Brit Tzedek v’Shalom Chronology

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May 4-6, 2001  JUNITY (Jewish Unity for a Just Peace) Conference, Chicago, IL

Jewish anti-occupation activists from across North America and beyond gather at the height of the Second Intifada. In a contentious vote, conference attendees fail to endorse a two-state solution. See conference invitation and workshop proposal on organizing American Jews by several BTvS founders.

December 2001  Organizing BTvS

A proposal to launch a national Jewish peace organization that explicitly endorses two states is enthusiastically supported by a core group on a post-JUNITY conference listserv. Donna Spiegelman and JUNITY organizer Steven Feurstein meet in Boston to design a constructive parting of the ways between those for whom a two-state resolution is central to their perspective and those who are agnostic about this and/or support a single state. Over several months, an Organizing Committee (OC) establishes Founding Principles, chooses the name  Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, The Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace (BTvS), and recruits an Advisory Committee, composed of prominent Israeli and Jewish American peace activists, intellectuals, and leaders. The group collects signatures for a petition to the U.S. State Department calling on American leadership to help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an equitable and nonviolent way in preparation for their founding conference.

April 26- 29, 2002  BTvS Founding Conference, American Jews for a Just Peace:  Reclaiming our Community’s Principles, Alexandria, VA

As the Second Intifada continues, 175 conference attendees and 25 others form the founding membership of BTvS. Keynote speakers are former Member of Knesset (MK) and Meretz Party founder Shulamit Aloni and B.Z. Goldberg, co-director of the Academy Award-nominated documentary “Promises.”

The first Board of Directors is elected at the conference: David Albert, Aliza Becker, Minnie Berman, Cherie Brown, Ilise Cohen, Tamara Cohen, Elliot Figman, Marcia Freedman, Neal Gosman, Ira Grupper, Barry Joseph, Irena Klepsifz, Yossi Khen, Claire Kinberg, Richard Kohl, Rabbi Rebecca Lillian, Danielle Luttenberg, Steve Masters, Penny Rosenwasser, Rabbi David Seidenberg, Nicole Sorger, Donna Spiegelman, Rabbi Alana Suskin, and Lara Weitzman.

See BTvS founding conference invitationagenda, text of Cherie Brown’s talk on “American Jewish Activism: Lessons Learned In Organizing American Jews For Peace In The Middle East,” workshop report from Reena Bernards on “Nuts And Bolts of Organizing in Mainstream Jewish Community,” and photos. Eric Fingerhut reports on the conference in the May 2, 2002 issue of the Washington Jewish Week.

May 22, 2002  First BTvS Fundraiser with Gloria Steinem, New York, NY

The feminist activist delivers the main fundraising pitch at the Upper West Side home of philanthropist and activist Barbara Dobkin. Natcha Cattan reports on the meeting in a Forward article on May 31, 2002.

June 2002  Aliza Becker Begins as First Staff Member

Aliza Becker is hired as Executive Director and opens the national office in Chicago. She works from the organization’s inception through its January 1, 2010 integration with J Street. She also produced this website.

July 27-29, 2002  Inaugural BTVS Board Meeting, Silver Spring, MD

The board elects four officers: Marcia Freedman, President; (read her bio and a selection of her postings from the BTvS listserv, Cherie Brown, Vice President; Barry Joseph, Secretary; and Elliot Figman, Treasurer. The BTvS board approves the mission of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace: “To educate and mobilize American Jews in support of a negotiated two-state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

October 2002  First BTvS Tour with Parents Circle-Families Forum

BTvS organizes a 14-city tour with the newly formed organization of bereaved Israelis and Palestinians. Their message of reconciliation as an alternative to hatred and revenge is heard by more than 1200 people at events in Armonk (NY), Austin, Chicago, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New Haven, New York, Philadelphia area (Cherry Hill, NJ), Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, Tucson, Washington, DC, and West Palm Beach, FL.

November 2002  Marcia Freedman Tours East Coast

BTvS Board president, former Knesset member, and women’s rights advocate Marcia Freedman goes on an East coast tour, visiting chapters in Boston, Montpelier, Burlington, New Haven, and New York City.

November 20-22, 2002  BTvS at the United Jewish Communities General Assembly (G.A.), Philadelphia, PA

Aliza Becker and board members Marcia Freedman and Cherie Brown host a reception at the G.A.  This is a first step in reclaiming the Jewish tradition of providing space for a multitude of voices and opinions about community concerns, particularly those relating to Israel.  BTvS participates in conferences of major Jewish organizations throughout its tenure.

November, 2002  First BTvS Action Alert

BTvS issues its first Action Alert, urging the Israeli government to provide protection for the Palestinian population of the West Bank whose ability to harvest their olive crop is threatened by weapon-bearing Jewish settlers.

January 26, 2003  First BTvS Town Hall Conference Call

BTVs launches Town Hall Meetings with a live call-in format, providing participants the opportunity to discuss issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with  experts on the issues. The first of dozens of such calls is with board president Marcia Freedman live from Israel. Read the transcript here.

January 31- Feb. 2, 2003  First National Leadership Training Institute (NLTI) and Advocacy Day, Alexandria, VA

The NLTI, led by board member Cherie Brown, brings together 100 chapter leaders and activists for training in grassroots organizing, including political advocacy, media, fundraising, and how to build effective relationships in the organized Jewish community. See the agenda and Shabbat GuidelinesSee participants share why they joined Brit Tzedek. Watch Cherie Brown speak about a Jewish community outreach strategy.

Winter 2003  Curated Film Library

Former San Francisco Film Festival director Janis Plotkin curates a film library of Israeli feature films and documentaries with study questions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Additional films are added over the years and constitute a regular component of chapter programming.

April 2003  Tour with Ishai Menuchin

BTvS organizes a five-city tour (Houston, Madison, Chicago, Boston, and Washington DC) with the founder of Yesh Gvul (there is a limit/the border exists/enough is enough), an organization founded at the outbreak of the 1982 Lebanon War by combat veterans refusing to serve.

