- [The policy taken by the Jewish Federations was to ignore these conferences and to see to it that they would not get much publicity. Relating to the Columbus conference described below, outgoing UJC (United Jewish Communities) chairman Mr. Steven Hoffman said at the UJC press conference on November 16th in Jerusalem that they had decided to use a strategy that was used during the time of the Nazis, which was to do everything possible to keep them out of the press. It surprised Hoffman to know that his strategy and the conference organizers strategy was very similar. These were grass-roots organizing sessions where they wanted as little interference as possible from the press. At the Columbus conference, no one was even allowed to enter the sessions with tape recorders]
We dispatched a journalist to report on a conference that took place More gathered on the weekend of October 31-November 2nd in Boston, where more than 700 particpants discusse thee Geneva accords that have been discussed between an ad hoc group of Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs.
Leading the conference were former Members of Knesset and intellectuals involved in the cause for more than 30 years. The event was held under the auspices of the second annual conference of the Brit Tzedek Veshalom which stands for Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace.
This year, the Brit Tzedek organization had a new goal: to promote the Geneva initiative.
Over the past year, Brit Tzedek succeeded in engaging 14,000 members around North America by promoting the “Bring the settlers home to Israel” campaign.
Leaders of Brit Tzedek, chired by Marcia Freedman, who was a member of the Knesset for one term in the 1970’s in Shulamit Aloni’s three member Civil Rights Movement party, stated throughout the gathering that their main obstacle is AIPAC. As Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) said “Brit tzedek is formed by people that were unhappy with AIPAC. Both lobby for Israel but with different points of views. AIPAC has great influence in Washington because it speaks for the majority of American Jews.” As Freedman said it more bluntly, “AIPAC is right wing, we are left”.
The financial support for the Brit Tzedek is explained by Friedman:” half of our money is from members and half from Foundations mainly Ford Foundation and The Shefa Fund… we want to concentrate first on Jewish community support”.
Freedman noted that the Ford Foundation has now committed $300,000 to Brit Tzedek to fund the publicity to promote the Geneva accords in the US
The significance of the Shefa Fund’s support is that it has focused much of its energies to assist IDF reservists who refuse to serve in the IDF at this time.
During the 3 day conference issues like the Geneva accord, the program of the creation of a Palestinian Arab State and the dismantling of the Israeli settlements were discussed.
Among the key speakers were Naomi Chazan, former Knesset Member (Meretz); Stephen P. Cohen, President of the Institute for Middle East Peace and Development; Rabbi Brian Walt, from Rabbis for Human Rights; Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA), former mayor of Haifa MK Amram Mitzna; Debbie Friedman, singer and songwriter; Sumaya Farhat-Naser, co-founder of the Jerusalem Center for Women and James Zogby, Founder and President of the Arab American Institute.
Members of Brit Tzedek like Mitzna and Cohen were directly involved in the Geneva negotiations that took place in Jordan and had been preparing the agreement to be signed in November 20 in Geneva. Although the agreement is backed by the Swiss government and has the unofficial support of Egypt and Jordan as Mitzna guarantees, no Israeli officials were involved.
Harvard Professor Herbert Kelman, the specialist in conflict resolution who has being working with Stephen P Cohen since 1973 in Middle East discussions, described the unofficial approach to the peace making process as ” a joint group of Palestinians and Israelis, people very close to Arafat… in this matter confidentiality is important to protect the participants and the process”.
Cohen explained in his lecture that Brit Tzedek is for the two State solution but condemns the “wall” that has been built by Ariel Sharon. He said that the US government gave up the idea of stopping the wall and he prophesized: “we will see no American initiative till March 2005 when the wall will be completed. By then all the kids inside the walls will be recruited to cross the wall to do killing”.
Cohen and Mitzna were asked what are they doing in the meantime to better the life of Palestinians, to help their cities, schools and hospitals instead of putting all effort (and money) in the peace process
Cohen said “you are right we are doing nothing” and Mitzna said “how can we do anything, it is a time of war”.
A side show to the conference occurred a group of 30 young Arab Americans loudly protest across the street from the hotel screaming “Zionism is racism”.
The group is called the New England Committee to Defend Palestine and some of the protesters are son of refugees. A young American woman in her 20’s who joined the protesters who said that she had no family relation with Palestinians spoke to reporters outside of the hotel where the conference was taking place.
While carrying a Palestinian flag and wearing a shirt with the Israeli map in the Palestinian colors, she said” “we don’t want a demilitarized state”. “We will have no army, no economy, no access to water. we want the right to be free not behind walls, we want all the refugees living in America to be able to go back to their home that was taken by Israelis”. Repeating what was written in the pamphlet distributed by protesters she continued: “We want one single Palestine state where all religion will be welcome with equal rights”. When reporters asked her who will rule, she said in a very naive way “both Jews and Arabs”.
Prof. Kelman was asked how does he knows that Geneva accord will be accepted by Palestinian Authority. He said “three guys close to Arafat participate and I believe that Arafat should get a ceremonial position with no power in the new State”.
