When the Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP) lobbies Congress to preserve $10 million in annual funding for people-to-people peace-building efforts in Israel/Palestine, they have one man to thank – Jerome M. Segal. In 1990, advocacy by The Jewish Peace Lobby, which Segal had founded a year prior, resulted in the first $100,000 earmark for what was then known as the Palestinian-Israeli Cooperation Project. The Lobby subsequently fought to retain and expand the program. The American Jewish Peace Archive shares his story.
Jerome grew up in the Bronx in a cooperative housing development, in a family that was active in the Yiddish oriented Workmen’s Circle, which emphasized Jewish values of community and social justice. His Israeli-Palestinian peace activism began in 1982 with an ad hoc grassroots peace group that opposed the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, later renamed Washington Area Jews for Israeli-Palestinian Peace (WAJIPP). In addition to serving as president of the Jewish Peace Lobby, he is a Research Scholar at the Department of Philosophy of the University of Maryland.
Here are a few snippets from my conversations with him.
The first delegation of Jewish organizations to meet with the PLO
[pullquote align=left]“…There was banging on our door. The unexpected visitor said, ‘You are meeting with Arafat in twenty minutes.’ “[/pullquote]“In June ’87, representing WAJIPP, I went to Tunis to meet with the PLO in what may have been the first delegation representing Jewish organizations. Hilda Silverman represented New Jewish Agenda, and Mary Appelman represented the American-Israel Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace. It was in a period in which the U.S. government would not engage with the PLO until it met three conditions: recognize Israel’s right to exist, accept UN Security Resolution 242, and renounce terrorism. We were very much aware that the PLO was eager to find a way to be viewed as legitimate, to have relations with the United States, and possibly with Israel.
“We had gone to bed after traveling all day, when there was banging on our door. The unexpected visitor said, ‘You are meeting with Arafat in twenty minutes.’ We threw on clothes, and got into a car. It zigzagged through Tunis as if trying to lose an imaginary car that was tailing us and brought us to a nondescript building. Without any security check – we were ushered into a room with Arafat and several of his top people.
“In conversations with Arafat and others, in addition to discussing the fundamentals of the conflict, we often found they wanted to talk about their personal life experiences so we could understand who they were. I was startled by their significant need to have us understand them on this level.”
On founding the first Jewish Middle East Peace Lobby in Washington, DC
[pullquote align=right]“We did the things that J Street is doing today, but in a totally different context…we were very much on the outside trying to give legitimacy to ideas that were viewed as very far-out.”[/pullquote]”Having previously worked on the Hill, I was relatively comfortable lobbying Congress and staggered that the Jewish peace movement had no lobby. The only American Jewish lobby was AIPAC. Various Jewish groups occasionally lobbied Congress together, but only for a day. I founded the Jewish Peace Lobby to create a permanent Jewish lobby in Washington.
“We did most of the things that J Street is doing today, but in a totally different context. We supported the two-state solution and negotiating with the PLO when it was still viewed as a terrorist organization. So, far from representing the mainstream American Jewish community, we were very much on the outside trying to give legitimacy to ideas that were viewed as very far-out.
“One of the first things that we proposed was that one percent of American economic aid to Israel — at that point 1.2 billion dollars a year — be set aside to promote cooperative projects between Israeli Jews and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. We believed this would make a big contribution to Israel’s actual security by promoting peace. Over time we succeeded in getting the State Department and Congress to support this idea and a small program was started. When it was cancelled, (amazingly during the Clinton Administration) we organized an interdenominational petition of American rabbis calling for its reinstatement. We obtained signatures from 1,000 rabbis.
[pullquote align=left]“Ultimately our proposal became a permanent component of Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.”[/pullquote]“Ultimately our proposal became a permanent component of Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts as well as a tool of U.S. foreign policy. Today the U.S. promotes such grassroots efforts around the globe, though the largest chunk of it remains for Israel-Palestine. Now called the Conflict Management and Mitigation Program, it’s currently funded at around ten million dollars a year, an amount similar to our 1989 proposal.”
On what peace activists might find useful today
“You have to be in it for the long term. You learn more as you go on, and you’ll be more useful and creative as time goes by. In order not to burn out, you need realistic expectations, as things do take time.
“Your peace activity has to be part of what makes your life meaningful. If you view it as some kind of contribution or sacrifice, it won’t be sustained. If you are in it for the long term, you may actually do some good.”
Other Posts in the Series:
- Rosalie Riechman Pressman: Israel-Palestine Peace Pioneer
- Voices from the Past: American Jewish Peace Activists Tell Their Stories