May 2003-April 14, 2004  First national campaign: A Call to Bring the Settlers Home to Israel

Advocacy and Policy Committee leaders Steve Masters and Diane Balser announce BTvS’ first national campaign, a petition that garners 10,000 signers from all 50 states. The petition is delivered via White House Jewish Community Liaison Tevi Troy by BTvS activist David Wittenberg, to President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on April 14, 2004. It calls on the U.S. to urge Israel to reverse its long-standing financial incentives to Israeli settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and redirect those funds to settlers willing to return to Israel proper. The Call also urges “generous foreign assistance…for this massive relocation effort.” It is covered extensively in the Jewish press and promoted in ads in Jewish and mainstream media. Prominent signers include entertained Theodore Bikel, Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon, the late Debbie Friedman, Eli Pariser, Art Spiegelman, the Hon. Abner J. Mikva, playwright Tony Kushner, Gloria Steinem, and the late Studs Terkel. Watch Marcia Freedman talk about Israeli settlements in 2003 and 2007.

June 2003  Jessica Rosenblum Joins BTvS Staff

Jessica Rosenblum is hired as BTvS Assistant Director, a position she held until January 2006.

Oct 31-Nov 2, 2003  Second National Conference:  Israel’s Road to Peace: The Role of American Jews, Boston, MA

The second BTvS national conference, held at the Park Plaza Hotel & Towers, is attended by more than 650 people from across the U.S. Member of Knesset (MK) and Labor Party leader Amram Mitzna delivers the keynote speechOther speakers include former MK Naomi Chazan, BTvS president Marcia Freedman, Middle East scholar Stephen P. Cohen, President of the Arab American Institute James Zogby, The Hon. Barney Frank, and Palestinian grassroots activist Sumaya Farhat-Naser, founding Director of the West Bank-based Jerusalem Center for Women.

Thirty-six workshops, led by activists, academics, and journalists include “Is the Settlement Process Irreversible”, “A Security Fence or a Dangerous Wall?: Exploring the Political and Moral Implications of Israel’s Construction Project” and “Engaging Young Adults in Middle East Peace Work.”  See agenda and photos.

December 2003 -August 2004  Spirit of Geneva Campaign

BTvS launches a campaign to promote a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based upon support for three Israeli-Palestinian peace initiatives: The Geneva Accord, The People’s Voice Initiative, and One Voice. The campaign is promoted through outreach to Jewish community leaders and to elected government officials, at hundreds of house parties, and via a combination of media coverage, paid advertisements, and speaking tours.

Other components of the campaign include:

*BTvS sends a delegation to the Geneva Accord Commitment Ceremony in Switzerland on December 1, 2003. Filmmaker Janis Plotkin joins Diane Balser, Marcia Freedman, and Steve Masters; her short documentary about the Geneva Accord is shown at house parties.

*BTvS members from the DC area deliver copies of the Geneva Accord (and Swiss chocolate) to every member of Congress. Chapters around the country hold press conferences honoring the Accord; the Chicago press conference includes local Jewish and Arab leaders.

*An advertisement in Capitol Hill’s Roll Call features quotes in support of the Geneva Accord from Senator Dianne Feinstein, Representative Rahm Emanuel, Rabbi David Saperstein, and former President Jimmy Carter.

*BTvS sends Action Alerts in support of two Congressional Resolutions supportive of the Israeli and Palestinian peace initiatives: Senate Res. 276, co-sponsored by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) and House Res. 479, co-sponsored by Representatives Lois Capps (D-CA) and Amo Houghton (R-NY).

Read BTvS Spirit of Geneva campaign materials: Salient Points of the Geneva Accord, The BTvS Spirit of Geneva One- Pager, campaign updates from  February, June, and December 2004, Spirit of Geneva House Party Guidelines, and the BTvS Geneva Accord Map. Media coverage includes op-eds by Judah Ariel in New Voices, Marcia Freedman  J. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California, and Steve Masters in the Jewish Exponent.

*An advertisement in Capitol Hill’s Roll Call features quotes supportive of the Geneva Accord from Senator Dianne Feinstein, Representative Rahm Emanuel, Rabbi David Saperstein, and former President Jimmy Carter.

Read BTvS Spirit of Geneva campaign materials: Salient Points of the Geneva AccordThe BTvS Spirit of Geneva One- Pager, campaign updates from  FebruaryJune, and December 2004, and the BTvS Geneva Accord Map. Media coverage includes op-eds by Judah Ariel in New VoicesMarcia Freedman  J. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California, and Steve Masters in theJewish Exponent.

January-June 2004  BTvS Chapter Contributes to Washington State Democratic Platform

Seattle chapter activists, led by Rainer Waldman Adkins, contribute to the Washington State Democratic platform regarding  Israeli-Palestinian peace as delegates for various Democratic candidates on the precinct, state legislature, district, county, and congressional district level, and finally, at the state convention. They gain support from the Jewish leadership in the Washington community as well as from key non-Jewish allies. The following language contributed by these BTvS activists was adopted by the Washington State Democratic Party in its 2004 platform, and remains to this day (2013).

“Serious, full, constructive, and persistent United States engagement to promote negotiations and other actions that will lead to a peaceful, sustainable resolution of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, based on mutual recognition and ensuring security, economic growth, and quality of life for the peoples of a sovereign state of Palestine and the sovereign state of Israel”

June 2004  First Online Advertising Campaign

Initial rollout of an online advertising campaign through Google Ad Words and Haaretz is developed by Membership and Outreach Committee Chair Donna Spiegelman. Electronic outreach over the years includes Haaretz online ad campaigns, as well as placement in the Jerusalem PostMother Jones, and various blogs, and sponsored email campaigns via the Jerusalem Post and Care2.

