Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Our Greatest Strength is When We Come Together

The African Heritage Delegation to Palestine/Israel, organized by our member group Interfaith Peace-Builders, arrived in Jerusalem last week. Below are some early impressions from participants. 

Initial Welcome, Lasting Impressions
By Dr. Gilo Kwesi Cornell Logan

My initial welcome to Israel was being detained and interrogated for nearly 3 hours at the airport; the psychological and spiritual harassment was interspersed with questioning and waiting, waiting and questioning; condescending tones non-rhythmically thrown at me that I was expected to dance to, private questions piercing the peace of my heart, as intimidation attempted to suppress something from deep within.  But it is from this very same place within that this experience thus far has validated an essential part of my being as an African American; it has since shown me that it does not define the totality of the experience participating on this African Heritage Delegation to Israel.

I have come to see that my experience as an African American living in America has prepared me to – not only cope with the interrogation in a way that has turned what may be perceived as a negative experience into a strong positive – but to learn of things once unimagined... like meeting Black Ethiopians of the ancient Christian tradition, speaking with Black Sudanese and experiencing their plight, meeting Black Eritreans refugees who have recreated dignity in a foreign land, sitting with Arab Palestinians whose struggle for human rights, autonomy, and liberation mirrors, in many ways, our own as African Americans; and walking with Jews from North Africa who migrated to Israel decades ago and have modeled essential elements of their struggle for equality and dignity after the Black Panther movement in America – all in Israel!

To learn about this is powerful.  To experience this reality is transformative.  To live at one with these people – even if only for this moment – is liberating.  It puts into perspective the reality that oppressed people the world over hold African Americans in a higher esteem and a brighter light than many of us hold for ourselves.  It is only through this type of travel and experience on the other side of the world, and the knowledge gained from it, that we as an African heritage delegation have come to better know and understand ourselves, our situation, and our authentic beauty and boundless power as African Americans in living in America.

Excerpt from “The Way of the Black Panthers”
By Reverend Joi Orr

Today we visited a neighborhood in western Jerusalem made up of Jews of North African descent, living in the homes of Palestinians who were kicked out by Israeli forces in 1948. In 1971 this community formed a branch of the Black Panther party to gain equal rights and political representation in Israel which considered them second class citizens because of their African heritage.  The parallels between their struggle and the American black struggle of the 60 and 70’s are obvious; discrimination, segregation, second class citizenry, etc. 

However, knowing and discussing the parallels isn’t what brought me to tears.  What made me feel like I had golf balls in throat was the commemorative street sign erected by the “Muslala” activist-artist community collective.  The street sign read “The Way of the Black Panthers” and was the bookend to a series of alleyways that coursed throughout the North African community.

The Struggle Continues for the Sacred Homelands of Palestine
by Aaron Dixon

Visiting the holy site of Gethsemane Church helped me to understand the importance of Palestine in the eyes of the world, and how connected Palestinians and Jews are throughout history. I also recognized how the Palestine-Israeli conflict is at the center of world politics.

Meeting the founders of the Israeli Black Panthers underscored the inter-conflict of the darker Jews and the European Jews, and Israel as a racist security state.  The meeting also brought forward the complex issue of land rights and the true owners of East Jerusalem communities, since the Israeli Black Panthers were progressive movement builders who were and still occupy Palestine to this day.

Our delegation had an opportunity to meet with a Palestinian family and observe firsthand the struggle between them and racist Zionist Jewish settlers.  Most striking was the Palestinian family’s determination and strength, which was embodied in their 90-year-old grandmother who had been beaten and hospitalized on five different occasions by Jewish settlers who currently occupy a section of their home and the violent Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Click here to watch a video of the meeting.

The family’s desire, courage, and commitment is an inspiration to all oppressed people throughout the world, who are fighting to hold on to their sacred lands.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Protesters in NY Highlight Whitewashing of Israeli Apartheid

Press release from our member group Adalah-NY. Check out photos from the action here

New Yorkers, cultural workers speak out against Israel Philharmonic for whitewashing apartheid 

October 25, 2012 – Over 60 New Yorkers
protested the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra’s (IPO) performance at Carnegie Hall Thursday evening, using chants, songs and street theater to highlight the IPO’s role in whitewashing Israel’s apartheid policies against the Palestinian people.


Accompanied by the marching band Rude Mechanical Orchestra, protesters chanted, “Oboe, trumpet, or bassoon / Apartheid is out of tune!” and “IPO gets no ovation / Ambassador for occupation!” In a twice-repeated skit, New York actor and playwright Una Osato – sporting a tie that read, “Drown out the Truth” – conducted the “Israel Whitewashing Orchestra.” Passers-by stopped to watch the “musicians” as they fiddled over the sounds of Palestinian cultural workers’ testimonies about the effects of Israeli occupation on their lives. 


Concert-goers lingered at the Carnegie Hall entrance across the street, listening to the band lead protesters in a version of “Which Side Are You On?” Daniel Strum from Adalah-NY explained, “Tonight we are telling the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Carnegie Hall, and the Israeli government that its ‘Brand Israel’ campaign cannot cover up the injustice that Palestinians face.” The IPO will also be met with protests on its tour dates in Las Vegas and Los Angeles later this month. 

