Tuesday, December 10th, 7:30 pm – International Human Rights Day: Lessons for Action and Advocacy – Intentional Compassion
An outstanding evening with dynamic lecturer and workshop facilitator and trainer, Dr. Racelle Weiman, of Haifa University and the Dialogue Institute of Temple University, to commemorate the UN Declaration of Human Rights, its relevance to Israel and Palestine, and effective ways of bringing people together to understand and resolve conflict. Miles Nadal JCC (Bloor and Spadina) Room 218 Doors open at 7 for 7:30 start. Program 7:30 – 9:30. Click here to register
Dear JSpace Canada Friends,
Thank you once again for inviting me to participate in the inaugural JSpace Canada Conference. It was an honor to be with you as you launched this new phase of your work.
All of us at Ameinu look forward to working with colleagues in Canada to serve our Progressive Zionist mission seeking peace and security for Israel and economic and social justice in Israel, the United States, Canada and around the world. As part of this partnership, I would like to invite JSpace participants to get involved in several Ameinu projects described briefly below.
First, several times a month Ameinu releases an E-Newsletter with updates, action alerts and reports from North America and Israel. I would At the end of this message is an article I wrote on Progressive Zionism that was inspired in significant part by my experience in Toronto. Please consider signing up for the Ameinu email news list on our homepage: www.ameinu.net.
Ameinu also has just posted a Canadian-specific action alert opposing pending legislation in the Knesset that could result in the forcible relocation of tens of thousands of Israeli-Bedouin citizens from unrecognized villages in the Negev. Please check out the alert and make your voice heard at:
One key topic discussed during my time in Toronto was Ameinu’s new Third Narrative project (TTN) – www.thirdnarrative.org. TTN seeks to provide progressive answers to unfair critiques of Israel and an alternative progressive approach to the Israel-Palestinian conflict that can be a basis for constructive engagement with progressive partners. You can download copies of the TTN booklet from the website or just let me know if you need multiple copies for your synagogue, community or organization.
Finally, Ameinu is currently involved in a project to provide complimentary copies of the Oscar-nominated Israeli film, The Gatekeepers, to Rabbis and other Jewish leaders to facilitate dialog and advocacy supporting Israel, an end to the occupation of Palestinian territory and the creation of a Palestinian state living at peace with Israel. If you would like to nominate a leader to receive this vitally important documentary, along with a special Viewers Guide commissioned by Ameinu, please send the name, affiliation, address and email to us at Office@ameinu.net and we will follow up.
Once again, many thanks to the organizers and activists of JSpace Canada. I look forward to many years of work together with you building a strong North American Progressive Zionist Movement.
Progressive Zionism’s Call to Action
In the 100 days that I have been at Ameinu I have been deeply impressed with the energy and passion of the organization’s leadership — as well as activists around North America and partners in Israel — who see Ameinu as a profound expression of their Judaism. Particularly compelling for me is the forthright way that Ameinu, the embodiment of the Labor Zionist movement’s hundred year history, wrestles with— and seeks to live – its identity as Progressive Zionists in the 21stcentury. While not a simple bumper sticker message, Ameinu understands of the multiplicity of values, goals and connections that we have as Jews, North Americans and human beings and seeks to make vitally important contributions to our community.
Ameinu’s vision for the Jewish community resonates strongly with my own experience growing up in the Young Judea Zionist Youth Movement with rich family roots in Habonim and Pioneer Women. My future activism was in great part formed by what I learned in YJ and the peer leadership tradition of the movement. It guided my college work with the Brandeis Progressive Zionist Caucus, in the Soviet Jewry movement and ultimately as head of HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. Throughout, I have consistently sought out activist visions for Jewish life that merge an intense particularist concern for Israel and vulnerable Jewish communities with a universalist approach that fully embeds Jewish life within national and humanitarian values. Ameinu is such a place.
