An emerging number of Jewish peace groups, however, are attempting to dispel the notion that American Jews are of one mind when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. These organisations vary in size, influence, and political ideology.

 

Organizations such as Israel Policy Forum (IPF) and Americans for Peace Now (APN), two of the more prominent Jewish activist groups, are generally considered left-of-centre in the political discourse because of their willingness to publicly scrutinise US-Israeli policies.

 

Their stated goals are a secure and prosperous Israel, as well as an independent Palestinian state that would relieve Israelis of both the economic and political burdens of the current occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

 

Aggressive approach

 

Jewish Americans are seen
as uncritical of Israeli actions

Meanwhile, several lesser-known groups such as Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel, Jewish Voices for Peace and Not in My Name, have taken a more aggressive approach to activism.

 

They are hammering the Israeli government with harsh denunciations of what they view as an “illegal” and “immoral” occupation policy.

 

Their donor lists are smaller and certain aspects of their platform generate unbridled contempt among many Jewish Americans familiar with their activities.

 

Differences aside, however, all of these organizations express a common desire: a peaceful resolution to a conflict that has long heaped misery and despair upon both the Palestinian and Israeli people.

 

According to a recent poll conducted by the American Jewish Committee, an influential policy group, 54% of Jewish Americans support the creation of a Palestinian state of some sort and 57% support the dismantlement of at least some settlements in the West Bank.

 

Not left-wing

 

In this regard, representative for Israel Policy Forum and Americans for Peace Now reject the notion that they are left-wing organizations.

 

“In terms of the way the spectrum has been defined, we are on the left because we so strongly support the peace process,” said MJ Rosenberg, director of policy analysis at IPF.

 

“If that’s called left then we’re left, but it’s hard for me to believe that supporting negotiations for an agreement is left.”

 

Nevertheless, IPF differs from many other Jewish organizations such as the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the American Jewish Congress, who “tend to go along with the Israeli policies of the day,” Rosenberg said.

 

Israel Policy Forum, based in New York and Washington, was created in 1993 on the heels of the Oslo Accords, a peace agreement its staffers speak of reverently, but which many conservative Jewish groups often decry as having been a disaster for Israel.

Israel Policy Forum, based in New York and Washington, was created in 1993 on the heels of the Oslo Accords, a peace agreement its staffers speak of reverently, but which many conservative Jewish groups often decry as having been a disaster for Israel.

 

Americans for Peace Now advocates a similar platform.

 

The group, as assistant executive director Lewis Roth puts it, pursues “what we feel is in Israel’s best security interests... we’re not a human rights organization.”

 

Occupation must end 

 

In order for Israel to achieve long-term peace and security, it must end its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, something APN views as an untenable drain on its economic and military resources.

 

Founded in 1981, Americans for Peace Now’s works to assist Shalom Achshav (Peace Now) an Israeli organization created three years earlier by 348 reserve officers from the Israel Defence Forces.

 

APN has thousands of donors who contribute to its $2 million annual budget and has about 25,000 people in its email database, Roth said.

 

“Where we find fault with [the Sharon government] is that it has not pursued a political track to try and resolve the Intifada and get back to the negotiating table,” Roth added.

 

Two-state solution 

 

The goals of a two-state solution and a withdrawal from settlements in the occupied territories “have been overwhelmingly accepted, not only with the Israeli public, but with the American Jewish community,” he said.

 

Josh Ruebner co-founded Jews
for Peace in Palestine and Israel

What has received less acceptance, are some of the positions of fellow Jewish peace groups like Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel (JPPI) and Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP). Their willingness to characterize certain actions of the Israeli government as “illegal” and “immoral” is not a common practice in the Jewish American community, several representatives from larger Jewish organizations said.

 

“That’s totally incompatible with what Jewish Americans would say,” said a spokesperson for one major Jewish organization.

 

Even JPPI co-founder Josh Ruebner said certain aspects of his group’s message are beyond the scope of what most Jewish Americans would consider reasonable dialogue.