Earlier this week, Adalah-NY made public a letter asking Carnegie Hall not to host the IPO, signed by over 50 artists, including author Alice Walker and musician Roger Waters of Pink Floyd. At the beginning of October, Adalah-NY sent a similar letter to Carnegie Hall administrators and trustees urging them to reconsider the IPO’s appearance, with no response from Executive and Artistic Director Clive Gillinson or any other recipient. 


By serving as cultural ambassadors for Israel, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra is supporting the Israeli government's “Brand Israel” initiative, a campaign by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to divert public attention from Israel's oppression of the Palestinian people and “
show Israel’s prettier face, so we [Israel] are not thought of purely in the context of war.” The IPO has done nothing to distance itself from the Brand Israel campaign, nor has it ever made a public statement against the oppression of the Palestinian people. On the contrary, the orchestra proudly touts its special concerts for Israeli soldiers, and American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra calls it "Israel’s finest cultural emissary.” 

One
corporate sponsor of the IPO is Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev, whose companies continue to build illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and have been involved in human rights abuses in the diamond industry in Southern Africa. Leviev's companies have been shunned by UNICEF, CARE, Oxfam, the British and Norwegian government, Hollywood stars, and international investment firms because of these activities. 

The protests by US activists and international cultural figures respond to
the call from Palestinian civil society to boycott institutions that work to normalize Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories and the oppression of Palestinians in Israel, in the occupied territories, and in exile. The growing global movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel has gained momentum in recent years, with performers such as Carlos Santana, Cassandra Wilson, The Pixies, and Pete Seeger supporting the Palestinian call for cultural boycott. The Palestinian BDS movement is a nonviolent campaign for Palestinian rights inspired in part by the international boycott campaign that helped abolish apartheid in South Africa.

Call for Volunteers in Palestine!

The International Women's Peace Service is the newest member group of the US Campaign. They have put out this call for volunteers. National Organizer Anna Baltzer worked with them for three years. It's a transformative experience, if you've been looking for an opportunity to contribute to the movement on the ground in Palestine...
International Women's Peace Service (IWPS) is now recruiting volunteers to retain international presence in Palestine in 2013 and beyond.

IWPS is a female driven, small human rights organisation with members from all over the world. IWPS focuses on maintaining international presence in Palestine and supporting the participation of women in resisting the illegal occupation.

Have you ever:
Wanted to give your time to the Palestinian struggle?
Wanted to learn more?
Wanted to be a witness and document the human rights abuses taking place in the West Bank? 
Wanted to work alongside women from different backgrounds?

If you answered yes to any of the above then join IWPS and support us in maintaining international presence in the West Bank.

If you have:
Good communication skills - written and oral
Good technological skills - emails, website, filming, photography
Have some knowledge of the current situation in Palestine with a willingness to learn
Reliability and commitment; and 
The possibility of attending our training at the end of November
Then we would like to hear from you. Visit our website http://iwps.info. to get more information including the application pack. 

Here is why Meg volunteers for IWPS:

"I joined IWPS at the end of 2009 and still volunteer with them today. Like you, I read an email recruitment call and decided to bite the bullet. I was scared, and yes volunteering in Palestine is no walk in the park. However I joined IWPS as it provided everything I would want in an organisation if I wanted to contribute to a just cause in the safest way possible. IWPS provided immense support before, during and after my trip to Palestine. 

Managing my fears wasn't easy. However today I sit in the comfort of my own home with immense pride that I contributed to a cause much bigger than myself. I felt and still feel the immense pride in my ability to have given my time. Being a witness to the human rights abuses in Palestine further informed my perspective on the conflict. If you have ever thought about doing something for Palestine then I highly recommend joining IWPS." 

This call is posted here.

For more information contact:
applyiwps@gmail.com

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Conference: Where are We Headed? The U.S. and Middle East After Elections

The 2012 Palestine Center Annual Conference 


Where are We Headed? The U.S. and Middle East After Elections

Friday, 9 November 2012
2425 Virginia Ave NW, 
Washington, DC  20037




8:00-9:00am
Registration 

9:00-9:15am 
Welcome Remarks
                    
9:15- 11:00am
Panel I - U.S. Policy After the Election: A Reason for Change? 

What will the outcome of the Presidential election mean for U.S. Middle East policy? If re-elected, will President Obama maintain similar policies or make significant adjustments? If Governor Romney is elected, what changes can we expect? Panelists will discuss the impact of the election on U.S. policy towards various actors in the region.

Hrair Balian 
Director of the Conflict Resolution Program 
The Carter Center

Mark Perry 
Independent Author 

Helena Cobban 
Independent Publisher and Journalist 

11:00-11:30am 
Coffee and Pastry Break    

11:30am-1:00pm 
Panel II - Taking Stock in the Arab Uprisings: Where are we headed?

Uprisings have led to the disappearance of some governments and the emergence of others. The political map of the region is changing and many questions remain about which direction the region is headed. Panelists will discuss the foreign policies of states in the region, the role of regional organizations like the Gulf Corporation Council and the impact of election outcomes in shaping policy changes. 