Clearly as Zionists we are devoted to the security of Israel and to helping build a peaceful and prosperous future for its citizens. Israel is the fulfillment of thousands of years of Jewish longing for a home and we Progressive Zionists have played a central role in helping to create the vibrant Jewish homeland we have today. It is because of this existential Jewish connection to Israel that Ameinu will never give up on the struggle for a just and secure peace between Israel, the Palestinians and all of her neighbors. We are driven by Herzl’s call to action “If you will it, it is no dream.” And we are inspired by Israeli Justice Minister and chief negotiator MK Tzipi Livni who said, “History is not made by cynics, but by realists who are not afraid.” Cynicism and hopelessness are luxuries that we as Zionists cannot afford – now or ever.
As Progressive Zionists, our movement cares about the quality of Israeli society, not just the mere fact that a Jewish state exists. Will Israel fulfill the idealistic promise of its Declaration of Establishment – with its commitment to equality for all its inhabitants – Jew and non-Jew alike? Progressive Zionists can’t simply pay lip-service to this idea, declaring that Israel must remain a Jewish and democratic state while taking actions that threaten Israeli democracy. If Israel is to be a just society, then both Israel and its ardent friends in the Diaspora must work together to ensure that the state treats minority populations equally with the Jewish majority, that the economically vulnerable have a strong social safety net and economic mobility to reach their full potential, that economic development proceeds in an environmentally sustainable manner, that Israel strives for leadership in global humanitarian responses to international crises, and so much more. For decades, Ameinu has stood and worked together with our Israeli partners to fulfill this vision of social and economic justice in the Jewish state.
But what does it fully mean to be “Progressive” Zionists living in the Diaspora? Can we ignore the moral and political state of our own societies and our global community arguing that we “must look out for Israel or no one will?” So often Jews remember the first portion of Rav Hillel’s lesson – “If I am not for myself, Who will be for me?” – but stop there and create a defensive and limited form of Judaism and Zionism that can only be sustained by perceived external threats. For me, Progressive Zionism fundamentally rejects this approach as intellectually and spiritually dishonest because it fails to incorporate Hillel’s universalist message, which continues, “But if I am for myself alone, What am I?”
What are we? We are Jewish labor activists who built the American labor movement. We are the mourners who grieved for the young Jewish and Italian immigrant women who died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911. We are the youth movement activists who traveled to WashingtonDC in 1963 to join Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the struggle against racial discrimination and poverty. And we are the Jews today who look at our religious and ethical tradition and see a deep identification with the stranger “because we were strangers in the land of Egypt,” a prohibition against “putting stumbling blocks before the blind,” an imperative to “not stand idly by the blood of our neighbor,” an understanding that “poverty is a violation of human dignity” and a call “justice, justice you shall pursue.”
So how can Ameinu and Progressive Zionists in North America and throughout the Jewish world fulfill the promise of our history and our values? I believe we must lead, organize and act to foster economic and social justice in our own countries and across the globe. We must fight dire poverty at home and abroad, promote a living wage and labor rights, provide a strong social safety net for the needy, welcome immigrants and protect refugees, promote civil and human rights, combat the epidemic of gun violence be true partisans of global peace, defend democracy and voting rights, compassionately and generously address humanitarian disasters, prevent genocide while caring for its victims and sustain the earth for future generations.
Should Ameinu see these activities as being in conflict with our identity as Zionists? Should we postpone working to improve our own societies and the world until we fully achieve our goal of a secure and democratic Jewish State? I believe the answer to both questions is a clear — no. We have an obligation as Progressive Zionists to develop partnerships within the Jewish community and with other progressives. We must identify resources to grow our advocacy capacity; create programs and opportunities to engage Jews of all ages (at home, in Israel and abroad) and develop advocacy relationships with the Jewish youth movements (Habonim Dror, Hashomer Hatzair, Young Judea and others) to help channel their passion and leadership into life-long identities as Progressive Zionist change-agents. And in the third part of Hillel’s maxim – “If not now, When?”
