Articles on SMPA and Israel-Palestine
News-Record of Maplewood and South Orange 9-10-09
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New Jersey Jewish News 9-22-05
"Mideast Clash Causing Rift Among Local Groups"
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New Jersey Jewish News 3-1-06
MetroWest News Story
Saying Mideast rhetoric clouds message,
activist urges outreach to fellow Jews
South Mountain Peace Action chair Paul Surovell says
the peace movement "has too long ceded ownership of
the flag to pro-war advocates."
Photo by Robert Wiener
by Robert Wiener
NJJN Staff Writer
A leader of New Jersey's peace movement called on fellow activists to moderate their language on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in order to draw more public support-- most notably from his fellow Jews-- for ending the war in Iraq.
Speaking at the Feb. 26 Sunday morning service at the Ethical Culture Society in Maplewood, Paul Surovell, chair of South Mountain Peace Action, urged his listeners to be vocal about "supporting the peacemakers in Israel and Palestine who are working for a two-state solution."
Surovell suggested that support for the antiwar movement can be broadened greatly by having activists distance themselves from the ANSWER Coalition, a national organization that, he said, "actually opposes the peace process" and "regards the state of Israel as illegitimate."
Surovell described ANSWER's stance as "a call for war, not a call for peace."
He also chided peace movement leaders who avoid taking a position on the issue for fear of being attacked as anti-Palestinian or anti-Israel.
Instead, Surovell said, his organization follows "the leadership of Jewish-American and Israeli Zionists and Palestinian nationalists in our support for a peaceful, nonviolent, and just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
A 2005 survey by the American Jewish Committee found that 70 percent of Jews polled disapproved of the war in Iraq, while 28 approved. Leading Jewish groups have been critical of some of the key organizers of antiwar activity, including ANSWER and United for Peace and Justice, which have organized rallies that include speakers who condemn Israel and do not condemn Palestinian terrorism.
Following his half-hour address, Surovell told NJ Jewish News he was "very upset with the movement for not getting behind the peace process" and suggested that people who "may find some groups reprehensible" should "express their feelings about the war in other ways" beyond joining antiwar organizations.
"Polls show that about 60 percent of the U.S. population thinks U.S. troops should be withdrawn from Iraq, but only about 15 percent believes they should be withdrawn immediately," said Surovell, a math teacher from Maplewood.
He suggested that people "chop off the word 'now' from the slogan 'Out of Iraq Now' and many more people will respond to us and more members of Congress will be voting to associate with us."
Brandishing an American flag as he stood behind the podium, Surovell suggested it be carried at rallies by antiwar activists.
"The peace movement has too long ceded ownership of the flag to pro-war advocates. Our country is supposed to be based on principles of freedom, equality, and, yes, peace. The fact that those in power are pursuing the opposite goals doesn't detract from what our country is supposed to stand for and what the flag is supposed to stand for," he said.
Surovell urged other peace groups to follow the SMPA's lead and take part in Memorial Day parades without politicizing the commemoration. His group marched under a banner that included only its name, in honor of the servicemen and women killed in war. "I assure you most peace groups would have objected, claiming that Memorial Day is about war, and war is about politics."
NEW JERSEY JEWISH NEWS 2-1-06
Local efforts seek pressure
on lawmakers to stop Iran
by Robert Wiener
NJJN Staff Writer
Paralleling international efforts to defuse a potential nuclear threat from the government of Iran, American-Jewish organizations are urgently mobilizing supporters and seeking non-Jewish allies in isolating the government of Prime Minister Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The local outreach effort arrives in New Jersey on Tuesday, Feb. 7, when Howard Kohr, executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and Benjamin Krasna, Israel's deputy consul general in New York, will make a joint address at Temple B'nai Abraham in Livingston. Their 7:30 p.m. appearance is billed as a "special briefing" ominously titled "The Point of No Return: Iran's Nuclear Ambition and What It Means to Israel." The event is sponsored jointly by the temple, AIPAC, and the Community Relations Committee of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ.
Elsewhere in the state, the regional chapter of the American Jewish Committee is gathering signatures from top leaders on a petition meant to pressure governments to isolate and ostracize Iran.
AJC is doing "a full-court press," said Allyson Gall, executive director of the AJC's NJ region. "We're going to be asking leaders to sign on to declarations and ads that say it is time for the world to address Iran. The international community really has to act now. It can't pretend any more that this isn't a serious threat. We are trying to ratchet up awareness in the community. If we want to do this without force, we have to get the Iranians to wake up. We have to rattle their cages. We've got to stop Iran now from the path that it's taking and draw attention to this immediate threat."