Nathan Brown 
Professor of Political Science and International Affairs
George Washington University 

Adel Iskandar 
Scholar of Media and Communications, Center for Contemporary Arab Studies
Georgetown University 

Kristin Diwan 
Assistant Professor of Comparative and Regional Studies, School of International Service 
American University

1:00-1:45pm 
Break for Lunch    

1:45-3:15pm
Panel III - Public Discourse on Palestine: Reasons for Optimism?

As occupation persists and technology develops, a growing number of Americans are challenging the long-held Israeli narrative of events and history in the region. We ask what changes there have been in U.S. media coverage, what role new and social media plays in that and what we can expect of these trends going forward. 

Samer Badawi
Communications Manager
Institute for Middle East Understanding

Will Youmans
Assistant Professor of Media
George Washington University

3:20-4:45pm 
Panel IV - Palestinian Strategy: Reform, Representation, and a New Framework 

Two decades after the start of the Oslo process there are more settlers and settlements in the West Bank today than ever before. Panelists will discuss whether the two-state solution is still viable, what challenges Palestinian reconciliation and representation present and evaluate Palestinian strategies for liberation. 

Noura Erakat
Freedman Teaching Fellow, Temple Law School; and Legal Advocacy Coordinator, Badil

Khaled Elgindy
Fellow, Saban Center for Middle East Policy
Brookings Institute

Leila Hilal
Director
The New American Foundation Middle East Task Force

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Attend a 2012 Tree of Life Conference

Our member groups Friends of Sabeel of North America and The Tree of Life Educational Fund are pleased to offer this series of conferences on Israel and Palestine. Their special focus will be on "Education: How Can We Embrace Our Common Humanity." In both Israel and the occupied territories, increasing numbers of Jews, Muslims, and Christians have reached the conclusion that the Land of Promise will be truly promising when those who live there learn to embrace their common humanity and share that sacred and fragile land. In this series of conferences, you will have the opportunity to hear from a number of Palestinian, Israeli, and American voices of conscience, and their hope is that their stories and their compelling visions of a more peaceful world will inspire us to follow their lead. 



Meet the Speakers

Harvard University

Cambridge, Massachusetts
First Church in Cambridge
Friday, November 2
6:00pm-8:00p | Speaker Program and Music
Saturday, November 3
9:00am-12:00pm | Workshops
Find more information.  

Springfield, Massachusetts
Christ Episcopal Cathedral 
Saturday, November 3
9:00am-12:00pm | Speaker Program and Music
Find more information


Old Lyme, Connecticut
First Congregational Church of Old Lyme
Saturday, November 3
5:30pm | Concert and Dinner
Sunday, November 4
1:30pm-6:30pm | Speaker Program
Find more information

Yale Divinity School

New Haven, Connecticut
Monday, November 5
Focus: Sharing Interfaith Stories
5:30pm-7:00pm | Panel Discussion and Reception
Thursday, November 8
Focus: Education: Embracing our Common Humanity
12:30pm-1:30pm | Round Discussion and Reception
Focus: Prayers, Hopes, and Visions for the Future
5:30pm-6:45pm | Evening Presentations and Music
Find more information.

West Hartford, Connecticut

Westminster Presbyterian Church 
Wednesday, November 7
6:15pm-9:30pm | Speaker Program and Music
Find more information

New York, New York

St. Michael's Church
Saturday, November 10
1:00pm-6:00pm | Speaker Program
6:00pm-7:00pm | Information Bazaar
7:00pm-8:00pm | Concert
Find more information

Cape Cod, Massachusetts

St. Peter's Lutheran Church, Harwich
Sunday, November 11
3:00pm-5:00pm | Palestinian Music Festival and Crafts Bazaar
Monday, November 12
9:30am-4:30pm | Speaker Program
Find more information.

Pro-Israel Groups React to Church Letter Challenging US Military Aid

Our National Advocacy Director Josh Ruebner was interviewed about the recent letter sent by 15 prominent church leaders to Members of Congress regarding U.S. military aid to Israel. The letter decried “widespread Israeli human rights violations committed against Palestinians" and called for “an immediate investigation into possible violations by Israel of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act and the U.S. Arms Export Control Act” and for the “withholding of military aid for non-compliance” with these laws. Thank the church leaders for their important letter.

Jewish, Christian Groups Clash Over U.S. Aid to Israel
by Mitchell Plitnick
October 23, 2012

Jewish groups have reacted furiously to a letter to Congress by 15 leaders of Christian denominations asking for a review of whether some of the three billion dollars in annual United States aid to Israel is being used in violation of U.S. law and policies.

After pulling out of an interfaith dialogue conference, several Jewish groups stepped up their attacks on the Christian leaders, accusing them of bias against Israel and even of anti-Semitism.

The Christians’ letter stated that they believed that the unconditional U.S. aid given to Israel contributes to the “deteriorating conditions in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories which threaten to lead the region further away from the realization of a just peace… sustaining the conflict and undermining the long-term security interests of both Israelis and Palestinians.”

The letter was sent to Congress by leaders of such prominent Protestant denominations as the Presbyterians, Methodists, United Church of Christ and the National Council of Churches (USA), among others. 

It called for “an immediate investigation into possible violations by Israel of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act and the U.S. Arms Export Control Act which respectively prohibit assistance to any country which engages in a consistent pattern of human rights violations and limit the use of U.S. weapons to ‘internal security’ or ‘legitimate self-defense.’” 


