For critics of the Jewish state BDS is not the answer, but what is?

For critics of the Jewish state BDS is not the answer, but what is?

You love Israel — and support the Zionist vision of a strong, secure, democratic, and Jewish state living in peace beside its Arab neighbors. Yet, you disagree with the policies of the current Israeli government and believe that its settlement enterprise in the West Bank is threatening the viability of a two-state arrangement with the Palestinians, which you strongly support. 

Still, you reject the use of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) to express this disagreement because these tactics are grossly unfair and totally ineffective. You are dispirited by what appears to be a hopelessly deadlocked peace process with the Palestinians and want to find a way to make a positive contribution toward peace and reconciliation. So, what can you do? A lot, in fact:

• Get involved with American-Jewish organizations that reject BDS and support Israel and a two-state solution, but which are generally less reluctant to criticize Israeli policies than establishment organizations. These include the Israel Policy Forum, Ameinu, and J Street. There are important differences among these organizations, so do your research before deciding which one is most in alignment with your positions.

• Become active in one of the establishment public affairs organizations, like the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League. If you believe they have not sufficiently challenged Israel’s policies, encourage them to do so. 

• Send a communication expressing your concerns to the Israeli consul general in your area. 

• Let your members of Congress know where you stand on Israel, and work to elect people who reflect your views on these issues. 

• Support on-the-ground efforts to build bridges of cooperation and mutual understanding between Israelis and Palestinians. A great resource in this arena is the Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP), a coalition of more than 100 organizations that seeks to secure and, whenever possible, increase funding to expand trust-building interactions between Palestinians and Israelis. Check out ALLMEP’s website — you can read about the organizations under its umbrella, including the OneVoice Movement which I have written about in previous columns — and I am sure you will find one or more of these organizations to support. 

• Another opportunity through ALLMEP: Inspired by the International Fund for Ireland, which spent more than $1.2 billion over 20 years to build grassroots cooperation and support for peace in Northern Ireland, ALLMEP currently is working on getting congressional legislation adopted that would lead to the establishment of an International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace that would direct $200 million to Israeli-Palestinian people-to-people programs. “This fund,” ALLMEP’s executive director Joel Braunold indicated, “would bring an expert, strategic approach to grassroots peace building, targeting funding on joint economic development and civil society projects that promote coexistence and broad support for peace even while they improve social and economic conditions on the ground.” Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) introduced a bill, H.R. 1221, in the House of Representatives in support of the fund and requested that $50 million be provided by the United States. I encourage you to contact your congressional representatives and ask them to support H.R. 1221. (A companion bill has not yet been introduced in the Senate.)

• I recommend encouraging your local NJ federation and/or JCRC — if it has not already done so —to launch programs to boost cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians. A couple of examples from other cities: 

In San Francisco, the Jewish Community Relations Council facilitated the establishment of Invest in Peace, an independent coalition of Bay area community activists, influential businesspeople, academics, elected officials, and leaders of civil society groups to mobilize support for Israeli and Palestinian economic and people-to-people partnerships. Invest in Peace champions businesses in Israel and the Palestinian territories that build economic infrastructure and integrate coexistence into their business practices. It also highlights the work of many outstanding NGOs that bring Israelis and Palestinians together, whether on the soccer field or in the classroom, to build a peaceful, shared future for both peoples. Moreover, the coalition opposes measures that limit or discourage investment and harm employment opportunities for Palestinians and Israelis.

Another example is the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, in partnership with Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP), launched Boston Partners for Peace, an expression of their commitment to advance the two-state solution. This initiative is intended to build support for NGOs that work toward a shared future among Palestinians, Israeli Jews, and Israeli Arabs, in four areas: economic cooperation, civic engagement, education, and people-to-people programs.

The San Francisco and Boston initiatives are well worth replicating and it’s on us to push our local communities to launch similar programs.   

• If your rabbi supports a two-state vision, suggest that she or he explore possible participation in Interfaith Partners for Peace, a network of clergy from different religions who are committed to shared study and action in support of reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis.

• In addition to the ALLMEP website, I suggest you take advantage of the site for The Third Narrative, an initiative of Ameinu. It offers a useful guide for activists — Progressive Action for Human Rights, Peace & Reconciliation in Israel and Palestine — that provides information regarding volunteering opportunities in Israel and  the Palestinian territories, advocacy in the United States, and conflict education programs, as well as cultural and academic exchanges.  

In recent years American campuses have become BDS battlegrounds. Just a couple weeks ago, Barnard, with its large Jewish student population, voted overwhelmingly — 64.3 percent to 35.7 percent out of 1,153 votes cast — in favor of a resolution calling on Columbia University to divest from companies “complicit” in Palestinian human rights violations. And just last week, the student senate at George Washington University (GW), another school with a large Jewish population, adopted an anti-Israel divestment resolution. 

Though the respective presidents at Barnard and GW quickly rejected these student-led BDS resolutions, nevertheless the votes reflect a growing trend of young people who feel alienated by Israeli policies. We need to help them understand that there are better, more constructive ways than BDS to express their support for Israeli-Palestinian peace and to air their concerns about Israeli policies.

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