A similar call is being heard throughout the American-Jewish community. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations said it is receiving "encouraging responses from governments around the world in reply to our request" that nations shun "any official contact with President Ahmadinejad."
In Washington, AIPAC declared that "Iran must be referred to the UN Security Council now, before time runs out for the international community to prevent the world's leading sponsor of terrorism from developing nuclear weapons."
AJC's grassroots campaign is intended to reach beyond the Jewish community to enlist office holders, religious leaders, community organizations, and the antiwar movement to pressure governments to isolate and ostracize Iran.
The AJC's initiative began with full-page ads headlined "Never Again?" in The New York Times and International Herald-Tribune on Jan. 27, timed to coincide with the first United Nations observance of the International Day of Commemoration in memory of Holocaust victims, and the date Auschwitz was liberated in 1945.
Gall's deputy, Ferne Hassan, the AJC's NJ area assistant director, who is coordinating the committee's local efforts, will oversee the petition drive.
"This is where we have the opportunity to reach out to all the people we've built relationships with, independently or in coalitions, so that we can apprise them of who this man Ahmadinejad is and what his intentions are," said Hassan.
"We have to paint a picture of him beyond a Jewish prism. We need to establish him as someone who wants to bring his country back to the seventh century. We want to let people know just how dangerous he is and what he is saying and what he can potentially do.
"It is absolutely a broader issue than just his threat to Israel," said Hassan. "This man has visions beyond Israel. Israel is just an eyelash that he has to get out of his eye, and then he goes on to bigger and better things."
Insisting that her organization "is not calling for military action at all," Hassan said, "It is important to stop people like him in their tracks. We want to garner as much support as possible, to get better heads together to understand the seriousness of the situation. Something has to be done."
Acknowledging that Israel already has nuclear weapons, Hassan said, "Israel has never in its history exemplified itself as a country going out to conquer."
"If any country in the world ever needed nukes, Israel needs them. But I hope they will never use them," she said.
But a potential ally in the state's antiwar movement said that defusing the Iranian nuclear threat will be successful only if Israel gives up its nuclear weapons.
"Obviously, this man in Iran has to be dealt with," said Madelyn Hoffman, executive director of NJ Peace Action, who lived and studied in Israel.
"We need to step back and look at the big picture," she told NJJN. "What is going to be the best way without lighting the powder keg? As a peace movement, we would like everyone to disarm, and we would like the nuclear powers under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to do what they were supposed to do, which was to take genuine steps to disarm."
Insisting there is time for negotiations with Iran before it develops a nuclear weapons capability, Hoffman said, "A policy that doesn't include a strategy for eliminating nuclear weapons in the region ultimately is not going to be helpful."
But a fellow peace activist, Paul Surovell, who chairs South Mountain Peace Action in Maplewood, stands in partial disagreement with Hoffman.
"It is understandable that Israel has nuclear weapons and that India and Pakistan have them and that the United States has them," he told NJJN. "I would never want to approve of a country developing nuclear weapons, but the motivation for developing them is generally one of self-defense.
"What is motivating Iran is not Israel's nuclear weapons but the threat of an American invasion, and if that threat is removed, then I think Iran's threat of developing nuclear weapons will be diminished."
NEW JERSEY JEWISH NEWS 11-9-05
Jewish, Arab peace activists urge more aid to Palestinian Authority
by Robert Wiener
NJJN Staff Writer
Two local peace activists-- one Jewish and one Palestinian-- urged the Bush and Sharon administrations to help short-circuit terrorist attacks by helping the Palestinian Authority beef up its economy and security apparatus.
In a joint appearance Nov. 7 before South Mountain Peace Action, an anti-war organization based in Maplewood, Mark Rosenblum, founder and policy director of Americans for Peace Now, and Rafi Dajani, executive director of the American Task Force on Palestine, said they speak for mainstream Jews and Palestinians in the United States and the Middle East who favor serious negotiations and mutual concessions to bring about a two-state solution in the Middle East.
Leading off the far-reaching forum at the Maplewood Women's Club, Dajani said the election of Mahmoud Abbas as president of the Palestinian Authority, the ceasefire that has brought a relative calm after the height of the second Intifada, and the withdrawal of the Israeli presence from Gaza have "all failed to live up to their potential for kick-starting serious movements and progress towards peace and a two-state solution to the conflict, which a majority of Israelis and Palestinians favor."
Citing a recent public opinion poll, Dajani said a vast Palestinian majority "does not want a return to armed conflict and favors the disarming of Palestinian militant groups as part of a process of establishing law and order and a central authority."
But he noted that in Gaza "lawlessness is rampant and the Palestinian president is stuck," because the United States and Israel demand that Abbas tighten security. Abbas, meanwhile, "feels he cannot take action against militant groups without delivering something to his people."