The church leaders state that their concerns are based on witnessing the questionable use of U.S. weapons firsthand as well as the annual report of the U.S. State Department, which, they say, “details widespread Israeli human rights violations committed against Palestinian civilians, many of which involve the misuse of U.S.-supplied weapons.” 


Jewish groups, led by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), responded angrily. The JCPA stated, “(The churches’) stony silence to the use of anti-Judaism and relentless attacks on the Jewish state, often from within their own ranks, speaks loudly to their failure to stand up and speak the whole truth about what is occurring in the Middle East.” 


The criticism spanned a wide spectrum of U.S.-Jewish politics. Prominent neoconservative Elliott Abrams, a former U.S. official who also headed the Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he frequently clashed with church peace groups, called it “the latest chapter in the unending hostility to Israel that has marked several of the mainline Protestant denominations.” 


Abrams, like the more mainstream Jewish groups, sees the letter as motivated by hostility toward Israel. Like them, he does not engage directly with the substance of the letter, nor does he answer the charges of systematic human rights abuses by Israel, but instead raises questions not directly related to the letter’s content to support his contention that the letter is motivated by anti-Israel malice. 


And, while Abrams is surely correct in asserting that “It is unlikely that the churches’ letter will affect the level of aid to Israel,” he does not explain why, if that is the case, such a wide spectrum of the Jewish community has reacted so strongly to it. 


The centrist J Street was just as critical as Abrams, though with a far more conciliatory tone. In an op-ed on Newsweek’s Daily Beast web site, the vice president of their education fund, Rachel Lerner wrote: “J Street opposes proposals to condition or cut security assistance to Israel…As with so many efforts to address this complex situation, the letter fails to weigh criticism of Israel’s behavior with appropriate criticism of, for instance, rocket fire from Gaza into Israeli civilian areas. 


“We also question the timing of the letter – coming as it does a few short weeks before Election Day, when this sensitive issue has already become too much of a political football.” 


These specifics were cited by Abrams, the JCPA and the ADL as well. But the letter asks not for a cut or conditioning of aid, but a review of whether that aid is being given in compliance with U.S. law, something that has been done frequently with U.S. foreign aid. 


The letter also makes several mentions of Israeli hardships, specifically rockets fired from Gaza, and consistently equates Israeli and Palestinian suffering. 


“Over the years, a number of members of Congress have asked the State Department to report on whether specific incidents constituted violations of the Arms Export Control Act, Foreign Assistance Act or other U.S. laws by Israel,” Joshua Ruebner, the National Advocacy Director of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, told IPS. 


“Even though the State Department’s annual report on human rights in the Occupied Territories regularly documents abuses, the reports come back clean every time. Even though the Christian leaders’ letter asks for a comprehensive review, which has never been done before, the Jewish groups’ response seems like an overreaction.” 


Continue Reading at IPS



Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Futility of Waiting for Change from Israeli Society without Outside Pressure

Many anti-occupation skeptics of boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) and the three rights associated with the BDS call -- (1) end to occupation, (2) equality for Palestinians inside Israel, and (3) right of return -- claim that BDS alienates rather than appealing to Israeli society. But this survey, conducted by Dialog on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, exposes anti-Arab, ultra-nationalist views espoused by a majority of Israeli Jews and the futility of waiting for change from Israeli society absent significant outside pressure. Below are excerpts from an article in Haaretz, and Israeli mainstream newspaper, entitled: Most Israeli Jews would support apartheid regime in Israel.

Most of the Jewish public in Israel supports the establishment of an apartheid regime in Israel if it formally annexes the West Bank.

A majority also explicitly favors discrimination against the state's Arab citizens, a survey shows.

The survey, conducted by Dialog on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, exposes anti-Arab, ultra-nationalist views espoused by a majority of Israeli Jews. The survey was commissioned by the Yisraela Goldblum Fund and is based on a sample of 503 interviewees.

...

The majority of the Jewish public, 59 percent, wants preference for Jews over Arabs in admission to jobs in government ministries. Almost half the Jews, 49 percent, want the state to treat Jewish citizens better than Arab ones; 42 percent don't want to live in the same building with Arabs and 42 percent don't want their children in the same class with Arab children.

A third of the Jewish public wants a law barring Israeli Arabs from voting for the Knesset and a large majority of 69 percent objects to giving 2.5 million Palestinians the right to vote if Israel annexes the West Bank.

A sweeping 74 percent majority is in favor of separate roads for Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. A quarter - 24 percent - believe separate roads are "a good situation" and 50 percent believe they are "a necessary situation."

Almost half - 47 percent - want part of Israel's Arab population to be transferred to the Palestinian Authority and 36 percent support transferring some of the Arab towns from Israel to the PA, in exchange for keeping some of the West Bank settlements.

...

The survey distinguishes among the various communities in Israeli society - secular, observant, religious, ultra-Orthodox and former Soviet immigrants. The ultra-Orthodox, in contrast to those who described themselves as religious or observant, hold the most extreme positions against the Palestinians. An overwhelming majority (83 percent ) of Haredim are in favor of segregated roads and 71 percent are in favor of transfer.

