Over the weekend of April 28-29, several hundred activists gathered in Oakland at a national conference sponsored by the Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). Entitled “Pursuing Justice for Israel/Palestine: Changing Minds, Challenging U.S. Policy,” the conference gave expression to a movement building in the United States that is more critical of Israeli policies than is the conservative “Israel right or wrong” lobby.
JVP has been growing rapidly over the past year, and this conference exemplified the enthusiasm and commitment of its members. Prominent political analysts and activists gave presentations at the conference, including Phyllis Bennis, Sandy Tolan, Jeff Halper, and Mitchell Plitnick. Sandy Tolan is the author of one of the most compelling recent books on the Israel-Palestine conflict “The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East.”
The conference balanced plenaries and workshops, giving everyone the opportunity to discuss a challenging but essential project: how to create “a broad-based coalition for a just U.S. Middle East policy,” as one of the workshop descriptions put it. The workshops also covered related topics, including the predicaments of Palestinians living in Israel or the occupied territories, feminist resistance to the occupation, and alternative Middle East peace strategies.
The perennial “One state or two?” question, regarding the form of a future settlement of the Israel/Palestine conflict, preoccupied many conference speakers and attendees. American activists critical of Israel are notoriously at loggerheads on this matter, most of them supporting a two-state solution: Israelis and Palestinians shall each have a country they can call their own, in keeping with the Israeli peace movement Gush Shalom’s slogan, “Two peoples, two states.” Most Palestinians also support a two-state solution. Jewish Voice for Peace, however, takes a neutral position on the shape of a future settlement, formulating its position as “Israelis and Palestinians. Two peoples, one future.”
JVP thereby distinguishes itself from another progressive Jewish activist group, the Tikkun Community, led by the Bay Area’s own Rabbi Michael Lerner. JVP and Tikkun have an on-again off-again affair, with differences recently surfacing over the demonstrations protesting Israeli policy that will take place in Washington D.C. in June 2007. JVP supports these demonstrations, Tikkun does not. Lerner says that Tikkun Community cannot join with sponsors of the DC action because of “the willingness of all these organizations to keep alive as an option the notion that the solution to Israel/Palestine peace lies in the dissolution of a Jewish state, using the language of ‘one state solution’ as the way to signal to many who never thought the Jewish people ever deserved a state at all.”
It is important that people who find Israeli policies toward Palestinians cruel, immoral, and even self-destructive work together. But here in the Bay Area as elsewhere, including in Israel itself, deep divisions split this progressive movement. Hopefully we can bridge these differences and join together to advance the reconciliation and healing that are so desperately needed.
Raymond Barglow is a Berkeley resident.