be in any kind of demonstrated resistance, because where they are sitting, they are not only surrounded by the Israeli Army, but the tanks are inside the cities. There have been many times when there are peaceful demonstrations that are easily broken up by either the West Bank Israeli police or the army, and people are scared. It's also very hard for them to have any kind of resistance movement at all, because they're under curfew most of the time; the curfews go on for days and sometimes months, and they are 24-hour curfews that are broken every day, or every few days, for a couple of hours, for purposes of shopping and so forth.
What I forgot to talk to you about is that there are elections scheduled among the Palestinians for the 15th of January. The Israelis will vote on the 28th of January, and the Palestinians will vote on the 15th of January. The Quartet road map, which has been accepted now by the Palestinians, is calling for the establishment of a parliamentary democracy led by a prime minister, which would effectively move Arafat up and out of control and out of power, pretty much, the same as a president of Israel, a ceremonial position, basically. That is what is being called for. The elections will be both for (I think; nobody quite knows yet) a new legislature and a new prime minister. There is definitely support for that among the Palestinians; there has been support for that among the Palestinians for a very long time.
One of the things that it's most important to understand about politics on the Palestinian side today is that the leadership that led the first Intifada on the ground, that led to the Oslo Accords, has been pushed aside by Arafat and his associates coming in from Tunis, who were the leaders of the PLO at that time, from outside the country, and who had nothing to do with the first Intifada, but were just kind of pushed aside, in international terms, by the leadership of the first Intifada, and Oslo has brought them back and put them in place. There has been enormous dissatisfaction with the level of corruption, with the amount of privilege that these people have; they didn't have to have travel permits at one time; they could travel easily; they could go through all of the road blocks. They were very much favored by Israel and they were very much privileged by Israel, as well as by their own self-fulfilling leadership. Unfortunately, the most recognized leader of that grass roots leadership among the Palestinian people today is in an Israeli prison being charged as a terrorist, and that is Marwan Barghouti. But there are many Palestinian intellectuals around Bir Zeit University that have been consistently, for the past two years now, speaking out against the suicide bombings and the use of violence and what they call the "militarization of the Intifada" and they have been very opposed to it. They have published these opinions in many different places, including the Arab press.
There is almost no one in the Palestinian leadership today, including Arafat, in the mainstream Palestinian leadership, who does not accept the idea of a two-state solution. The Clinton bridging proposals that were put out by Clinton towards the end of his term in office and were used in Taba in the month of December as the basis for negotiations between Israel and Palestine, were accepted by both sides. Those proposals are what are described in our brochure as the Seven Principles of Brit Tzedek. They are what is described in the questions that were put to American Jews by Americans for Peace Now. We all know what that peace is supposed to look like. Will Hamas and Jihad stop? Probably not. Will the right wing on the Israeli side stop? Probably not. But there will be a border. The Palestinian State will be a de-militarized state. The Israeli State has the fifth largest army in the world, backed by the world's only super-power. Shulamit Aloni said at our founding conference: "But let's assume that all the Palestinians really do want to drive Israel into the sea. Can they?" Obviously, they cannot.
Q: I'm confused about why there are so many Jewish peace organizations (Tikkun, Women in Black...) and am wondering why we can't just have one big organization?
A: That's very interesting. I've met here, in Boston, thanks to Arthur Obermeyer, with the leadership of Americans for Peace Now, and we have begun talking about how to cooperate with one another. It has been our vision from the beginning that there would be ultimate cooperation and collaboration among all of those American Jewish organizations that are working for the same thing.
The difference between us and a lot of what you have mentioned is that we are national. But we are also local, because we are chapter-based, and that's the difference between us and all of the other American Jewish organizations. Americans for Peace Now does incredible work lobbying on the Hill; it's very sophisticated in its educational work, and of course Americans for Peace Now is supporting the largest peace organization in Israel, Peace Now, and a great deal of their work is fundraising for the peace movement in Israel, which is very important.
The Israel Policy Forum is largely a think tank, without membership at all.
We are a chapter-based organization, that will be a mass membership organization with a very strong grass roots operation within our local communities. We want to be in the communities here; we want to be in the synagogues; we want to have conversation and dialogue with the Federation and with the JCRC and so on, and with all of the Jewish institutions that make up our community because, up until very recently, the joke, which was always a true characterization our people, "two Jews, five opinions" has all of a sudden become "ten Jews, one opinion."