July 8-July 16, 2004 Tour with Yonatan Shapira: Black Hawk Dawn: A Pilot’s Refusal to say “No”

BTvS organizes a 5-city tour with the author of the Israeli Pilots’ Letter, “We, Air Force pilots who have always served on the front lines, willing to carry out any mission to defend and strengthen the State of Israel… refuse to continue to harm innocent civilians.”  Tour visits Washington, DC, New York City, Boston, Montpelier, and Burlington, VT.

August 2004  Carrinne Luck Joins BTvS Staff

Carinne Luck begins as Director of Grassroots Organizing, a position she holds until June of 2007. A year into her tenure, BTvS posts an organizing status report on Carinne’s work. Read her farewell posting.

September-November 2004  Open Letter from American Jews to the Next President Petition Campaign

BTvS spearheads a petition campaign in collaboration with seven other American Jewish organizations, calling on the next President to make resuming  Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations a top priority. The letter, also calling for the appointment of an envoy of international stature to bring both sides back to the table, is signed by more than 8,000 American Jews. It is hand-delivered to Elliott Abrams, the head of Middle East Affairs at the U.S. National Security Council, on November 30, 2004. See Open Letter FAQnewspaper ad, and list serve message about the campaign.

August -December 2004  Steve Masters, Naomi Chazan, and Marcia Freedman on Tour

Tour Series with BTvS leaders. Advocacy and Public Policy Chair Steve Masters speaks in Somerset, Montclair, West Orange, Parsippany, and South Orange, New Jersey. Former Deputy Speaker of the Knesset Naomi Chazan is the featured speaker on a  seven-city tour entitled, “The Future of Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State: Prospects for Peace,” in New Haven, Chicago, Madison, Bloomington (Indiana), Atlanta, Los Angeles and San Francisco. BTvS Board President speaks in Portland, OR, Seattle and Olympia, WA. Washington Jewish News reports on her talk at the Seattle Jewish Community Center:

November-December 2004  Town Hall Conference Call Series: Palestinian Perspectives on the Post-Arafat Landscape

Following the death of PLO Chair Yasser Arafat on November 11, 2004, BTvS organizes a series of conference calls with leading Palestinian and Palestinian American academics and activists to address the post-Arafat landscape: “Who will lead the Palestinians? How will the new leadership emerge? What is the situation on the ground now? How will recent events impact the prospects of a negotiated solution to the conflict?” Participants include: Amjad Atallah and Omar DajaniRay Hanania and Saffiya ShilloDr. Khalil Shikaki and Maha Abu-Dayyeh Shamas.

January 2005  First BTvS Newsletter: Inside Brit Tzedek

Board member Alison Pepper spearheads the BTvS newsletter. The first issue comes out in January 2005. Subsequent issues are published in September 2005April 2006November 2007,December 2008, and finally January 2010.

 January 13, 2005 – November 10, 2005  Rolling Action Alert Campaign

BTvS initiates a campaign of messages and Action Alerts to recently re-elected President George W. Bush that evolve as current events change.

The campaign begins by urging vigorous U.S. engagement by President Bush following the election of moderate Mahmoud Abbas and the formation of a more moderate Israeli governing coalition. This is followed by a call for compliance with Israeli and Palestinian obligations under the Road Map to Peace. Leading up to the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, BTvS focuses on the necessity of adequate oversight to implement and coordinate agreements between the parties to “ensure that the Gaza disengagement is the first step towards a return to the negotiating table by opposing any Israeli or Palestinian unilateral actions that prejudice future negotiations such as Israeli settlement expansion and a Palestinian return to violence.”

BTvS urges  President Bush to appoint an envoy to ensure that the Gaza withdrawal goes smoothly. After all, “the U.S., which has played a key role in nearly every major peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians and has its own security interest in seeing the sides achieve a workable peace, will need to play a much more decisive role in negotiating the details of the disengagement.”

BTvS reiterates its message on August 15, the deadline for Israeli civilians to evacuate the Gaza settlements. When Israel continues to close the Rafah crossing with Egypt and restrict the passage of Palestinian workers and goods to Israel, BTvS seeks to unseal Gaza as “reconstruction of the Gaza economy is crucial for the possibility of building a stable Palestinian state that can be a viable partner for peace for Israel. BTvS also seeks to grasp the window of opportunity created by the Gaza withdrawal to “organize a uniquely American Jewish voice for peace around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Feb. 19-21, 2005  Third National Conference: From Gaza to Negotiations:  The Role of American Jews, New York, NY

Nearly 700 people attend the third national BTvS conference hosted by Temple Israel of the City of New York. MK Colette Avital, journalist JJ Goldberg, Marcia Freedman, and Rabbi Balfour Brickner are all featured at the opening night plenary. Other keynote speakers include Amjad Atallah, an advisor to Yasser Abed Rabbo and the Palestinian Peace Coalition, and Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, an architect of the Geneva Accord and a former MK as well as Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces.

More than 40 workshops are held on a wide range of topics, including the security fence/wall, the politics of divestment, grassroots organizing techniques, and debate and dissent on campus. See Conference agenda and workshops, and report. Watch Jeremy Rabinovitz talk about the evolution of pro-Israel in Congress and AIPAC, Rabbi John Friedman discuss pro-Israel/pro-peace synagogue activism, and Diane Balser talk about activism principles and grassroots lessons from Oslo.

February-March 2005  Second Yonatan Shapira Tour

BTvS organizes a 12-city tour with author of Pilot Refuser Letter in Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Berkeley, Seattle, Olympia, Portland, Madison, Indianapolis, Bloomington, St. Louis, and Chicago.

April 14-20, 2005  Tour with Daniel Levy and Rafi Dajani: Where Do We Go From Gaza?

BTvS organizes a six-city tour with Daniel Levy, the lead Israeli drafter of the Geneva Accord and Rafi Dajani, the Executive Director of the American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP) inChicago, Detroit, Ann Arbor, MadisonMilwaukee, and Denver.

