This is the first installment of a 50-year timeline of American Jewish and Israeli peace activism since 1967 from the American Jewish Peace Archive (AJPA). Each entry begins with a background section summarizing major regional events during those years.
A special thanks to the many peace pioneers who shared their stories, enabling us to recount the long history of this movement for the first time. The Israeli entries were identified through AJPA interviews, Mordechai Bar-On’s book, In Pursuit of Peace: A History of the Israeli Peace Movement, and recommendations from longtime Israeli peace activist Hillel Schenker, Co-Editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal.
1967 – 69
On the fifth day of the 1967 War, journalist and politician Uri Avnery published an open letter to Prime Minister Levi Eshkol “calling upon him to make a dramatic gesture and offer the Palestinian people at once the opportunity to create an independent State of Palestine in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.” Avnery subsequently made “dozens of speeches in the Knesset” and wrote extensively “advocating the idea of a Palestinian state in the newly occupied territories.” To further this idea, he wrote Israel without Zionism: A Plan for Peace in the Middle East, published in 1968.
Rabbi and scholar Arthur Hertzberg recalls a speech by the first prime minister of Israel, in early July of 1967.
He warned his listeners against the euphoria that had swept the Jewish world in the aftermath of the Six Day War. Ben-Gurion insisted that all of the territories that had been captured had to be given back, very quickly, for holding on to them would distort, and might ultimately destroy, the Jewish state. He made only one exception of consequence: the Israelis should not relinquish control of the whole of Jerusalem.
Journalist I.F. Stone’s book review,”Holy War,” was published in the August 3, 1967 issue of the New York Review of Books. Stone was an investigative reporter, whose book, Underground to Palestine, was central in framing the narrative of Israel’s founding in the US. In the piece, Stone expressed concern for the plight of Palestinians newly under Israeli occupation, but maintained “a glimmer of hope” that “Zionist zeal and intelligence” might “transcend its essential self.”
For me the Arab problem is also the No. 1 Jewish problem. How we act toward the Arabs will determine what kind of people we become: either oppressors and racists in our turn like those from whom we have suffered, or a nobler race able to transcend the tribal xenophobias that afflict mankind.
Israel’s swift and extraordinary victories have suddenly transmuted this ideal from the realm of impractical sentiment to urgent necessity…While the UN proves impotent to settle the conflict and the Arab powers are unwilling to negotiate from a situation of weakness, Israel can to some degree determine its future by the way in which it treats its new Arab subjects or citizens…How they are treated will change the world’s picture of Israel and of Jewry, soften or intensify Arab anger, build a bridge to peace or make new war certain…
The renowned Israeli writer expressed serious concerns about the occupation in an August 22, 1967 letter to the Israeli newspaper Davar.
National Conference for New Politics
The Memorial Day 1967 conference in Chicago endeavored to unify the American Left in preparation for the 1968 presidential elections. Following criticism of a Black Caucus resolution condemning the 1967 “Zionist war of aggression,” the resolution was modified so that the condemnation applied only to the Israeli government and not Zionism in general. For some Jews; however, this incident began to raise questions about whether supporters of Jewish nationalism had a home on the American left, and whether such sweeping critiques of Zionism were anti-Semitic.
Si’ah, short for Smol Israeli Hadash or the new Israeli Left, was established in 1968 by anti-occupation leftist students in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Activist Ran Cohen described Si’ah in the New York Times.
We believe in the possibility of a peaceful settlement, which will give the Palestinians their inherent right to self-determination and will, at the same time, insure Israel’s security. We are also committed to the radical left – not in its Soviet perversion – but in its true meaning. Yet we are different from the New Left in the West. First, we, unlike them, have to insure our national existence. Secondly, our whole background and society are different from theirs. But we have things in common: a belief in direct action, a rejection of the old dogmatic left, a burning need to change the present reality.
The direct action group organized the first anti-settlement demonstration inside the occupied territories on March 24, 1970. The protesters were apprehended outside of Hebron by IDF troops and police. Their spokesperson called the settlement “pouring water on the fires of hatred” and described the movement for a greater Israel as “a danger to the security and existence of the state.”