And we intend to move in on that mind-set, and move in on it strongly and very Jewishly. And that is going to depend on chapter work, lobbying in your local communities, so that the people in Washington hear you when they get back here as well as hear us working collaboratively with other organizations in Washington, and hearing the same message in both places. It could be very important and very effective.
I think there's also something to be said about being a new organization: there's a kind of excitement that is generated, and we just saw it happening in the room, with Donna calling for membership and Danielle calling for involvement, and that is to say that a new organization has lots of room for new people to come along and new energy to be given, where it hadn't existed before. What we're seeing in Brit Tzedek is that most of the people who are getting involved are people like you who have never been involved before and are just beginning to get involved on this issue. We saw that our Founding Conference. We saw lots of people who have a long history within the progressive Jewish community, doing work on social justice issues, who have never done any work on Middle East issues. We find people who have never done any work on any issues, who want to get involved as well. I would say that that's about 2/3 of the people who are in the leadership and the membership of Brit Tzedek.
Now, Tikkun has a wonderful magazine and a wonderful message. It is a multi-denominational movement and it is a multi-issue movement. If you look at Brit Tzedek, we are a Jewish community organization and we have a very narrow focus. And we will stay very narrow in focus.
Q: Why has Brit Tzedek not focused all of its energy on the Israeli election to support Mitzna?
A: I don't think you should assume that [the election] is not a priority. Secondly, I want you all to realize that this organization did not exist six months ago. So for us to get ourselves together on what the agenda is going to be is an ongoing work in progress. There is discussion on the national level and will probably be on the local level as well, on what we can do about the election.
The complication here is that it does not behoove us, as an American Jewish organization, to choose one candidate. I mean, we can say, we should support the Labor Party, but we should also be able to say we support Meretz as well.
The other thing that we can definitely do, and definitely will do: there are no absentee ballots in Israel. If I want to vote I have to go there, which I will be doing for the month of January, so I can be there for the election. The Israeli right, particularly the religious groups, have historically organized cheap airfares to Israel so their supporters living in the U.S. can go back to vote. If such an effort is organized here on the left, we will definitely support it.
Q: What is Brit Tzedek going to do about the US government's involvement with Israel?
A: We are going to be trying to influence US foreign policy in the Middle East via our influence within the Jewish community.
You will be getting, from time to time, Action Alerts from us, about messages to be sending to the Administration¸ messages to be sending to your congress people, we'll be working collaboratively with other organizations who have similar messages to ours, in order to do that in a concerted way.
What's going on right now in the American administration, and it's very important for us to understand and to pay attention to it, is that there is an ongoing competition and an argument and tension between the Defense Department of Perle and Wolfowitz and the State Department, where Colin Powell is playing a very different kind of role. Colin Powell has won a victory with the American participation in the Quartet and the road map as an international issue. It is a major victory for the State Department and for Colin Powell, and he has the support of Bush for that.
On the other hand, Bush really wants this war in Iraq, and that is making many of us (at least myself; I'm speaking only for myself at the moment) very nervous in terms of Israel and the Middle East, because it could easily be escalated into an all-out regional war. And there are all kinds of things that could happen under the cover of war that we wouldn't want to happen, to say nothing of the fact that it puts Israel and Israelis in harm's way. In fact, if this administration is right, which nobody seems to think it is, other than itself, about Iraq having large stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, and right about the fact that they have the means to deliver them-if they're right about that, it is very likely that Israel will be, as it was in the Gulf War, the first target, and an immediate target. And then it is very likely that there would be an Israeli response, which could easily set off the famous Arab street and could easily de-stabilize regimes that are more moderate, particularly that of Jordan. And it could lead to the fall of the Hashemite Kingdom. If I think of one's worst nightmares, it's kind of where I go to. And that would be extremely bad for what could happen between Israelis and Palestinians right now.
Q: Should Brit Tzedek spearhead a call to stop aid to Israel in order to stop the settlements and end the occupation?
A: We don't have a position on economic or military aid to Israel, and the reason we don't have such a position is strategic: American Jews, when they hear anyone talk about the aid issue, cannot hear anything else. We have launched a major campaign to get through to them and be heard, we have a message that we actually know they are ready to hear, and it's very important for that to be able to happen.