April 2005  BTvS Joins Boston JCRC

The Boston BTvS chapter becomes the first chapter to join the local Jewish Community Relations Council when it joins the  of  JCRC of Greater Boston.

March 23, 2005  Diane Balser Joins BTvS Staff

Diane Balser, former chair of the Advocacy and Public Policy Committee, joins BTvS staff as CEO through August 2009, with a one-year hiatus during which Diane Cantor serves as Executive Director.

May 31 -June 3, 2005  Grassroots Visits Home District Offices

BTvS chapters meet at the home district offices of over 30 U.S. Senators and Representatives in a coordinated effort to complement periodic action alerts. The elected officials and their staff representatives are, on the whole, very responsive to the BTvS message. Many express interest in building a long-term relationship with chapter representatives. Regular home district meetings are subsequently scheduled during Congressional recess in June, August, and December. See BTvS Practical Guide to Organizing Home District Meetings.

May 2005-January 2006  Membership Survey

membership survey is developed by BTvS activists Aaron Ahuvia, Molly Freeman, William Gamson, and Donna Spiegelman. It is sent to the 17,115 people on the active email list, and received with 1404 complete responses. The data is used as background information in the formulation of BTvS policies, programs, and materials.

June 27-28, 2005  Second National Advocacy Days

Sixty BTvS activists attend briefings with an array of experienced advocates and policy makers in Washington, DC including: Lara Friedman, Legislative Director for Americans for Peace Now; M.J. Rosenberg, Director of Policy Analysis for the Israel Policy Forum; Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA 4th); and Jeremy Rabinovitz, Chief of Staff for Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA 23rd).

The following day, attendees meet with 39 Senate and House offices, and also with Herro K. Mustafa, Director for Israeli-Palestinian Affairs. A few weeks later, 100 Representatives vote against an amendment to the Foreign Relations Authorization Act (H.R. 2601)  placing severe limitations on the flow of American aid to the Palestinian Authority. Read the report. Watch Rep. Barney Frank brief participants on what it means to pro-Israel and Director of Policy Analysis for Israel Policy Forum, MJ Rosenberg, talk about holding liberal elected officials accountable and his view of AIPAC. Then watch BTvS activist Steve Masters give tips for Congressional meetings.

August 2005  BTvS Network of Supporters Surpasses 30,000

September -November 2005  Tours with Jeff Albert, Marcia Freedman, Avichay Sharon and Noam Chayut, and Diane Balser

BTvS organizes a mini-tour with board president Marcia Freedman entitled, “Beyond Gaza: The Role of the U.S. and America” in Durham, North Carolina, and Atlanta;  a five-city tour with Avichay Sharon and Noam Chayut, members of Breaking the Silence in Chicago, Madison, Portland, Olympia and Seattle; a mini-tour with BTvS Executive Director Diane Balser in metro Detroit and Ann Arbor, MI and a mini-tour with Jeff Albert, BTvS Board member and CEO of the Aquaya Institute, an NGO dedicated to providing clean water to communities in developing world countries in Portland, Seattle, Olympia (WA), and San Francisco. Albert also writes the BTvS Fact Sheet on Water and develops a Ma’ale Adumim Expansion Display.

November 2005 BTvS Publishes Brochure

A working group led by Aaron Ahuvia produces the organization’s first formal brochure.

December 5, 2005  Rob Levy Joins BTvS Staff

Rob Levy begins as BTvS Washington Representative in a newly opened Washington, DC office, a position he holds until August 2008. His charge is to bring the voice of grassroots activists into the halls of Congress, forge relationships with key Congressional offices, and coordinate advocacy efforts on behalf of BTvS. Eric Fingerhut reports on the opening in a January 25, 2006 article in the Washington Jewish Week.

February 18-19, 2006  Western Regional Conference: From the Ground Up: Building Israeli Palestinian Peace in Uncertain Times, San Francisco, CA

The Western Regional Conference brings together 150 participants for three plenaries and 12 workshops. Keynote speakers are Stephen P. Cohen and Amjad Attallah. Other speakers include Diane Balser, Omar Dajani, Marcia Freedman, Rabbi Roberto Graetz, and Menachim Klein.  Workshops topics include: developments in Congress and on Capitol Hill, the role of the Bible in the political debate in Israel, the importance of water resources in the Arab-Israeli conflict, and how to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in synagogues. See agendaworkshop descriptions, conference reportaudio of the conference plenaries, and photos. Watch Diane Balser talk about finding one’s authentic voice on peace activism and Amjad Atallah tell a story from Bosnia that parallels community responses to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

March 14-20, 2006  Diane Balser and Rob Levy Travel to Israel and the West Bank

Executive Director Diane Balser and Washington Representative Rob Levy travel throughout Israel and the West Bank just prior to the 2006 Israeli elections, meeting with Israeli and Palestinian peace activists, leaders and politicians. These include Haaretz correspondent Akiva Eldar, Peace Now leader Janet Aviad, Meretz Party candidate Zvia Greenfield, Amir Peretz’s campaign manager Hagai Alon, Deputy Speaker of the Knesset Colette Avital, Former MK Naomi Chazan, Kadima candidate and economics professor Daniel Ben David Gregory, legal advisors to the PLO Negotiations Tea Khalil and Sanaa Hammoud, Daniel Levy from the Geneva Initiative, and Director of the Palestinian Peace Coalition and PLO Executive Committee member Yasser Abed Rabbo.

March 2006  First BTvS Rabbinic Letter: Letter from American Rabbis to the President

Signed by nearly 400 Jewish clergy from across the denominational spectrum,  BTvS’ first rabbinic letter  – urges President Bush to “maintain a cautious approach to the new Palestinian government, so as to preserve the future possibility of bringing Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table, which is the only path to achieve true peace and security for both peoples.