The ultra-Orthodox are also the most anti-Arab group - 70 percent of them support legally barring Israeli Arabs from voting, 82 percent support preferential treatment from the state toward Jews, and 95 percent are in favor of discrimination against Arabs in admission to workplaces.

...

Secular Israelis appear to be the least racist - 68 percent of them would not mind having Arab neighbors in their apartment building, 73 percent would not mind Arab students in their children's class and 50 percent believe Arabs should not be discriminated against in admission to workplaces.

The survey indicates that a third to half of Jewish Israelis want to live in a state that practices formal, open discrimination against its Arab citizens. An even larger majority wants to live in an apartheid state if Israel annexes the territories.

The survey conductors say perhaps the term "apartheid" was not clear enough to some interviewees. However, the interviewees did not object strongly to describing Israel's character as "apartheid" already today, without annexing the territories. Only 31 percent objected to calling Israel an "apartheid state" and said "there's no apartheid at all."

Click here to read the full article.

It's Going Mainstream! Military Aid to Israel Challenged


Take Action: Support Church Leaders’ Call to Investigate Israel’s Violations of U.S. Law

  

Earlier this month, 15 prominent church leaders sent Members of Congress an historic letter in which they decried “widespread Israeli human rights violations committed against Palestinians.”

The church leaders wrote that “unconditional U.S. military assistance to Israel has contributed to this deterioration, sustaining the conflict and undermining the long-term security interests of both Israelis and Palestinians.”


We fully support their call for “an immediate investigation into possible violations by Israel of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act and the U.S. Arms Export Control Act” and for the “withholding of military aid for non-compliance” with these laws.


This letter is huge
—our demand for accountability for Israel’s misuse of U.S. weapons is now going mainstream!


We are proud to launch this petition in coordination with many faith-based member groups of the US Campaign and our friends at Kairos USA. 
Help us send a strong signal to these courageous church leaders that we support them in their efforts.

Also, please post this petition to your 
Facebook page and Tweet it! 

Pro-Israel organizations issued 
harsh denunciations against the church leaders who signed the letter and are trying to pressure them to rescind it by canceling an interfaith dialogue. 

We can’t let this “
interfaith bullying” succeed in stifling conversation about holding Israel accountable for misusing U.S. weapons to commit human rights abuses of Palestinians. Let’s show these church leaders that there are thousands of people from all backgrounds who support them!

Try as they might, however, to tamp down efforts to question the moral and financial implications of providing 
$30 billion of taxpayer-funded weapons to Israel from 2009 to 2018, pro-Israel organizations are losing the battle as activists are mounting successful public awareness campaigns to challenge U.S. complicity in Israel’s apartheid policies toward Palestinians.


Despite months of efforts by local pro-Israel organizations in Chapel Hill, NC to cajole the city into censoring a year-long ad campaign paid for by the Church of Reconciliation as part of our national “Be On Our Side—End U.S. Military Aid to Israel” ad campaign, these ads are still running on 98 buses and generating a huge amount of conversation. Thanks to the ACLU of North Carolina for defending our right to freedom of speech in this great letter they sent the city council.

Also, recently, Louisville Students for Justice in Palestine put up this eye-catching billboard in Louisville, KY calling for an end to U.S. aid to Israel.
And, the Palestine Education Network placed these yard signs all over New Hampshire during the election season after being censored from advertising a similar message in the Manchester airport and in theater playbills.

Pro-Israel organizations attempt to censor our message and engage in “interfaith bullying” because 
we are right and the policies they advocate are wrong. We cannot afford the moral and financial costs of arming Israel any longer.


Let us know
 if you’d like to replicate these types of public awareness campaigns and we’ll put you in touch with the organizers, and be sure to sign up to receive an organizing packet in the mail filled with all the materials you’ll need to go out into your community to educate and organize people to end U.S. aid to Israel.


Onward, 

Josh Ruebner, National Advocacy Director

PS: The average taxpayer will give Israel $21 in weapons this year. You can “offset” this by making a tax-deductible donation to the US Campaign. Your support will strengthen our increasingly visible and successful campaign to end U.S. aid to Israel.

PPS:
 Don’t forget to take a minute to sign the petition of support to the 15 church leaders who called on Congress to investigate Israel’s misuse of U.S. weapons against Palestinians.  

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

25 Organizations Urge Architectural Firms of Proposed CornellNYC Tech Campus to Drop Project

From our member group New Yorkers Against the Cornell-Technion Partnership

NEW YORK, New York, October 16, 2012– 25 organizations, including several representing the architecture community as well as students at Cornell and other universities, academic scholars, human and civil rights advocates in the United States and abroad, and Roosevelt Island residents, have called on two architectural firms that were granted contracts by the New York City Economic Development Corporation to begin designing CornellNYC Tech to drop the project. The applied science and technology campus, to be run jointly by Cornell University and The Technion - Israel Institute of Technology, is scheduled to be built on Roosevelt Island starting next year. 


The letters, sponsored by New Yorkers Against the Cornell-Technion Partnership, urge Morphosis Architects, Inc. and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, LLP to reconsider their involvement on the basis of Cornell’s partnership with the Technion, citing the latter’s record of complicity in Israeli violations of international law and human rights. As the letters state, the Technion is “an Israeli university that is strongly implicated in the oppression and subjugation of the Palestinian people.”