Ameinu is already moving forward to respond to these daunting challenges. We have briefly outlined an ambitious set of economic and social justice goals that will guide our advocacy in the weeks, months and years to come. [Watch this space for details on the goals and opportunity to join in advocating for justice.] Clearly a huge amount needs to be done and I welcome the chance to participate in a dialog with activists at home and abroad as we study, debate and organize together. I look forward to hearing from you – feel free to contact me at Gideon@Ameinu.net – to share your ideas on priorities and strategies to best reach our goals. Together, we can create our Progressive Zionist vision for the future.
L’shalom, and may we and the movement go from strength to strength.
Chief Executive Officer
114 W. 26th Street, Suite 1004
New York, NY10001
Recently, Howard English – a senior CIJA professional, participated in a program organized by JSpace, a progressive Zionist organization. Some were critical of CIJA’s participation in the program, given that JSpace opposes settlements. Although, to be clear, JSpace also condemns all boycotts of Israelis. I think it is important for our constituency to know where CIJA stands and why.
For thousands of years, the Jewish people have been distinguished by passionately diverse viewpoints. Multiple points of view and disputation about ideas strengthen us but, when disagreement descends into denigration of those who espouse competing opinions, we weaken ourselves and our ability to overcome our adversaries.
Unfortunately, in the current community climate, there’s a disturbing trend among some pro-Israel advocates to speak only among those whose positions are identical to their own. Little effort is made to engage with others – even when those individuals, sometimes disparaged or vilified for their alternative opinions, are also deeply devoted to a democratic, Jewish state of Israel.
So left-leaning Zionists who oppose Jewish settlements in the disputed territories are labeled as ‘enemies of Israel,’ or even ‘friends of terrorism,’ and pro-Israel advocates on the right are labeled ‘Palestinian oppressors.’
It may be more comfortable for us to engage only with those whose ideas we share but, if we are just talking to ourselves, who – beyond our cozy circle – is listening? How do we move from simply reiterating a view to influencing the views of others? Reinforcing our own viewpoints is a poor strategy if our goal is to shape the attitudes of others – both Jews and non-Jews – in Israel’s favour. We need broader, not narrower, coalitions of those who love a Jewish democratic Israel because the proponents of Israel’s demise leverage our disrespect for each other to achieve their own objectives.
That is why CIJA will work with any organization that is genuinely dedicated to a democratic, Jewish state of Israel, whether it’s on the left, right or centre of the political spectrum. That is why we will not work with anti-Zionist organizations or those denying the Jewish people a Jewish state. And that is why we deplore all boycotts of Israel and communities governed by Israel no matter where they are situated – because such boycotts discriminate against Jews, close rather than open opportunities for negotiation, impede the prospects for genuine peace, and are exploited by our adversaries.
The reality is that there are enough real enemies leading the assault against Israel’s right to exist without inventing new ones within our own community.
David Koschitzky is Chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA)
October 6th conference, For Israel’s Sake: Raising the voice of progressive Zionists in Canada, was energizing experience for over 160 people
Click here to see the entire program and speakers bio’s
Also check out the Up and Coming events by clicking here
On June 26 2013 JSpace Walked with Israel for UJA
WATCH for UPCOMING information on JSpaceCanada’s first national conference on October 6, 2013.
Event on January 24 2013:
COURAGEOUS CONVERSATIONS ~ ARAB JEWISH DIALOGUE
· How can Canadian Arabs and Jews meet to mend historic divides?
· How do we reduce conflict and improve understanding between our communities?
· How can we counter hatred and promote human rights for all here and in Israel?
These were the questions addressed at a joint event sponsored by JSpaceCanada and the Canadian Arab/Jewish Leadership Dialogue Group on Thursday, January 24.
Representatives of the Dialogue Group described their experiences over the past few years to an engaged and attentive audience at the Barbara Frum Library in north Toronto.
The panelists were Raja Khouri and Karen Mock, founders and co-chairs of the group, and longtime members Maurice Green and Jareer (Jerry) Khouri. The discussion was moderated by broadcaster Ralph Benmergui, who identifies as a Jew born in an Arab country (Morocco), and who is a recent member of the Dialogue Group.