During his speech Mitzna said “I don’t want to underestimate that a society that is producing terrorist is ready for a peace agreement but we have to try… I still believe that the majority of palestinians want to go back to normal life”. Mitzna also bemoaned the fact that Israel is keeping PLO leader Marwan Bargouti in jail, and transforming him into a “Nelson Mandela”. Mitzna mentioned nothing about the fact that Bargouti is being charged with direct complicity in more than twenty cold blooded murders.
When asked why he expected THIS agreement to succeed, Mitzna said: “the people behind the Palestinians in Geneva are the real people – people that are coming from refugee camps, Tanzim, revolution groups”. Regarding other attempts, Mitzna said “Oslo was a surprise, people were not prepared… now we have the Palestinian Diaspora participation”. According to Cohen “the Road Map did not work due to persistent disagreement between US and Europe whether Israeli concession should be parallel to Palestinian.”
On that same night one Palestinian Arab present at the conference came up with a question/statement for Mitzna. Walid Masoad said “I met downstairs Palestinians like me protesting and condemning the Jews, they asked me if I forgot what Mitzna did to our people when he served in the Israeli army, I said to the them I did not forgot, but I forgive, it is time to heal”. With that sentence the whole crowd burst into applause. How representative Masoad was of his people remains to be seen.
The Geneva accord has many intricacies. Mitzna saids that all of the people of Israel should be receiving a copy of the agreement on the mail.
Mitzna listed some of the highlights of the agreement “which should replace all UN resolutions”.
1- The Jewish state will be recognized by all Arab countries.
2- “Jerusalem is the largest ever under the Jewish rule, even larger than by the time of King David”
3- No right of return for the refugee, but later Mitzna contradicted himself by saying that “we will be asked to accept refugees no more than 50.000 people the same manner that other countries like US, Canada and Japan will be asked to receive this refugees.” Since the Arab refugees in the UNRWA refugee camps have chosen their precise homes and villages that they expect to return to, that would force thousands of Israelis to leave their homes. Mitzna did not deal with that.
4- All Jewish Holy places in Israel control
5- The borders will be basically the 1967 lines with the exception of 2.5% will stay under Israel rule but Israel will give other lands so Israelis that live in the territories can stay in their homes.
6- Israel is not taking responsibility for the refugee problem started in 1948 although Mitzna agrees that that was a big argument among the negotiators. Miztna neglected to say that this clause in the accords was not signed nor agreed to.
When Rep. Barney Frank was asked if he was willing to include in his platform the goal of Brit Tzedek (bring the settlers home and support Geneve accord) he said: “You have more to work on, to do lobbying, is too early for that. If we would go to vote now we will loose”.
Congressman Frank explained that is important for American Jews to get involved in the discussion and the true act of friendship is to tell your friend when he is doing wrong” American Jews have the right to talk about Israeli politics. It is ok to support Israel and criticize Israel government.” On the other hand, he said “America should support the campaign bring the settles home, America should pay for that”.
Regarding terrorist attacks and the way Palestinian kids are educated to hate Jews, Frank said that “Incitement is mentioned in the agreement also economic development” and ” I do believe that we have a significant force in the Arab world that don’t want Israel to exist”.
To sum up the conference, Marcia Freedman described the next step of Brit Tzedek “as getting more Jewish organizations involved in our cause”, to become known as a chapter based organization working in each community to gather support and later on lobby in Washington. Freedman looked out at the audience and proclaimed that their organization would organize the grass roots support needed in American Jewry to ensure the success of the Geneva Accord.
The fact that neither the Israeli government nor the PA has signed on to the accord is irrelevant to these conference organizers.
However, the grant from the Ford Foundation should allow Brit Tzedek with the cash flow that they be able to make an impact on Jewish organizational life.
On the weekend of November 7th to November 9th, an organization which endorses the “armed struggle” against Israel gathered 400 students at Ohio State University to launch a nationwide campus campaign against Israel and against Zionism.
Surprisingly, at least half of the students attending the conference were Jewish.
Our news agency asked a colleague to register for the conference as a participant in order to get an insider’s view of what transpired.
At the end of the conference, I interviewed the conference organizers.
The name of the organization that organized the conference was the International Solidarity Movement, whose web site is located at www.palsolidarity.org. The ISM makes no bones about posing on its own web site that it supports the “armed struggle” against Israel, in order to remove Israel from all the areas that it acquired during the 1967 War and to accept the “right of return” for all Arab refugees from the 1948 War to resume residency in all of the areas that Israel acquire during the 1948 war. In other words, to push Israel back to the 1947 lines,not only the 1967 lines.
“Right of return” is a more elegant and user-friendly way of saying “throw the Jews into the sea” or even into the Yarkon River near Tel Aviv.
Indeed, my colleague in attendance at the conference reported that the meetings were devoid of hatred, screaming or any signs of overt anti-semitism.
Every position was presented quite reasonably, as if the PLO was some new kind of civil rights movement that only wanted to integrate buses in Alabama from forty years ago.