September 2006 BTvS Forms National Rabbinic Cabinet

BTvS establishes the national Rabbinic Cabinet, chaired by Rabbis John Friedman and Julie Saxe-Taller, “so that our activism remains connected to the spiritual leadership of the Jewish community.” The Cabinet leads a 1,500-strong network of rabbis and cantors providing a vehicle by which to organize  Jewish clergy and seminary students nationwide for BTvS activism. Rabbinic Cabinet projects include four rabbinic sign-on letter campaignson-line holiday messages, publications such as A Rabbinic Guide to 40 Years of Occupation and Pointing the Way to Peace and Security: A Resource For Rabbis and Cantors on Israel’s 60th Birthdaysermons and reflectionsprint and broadcast media, and congregational outreach. Rabbinic organizing becomes an increasingly important focus of BTvS.

May 2006  BTvS Helps Moderate Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act

BTvS plays a pivotal role in moderating H.R. 4681, the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act, proposed in the wake of Hamas’ electoral victory. The resolution largely eliminates the president’s authority to waive sanctions in the interests of U.S. national security while making it nearly impossible for the Palestinians to meet all the demands required to do so. On May 30, 2006, Ron Kampeas of theJTA reports: “Brit Tzedek v’Shalom flooded offices with calls and letters, the first time in memory a dovish group went toe-to-toe with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.”

May 2006 First Local Rabbinic Cabinet Forms

Boston Area Rabbinic Cabinet forms with Rabbi Toba Spitzer as chair.

June 18-20, 2006 Third National Advocacy Days, Washington, DC

The gathering features a keynote address by Amjad Attalah and Rob Malley on “Keeping the Door Open for a Negotiated Two-State Solution: The Role of the United States and of the Grassroots.” Following policy and advocacy training, the 100 participants hold 65 meetings in Congressional offices in the House and Senate. A reception is attended by eight members of Congress including Reps. Earl Blumenauer, Jan Schakowsky, and Lois Capps. See agendaspeaker highlightsreport, and photos.

June 2006  New Young Adult Initiative

New York BTvS Chapter co-chairs Leila Forouzan and Ben Murane inaugurate BTvS Young Adult Happy Hour as a venue for 20-something activists to meet, discuss politics, and socialize.

June 30-August 14, 2006  BTvS Responds to Escalation In Gaza

From the outbreak and escalation of hostilities, first with the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit in Gaza about which BTvS expressed concern, and then on the Israel-Lebanon border leading to the second Israel-Lebanon War, BTvS consistently calls on the U.S. government to respond with more aggressive diplomacy. In response to the second Israel-Lebanon War, all 39 BTvS chapters mobilize with emergency community meetings, house parties, and discussion groups. Activists attend Jewish community rallies with a public call for an immediate ceasefire and return to negotiations. These efforts are widely featured in broadcast and print media, and continue until a United Nations-brokered ceasefire goes into effect on August 14, 2006. BTvS  Town Hall conference calls with Daniel LevyJames Zogby and Stephen P. CohenRabbi Arik Ascherman, and former MKs Naomi Chazan and Yossi Beilin serve as a source of invaluable insight and in-depth understanding into the evolving US role in the Middle East.

September 2006  BTvS Network of Supporters Surpasses 35,000

October 16, 2006  Harvard Club Benefit Features Marcia Freedman

BTvS Honorary Board chair Arthur Obermayer and board member Sidney Topol – philanthropists, activists, and internationally known innovators in their chosen professions – host a fundraising breakfast at the Harvard Club featuring board president Marcia Freedman.

November 1, 2006 Tony Kushner Headlines BTvS Fundraiser with Alice Shalvi and Marcia Freedman, New York, NY

The Manhattan home of Barbara Dobkin is once again the site of a successful fundraiser featuring honorary board member Tony Kushner, Israeli activists Alice Shalvi, and Brit Tzedek president Marcia Freedman. The host committee includes Theodore Bikel, Kathleen Peratis, and honorary board members Rabbi Rolando Matalon and Letty Cottin Pogrebin.

Jan 8-Feb 9, 2007  Combatants for Peace Tour

Combatants for Peace was founded in 2005 by Israelis and Palestinians who had been actively involved in perpetuating the cycle of bloodshed, but have now renounced violence and fight for peace through dialogue, reconciliation, and educational outreach. BTvS organizes a 22-city tour with Elik Elhanan, Shimon Katz, and Sulaiman Al Hamri. They travel to Raleigh, New York City, Philadelphia, New Haven, Bridgeport, Amherst, Albany, Providence, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo, Chicago, St. Louis, Columbia, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Portland, Eugene, and Seattle. The tour was hugely successful, bringing the voices of Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation to the heart of the Jewish community. Tragically, while the speakers were touring the US, the daughter of founder Bassam Aramin is fatally wounded in a clash between Palestinians and Israeli police. Watch the speakers on video in segments one and two.

March – April 2007 Aliza Becker and Sue Swartz Travel to Israel and the West Bank

Deputy Director Aliza Becker and Board member Sue Swartz travel throughout Israel and the West Bank to meet with Israelis and Palestinians working to bring peace to the region. The  tour includes high tea in East Jerusalem with Saman Khoury and Nidal Foqaha, Palestinian peace activists; conversations with Naomi Chazan, Peace Now’s Galia Golan, and Fouad Kokali, head of Fatah in Bethlehem; a walking tour of Hebron with Yehuda Shaul of Breaking the Silence; and visits to the Shuafat refugee camp and Kibbutz Metzer, both near the Green Line.

March 8, 2007 – November 2008  Let’s Talk Campaign

BTvS launches “Let’s Talk” with a campaign pledge, an urgent call to reinvigorate dialogue and debate within the Jewish community about how best to facilitate the conditions that will bring about a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

The Campaign’s resource packet includes: Let’s Talk House Party Guide and video featuring Combatants for Peace (part one and part two), 40th Anniversary Organizing Guide, and a series of Face Sheets on Chronology of the Conflict and The Green LineJerusalemOccupation and Settlements.

