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Biweekly Column
Brookline TAB
Brookline, Massachusetts

Competing Middle East Stances
Confuse and Clarify

Dennis Fox

November 6, 2003

Brookline was well represented last weekend at Boston's Park Plaza Hotel, where activists from Brit Tzedek v'Shalom (Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace) organized for a peaceful future between Israel and a State of Palestine. Many conventioneers were mystified, though, when members of the New England Committee to Defend Palestine (NECDP) gathered across the street to denounce the meeting. Indeed, some on both sides wondered what the two groups disagreed about.

A few Brit Tzedek members crossed the street to scream back at chanting NECDP activists whose banners proclaimed Long Live the Intifada, listed Israeli war crimes, and defended the Palestinians' right to return to Israel.

More from Brit Tzedek, though, crossed Park Plaza to talk. When a pro-Palestine demonstrator explained he opposed the destruction of Palestinian homes, the Separation Wall keeping Palestinian farmers from their orchards, the expansion of West Bank settlements, a BT member nodded excitedly: "But we agree with you! This convention is filled with Jews who want to stop all that. We're on the same side!" The protestor listened, for a moment confused.

Digging further uncovered more fundamental disagreement.

Since its founding a year and a half ago, Brit Tzedek has grown nationally to some 14,000 members and formal supporters. It seeks what pollsters say a majority of Americans, and a majority of American Jews and Arabs, endorse: the end of Occupation, and a Palestinian state alongside Israel). BT criticizes more mainstream Jewish organizations -- especially the influential lobbying group American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) -- that support without question every Israeli action. Brit Tzedek and NECDP agree on one thing: AIPAC is part of the problem.

Many Brit Tzedek members are optimistic these days. Its two-state solution matches the goal of President Bush's road map (grudgingly accepted by the Israeli government and Palestine Authority), the earlier Clinton effort, and a new unofficial Geneva Accord negotiated by out-of-power Israeli and Palestinian political leaders. Meanwhile, Israeli Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon acknowledges that Israeli actions increase, rather than decrease, Palestinian attacks.

NECDP's goal is different: a single state from Mediterranean Sea to Jordan River. For NECDP, justice requires Israel to acknowledge responsibility for Palestinian dispersal and oppression and end not just the Occupation but a Jewish state that privileges Jews over Arabs. NECDP also points out that most two-state proposals leave Palestine militarily and economically subordinate to Israel.

One of NECDP's leaders is Amer Jubran, arrested by Brookline police in 2001 while protesting Israel Independence Day (the exaggerated case against him was eventually dismissed, though this Thursday the INS will try to deport him on equally flimsy grounds). Jubran told me, with evident anguish, that he knows Brit Tzedek includes "many good people." He understands what they want. "But," he added, "we are focused on justice. They are focused on the current reality. How can you forget justice?"

Inside the Park Plaza, answers to that question varied. For many, the two-state solution delivers justice. From their Israel-first standpoint, that's not surprising. Board member Danielle Luttenberg told me, "Our focus is on the future. The present is intolerable." (While we were talking, two BT members asked Luttenberg about the protestors outside: "Don't they know what we're about?" Luttenberg: "Yes, they do.")

Other BT members had a different take. One told me "Despite the official view, there is no purely 'just' solution. We have to do what will work." Another told a NECDP demonstrator: "We have to stop the Occupation. But I need Israel to exist." Her expression of need was honest, but -- as a response to demands for justice -- incomplete.

The reluctance to look backwards is not universal. Indeed, a few Brit Tzedek members do think a single state would be more just, and workable if it came about. But their organization keeps that possibility off the table.

If Middle East polls are right, a majority of both Israelis and Palestinians accept Brit Tzedek's approach. Yet I wonder if any solution can succeed that shunts aside NECDP's concerns. Inside the hotel, one BT member told another who was annoyed by the protest, "What can you do? It's America. But who listens to them? Who?"

Brit Tzedek and NECDP might discuss that question together.

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