Raja Khouri explained the dialogue group, founded in 2007, provides a model for the mainstream communities, emphasizing the importance of building relationships in order to work together for the common good. He told the gathering that what really instigated the concept was that our communities were becoming more and more polarized, and this was particularly manifested in conflicts on campuses. “Was this the best we can do as Canadians?” he asked. He decided there had to be a better way. “That’s when we began the dialogue and reaching out. The common ground was human rights, and recognizing the other’s narrative, lived experiences and legitimacy.”
Karen Mock added that the idea for dialogue group was born when she was chair of the Attorney General’s Hate Crimes Community Working Group in 2006. Raja Khouri, former President of the Canadian Arab Federation, and Bernie Farber, then Executive Director of the Canadian Jewish Congress, were both members of the Committee; and once they got to know each other better, they began to talk to each other to diffuse conflict situations between their two communities when they arose. Once they had a relationship, they didn’t try to resolve conflicts here in the media or by arguing publicly, but by working out practical resolutions to meet both groups’ needs.
“I approached Raja with the idea that we should start an Arab/Jewish group to have the ‘courageous conversations’, since Arabs and Palestinians were not coming to any of the other groups, such as Muslim Jewish dialogues or interfaith groups, blocked by the ‘elephant in the room’, the Middle East conflict,” said Mock. “We decided to see if we could put together a group with people who had credibility in both communities, but not officially representing any official organizations, to begin the journey.”
The members of the panel all spoke of the importance of being able to put themselves in each other’s place, but also described the difficulty in achieving understanding and respect for the other’s point of view. Raja Khouri told the audience, “There’s a perceived orthodoxy on each side; and any person who speaks outside the orthodoxy is endangering themselves. I’ve been attacked by some in my own community, as have Jewish members whose opinions don’t mirror the so-called mainstream. In terms of the honesty of the discussion, it takes a long time to get there, and it took us approximately two years to build the foundation of trust before branching out to others.”
Jareer Khouri said that most people in the Arab community believe the Jewish community is ‘monochromatic’ when it comes to Israel, and they need to know there is a range of opinions and behaviours and identities. For the Arab community to hear other voices is important, and the same is true for the other side.
Raja Khouri added that we have to move away from the impression that no criticism of Israeli policy is possible in the Jewish community, and we also dispel the impression that Arabs don’t criticize events and policies in the Arab world. Karen Mock added that the dialogue makes it clear that legitimate criticism of Israeli government policy is not antisemitic, at the same time clarifying the meaning of Zionism as Jewish self-determination.
Among the differences between the two communities are inevitable disagreements over the Israel-Palestine conflict. A good example of the impact of effective dialogue was their discussion of the tension and anger over calling Israel an ‘apartheid state’. Learning more about the rights of Arab citizens of Israel (eg to vote, to hold elected office, etc.), the Arab members agreed that Israel itself was not an apartheid state. However, after hearing the experiences of a Jewish member’s 40 minute trip down a super highway from Ben Gurion Airport to her apartment in Jerusalem, and an Arab member’s 2 ½ hour trip, including several demeaning checkpoints, the same day from the airport to visit his family in Ramallah, Jewish members agreed that in the West Bank, Arabs live an apartheid-like existence. So by being able to go to deeper levels of dialogue, terminology is changed and understanding is enhanced. Maurice Green said what comes out when you respect and trust each other is honest conversation through which people come to appreciate why you hold the views you do.
During a lively question and answer session, one audience member emphasized that action was better than talk. He advocated joint projects by people in the Arab and Jewish communities. “We have to do things side by side,” he said, “instead of face to face”. Maurice Green agreed, “If you get enough people together to benefit a third party, that is a way to start.” Members of the dialogue group then described some of the actions they have taken together, to walk the talk.
There was consensus among members of the audience that there should be more such opportunities for members of both communities to meet and have “courageous conversations”.
In conclusion, Karen Mock added “You have to go beyond tolerance to acceptance and respect. Our words are meaningless if we don’t work towards building an infrastructure for peace, starting with building relationships.”
Text: Harry Schachter and Karen Mock
Photos: NJ Weiner