As the elections approach, BTvS develops a Let’s Talk to the Candidates” component that includes a National Action Party Day Guide encouraging American Jews to engage the candidates on a genuinely pro-peace Israel agenda, a submission to the CNN/YouTube presidential debates, and meetings with presidential candidates regarding BTvS positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Also, as part of the campaign, Rabbi Julie Saxe-Taller leads a Rabbinic Cabinet delegation to meet with Senator Dianne Feinstein in her San Francisco office on April 25, 2007. They present a letter signed by more than 50 rabbis from across California, commending her “courage and dedication to peace as demonstrated by the introduction of the Senate Resolution to send a high level envoy to the Middle East to bring Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table.”

June 7, 2007  More than One-Third of the U.S. Senate Signs Bipartisan Resolution

On the 40th anniversary of the Six Day War, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduces S.R. 224 resolution with Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), Christopher J. Dodd (D-CN), and Chuck Hagel (R-NE). It calls for active U.S. engagement to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and for the appointment of a Special Envoy for Middle East peace. BTvS activists are pivotal in securing 37 co-sponsors for the resolution through thousands of faxes, phone calls, emails and in-person advocacy meetings. This is a five-fold increase in co-sponsors from the previous 2003 pro-peace Senate legislation on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

June 16-19, 2007 National Grassroots Leadership Institute & Advocacy Days: Building our Political Movement for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, Washington, DC

Workshops include “Communicating the Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace Message” and “Building Relationships with Jewish Communal Organizations and Synagogues,” as well as a Congressional reception and advocacy visits.  Over 120 activists bring the BTvS message to 100+ members of Congress. See agendatestimonials, report and photos. See Press Release Writing Model and Advocacy Meeting Outline and Tips.

June 2007 BTvS Chapter Joins Washington Area JCRC.

The DC Area BTvS chapter becomes the second chapter to join the local Jewish Community Relations Council when it joins the JCRC of Greater Washington.

September 2007  Campaign in Support of the Annapolis Peace Conference

BTvS organizes a multi-pronged campaign to encourage support for the Annapolis peace conference, the first Bush administration effort to reignite Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.  Campaign activities include a rally outside the Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD on November 27 in which 100 BTvS activists from the NYC, Washington, DC, Philadelphia and Rhode Island chapter converge on the Peace Conference to demonstrate strong American Jewish support for Israel-Palestinian peace.

The next day, November 28, BTvS co-sponsors a Capitol Hill briefing, “Digesting Annapolis: What Happened, What It Means, What Happens Next” attended by than 200 people (legislative staff and members of Congress).

Other activities include Town Hall Conference calls and a regularly updated resource page with articles, peace conference basics, polls and surveys, letters, actions from other organizations, speeches, and analysis. BTvS also organizes a Congressional letter as well as a rabbinic letter. Finally, Executive Director Diane Balser reflects on the significance of the Annapolis conference in her 2008 New Years message. Read the campaign report.

October 2007  Meeting with former President Jimmy Carter, Washington DC

Jewish leaders meet with President Carter on his Middle East peace initiative, including  representatives from Americans for Peace Now, Israel Policy Forum, New Israel Fund, and BTvS. The latter is represented by newly elected president Steve Masters.

October-November 16, 2007  BtvS Coalition Secures Record 135 Signers on Congressional Letter

Under the leadership of Rob Levy, BTvS spearheads a coalition of Jewish, Arab, and Christian DC-based peace organizations that secures 135 House signers to the Ackerman-Boustany letter to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. The letter expresses support for the Annapolis conference as a “critical opportunity” to reinvigorate the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The two co-sponsors are Jewish-American Gary Ackerman (D-NY), head of the Mid-East subcommittee of the House, and Arab-American Republican Boustany (R-LA).  The entire Massachusetts delegation signs on after intense organizing by the state’s three BTvS chapters.

November 2007  Steve Masters Becomes Board President of BTvS and Sue Swartz, Vice-President

January 12-19, 2008 BTvS and Meretz USA Delegation to Israel

Itinerary for this trip include meetings with Knesset members, top Palestinian leaders, and a variety of peace activists as well as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, opposition leader Benyamin Netanyahu, and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayaad. BTvS’s Steve Masters, Rabbi Brant Rosen, and Anna Freedman blog about the trip. BTvS is represented by Steve Masters at a major peace conference sponsored by the Geneva Initiative.

February-March 2008 Tour with Gershon Baskin and Hannah Sinioria

BTvS organizes a 10-city speaking tour with the co-directors of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information in Atlanta, Boston , Northampton, Springfield, Detroit, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, New York City, and Providence.

March 2008  Breaking the Silence Photo Exhibit and Tour with Yehuda Shaul

BTvS co-sponsors a photo exhibit in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Cambridge, MA by Breaking the Silence and hosts speaking events with member Yehuda Shaul in Arlington, VA, Durham, NC, Amherst, MA, Brooklyn, NY, and Martha’s Vineyard, MA.

May 14, 2008  Bipartisan Congressional Letter on Gaza Violence

BTvS helps secure 52 signers to the 2008 Price-LaHood Congressional letter to President Bush, the first constructive, pro-peace Congressional initiative to address the ongoing violence in Gaza and southern Israel. The letter, co-sponsored by David Price (D-NC) and Ray LaHood (R-IL), calls on the President to prevent the crisis from undermining progress on Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and urges sustained efforts to achieve a Hamas-Israel ceasefire and an end to the Gaza blockade.