 

“I admit that we phrase our language and our critique a little bit more harshly, a little bit more resolutely than some other organizations,” he said.

 

More Jews think of Israel as
Goliath rather than David

Groups such as Israel Policy Forum and Americans for Peace Now, who criticize some US-Israeli positions in less vitriolic terms, “are probably a little more representative of the average Jewish American thought on this,” he said.

 

Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel, Jewish Voices for Peace and Not in My Name advocate the suspension of US military aid to Israel until it withdraws from all areas of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. They argue that the Israeli military frequently ignores international law and commits human rights violations in the occupied territories, even accusing Israeli security forces of using “torture” against Palestinian civilians.

 

Biting rhetoric

 

Ruebner said the use of such biting rhetoric is deliberate. His group is not trying to reflect mainstream Jewish American opinion, but rather attempting to “move the goal posts” of Jewish peace activism, he said.

 

“There has to be somebody pushing the envelope, pushing the discussion, changing the parameters of the debate, and I think that’s what we do,” he said. “If we are out there being radical, for lack of a better word, then suddenly these other groups [Israel Policy Forum and Americans for Peace Now] look more mainstream.”

 

"Many, if not most, Jewish peace activists base their activism upon their religious values and view what Israel is doing to the Palestinians as a negation of every thing that we learned about the values that Judaism is supposed to support.”

Josh Ruebner
Co-founder
Jews for Peace in
Palestine and Israel

That philosophy has not earned them many friends among the more well known Jewish American organizations, most of whom dismiss their platform as extremist and irrelevant.

 

Mitchell G Bard, executive director of the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, a pro-Israel non-profit organization, said there are a “handful of very left-wing Jews whose views are far outside the consensus of the Jewish community.”

 

“They don’t reflect mainstream opinion,” Bard said.

 

Self-hating?

 

Other Jewish Americans sometimes castigate Ruebner in less diplomatic terms, he said.

 

“Usually the charge that we get levelled against us is that we’re self-hating [Jews],” he said. “To me this is the most baseless charge possible, because many, if not most, Jewish peace activists base their activism upon their religious values and view what Israel is doing to the Palestinians as a negation of every thing that we learned about the values that Judaism is supposed to support.”

 

Israel is being criticised over
the death of a UK peace activist

The lack of support from the Jewish American community for groups like JPPI stems from a reluctance to publicly criticise Israel, a practice many Jews view as a betrayal, Roth said.

 

“It’s an airing your dirty laundry kind of thing, even though they might be willing to criticise Israel in private,” he said.

 

Still, JVP policy director Mitchell Plitnick said his group has embraced more than conventional wisdom might suggest.

 

“I found that far more Jews support our positions than you would think from reading the newspapers,” Plitnick said.

 

Compared to AIPAC, which has 65,000 members, Ruebner’s group, founded in September of 2000 after the outbreak of the second Intifada, is a relatively small fish in the sea, a point he freely concedes.

 

JPPI has 50 paying members, 1500 people on its mailing list, and an annual budget of about $5,000, he said. Jewish Voices for Peace, created in San Francisco in 1996, is somewhat larger, with 100 active members and what Plitnick called a supporter base of about 2000 people. He said 7000 people are on the JVP email list.

 

 JPPI, JVP and Not in My name all reject the use of violence, be it suicide bombings or missile strikes, against Palestinian and Israeli civilians, according to their websites.

 

Reluctance to criticise

 

Many Jews view public criticism
of Israel as a betrayal

Nevertheless, many progressive activists are reluctant to criticise Palestinians, who they view as an oppressed people, he said.

 

“A lot of Jewish peace activists don’t want to be seen as adding fuel to the fire,” he said.

 

Much of this philosophy originates from what Ruebner called a “generational divide” within the Jewish American community.

 

“For my parent’s generation, they grew up with very relevant and near memories of the holocaust and of Israel as a much weaker, smaller state,” he said. “For me and my generation, we grew up with images of the first Intifada. We grew up not viewing Israel as the David in this conflict, but as the Goliath.”