A growing number of American Jews believes that
major changes in U.S., Israeli, and Palestinian policies are essential to the
resumption of any meaningful negotiations for peace – but they are fighting
an uphill struggle because of President George W. Bush's support for the policies
of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Many peace advocates are hoping for a new opening following the death of Palestinian
leader Yasser Arafat and British Prime Minister Tony Blair's recent call for
a new initiative from the Bush administration.
While virtually all Jewish-American organizations strongly favor the protection
of the state of Israel, many of these groups oppose Sharon's policies, call
for dismantlement of West Bank settlements, and favor a negotiated two-state
solution to the Palestinian-Israeli dispute.
One of those bodies, Chicago-based Brit
Tzedek v'Shalom, (the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace), recently asked
its 16,000 members to "flood the White House with messages in support of
naming an internationally recognized envoy dedicated to facilitating the resolution
of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict now."
In an open letter presented to Bush, the organization urged the president to
"unambiguously recommit to bringing about a negotiated settlement, and
to signal his resolve by appointing an internationally recognized envoy to the
Middle East within the first 100 days of his new administration."
Most observers believe Bush's pro-Sharon policies won him 25 percent of the
Jewish vote in the Nov. 2 presidential election – a 32 percent increase over
the 2000 poll. U.S. Jews have traditionally voted for Democrats.
The Brit Tzedek v'Shalom letter also called on Bush "to pursue full implementation
of the disengagement plan and a renewal of negotiations leading to a final status
accord" between Israelis and Palestinians, adding, "The current stalemate
... serves as a lightning rod for international terrorism and threats to our
"The demographic reality in Israel makes clear the urgency of a two-state
solution, the key to preserving Israel as both a Jewish and democratic state,"
stressed the letter.
Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, co-founded in 2002 by a former member of the Israeli
parliament, calls on Washington to stand firm in rejecting Israel's conditions
that undermine future negotiations, including the demand for unqualified support
of the current route of the wall Israel is building to separate Palestinians
and Israelis living in the West Bank and for recognition of the permanence and
legitimacy of Israel's large settlements in the West Bank.
"Although we are in favor of evacuating settlements," says Brit Tzedek
President Marcia Freedman, "we can only support a responsible withdrawal
that does not undermine the possibility of a future negotiated settlement and
the establishment of a viable Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip."
Another organization, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, recently
wrote to Secretary of State Colin Powell to remind the administration of "the
need for withdrawal [from Gaza] to be directly linked to a return to the negotiating
A coalition of organizations representing some 1.5 million U.S. Jews, the Action
Center also expressed concern about terrorism against innocent civilians and
"the troubling humanitarian conditions of the Palestinians." It urged
Washington "to stay actively involved in moving the peace process and negotiations
forward toward a two-state solution."
However, while these "dissenters" from what many people assume is
Jewish-American conventional wisdom on Israel are succeeding in making their
voices heard at high levels in the Bush administration, they are not getting
anything like the financial support, press coverage or attention from office-seeking
politicians afforded to the more powerful and well-connected groups such as
the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
Kaplan wrote in The Nation magazine July 12: "AIPAC and the
Conference of Presidents [of major Jewish organizations], along with their powerful
fellow travelers, Christian Zionists, have forged a bipartisan consensus in
Washington that Middle East policy must privilege the 'special relationship'
between the United States and Israel."
"In practice, this solid consensus means putting Israeli security before
peace; supporting even such extreme Israeli measures as the separation wall
and assassinations; and delegitimizing the Palestinian leadership."
But groups calling for a more evenhanded approach to the Arab-Israeli issue
contend there is growing support for their position. For example, "ever
since the 1993 Oslo Accord proved that negotiations were possible, surveys have
consistently found that 50 to 60 percent of American Jews favor ending the occupation
and dismantling settlements in return for peace," found a 2002 poll by
The California-based Tikkun Community
calls on the Palestinian people to acknowledge the right of Jews to maintain
their own homeland in the pre-1967 borders of the state of Israel, with Jewish
control over the Jewish section of Jerusalem and the Western Wall; calls on
Palestinians to stop acts of terror against Israel; and opposes Israel's violations
of Palestinian human rights.
Another California-based group, Jewish
Voice for Peace, founded in 1996, is especially concerned that the Israeli
government is "continuing to build settlements in the Occupied West Bank,
Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem."
In April 2002 it organized more than 100 people to protest at the Israeli consulate
in San Francisco, becoming one of the first U.S. Jewish groups to criticize
Israeli treatment of Palestinians.
Jews Against the Occupation, an organization
in the New York City area, rejects the notion that it is "necessary"
to subjugate Palestinians for the sake of keeping Jews safe.
The group claims that security can only come from mutual respect; contends
that the occupation of Palestine is only worsening the position of Jews in the
Middle East and around the world; opposes the demolition of Palestinian houses
and crops in the occupied territories; calls for an end to U.S. government aid
to Israel; and opposes the Israeli government's "attack on the Palestinian
One of the older peace groups, Rabbis for Human Rights of North America, recently
sent an open letter to Sharon protesting Israel's house-demolition policy. It
was signed by 400 rabbis, including leaders of some of the largest congregations
in the United States.
Older groups like Americans for Peace Now
(APN), push for active White House and State Department engagement in the peace
process, especially efforts to: broker a new interim understanding between Israelis
and Palestinians; facilitate final status arrangements that reconcile Israeli
security with Palestinian statehood; and encourage negotiations between Israel,
Syria and Lebanon.
Though these groups lack support from most of the larger Jewish donors, their
numbers are growing. APN has some 25,000 supporters; Brit Tzedek, 16,000. Members
believe there is substantial room for growth, approaching AIPAC's 65,000 membership.
They are also positioning themselves as valuable Palestinian allies if a restarted
peace process becomes a reality.
(Inter Press Service)