June 9-12, 2008  National Grassroots Leadership Institute & Advocacy Days, Washington, DC

The keynote address is given by MK Yossi Beilin, former chair of Meretz and chief Israeli architect of the Geneva Accords.  The agenda also includes talks by Daniel Levy, Senior Fellow and Director of the Middle East Policy Initiative at the New America Foundation, in a “Stump the Expert” session, Cherie Brown and Tammy Shapiro on American Jewish Psychodynamics around Israeli-Palestinian Peace” and “Building Bridges to Young Adults,” Rabbi Julie Saxe-Taller on “3 Strategies for “Successful’ Conversations about Israel,” and Executive Director Diane Balser on “The Power of the Grassroots.” A Congressional reception featuring Reps. David Price (NC), Susan Davis (CA), Jan Schakowsky (IL), and Lois Capps (CA) is a highlight. More than 150 activists hold meetings in 150 Congressional offices with a simple message: “Congress needs to urge our new administration to make peace between Israel and Palestine a real priority from day one.” See conference agendavideopress,  testimonialsreport, a conference video, video of talks by Representatives Charles Boustany (R-LA), Henry Waxman (D-CA), and Mike Capauno (D-MA).

May 28 – December 2008 A Time To Choose Campaign

BTvS launches “A Time to Choose” campaign with a pledge encouraging activists to increase their involvement in their chapters.  From August through December, it focuses on the upcoming presidential elections. “It is Time to Choose a different policy that parts from the failed policies of the past. It is Time to Choose a policy that puts finding a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue at the top of the next administration’s agenda.”

BTvS chapters contribute to the Democratic and Republican Party platforms. Under the leadership of Mark Belkin (Denver), BTvS brings together a delegation led to the Democratic National Convention in Denver. The National Jewish Democratic Council invites the delegation to a number of events, providing extensive networking opportunities.

Chapters ask congregational rabbis to host one of three programs: an election forum at which participants learn where the presidential candidates stand vis-à-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; a project to encourage participants to listen respectfully to one another’s perspectives; or a screening and follow-up discussion of the documentary Encounter Point.  House parties are held where synagogue programming isn’t possible.

In one very successful program, The Boston BTvS Chapter, Harvard Hillel, Harvard Students for Israel, and the Harvard College Progressive Jewish Alliance collaborate to bring former Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey and former chair of the Democratic National Committee Steve Grossman to speak on behalf of Senators John McCain and Barack Obama, respectively. This forum details each candidate’s stand on foreign policy issues, emphasizing the Middle East.

On September 4, BTvS launches a new rabbinic letter, “A Time To Choose: A Rabbinic Letter to Senators Barack Obama and John McCain.” Spearheaded by Aliza Becker, this campaign asks that the president-elect: 1.)  Commit to helping to establish  a viable Palestinian state living peacefully beside Israel in your first term; 2.) Appoint, within your first 100 days in office, a high-level envoy to the region; and 3.) Establish mechanisms of enforcement and follow-through.

In November 2008, President-elect Obama receives this letter signed by a record 1028 rabbis, cantors and seminary students.  There is extensive media coverage of  the campaign including op-eds, radio coverage, news stories, and a video featuring Rabbis Capers Funnye, Jr., John Friedman, Peter S. Knobel, Brant Rosen, Toba Spitzer, and, Arnold Jacob Wolf.

Chapters recruit rabbinic signers in their community, strengthen relationships with clergy, and ask signers to join the Rabbinic Cabinet. Chapters also take out ads in local papers highlighting local clergy who have signed. The letter is published in the Forward and then presented to the presidential transition team on December 18.

BTvS also issues Action Alerts to the president-elect asking him to appoint a Middle East peace envoy and to Senators and representatives  asking the incoming congress take leadership for peace.

The campaign ends in December when BTvS chapters hold nearly 50 Congressional meetings in their home district offices, encouraging leadership for Middle East peace.

June 2008 – May 2009  Tour with Aaron Ahuvia

Board member and University of Michigan marketing professor Aaron Ahuvia speaks in Maine, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Pennsylvania bout how data from public opinion research contradicted harmful stereotypes that each side in this conflict held about the other.*****  He ***cannot change this without affecting the link, but previous sentence about data must be in present tense also conducts a Talking Peace training session on how to be more persuasively effective while building positive relationships with one’s audience or conversational partner.

December 27, 2008 – January 2009  BTvS Calls For Immediate Ceasefire in Operation Caste Lead

BTvS is a national leader during the Gaza War by calling for an immediate ceasefire from the commencement of the hostilities.

*Chapters hold more than 30 events across the country. Many attract hundreds of participants eager to engage in much needed dialogue about the Gaza War. Watch video of a Chicago area Gaza event.

*Executive Director Diane Balser participates in a radio program with Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), whose public stance supports Israel’s actions in the war.

*BTvS holds four live Town Hall Conference Calls featuring Marc Gopin,  Daniel Levy, Nathan J. Brown, and Mitchell Plitnick.

*When BTvS learns  that AIPAC plans to initiate a Congressional resolution supportive of the Gaza War during the opening week of the 111th Congress, it collaborates with newly formed J Street to make more than 4000 calls, asking that any resolution include the following:

1. demand for an immediate ceasefire; 2. acknowledgment of the suffering on both sides; and 3. demand for U.S. leadership in reinvigorating the peace process. All three points were alluded to in both the House and Senate final versions. In addition, a number of members of Congress write their own pro-peace statements on the war.

January 28, 2009  BTvS Advocates for Release of Humanitarian Assistance for Gaza

BTvS organizes a phone call campaign in support of the “Dear Colleague” letter to Secretary of State Clinton introduced by Rep. John Olver (D-MA) calling on the State Department to release emergency funds for reconstruction and humanitarian assistance in the Gaza Strip, garnering 64 signers.

February 4, 2009  Joint Action with J Street Results in 106 Co-sponsors for Resolution

Rep. William Delahunt (D-MA) introduces House Resolution 130,  expressing support for President Obama’s appointment of Sen. John Mitchell as envoy to the region. BTvS organizes phone calls in cooperation with J Street, expressing support for the resolution nationally and through chapters in key districts, resulting in 106 co-sponsors.

