A Report from the Grassroots Leadership Training Institute and National Advocacy Days 2008
June 21-24, 2008 - Washington, DC
Check out an exciting 6-minute video on the DC conference!

From June 21st to 24th, over 140 Brit Tzedek activists from across the country converged in Washington, D.C. to take part in 3 1/2 intense days of organizing, training, networking, and advocating to promote the pro-Israel, pro-peace message.  Now our second year with two combined conferences – the Grassroots Leadership Training Institute and National Advocacy Days – Brit Tzedek’s voice is stronger and louder than ever before.

Additional links:

We will also be sending out transcripts from many of the talks given over the next few weeks.

The Grassroots Leadership Training Institute (June 21-22)

Brit Tzedek’s third Grassroots Leadership Training Institute (GLTI) began with opening remarks from President Steve Masters in which he exclaimed that, “It’s Time to Choose” peace!  Executive Director Diane Balser then addressed the crowd on the American Jewish peace movement and the growth of our grassroots leadership. 

Mark Belkin, Denver Chapter Chair, reports back from his table discussion to the crowd.
We then moved on to the opening plenary, The Brit Tzedek Community: A Conversation Among Leaders and Activists From Across the Country, led by Chair of Chapter Development Committee, Cherie Brown.  In this session, participants broke into groups facilitated by board members and chapter leaders, for conversations on what inspires us to work for Israeli-Palestinian peace, highlights of the past year, our greatest challenges and successes, and our hopes and expectations for the GLTI.

On Sunday, GLTI participants took part in a variety of workshops intended to strengthen their organizing skills and develop leadership. This year’s agenda included workshops for experienced and emerging leadership alike broken down into 3 tracks: grassroots skills, leadership and development, and media and communications.  In these participatory sessions, participants learned from experienced leaders within their field and each other about how to build and sustain Brit Tzedek’s pro-Israel, pro-peace movement in their local Jewish community.  Click here for a full list of workshops offered.

Rabbi Julie Saxe-Taller, Co-chair of Brit Tzedek's rabbinic cabinet.

During lunch, we heard from the co-chair of Brit Tzedek’s Rabbinic Cabinet, Rabbi Julie Saxe-Taller; Executive Director of the Union of Progressive Zionists, Tammy Shapiro; and Chapter Development Chair, Cherie Brown, on the challenges of organizing in the American Jewish Community. Each panelist gave her unique perspective on the topic before allowing participants to discuss best practices amongst themselves at their lunch tables.

The GLTI concluded with a dual plenary session on Brit Tzedek’s relation to electoral politics and an opportunity for feedback on the GLTI and next steps. The conversation on Brit Tzedek and electoral politics featured Brit Tzedek Washington Representative, Rob Levy; Executive Director, Diane Balser; and special guest Joel Rubin, Political Director of the newly formed J Street. Participants left with guidance on the role of Brit Tzedek activists during this election cycle and what they can do, as Brit Tzedek activists and as individuals, to ensure that the pro-Israel, pro-peace message is strengthened in November 2008.  Finally, Chapter Development Chair Cherie Brown and Chapter Liaison, Adam Esrig facilitated a forum in which participants shared their highlights and recommendations for next steps nationally and locally in Brit Tzedek chapters.

National Advocacy Days 2008 (June 22-24)

MK Yossi Beilin

MK Yossi Beilin captivates the crowd
Brit Tzedek’s National Advocacy Days 2008 (NAD) was kicked off with an incredibly powerful presentation from MK Yossi Beilin at the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue in Washington, DC.  Beilin is one of the foremost experts on Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, himself a former chairman of the Meretz Yachad party, a former Israeli Minister of Justice, and chief Israeli architect of the Geneva Accord. 

Following upon the recent weeks’ series of positive diplomatic events in the region, including the Gaza ceasefire and Israel-Syria peace talks, Beilin outlined what steps President Bush could still take in his remaining months to make genuine progress towards peace.  Indeed, he expressed great concern at what could happen to the political legitimacy of the moderate Palestinian leadership in the West Bank and to the safety and security of Israelis and Palestinians if 2008 ends without any kind of diplomatic progress.  He closed with a clarion call, that for the sake of Israel and the United States, the next U.S. president must reinstate America’s role as a trusted broker for peace in the region.

The advocacy training begins...
On Monday morning, NAD participants arrived in the austere House Foreign Affairs Committee Room to commence preparation for the next day’s Hill visits.  Diane Balser, Executive Director, and Sue Swartz, Advocacy Chair and National Vice President, gave presentations on Brit Tzedek’s vision and strategy for successful pro-Israel, pro-peace advocacy in Congress.  Rob Levy, Washington Representative, followed up with a detailed point-by-point breakdown of this year’s talking points and how to handle the tough questions.

The morning session closed with a fascinating panel discussion on the role of Congress and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, featuring two leading Congressional staffers on the issue: Puneet Talwar, chief Mideast adviser to Sen. Joe Biden (DE) and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Tommy Ross, foreign policy adviser to Rep. David Price (NC).

Steve Masters, Brit Tzedek President, goes over the “how-tos” of advocacy.

