Report on the “A New Day” Conference

A portion of the attendees at "A New Day" conference, November 14, 2015

Hayat ImamMassachusetts Peace Action organized a conference on November 14, 2015 entitled “A New Day: Organizing to Change U.S. Policy on Israel and Palestine.” Attended by some 165 people representing all 9 Massachusetts Congressional districts, it offered participants both a strong information base, as well as the opportunity to organize by district. The convener of the conference was David Zackon, and the Mass Peace Action Palestine/Israel Working Group.

The conference was co-sponsored by Dorchester People for Peace, Grassroots International, Jewish Voice for Peace-Boston, United for Justice with Peace, Arlington UJP, Greater Boston Code Pink, Friends of Sabeel, North America, New England Chapter, Watertown Citizens for Peace, Justice and the Environment, North Shore Coalition for Peace and Justice, Tree of Life Educational Fund, Jewish Women for Justice in Israel/Palestine, Unitarian Universalist for Justice in the Middle East – Massachusetts Chapter, Palestine, Israel Task Team of First Church in Cambridge, Congregational, UCC, Cambridge Bethlehem People to People Project, Harvard Palestine Solidarity Committee, Merrimack Valley People for Peace, Harvard Kennedy School Palestine Caucus, and Boston Alliance for Water Justice.  

From the excellent introduction by Jeff Klein (“our weapons and our diplomatic shield protect Israel from accountability”) to the three powerful keynote speakers, the “A New Day” conference provided both food for thought and tools for creating organized pressure on our legislators. Just as Congress now feels it does not dare go against the Israel lobby, our goal is to make Congress feel it is a risk to go against our wishes! 

Rami Khouri, visiting scholar and fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, thinks we should take advantage of certain positive changes in peoples’ perceptions, especially in key communities such as Churches, youth and labor unions. He recommends focusing on three areas: ethics, context and logistics:

  • Capitalize on the US public’s bent towards fairness;
  • Show how the conditions in the Middle East are the last vestiges of colonialism still being practiced by Western outposts, leading to dangerous levels of tension that could be eased by ending Israel’s occupation of Palestine;
  • Insist that the US cannot be the right negotiator for peace talks unless it advocates for the security and rights of both parties, not just of Israel. Point to the success of the negotiations with Iran, where both parties compromised and both got their main points.

Nadia Ben-Youssef, human rights lawyer and advocate for the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel, thinks it may be strategic to build bridges with folks below the very top tier, who are harder to reach, concentrating on the media, think tanks, and those doing work in the community. Exposing Israel’s supremacist ideology can reach concerned people, students, people of color, building solidarity along the way. Another organization successfully reached even hard-bitten politicians by talking about the unconscionable way Israel treats young children. She recommends we look at the strategies of the organization called “No Way to Treat a Child” Campaign on the detention and treatment of children. Keeping in mind the context, as Rami Khouri said, we could present the terrible situation at present in Palestine in a pro-active way (not defensive) and put the issue to Congress in a “yes”/“no” way, so that even if we lose, we also win! If Congress people say no, it becomes a media moment!

M.J. Rosenberg, once an AIPAC employee who got disenchanted with their positions and became critical of Israel, now writes for Huffington Post and the Nation. He posits that the new generation of Jewish youth are not like their parents, so there is a chance to reach them. A difficult reality is that the Republicans can count on money from industry but Democrats are generally dependent on Jewish money. It seems 40% of money for politicians are bundled by AIPAC, making them hugely beholden to Israel’s dictates! But there are good signs. Among Jewish voters, only 4% vote for candidates based on the Israel/Palestine issue. Also lately, AIPAC’s number one goal was ‘war with Iran’, following Israel’s wishes, but Obama said no, pushed for the agreement with Iran, and the Democratic party stood with the President – not Netanyahu!

At the end of the day, the big achievement of the conference was formation of action groups based on Congressional Districts. Each group will independently organize to pressure their representatives on two recommended campaigns.

  • Resolution to Establish the Illegality of Settlements- The first campaign is to ask our representative to sponsor, or support, a resolution that ultimately brings back the language of the State Department in 1979: “the establishment of any Israeli Settlements in Occupied Palestine territory is inconsistent with international law.” Such a law would be a vehicle to address the injustice of the occupation and the illegality of settlements. In Massachusetts, our best bet is to ask Jim McGovern, Co-Chair of the congressional Human Rights Commission to introduce the resolution. Being realists, we know this will take patience, needs to be carefully calibrated and must build upon the progressive base throughout the Commonwealth.
  • The “Anti-Junket” Move -The second campaign is to challenge the trips to Israel made by our state and local officials and legislative staffers, with business-class flights and deluxe hotels, that are fully paid for by special interest groups. The aim of these trips is three-fold: first, to indoctrinate political leaders with a one-sided, uncritical view of Israel; second, Israel and its backers get payback from the legislators by agreeing to their demands, such as the State House Resolution last year supporting Israel, or demanding that Massachusetts assets be divested from firms doing business with Iran; third, these trips build a cozy relationship between Israeli business and institutions and our representative Massachusetts government, without any oversight by tax-payers. Examples of these are Israel’s trainings for our police (and subsequent militarization of the police), links with Israel’s water company that is draining water from Palestinian lands while denying Palestinians the right to dig wells. We will make a case that these paid trips are BRIBERY and, as such, they can be considered unethical behavior by our government officials.

The groups we have set up can do the work ourselves, organize delegations to our representatives, letters, op-eds, educational events and have an effect certainly. But we can magnify our impact by being organizers, instead of only being the workers! Each of us could organize five to ten others to do the work, give them training and support. Eventually, we could support our first ten to start organizing others themselves! This way we can really get the numbers out.