Texas delegation meets with Rep. Lloyd Doggett (TX) in front of the Capitol. L to R: Joanne Witt, Rep. Doggett, David Albert, Rachel Walsh, Linda Iacovini.
National Advocacy Days 2006
100 activists, 65 meetings, 25 states, 1 message

When we began Brit Tzedek four years ago, I never thought that we would ramp up so fast. During Advocacy Days, I heard over and over again that Brit Tzedek is making a difference. I am making a difference, you are making a difference, and we are making a difference together. Let's keep going!
  - Joanne Witt, Houston, TX

Last week, 100 activists from all across the country gathered in Washington, D.C., to take part in Brit Tzedek's second annual National Advocacy Days. There, we presented Brit Tzedek's message directly to the nation's decision-makers: It is Pro-Israel to be Pro-Peace.

In a series of briefings, we listened to Administration officials, expert policy analysts, and Congressional staffers. In delegations representing 25 states, we trained on how to be effective advocates for a negotiated, two-state solution. In a Congressional reception attended by 8 Members of Congress and nearly 200 guests, we celebrated Brit Tzedek's emerging influence on Capitol Hill. And in 65 Congressional visits, we advocated for US foreign policy that is both pro-Israel and pro-peace. Now, we return to the source of our strength, the grassroots, where Brit Tzedek's network of over 34,000 supporters continues its work for a just and lasting peace.

We listened.

Read press coverage on Advocacy Days!

"Peace Prospects May Look Bleak, but Dovish Group Still Pushes Talks" by David Silverman, JTA, June 27, 2006

"Urging New Talks" by Eric Fingerhut, Washington Jewish Week, June 22, 2006

"Taking a Poke at AIPAC" by James D. Besser, The Jewish Week, June 23, 2006

The conference started on Sunday night as two former peace negotiators, Rob Malley and Amjad Atallah, and Brit Tzedek President Marcia Freedman, brought the group up to speed on the latest events in the Middle East. The opening plenary, entitled, "Keeping the Door Open for a Negotiated Two-State Solution: The Role of the United States and of the Grassroots," was held at the DC Jewish Community Center.

Rob Malley, former Special Assistant to President Clinton for Arab-Israeli Affairs, argued that the best approach right now is a policy of "Do No Harm" in which all sides take great care not to damage prospects for resumed negotiations. Amjad Atallah, former advisor to the Palestinian peace negotiating team, described the importance of a strong grassroots in the US, Israel, and the occupied territories, in building momentum towards peace. Marcia Freedman, a former Member of Knesset, discussed the need for engaging Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who could effectively bring in other moderates into the political process.

Marcia Greenberg, Ithaca, NY, asks a question during the Monday morning policy briefings.

Monday morning we moved to Capitol Hill, where we heard from policy experts and Administration officials. Lara Friedman, Government Relations Director for Americans for Peace Now, discussed the effectiveness of grassroots advocacy opposing H.R. 4681, the House version of the Palestinian sanctions bill. MJ Rosenberg, Washington Director for the Israel Policy Forum, applauded the tremendous victories of the peace forces this past year, saying, "We really got on the map." Jeremy Rabinovitz, Chief of Staff for Representative Lois Capps (CA), noted that the debate on H.R. 4681 was the most serious policy discussion on the Middle East ever held on the floor of the House.

Finally, we heard from David McCloud, Middle East program director for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). McCloud provided us with a Power Point detailed breakdown of US funding for humanitarian and development assistance in the West Bank and Gaza, and explained the substantial procedural and financial obstacles created under US anti-terrorism laws when Hamas was elected to the Palestinian Authority.

We trained.
Washington Representative Rob Levy discusses advocacy strategies with several delegations during the Monday afternoon training.
On Monday afternoon, Brit Tzedek activists and leaders closed the doors to outside voices and focused on our own. Executive Director Diane Balser laid out the Brit Tzedek message on diplomatic engagement, humanitarian assistance, and the future of negotiations, and the group broke up into pairs to rehearse conveying that message to Congressional leaders in their own words. Washington Representative Rob Levy explained the key differences between the more moderate Senate version of the Palestinian sanctions bill, which passed just days after the conference, and the more extreme and punitive House legislation.

