Israel supporters who are deeply troubled by occupation are often in a bind. If the non-violent tool of BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) against Israel is considered treyf by most of the Jewish community, and if many Israel supporters themselves are loath to invoke a blanket boycott on the country, then what can they do? Neither is Israeli society likely to be moved by a blanket boycott. A major component of the Israeli political psyche entails a siege mentality, one being fueled to great effect these days by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s public rhetoric.
A full-blown boycott arguably intensifies the sense of isolation — and when Israel feels isolated, it doubles down. Contrast this with the initial efforts toward peace, via the Oslo agreement, which were born from the 1982 Lebanon War and, later, the first intifada. There, peace efforts were spurred by citizens demonstrating against government policies, and by organizations with-in Israeli society — like Women in Black, B’Tselem and Peace Now.
Fortunately, a new progressive activist guide has just been released which provides dozens of options for activists to strengthen those very organizations and institutions that can help move the dial toward peace among Israeli citizens — as well as help Palestinian society pursue strategies of non-violent resistance and build up its nascent, proto-state infrastructure.
Launched by the Third Narrative project Ameinu (disclosure: I am on Ameinu’s board of directors and, along with Steven M. Cohen, serve as co-chair of Scholars for Israel and Palestine — an academic wing of the Third Narrative), the guide is called “Progressive Action for Human Rights, Peace & Reconciliation in Israel and Palestine.” The title is long but the message is succinct: Want to end the occupation? Here’s how to strengthen the dozens of groups working for coexistence and peaceful resistance in Israel and Palestine.
Many of the groups profiled in the guide fall under the umbrella of ALLMEP (Alliance for Middle East Peace), a coalition of over 80 groups working for “freedom, rights, dignity; peace, security and a shared future,” in the words of Joel Braunold, ALLMEP’s U.S. director, with whom I spoke last year.
The guide points to groups focused on rolling back Israeli occupation and seeking a peace agreement, such as Breaking the Silence, Combatants for Peace, Machsom Watch, Peace Now, Ta’ayush, the Center for Jewish Non-Violence, Women Wage Peace and Just Vision.
There are human rights groups (B’Tselem, ACRI, Rabbis for Human Rights); there are environmental groups (the Arava Institute; Comet-ME; EcoPeace Middle East); groups devoted to economic development (Americans for a Vibrant Palestinian Economy; Israel-Palestinian Cooperative for Economic Expansion; Palestine Investment Fund); and to health (Healing Across the Divides; Project Rozana).
There are coexistence groups, like Parents Circle, the Compassionate Listening Project, Adam Institute, Abrahamic Reunion, Givat Haviva, Hand in Hand, Neve Shalom, Together Beyond Words and Heartbeat.
There are groups dedicated to rethinking structural arrangements, like Ir Amim (for Jerusalem); Blue White Future; the Peres Center and the Geneva Initiative; and groups focused on repairing the inequalities between Palestinian and Jewish citizens within Israel (NISPED, Al Manarah, Tsofen — and to these I would add Adalah and Sikkuy). And there are travel opportunities in Israel and Palestine, such as Encounter, Mejdi and Ta Shema.
And there are North American pressure groups, like the American Task Force on Palestine, Americans for Peace Now (and their Canadian counterpart), J Street and Ameinu. My recounting of the groups listed in the guide is not exhaustive.
So if you are a university or college student, or a member of a trade union or a religious group, what can you actually do? With your wallet, of course, you can support these organizations, and encourage philanthropists to do the same. If you have travel time, you can visit and tour with these groups and/or volunteer with them. You can engage in academic exchanges. You can invite members of these groups to a synagogue or JCC or campus speaker series. You can screen a film for discussion (see Just Vision for a selection of films). If you’re American, you can lobby your member of Congress to support H.R. 1489, a bill intended to establish an international fund for supporting Israeli-Palestinian peace.
I recently participated in a panel in Vancouver (I was live-streamed in from my home in Ottawa), devoted to debating BDS. While my remarks focused on opposing BDS because of its confused endgame (namely, its unrealistic demand that Israel accept full Palestinian refugee return), I also urged the audience to wrestle and engage with Israel, rather than abandon it altogether. With this array of initiatives seeking to do just that, progressive activists have options — ones that will empower Israelis to press their government for change, rather than hunker down behind a wall of fear and isolation.
Originally published in The Jewish Daily Forward on November 30, 2015.