The Technion, like many Israeli educational institutions, provides the research and development as well as strategic planning for Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian lands. The letters go on to explain, with numerous examples, how the Technion is not just linked to the occupation but deeply complicit with it, working hand-in-hand with the Israel Defense Forces. The Israeli occupation has consistently been condemned by the United Nations and human rights organizations for its persistent breaches of international law and human rights.

The letter’s 25 signatories implore Morphosis Architects and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill to heed the fact that Cornell’s partnership with the Technion serves only to exacerbate the contemporary manifestation of racism, neocolonialism, and apartheid in Israel/Palestine. They ask these architectural firms to join the contemporary struggle against Israeli apartheid and ethnic cleansing, by reconsidering and ultimately declining participation in the CornellNYC Tech project.

About New Yorkers Against the Cornell-Technion Partnership (NYACT)
NYACT is an ad-hoc coalition of New York-based students, academics, activists, writers, and concerned individuals who are working together to oppose the collaboration of Cornell University with The Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. Founding members include activists from the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) and Cornell University Students for Justice in Palestine, both of which continue to collaborate with NYACT. NYACT works within a wider framework of support that includes additional NYC-based groups as well as groups across the US, Canada, Palestine/Israel, South Africa, India, and Europe.  Notably, along with Palestine solidarity groups and grassroots and labor activists, several key Jewish groups support the NYACT campaign.

Read letters and see signatures here.

Contact:
Name of Media Contact: Dr. Terri Ginsberg
Company Name: New Yorkers Against the Cornell-Technion Partnership (NYACT)
Contact E-mail: nyact@riseup.net

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Baltzer: BDS Movement Strategic, Flexible, Diverse and Inclusive

Below is an article in The Jewish Week covering the talk our National Organizer Anna Baltzer gave this past weekend in New York on "The Jewish-American Relationship with Israel at the Crossroads" with Norman Finkelstein. You can read Anna's remarks here

Has Norman Finkelstein, long reviled in the Jewish community as a vitriolic hater of the Jewish state, morphed into a defender of Israel’s legitimacy? And what does Finkelstein’s newfound “moderation” say about the current state of the anti-Israel left, exemplified by the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement?

Over the course of three decades, Finkelstein achieved superstar status on the anti-Zionist left by writing a myriad of books and articles in which he declared Israel to be “an insane state” and charged Elie Wiesel and other pro-Zionist Jews with exploiting the memory of the Holocaust as an “ideological weapon” in support of Israel.

Given that stormy history, it was strange to attend an unabashedly one-sided discussion last Saturday afternoon at the New School in Manhattan titled “The Jewish-American Relationship with Israel at the Crossroads,” and to hear Finkelstein denounce the BDS movement for refusing to affirm Israel’s right to exist within the 1967 Green Line border. Sitting next to him on the panel was Anna Baltzer, national organizer of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and a top leader in the BDS movement.



Finkelstein argued that the movement’s failure to take a clear stance on that issue will prevent it from bringing aboard the growing number of young American Jews who, he believes, have concluded that Israel’s occupation is morally wrong and must be ended.

But while the overwhelmingly anti-Israel crowd of about 500 heard Finkelstein out respectfully, they ardently applauded Baltzer when she argued that BDS movement is growing in strength and stature despite its unwillingness to take the steps Finkelstein demands; those include official embrace of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

The talk, which was moderated by Adam Shatz, an editor at the London Review of Books, and which took place before the end of the Sabbath, was supposed to have also included anti-Zionist avatar Noam Chomsky, who cancelled because of laryngitis. The event seemed conceived as an opportunity for Finkelstein to showcase the argument laid out in his recently published book, “Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel is Coming to an End” (Or Books). In it he argues that a critical mass of young American Jews have concluded that Israeli policy toward the Palestinians is morally indefensible and that many of them can be brought into the BDS movement on behalf of Palestinian rights — as long as the movement makes clear its commitment to Israel’s survival.


However, the afternoon came to feel like a symbolic changing of the guard on the anti-Israel left.

Much of the audience appeared dubious of Finkelstein’s moderation and enthralled with Baltzer; she is an articulate and attractive 33-year-old St. Louis native who turned sharply to the left and made pro-Palestinian advocacy her top cause after being disillusioned with what she saw in Israel during a Birthright Israel trip in 2000. Her polished speaking style served to temper the impact of her full-throated advocacy for the right of Palestinians to return to within the borders of pre-1967 Israel (code to pro-Israel supporters for the destruction of the Jewish state), and her defense of Palestinian-Americans and others who refuse to affirm the right of Israel to exist.

Read more at The Jewish Week

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Palestinians Cannot Be Relegated to Margins of Own Liberation Struggle


Anna Baltzer is National Organizer at the US Campaign. She gave this talk at an event entitled "The Jewish American Relationship with Israel at the Crossroads."

Thank you so much to OR Books, Vera List Center, Adam Shatz, and the others who organized this event. It’s an honor to be here. I’m excited to be here and by the topic of this event because I believe we are at a crossroads, not just in terms of Jewish American feelings towards Israel -- as Dr. Finkelstein has meticulously documented in his book -- but also the place of Jewish voices in the movement. There is no question that there is a monumental shift happening among American Jews, with increasing
numbers coming out against Israel’s occupation and apartheid policies against the Palestinian people. This is largely a generational shift, driven by young people, who have become allies to the cause even as their parents repeat the same tired arguments they did decades ago about Israel’s moral superiority and lack of a partner for peace.