Dajani said that "asking President Abbas to disarm his opponents without providing him the tools to do so and without giving him and his people a future sense of their independence in a viable state is neither realistic nor achievable."
Dajani also urged Israel to help revitalize the Palestinian economy by loosening its control of the West Bank and Gaza borders. "It is Hamas, and not Israel, that benefits from Palestinian poverty and frustration," he said.
Agreeing with much of Dajani's words, Rosenblum, a history professor at Queens College, said the Palestinians "need to feel it pays for them to be pragmatic, that it pays in economic terms, in security terms, in mobility terms."
Rosenblum said Abbas and his associates are "democratic doves, against armed struggle and against violence. But they have not an uphill but an up-mountain struggle. [The problem] is how to rein in the loose cannons after four suicide attacks that have occurred since the relative calm.
"Mahmoud Abbas must be prepared to be evaluated based on what his capacities are, and his capacities are quite feeble at the moment."
Rosenblum was also critical of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's declaration that he would not ease restrictions on Palestinian society and would stop official contact with the Palestinian Authority if the terrorist group Hamas were allowed to run in Palestinian elections.
"This is a fool's paradise," said Rosenblum. "The trick is to make demands of Mahmoud Abbas that are not within his capacity. Otherwise you are designing a test that any professor can design, [one] which he knows every one of his students will fail."
When a question-and-answer period began, a woman dressed in an orange sweater and baseball cap-- a color favored by those who opposed the dismantlement of the Jewish settlements in Gaza-- rose from the second row to defend Israel's security fence.
"I was there," she said. "I fought with these people. The wall is being built for security reasons, not to separate Israel from Palestine."
As Dajani rose to the podium, saying he wanted to respond, she said, "I'd like to hear your lies. Yes."
Others in the audience told her to be quiet, and, after a brief back-and-forth exchange, SMPA chair Paul Surovell invited Dajani to respond.
"The issue is not whether Israel has a right to build a barrier. The issue is where the barrier is being built," Dajani said. "You may not agree that it is being built in Palestinian land but the vast majority of the international community, a great segment of the Israeli public, and all Palestinians consider that Palestinian land. So the barrier is illegal to the extent it is being built on Palestinian land. Has it saved Israeli lives? No doubt. But in the long term, I believe, the more it is built on Palestinian land, the more it is going to breed the frustration and the anger that fuel the violence against Israelis."
"They should be thrown into the sea," the orange-clad woman said of the Palestinians, as she stormed out of the meeting.
Robert Wiener can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jewish Protesters Counter Anti-Israel Groups at D.C. Anti-war Rally
By Jennifer Siegel
Fri. Sep 30, 2005
WASHINGTON-- Dara Silverman was determined to take part in last weekend's massive anti-war rally in Washington, D.C. But the longtime liberal activist dreaded the idea of feeling "isolated and alone," as she had at past rallies when encountering pro-Palestinian supporters brandishing antisemitic slogans.
So this time around, Silverman, a leader of the New York-based Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, decided to hook up with some new allies.
"I'm planning on marching with the Buddhist contingent," Silverman told the Forward during a pre-march breakfast for Jewish protesters. "Buddhists can help make a container where there can be a little bit of a safer space."
For Jews like Silverman-- who oppose the war in Iraq and often criticize Israel, but also are committed to the existence of a Jewish state-- participating in the September 24 demonstration required compromise. The rally, which drew more than 100,000 people according to The Associated Press, was cosponsored by International Answer (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), a left-wing coalition dominated by a fringe Marxist group. Answer has raised Jewish ire by injecting vehemently anti-Israel sentiment into past anti-war demonstrations.
The rally's original sponsor, United for Peace and Justice, a coalition including more mainstream groups such as MoveOn.org, had promised Jewish activists that it would not join forces with Answer. But, several weeks before the event, leaders of United for Peace and Justice decided to share the bill with Answer, rather than have two separate, competing rallies.
The decision drew protests from left-wing Jewish organizations and upset some Jewish anti-war activists. But, as they marched at the September 24 event, many Jewish protesters argued that the importance of the anti-war message prevented them from sitting out the day-- and said that skipping the rally would have felt like a defeat.
"The worst thing is to be marginalized and be out of the process," said Manette Berlinger, an assistant professor at New York's Queensborough Community College who marched with the local chapter of her union, the American Federation of Teachers. "It creates more understanding to be here, than to stay away."
Still, Berlinger-- who called herself a longtime Zionist-- said the decision to march had been difficult. A close friend, who is also Jewish and against the war, stayed home, Berlinger said.