February 19, 2009 Organized Appreciation for Sen. John Kerry and Reps. Brian Baird and Keith Ellison

After Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, travels to Gaza to view first-hand the impact of the recent war, BTvS Massachusetts chapter leaders write to thank him for his leadership in witnessing the situation and spending time with Gaza residents and requests that he schedule a briefing on the trip; one is held at the Brookings Institute on March 4, 2009.

BTvS Minnesota and Washington chapters also mobilize to thank House Representatives Brian Baird (D-WA) and Keith Ellison (D-MN) for their travel to Gaza to assess the damage done by the war, making clear to both that they have the support of many Jewish constituents. They hold a briefing March 5 on Capitol Hill.

February 25, 2009  BTVS Mobilizes in Support of Sen. Dianne Feinstein Letter to Clinton

BTvS mobilizes its national base for letter-writing and phone calls to senators when Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) circulates a letter to Secretary Clinton,  commending both the Secretary and President Obama for their statements regarding the urgency and importance of a two-state solution, and urging Secretary Rice to “use your upcoming visit to Israel and the West Bank to underscore your personal commitment, and that of President Obama, to Israel’s security and to achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace.” In just two days, 31 Senators — nearly a third of the Senate — sign on.

May 12, 2009 – October 2009  We’ve Got Your Back, Mr. President Campaign

The centerpiece of the “We’ve Got Your Back” campaign is “A Pledge to Build American Support for Obama’s Pursuit of Israeli-Palestinian Peace (see postcard),” signed by nearly 10,000 American Jews including Eli Pariser, Heather Booth, Mandy Patinkin, Tony Kushner, Leon Botstein, Rosellen Brown, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Mort Halperin, and Rabbis Elliot Dorff, Toba Spitzer, Roly Matalon, and Jack Moline. Educational and advocacy materials include several one-page backgrounders on Gaza ReliefTwo StatesComplete Settlement FreezeStanding with IsraelBuilding Arab Support for Peace, and Palestinian Accountability, each going into depth about different aspects of the President’s policies concerning the Middle East and Israel-Palestinian conflict. BTvS creates a timeline of the Obama Administration’s initial aggressive approach to Middle East diplomacy and the supportive activity of BTvS during that same period (Jan. 3 –March 5, 2009) as part of a larger message that BTvS serve as a “force… that makes clear to the President that there are many, many Jews who will support him and back his administration in its peace initiatives.” House parties are organized across the country to encourage support for the president.

June 2009  Tour with Aziz Abu Sarah

BTvS organizes a five-city New England tour featuring a Palestinian peace activist in Bangor and Brunswick, ME, Vineyard Haven and Amherst, MA, and Providence, RI.

August 2009 BTvS Network of Supporters Surpasses 40,000.

June-August 2009  San Francisco Area Rabbis Organize

Rabbinic Cabinet co-chairs Julie Saxe-Taller  and Rabbi Shelly Lewis, San Francisco chapter leader Molly Freeman, and JCRC staffer Yitzhak Santis organize a meeting with area rabbis, the directors of the Jewish Community Relations Council, and the Jewish Federation to encourage support for rabbis who speak critically about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In July, Rabbi Saxe-Taller leads a six-member delegation to meet with the Israeli Consul General about the work of BTvS. This is followed by a full schedule of home district meetings by area rabbis during the August Congressional recess.

July 2009  BTvS begins serious discussions with J Street regarding integration in late July, leading to the two organizations signing of a Memorandum of Understanding.

July 26-27, 2009  BTvS Organizing Institute, Chicago, IL

Fifty Brit Tzedek activists from across the country gather for an intensive program featuring nationally renowned political organizer and grassroots strategist Heather Booth. The closing session features a dialogue between J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami and Executive Director Diane Balser on the past, present, and future of the pro-Israel pro-peace movement. See agenda and video of Heather Booth on really winning and an overview of the Jewish peace movement by Diane Balser.

September 5, 2009  BTvS Fundraiser with Ed Asner

Actor and political activist Ed Asner headlines at a fundraising reception alongside BTvS President Steve Masters, in Pasadena, CA at the home of  Joanne Topol, daughter of longtime peace activist and BTvS board member Sid Topol.

October 25-28, 2009 BTvS Organized Presence at J Street Conference

Brit Tzedek offers two sponsored sessions at J Street’s first national conference in Washington, DC: “The Power of Grassroots Organizing: A Political Force for the Pro- Israel, Pro-Peace Movement” moderated by Diane Balser, and “Dancing on the Head of a Pin: The Role of Rabbis in the Pro-Peace Movement,” moderated by Rabbi John Friedman and including BTvS Rabbinic Cabinet members: Rabbis David J. Cooper,  Joshua Levine-Grater, Julie Saxe-Taller, and Toba Spitzer.

December 31, 2009 Farewell BTvS

Read the final BTvS list serve posting.

Members of the outgoing Board of Directors are Steve Masters (President), Sue Swartz (Vice-President), Aaron Ahuvia (Secretary), David Albert (Treasurer), Rainer Waldman Adkins, Mark Belkin, Cherie Brown, Molly Freeman, Rabbi John Friedman, Marsha Friedman, Ivan Handler, Gil Kulick, Rabbi Joshua Levine-Grater, David Matz, Ben Murane, Alison Pepper, Michael Peshkin, Donna Spiegelman, and Lara Weitzman.

BTvS staff at closing are: Aliza Becker (Executive Director), Deepa Domansky (Advocacy Coordinator and Washington Liaison), Jason Pollens (Chapter Liaison), Nora Scheff (Office Manager), and Jeff Kulp (Technology Coordinator).

January 1, 2010  BTvS Joins J Street

Brit Tzedek v’Shalom becomes the field arm of J Street, bringing 50,000 members and supporters, 38 chapters, and a rabbinic network of over 1000 clergy providing a strong foundation for J Street’s grassroots and rabbinic work. J Street’s annual ‘Tzedek v’Shalom’ award is named in Brit Tzedek’s honor. Read the last BTvS listserve posting and the last newsletter.