People like Dr. Finkelstein, Dr. Chomsky, and many other deserve credit for decades of speaking out against Israel’s abuses of Palestinians when so few Jewish -- or other -- Americans did. Palestinians, of course, have always been speaking out as long as they have been oppressed, though nobody listened. The courage of all these voices in the dark paved the way for many of us today.

Today, many synagogues can no longer even talk about this issue because it is so divisive. The traditional gatekeepers of the conversation are in crisis. For example, the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I was living the past year, is suffering a very clear downward trajectory. More than 90% of its donors are over 40 years old. The organization says it represents the Jewish community but won’t publish the list of synagogues because, in fact, the number is very few.

Meanwhile, organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace are growing in leaps and bounds. Its mailing list now boasts more than 125,000 subscribers. There are explicitly anti-Zionist organizations like the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network. Young, Jewish, and Proud, the youth wing of Jewish Voice for Peace, is growing particularly quickly with more and more young Jewish Americans reclaiming American Jewish identity as rooted in support for equality and justice rather than unconditional support for a state across the world that does not represent them.

Along with the growth of Jewish support for Palestinian rights, however, comes a dangerous phenomenon; that is, Jewish voices eclipsing Palestinian ones. Palestinian voices have long been dismissed as angry, irrational, and biased. Even people supporting justice for Palestinians often say they’d rather have a Jewish speaker come to their community because our voices are more “credible.” They would rather have me telling Palestinian stories than a Palestinian -- the expert -- telling her or his own stories. Events like today’s draw larger crowds than a panel of Palestinians speaking about their own struggle would. 

Intentional or not, what happens is that just as we are trying to break down the imbalance of power and privilege in Israel/Palestine, we are recreating the same power imbalance in the U.S. context. We must challenge not only Israel’s abuse of Palestinians but the underlying racism at its core that somehow Jews are more important than Palestinians. We must acknowledge that privileging Jewish American voices rather than featuring and listening to Palestinian voices is rooted in racism.

Let’s take an analogy. Imagine an all-male speaking tour in the late 1960s promoting the feminist movement. Imagine people inviting panels of men to speak about feminism because, well, women are so angry and irrational -- they won’t be heard as credible. Any half-politicized person would rightly have called this out for what it is: misogynistic. Because the feminist movement was not and is not just about an end goal of getting women certain rights; it’s about empowering women, women being able to speak for ourselves; it’s about transforming society overall. Speaking for myself, the same goes for this movement. As we speak about freedom and justice for Palestinians, their voices must be at the center. And I’ll talk about what that means in practice a little later.

But meanwhile, what is the role of Jewish Americans on this issue? I would argue that an honest analysis of the situation shows that mainstream Jewish American institutions are among the traditional gatekeepers on this issue, and Jewish voices are uniquely placed to challenge and disrupt those institutions’ hegemony. We must be present in coalitions challenging those institutions, defending allies from claims of anti-Semitism that are used to stifle legitimate discussion about Israel and to suppress action. The more of us that speak out, the harder it becomes for pro-occupation Jewish institutions to claim to be in any way representative. By showing that the Jewish community is not monolithic, we show that this is not an identity-based struggle between Jews and Palestinians but a struggle for human rights like any other.

To put it another way: It’s not about Jews leading the way; it’s about stepping out of the way.

I’ll give you an example: This past summer in the Bay Area, I was part of a hearing by the Sonoma County Commission on Human Rights regarding an upcoming local bus contract renewal with Veolia, a company that is also deeply implicated in the Israeli occupation. It was standing room only, with testifiers overflowing out the door waiting to speak. Defending the local bus contract were representatives of Veolia Corporation and some members of the Jewish community. On the other side were a diverse group of community members and others from the Jewish community. In other words, it was only the Jewish community that was divided. What was the effect? Our voices countering those from the JCRC helped the commissioners -- and all the
media and witnesses there -- to see plainly the situation for what it really was: a struggle of people vs. power and corporate impunity.

We made space for others to be heard. As Jews, we can use our voices particularly to help lift up the voices of Palestinians that have been silenced for so long. By the way, and I’m speaking for myself here, this does not mean we give people permission to listen to Palestinian voices. Historically, the role of Jewish American allies has been to show that it’s okay to criticize Israel, to support boycott and divestment, etc. But what’s really needed is a complete paradigm shift; it’s the concept that you, whoever you are, do not need permission from Jews -- or anyone else for that matter -- to do what you believe is the right thing to do. 

It’s not that we do not participate -- we should, of course… we must, enthusiastically! -- but we must also make sure that Jewish American voices are not, as they have in the past, regulating the terms of the discussion, including when it comes to the vision of the future of Israel/Palestine and the means of their freedom struggle. Our particular mandate to challenge U.S. institutional support for Israel -- most notably the roughly $3 billion dollars in military aid awarded Israel with tax-payer dollars annually -- is clear and always has been. Meanwhile, we must carry an extra sense of humility when it comes to an indigenous movement, particularly when we come from the oppressing group -- in this case both as Jews and as Americans. And that means listening when we are given the opportunity to support the oppressed.