In response to Answer's involvement, Jewish groups organized several events designed both to create a sense of community and to serve as a counter-voice to the anti-Israel factions taking part in the main rally preceding the march.
Before the march, Silverman, of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, helped organize an informal breakfast of bagels and coffee in a Washington park that she estimated was attended by 150 Jewish protesters. Some attendees-- including members of Jewish Voice for Peace and the Labor Zionist youth group Habonim Dror-- left together to join up with the Buddhist marchers.
Across the street, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, a prominent leader of the Jewish Renewal movement and head of the Philadelphia-based Shalom Center, led a Shabbat morning service at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue that was organized as an alternative to an Answer-organized program of speakers near the National Mall. The Sabbath service drew several hundred people, most wearing sneakers and carrying backpacks. Waskow, who was dressed in purple with a rainbow-colored prayer shawl and matching yarmulke, bellowed out the Hebrew word for peace-- shalom-- each time it came up in the liturgy.
The keynote speaker at the prayer service, Rabbi Sid Schwarz, founder and president of Panim: The Institute for Jewish Leadership and Values, opened by declaring that the Sabbath service "represents Jews of conscience who refuse to sacrifice Israel or their Jewish self-respect on the altar of political correctness."
"We believe that the war being waged in Iraq is built on a pack of lies and half-truths, playing on the fears of Americans about international terrorism," Schwarz said. "But, at the same time, we cannot participate in a demonstration whose organizers perpetuate lies and accusations, just as outrageous, about the state of Israel."
By the time Waskow's service at the synagogue finished, the main march to the White House was underway. Participants trickled out to take part. Waskow was accompanied on the march by Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of the left-wing journal Tikkun, and nearly a dozen residents of Elat Chayyim, a Jewish spiritual retreat center near Woodstock, N.Y. Before the group set out, they formed a tight circle and sang the word "shalom."
"We feel so much that there are so many groups on the left that are cultivating an atmosphere of negativity and hostility and anger," said Jonathan Moss, a project coordinator at Elat Chayyim. "A spiritual perspective and a Jewish perspective can allow us to stand for what we believe in without demonizing the other. We're for peace, we're not against anything."
Others were less sanguine.
Paul Surovell, a member of the New Jersey-based South Mountain Peace Action, said he was "extremely resentful" that Answer had been allowed to cosponsor the main gathering. He spent the morning at a table he set up, selling anti-war T-shirts and distributing about 400 fliers outlining his organization's support for a two-state solution and its opposition to the Palestinian right of return to Israel. Surovell, who is Jewish, said the New Jersey peace group only recently decided to adopt a position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict-- after learning of Answer's involvement in the march. Without such a statement, Surovell said, it would have been hard for many members of his group to take part in a rally co-organized by a vehemently anti-Israel group like Answer.
"Our main purpose for being there was to protest the war in Iraq," Surovell said. The Israel issue "was a secondary concern, but it was an important one."
To be sure, some Jews who attended the march were among those making public criticisms of Israel. Allen Meyers, a veteran of Vietnam and Contra-era anti-war protests from the 1970s and 1980s, said that he was one of about 25 Jews who marched with a 200-person pro-Palestinian contingent. He took along several other members of his group, the Cambridge, Mass.-based group Visions for Peace and Justice in Israel/Palestine. Meyers said that the Jewish participants included those who support a Jewish state, as well as anti-Zionists. He said he was motivated to work for peace in the Middle East out of a sense of personal responsibility.
"What's happening in Darfur is the worst thing on the planet, but I don't feel personally responsible for it," Meyers said. "The United States is holding up the Israeli economy."
At the same time, he said, he supports the existence of a Jewish state, and had been upset by chants he had heard decrying Israel as a racist country.
Abby Okrent, 25, a law student who chairs the American University chapter of the Society for Justice in Palestine/Israel, also joined the Palestinian contingent and was less concerned about Israel's image at the rally. "If you get pissed off at Israel, you have a reason for it," she said. When asked if she supports the existence of a Jewish state, Okrent answered, "I don't have feelings about Israel one way or the other. It's on the ground reality."
Several of the speakers at the main rally condemned Israel and voiced support for the Palestinian cause. But in the wake of last weekend's march, even some of the protesters who had expressed concern about Answer's involvement said that pro-Palestinian activists proved to be less of a factor on the ground than they had been at previous anti-war rallies. Among those expressing relief was Silverman, who ended up marching with several labor unions after failing to find the Buddhist contingent.
"I definitely did not see as many" pro-Palestinian signs, Silverman said. "I didn't see any antisemitic signs."
In the end, she added, "a lot of the people were really supportive." Fri. Sep 30, 2005
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