Advocacy Chair Steve Masters led an interactive training on conceptualizing and achieving our goals in Congressional meetings. Chapter leaders Debbie Elkin, Sue Swartz, and Phil Rosen demonstrated a mock Congressional meeting, complete with talking points and a good bit of humor. The training finished off as each delegation met to prepare for the following day's visits - dividing responsibilities, examining the voting history of each representative they were to meet, and tailoring their message to be maximally effective.

We celebrated.
Brit Tzedek Executive Director, Diane Balser, Representative Lois Capps (CA), and Brit Tzedek President Marcia Freedman at Brit Tzedek's Congressional Reception
After a day of intense briefings and trainings, Brit Tzedek activists took a little time to mingle with D.C. insiders at the National Advocacy Days Congressional Reception. Nearly 200 Congressional staffers, participants, and guests packed into a banquet hall in the Rayburn House Office Building. Three Representatives addressed the reception, highlighting the importance of Brit Tzedek's voice on this issue. Representative Earl Blumenauer (OR), who led the opposition debate against H.R. 4681, praised Brit Tzedek's ability to "help people take a step back, look at the facts, challenge some of their assumptions, and deal with the rich diversity of opinion that is to be found dealing with the Middle East."

Representative Jan Schakowsky (IL), a prominent, progressive Jewish leader, discussed the changing definition of what it means to be pro-Israel. "Because of our Jewish community, there really is not a threat to the US-Israel relationship. It is very, very strong and it is not going away. Now we are at a point... where we can talk about what are the specific paths that we advocate, that you advocate, that we ought to be taking."

The evening also included a brief address by Brit Tzedek President Marcia Freedman and appearances by Representatives Lois Capps (CA), Barney Frank (MA), Jim McDermott (WA), Linda Solis (CA), and Jim Moran (VA).

Representative Betty McCollum (MN), another leader in opposing H.R. 4681, closed out the reception with a few words of encouragement. "It is up to you to let people know that the Jewish community is a family that doesn't speak with one voice... Your voice is important. It needs to be listened to. It needs to be respected. And it needs to be counted in strongly."

We advocated.
The North Carolina delegation meets with Representative David Price (NC), a leader in opposing H.R. 4681. From L to R: Betty Landsberger, Henry Landsberger, Rep. Price, Sharon Goldberg, and Andrew Silver.
On Tuesday, June 20, we brought the voice of pro-Israel, pro-peace activism to the halls of Congress. In meetings held at 65 Congressional offices, Brit Tzedek delivered its message in support of a negotiated two-state solution. We visited offices representing 25 states, where we discussed the importance of diplomatic engagement with moderate Palestinians and humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people, and expressed our firm opposition to unilateral policies that prejudge final status issues. Our activists entered into serious, substantive conversations with Representatives, Senators, and top-level staff.

The reception we received at these offices was overwhelmingly positive. Many offices offered eager support for our two "asks": diplomatic initiatives towards Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and support for the more moderate Senate version of the Palestinian sanctions bill, once it comes to conference with the extreme House version. More importantly, office after office expressed deep appreciation at hearing from a Jewish group that advocates strongly for reasonable, pragmatic policies in the Middle East.

We return.
Your voice is important. It needs to be listened to. It needs to be respected. And it needs to be counted in strongly.
- Representative Betty McCollum (MN)
Brit Tzedek activists now return to their communities, organizing toward building an enduring pro-Israel, pro-peace political movement. National Advocacy Days 2006 was a giant success only because our more than 30 chapters and over 34,000 supporters had already done so much of the hard work of building relationships, respect, and dialogue.

Thanks to your work, the conversation surrounding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict on Capitol Hill is beginning to change - assumptions are being challenged and policies are being reconsidered. But if we want the discussion to continue to evolve in Washington, it must also continue to expand in local Jewish communities all across the United States. Join us in this effort.

One person, one office, one conversation at a time. This is the work of Brit Tzedek.

Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, The Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace
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Chicago, IL 60603
Phone: (312) 341-1205
Fax: (312) 341-1206

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