In 2005, Palestinian civil society issued a call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law and (1) ends its illegal occupation, (2) implements full equality for Palestinians inside Israel, and (3) promotes the right of return for Palestinian refugees. Behind this call stands the largest breadth and broadest consensus of Palestinian voices to my knowledge. It has been signed by more than 170 organizations representing all segments of Palestinian civil society, including unions, all major political parties, human rights organizations, and more.

The growing global BDS movement is a thriving, diverse, and inclusive movement. It is strategic in nature, empowering groups around the world to choose targets and tactics that are appropriate within each particular context. It stands on three pillars -- freedom, equality, and justice, representing the three rights articulated in the call, the three minimal components to fulfilling Palestinians’ must fundamental rights.

The movement has had tremendous success thus far, with victories announced weekly or sometimes daily from around the world, growing in size and significance. Most recently in the U.S., for example, the Quaker Friends Fiduciary Corporation, which manages investments for more than 250 Quaker institutions around this country, decided to divest from Caterpillar, Veolia, and Hewlett Packard corporations following concerns expressed by a Palestine Israel Action Group and their local Friends meeting. Earlier this year, Morgan Stanley Capital Investment (MSCI) delisted Caterpillar from its list of socially responsible investments, prompting financial giant TIAA-CREF to divest close to $73 million from their Social Choice Fund. These are just two of the most recent examples.

But the greatest success of the BDS movement is its effect on the discourse. Here in the U.S., campaigns playing out in mainstream churches, shopping centers, university campuses, and city councils have fundamentally shifted the question from whether or not Israel is committing crimes to what are we going to do about it. The gatekeepers of the occupation are suddenly on the defensive where they never were before. And more than any book or speaker (and I am speaking as an author and a public speaker) ever could before, BDS campaigns -- whether they win or lose -- are changing the way people think about Israel and the Palestinians. I believe the success of BDS is behind some of the exciting phenomena that Dr. Finkelstein writes about in this book. This shift in discourse will also be key to forcing an end to U.S. military aid and other U.S. institutional -- including corporate – support that enables Israel’s abuses.

In part through BDS, the Palestine solidarity movement has transformed from talking about Palestinian self-determination to manifesting it. Palestinians are no longer relegated to the margins of their own liberation struggle, but are in fact the leaders of it. This, of course, makes speakers like myself much less important, and that’s okay with me, in fact, I’m happy about it.

Freed from the old paradigm, the result is quite beautiful: “It’s clear what the future looks like” -- to quote Cecilie Surasky of Jewish Voice for Peace in her article written after the first night of the University of California at Berkeley hearings on divestment. She noted -- and I have seen as well from Sonoma County to the United Methodist and Presbyterian churches’ recent divestment hearings to the many others playing out on campuses from New York City to San Diego -- that while on the one side you had a small group of isolated Jewish students and leaders, holding onto each other fearfully; on the other you saw a diverse group of Jews, Palestinians, Muslims, Israelis, Arabs, African Americans, Latina and Latino community members, queer allies, feminists, and others; interconnected, holding hands in friendship, solidarity, and anticipation. As a young Jewish American, this is what I want my community and place in the movement to look like. Thank you.

URGENT: Chapel Hill Town Council Meets Thu. to Review Our Ads on Aid to Israel

For those of you who live in Chapel Hill, North Carolina:

Join Us at the Town Council Meeting Thursday to Support Our Ads & Free Speech



By now, you’re probably aware of the controversy generated when the Church of Reconciliation, along with other Chapel Hill-based groups, posted ads this summer in 98 Chapel Hill buses to “End U.S. military aid to Israel.”

This Thursday, October 11, at 7:00 pm, the Chapel Hill Town Council will hold a public forum on the town’s bus advertising policy at Town Hall, 2nd Floor, 405 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd

The town council will receive a petition, organized by Triangle Voice for Israel, to prohibit all political ads on Chapel Hill buses, including ours. Rather than engage us on the issues, the local pro-Israel advocacy organization is trying to censor our message and chill free speech

But we’re organizing our own petition in support of our ads and the right to freedom of speech. Please take a moment to sign this petition so that we can show the Chapel Hill Town Council that there is broad-based community support for our ads.

Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of North Carolina strongly defended our right to advertise in Chapel Hill’s buses. “The freedom of citizens to express political beliefs without being censored by their government is one of the most basic and cherished rights protected by our Constitution,” said the ACLU’s Legal Director Chris Brook. “We urge Chapel Hill officials to stand up for the free speech rights of their citizens by keeping the town’s bus ads open as a forum for public dialogue free of government censorship.”


We agree and we hope that you will come to Thursday evening’s town council public forum to stand in solidarity with us as we continue our struggle to keep these ads in Chapel Hill buses, but, even more importantly, as we continue to successfully spread our message that we must change our country’s policies toward Israel and the Palestinians to support human rights, international law and equality rather than the status quo of Israeli military occupation and domination of Palestinians.

If you would like to speak at the public forum in support of our ads and/or the right to freedom of speech, then please contact Rev. Mark Davidson so that we can coordinate.

Thank you for signing our petition to the Chapel Hill Town Council and we hope to see you on Thursday evening.