On Monday afternoon, the intensity ratcheted up a notch as the activists trained on the “how-tos” of a successful advocacy visit and discussed advanced advocacy strategies.  This was followed by a lively and energetic round-robin session, where each delegation convened for 15 minutes each to study up on their Member of Congress and prepare for their meeting the next day.  To close out the training, Daniel Levy, Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation, gave an up-to-the-minute briefing on the latest events from the region, including the Israeli political landscape, having just returned from Israel that morning.

Daniel Levy, Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation.

Celebrating our Congressional allies and ourselves!
After an intense day of training and strategizing, we put down our talking points and raised our glasses for Brit Tzedek’s annual National Advocacy Days Congressional Reception on Capitol Hill.  This year’s reception featured three esteemed Members of Congress: Reps. Mike Capuano (D-MA), Charles Boustany (R-LA), and Henry Waxman (D-CA).  We also welcomed Reps. Jason Altmire (D-PA), Mel Watt (D-NC), and Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) during the reception.

Representative Michael Capuano (D-MA), a consistent pro-Israel, pro-peace voice in the U.S. Congress, thanks Brit Tzedek for its grassroots advocacy.

Congressman Capuano has been a consistent pro-Israel, pro-peace voice in the U.S. Congress, signing on to many Brit Tzedek-supported Congressional initiatives over the years and maintaining a long-standing relationship with our Boston chapter.  After being introduced by Boston Chapter Spokesperson and constituent, Beth Wasserman, Rep. Capuano discussed his own work speaking out against the status quo.  He said, “On a regular basis I feel alone and I feel under attack by a lot of people because they see some of my votes as somehow weak... I come back and I say, ‘I do not think the desire for peace and coexistence is a weak position.’”  Rep. Capuano went on to praise Brit Tzedek’s increasing influence in Washington, “I will tell you that little by little the voice of Brit Tzedek is growing and people are hearing you.  I believe firmly that the only way to settle the problems of the Middle East is through the path that you are traveling, that you are leading.”

Our second Congressional speaker, Congressman Charles Boustany, is well known to Brit Tzedek for being the chief co-sponsor of the Ackerman-Boustany letter supporting last November’s Annapolis peace conference.  Introduced by Brit Tzedek treasurer David Albert, Rep. Boustany noted the importance of pushing for progress towards peace throughout the presidential campaign season.  He said, “There is a pathway to a two-state solution, and we need to work hard to make sure that we continue and don’t lose momentum despite the fact that we are in the midst of a presidential election.”

Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), dean of the House Jewish members, addresses Brit Tzedek.

The reception formally closed with a presentation by Congressman Henry Waxman, the dean of the House Jewish members, who has a long relationship with Brit Tzedek’s LA chapter.  Introduced by Yael Samuel, LA chapter co-chair and constituent, Rep. Waxman explained why being pro-peace is being pro-Israel.  He said, “We who support Israel know that it is in Israel’s interests to live in peace with its neighbors...The only way out for everyone is a two-state solution.”

Taking our message to Capitol Hill...
On Tuesday, June 24th, Brit Tzedek activists took part in over 115 meetings across Capitol Hill, including 8 in-person meetings with U.S. senators and nearly 20 in-person meetings with U.S. Representatives!

The Maine delegation meets with Senator Susan Collins (ME).
In their meetings, the activists called on Congress to support the nascent diplomatic advances in the region, such as the Israel-Hamas ceasefire in Gaza and Israeli-Syrian peace talks.  Inspired by the words of MK Yossi Beilin, they urged Members of Congress to encourage President Bush to capitalize on these advances and use his remaining months in office to further advance Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, with particular attention to ensuring that both sides abide by their Roadmap commitments.

In addition, a core focus of these meetings was looking forward to the next Administration and the opportunities it offers for the region.  The activists argued that the next U.S. President, regardless of party affiliation, cannot repeat the mistakes of the current president by waiting until the final year of his Administration to become actively engaged in the peace process, and they called upon Members to support efforts that encourage the next President to be actively engaged in Israeli-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli peacemaking from the very beginning of his term in office.   

Download a one-page pdf of Brit Tzedek’s 2008 talking points.

The California delegation with Senator Dianne Feinstein (CA).

Returning to the grassroots...
After such an exhilarating conference, activists return to their home communities across the country reinvigorated to organize for Israeli-Palestinian peace.  Over the upcoming months, Brit Tzedek will continue to rally around our Time to Choose campaign and continue to spread our pro-Israel, pro-peace message to the American Jewish community, to our Members of Congress, and – particularly in the months ahead – to the presidential candidates themselves.

Brit Tzedek offers its deep thanks and appreciation to all of the activists who joined us in Washington and who work so passionately for peace in their local communities.  In the words of Rep. Capuano, “the only way to settle the problems of the Middle East is through the path that you are traveling, that you are leading.”
Will you join our grassroots movement for Israeli-Palestinian peace?  Email chapter@btvshalom.org to get involved with your local Brit Tzedek chapter.

Can you make a donation to support the work of Brit Tzedek, so that next year we can bring twice or three times as many people to Washington?  Donate now!

Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, The Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace
11 E. Adams Street, Suite 707
Chicago, IL 60603
Phone: (312) 341-1205
Fax: (312) 341-1206


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