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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom

Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace

The following is an article from The Forward, from May 30th, 2002

Read the original at their site or just scroll below.

N.Y. Liberal Elite Gathers To Back New Peace Group
By Nacha Cattan

Members of New York's Jewish cultural and political elite gathered over wine and sushi last week to give a boost to a fledgling peace group that describes itself as "pro-Israel, anti-occupation."

Fundraising heavy hitter Barbara Dobkin of the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan provided her lavishly furnished apartment on the Upper West Side to raise cash for Brit Tzedek V'Shalom, the Jewish Alliance for Peace and Justice.

The May 22 affair featured feminist icon Gloria Steinem, who delivered the fundraising pitch for the organization, and former Knesset member Marcia Freedman, who introduced the group she helped found. The event raised some $10,000 among the 90 people who attended, including former Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger, president of the American Jewish World Service, who cut a check for Brit Tzedek.

By remaining sensitive to the Jewish community's concerns for Israel's existence and security needs, Brit Tzedek members say, their group helps carve a place for the many Jews who want, but are afraid, to speak out against Israel's policies. They also say the group was formed to fill a void in America's peace movement, where even some Jewish groups have become increasingly anti-Israel. To maintain its pro-Israel stance, the group will only accept those who support its seven founding principles, particularly its call for a two-state solution.

"This voice isn't heard in the community," Dobkin, founder of Ma'yan, The Jewish Women's Project, told the Forward. "It's very hard in the mainstream Jewish community to say anything critical of Israel without being labeled a traitor. I myself am a Zionist."

But some attendees said that there are already too many American groups urging Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza, causing divisions on the left. Although Brit Tzedek members pledged to the audience that they would build coalitions with similar groups, some observers remain skeptical.

"The biggest problem we're facing as progressives is we're all fragmented," said Lilly Rivlin, a vice president of Meretz USA, which supports the leftist Israeli Meretz Party of the same name. "Each one of us is struggling to keep their constituency. For this organization to really be effective they should not try and duplicate what other organizations are doing. They should really focus only on being a lobby."

Although Rivlin acknowledged that she was "envious" that the organization attracted so many activists to the fundraiser, she said she contributed to the seedling group. She expressed hope that Brit Tzedek will indeed collaborate with others.

Eric Robbins, assistant executive director of the Jewish Community Center of Metrowest in New Jersey, told the Forward: "I wish Americans for Peace Now could reach people [at the fundraiser] so there aren't so many different organizations. I'll absolutely support [Brit Tzedek], but I'd rather there be one place that has the infrastructure to really make a difference. I hope [Brit Tzedek] has a broader perspective that would attract a coalition of large groups."

Freedman, a former member of what is now called Meretz, said Brit Tzedek will strive to work cooperatively with Meretz USA as well as Americans for Peace Now and the fledgling Tikkun Community. She said her organization is unique as an American Jewish peace organization because it has no affiliation to an Israeli government party or voting bloc. "Our message is not constrained by the electoral needs of Israeli parties," Freedman said. Unlike Americans for Peace Now, Brit Tzedek also calls for a withdrawal from East Jerusalem.

About 160 people gathered last month in Washington, D.C., to form the national organization that bills itself as a grass-roots initiative. The group plans to open chapters in several cities and to form student programs on campuses.

Dr. Mandell Ganchrow, the executive vice president of the right-wing Religious Zionists of America, questioned Brit Tzedek's choice to describe itself as pro-Israel, anti-occupation: "It's purely a creation of someone very sensitive to P.R. to try and defuse the criticism that they justly deserve for gathering in the United states and attacking Israel as an occupier. They'll have their two minutes of fame. Gloria Steinem, it's very nice. But at the end of the day, I do not believe this program represents a grass-roots constituency that would in any way, shape or form change the political climate here toward Israel."

The organization is debating whether to affiliate with other Jewish peace groups, which Freedman said is a "problematic" issue because it would entail turning down organizations that don't follow its principles.

Among these principles are an implicit rejection of a Palestinian "right of return" to property in Israel proper. Instead, the organization supports a "just" resolution to the Palestinian refugee problem that respects "the special relationship between the state of Israel and the Jewish people."

"A full 'right of return' [for Palestinian refugees] is an implication of a one-state solution," said Freedman.

Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel, a Washington-based group that helped plan and publicize Brit Tzedek's founding conference but which calls on Israel to recognize a Palestinian "right of return," is no longer affiliated with the organization. JPPI's views may prevent it from affiliating with Brit Tzedek in the future, Freedman said.

"Ideological differences came into play that were respected throughout the process," Freedman said. "They did help out, and we are now completely separate."

In her fundraising pitch to the audience, Steinem said, "Every time we feel unspoken for, it is absolutely worth it to consider what diminishment of that feeling is worth."

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