Indeed, the sessions on the “right of return” were conducted by a soft-spoken Palestinian Arab academic from the University of Wisconsin, Fayad Sbaihat who is presented his “Al Awda” (right of return) organization in Madison as a suggested a model for campuses around the country to emulate.
Sbaihait discussed methods of bringing the plight of the Arab refugees from 1948 to the attention and to the conscience of the American public. He suggested presenting a “road show” of pictures which depict the “exodus from Palestine” in 1948.
At no time did any of the speakers on the Arab refugees from 1948 allude to the fact that six Arab countries invade Israel in 1948 to try to prevent the genesis of the Jewish state, and that Arab leadership often asked Arabs to move out of the way while their armies liquidated the Jews.
Sayad introduced himself as a resident of the United Nations refugee camp in Jenin, and casually mentioned that two of his brothers were “active in the Intifada”, which made it sound like some kind of fraternity or sorority. A check with Israeli security shows that Sayad and his two brothers are active members of the PFLP, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which is defined by both Israel and the US as a terrorist organization.
One of the conference organizers, Ora Wise, who heads of the new group called “Jews Against the Occupation”, told me in a phone interview that “there can be no peace until Israel recognizes the principle of the right of return”. Wise went on to say that her grass roots organization, which is registered with the IRS under the Brecht Institute, would join forces with Palestinian Arab students around the country to raise consciousness on the issue of the “right of return”.
I asked Ms. Wise as to what sparked her passion in the subject, as a Jewish woman. She mentioned that indeed, she was the daughter of a Conservative Rabbi and that she was even born in Israel while he was studying there. Ms. Wise said that what sparked her”passion for the Palestinian cause” was the volunteer work that she did for the Rabbis for Human Rights. She explained that Rabbis Arik Ascherman and Jeremy Milgrom “instilled” her with the idea that the Palestinian Arabs were a people oppressed by Israel.
The Ohio conference did not mince words in stressing the reality of the “right of return”. The invitation to the conference and the discussion on the “right of return” focused on the right of Palestinian Arab refugees to take back their “precise homes” that they left in 1948. That would mean that residents of the Katomon and Bakka neighborhoods in Jerusalem who today reside in abandoned Arab homes from 1948 would have to cede their homes to Arab refugees and their descendents who have been wallowing in United Nations refugee camps for the past fifty five years.
When Ora Wise was confronted with the reality that the Palestinian “right of return means that most Israeli citizens would be uprooted from their homes, her response was that “we must seek creative solutions”.
Ora Wise said that she did not know that the “right of return” campaign had created a web site nnown as www.palestineremembered.com which is designed to help Palestinian Arabs and their descendents to locate their precise homes from 1948, in order to repossess them and toss out the Jews who live there today.
The head of the PLO Refugee Return Committee, Daoud Baraket, said in a recorded interview to our staffer in Jerusalem that the Jewish residents of Palestinian Arab refugee homes from 1948 would have to leave, and that if they did not leave then they would have a right to kill them.
Baraket’s reasoning was that international law would be on the side of the refugees’s right to be repatriated to the home that he had left in 1948.
The Organizing sessions at the Colombus conference focused on the PLO interpretation of international law, which conference participants understood to mean that Israel was forbidden to annex any territory that it had won in any war and then to settle its citizens in any of these areas. The conference organizers launched several projects at the sessions to dispatch teams of demonstrators to “go to Palestine” to help the ISM in its efforts to help Palestinians return to areas taken from them.
One of the tactics suggested by numerous speakers at the conference was to join in subsidized trips of Jewish organizations that run tours to Israel on a regular basis.
ISM leader Adam Shapiro mentioned that “Birthright” was the ideal group to join, and three pro-PLO students attested to their positive experiences on the Birthright program, which enabled them to meet with Israelis and Arabs who identify with the Palestinian struggle. The Birthright office in New York and in Jerusalem have in the past expressed alarm and concern over the possibility that their organization would indeed be used for such purposes.
Well, 400 student participants in a pro-PLO conference at least half of whom are Jewish, heard the idea that they should go on Birthright to meet their mentors in the struggle in Israel.
Jenni Pfeiffer, a conference participant who referred to Israeli policy towards Palestinians as “genocide”, said that she looked forward to coming to Israel on Birthright very soon
Another practical idea that emerged from the conference was a national campaign for “divestment from Israel”,beginning with a boycott of Caterpillar Tractors, because “this firm represented the Israeli expansion policy”.
Sayad Sbaihat mentioned how he had successfully organized the University of Wisconsin to divest from any capital investments in Caterpillar.
Ora Wise indicated that there would be a national march on the Caterpillar corporation in York, Pennsylvania, where Jews and Palestinians would link arms for justice in Palestine, according to Ms. Wise.
Ms. Wise said very clearly and articulately that this conference going to launch a campaign against the “crimes of Zionism”, not only against Israel’s settlement policies.
Following the momentum of this conference, there are now forty campuses who will now convey the message from the Columbus conference that it is a legitimate Jewish position to stand up and call Zionism a crime.
The Brit Tzedek Conference: October 31-November 2nd