The two branches separated in 1973 amidst differences between those who wanted to remain grassroots versus entering electoral politics. Those who favored the latter merged with others to form the Tchelet Adom (Blue and Red) movement, which ran as the Moked party in the 1973 post-Yom Kippur War elections. The head of the party, Colonel (Ret.) Dr. Meir Pa’il, one of the first Israelis to enter into dialogue with the PLO, was elected to the Knesset.
Movement for Peace and Security
A group of leading academics organized the Movement in response to the founding of the Movement for the Greater Land of Israel in July 1967. Their founding charter, released on July 1, 1968, calls for the government to “declare unequivocally that the State of Israel does not intend to annex territories, and adopts the principle of evaluating administered territories as a result of a peace agreement based upon agreed and secured boundaries.” They did not endorse the immediate evacuation of the territories but rather warned of the danger involved in unilateral annexation.
The movement’s activists, most of whom were members of mainstream political parties, attempted to influence the policies of the ruling Mapai (Labor) Party, through opinion pieces and paid ads, petition campaigns, and speaking engagements. They were critical of the Israeli government’s decision “not to decide” on a policy relative to the occupied territories. The impact of the movement had diminished by 1973.
“A Letter to All Good People”
In “A Letter to All Good People: To Fidel Castro, Sartre, Russell and All the Rest,” Israeli journalist Amos Kenan described Israelis’ sense of abandonment by the New Left following the 1967 War. The article, originally published in Yediot Aharonot in August 1968, was reprinted two months later in English in the magazine Midstream. Thousands of copies of the article were distributed on North American college campuses and it was widely discussed among young Jews on the left whose sympathies lay with Israel or who supported both Jewish and Palestinian self-determination.
Until quite recently, I also belonged to the Good People. Meaning that not only did I sit in cafes and sign petitions for the release of political prisoners in countries not my own, not only did I join proclamations, after sipping my aperitif, for the release of the downtrodden from the yoke of imperialism in places I shall never reach; I also did something against what seemed to me to be oppression and injustice in my own country…
What can I do if Russia, China, Vietnam, India, Yugoslavia, Sartre, Russell, Castro, have all decided that I am made all of a piece?…The only ones who are prepared to defend me, for reasons I don’t like at all, are the Americans….You are flinging me towards America, the bastion of democracy and the murderer of Vietnam, who tramples the downtrodden peoples and spares my life, who oppresses the Negroes and supplies me with arms to save myself. You leave me no other alternative….
In April 1968, Leibowitz, an Israeli public intellectual and polymath, had his essay “The Territories” about the existential threat posed by the occupation, published in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot.
In the absence of peace there is no security, and no geographic-strategic settlement on the land can chance this. There is no direct link between security and the territories…A state ruling a hostile population of 1.5 to 2 million foreigners would necessarily become a secret-police state, with all that this implies for education, free speech, and democratic institutions…
The administration would have to suppress Arab insurgency on the one hand and acquire Arab Quislings on the other…Out of concern for the Jewish people and its state we have no choice but to withdraw from the territories and their population of one and a half million Arabs…
As for the “religious” arguments for the annexation of the territories-these are only an expression, subconsciously or perhaps even overtly hypocritical, of the transformation of the Jewish religion into a camouflage for Israeli nationalism.
NESS – The first Israeli Peace Party
Symposium: “Inevitable War or Initiatives for Peace”
American Jewish Student and Youth Movement
This two-decade movement (sometimes called the Jewish counterculture movement), began on college campuses and in young adult communities throughout North America right after the 1967 War, initially by those on the left who wanted to reconcile their concern for Israel with their leftist identity. It expanded after receiving some financial and logistical support from the North American Jewish Students’ Network (Network), founded in 1969 as an affiliate of the World Union of Jewish Students.
The movement addressed a range of contemporary issues through the lens of Jewishness among a generation whose ideologies were predominantly liberal and left. The various groups combined political activism, study groups, and consciousness-raising (also called awareness training). Israel and its role in the Middle East and ethnic/religious nationalism were among the issues with which they engaged. Other issues included racial justice, opposition to the Vietnam War, women’s and gay rights, freedom for Soviet Jewry, meaningful Jewish youth education, assimilation, anti-Semitism and spiritual renewal through independent havurot (prayer communities).