The First Decade: The Jewish Peace Movement 1970-77
This is the second installment of a 50-year timeline of American Jewish and Israeli peace activism since 1967 by the American Jewish Peace Archive (AJPA). I want to thank the many AJPA peace pioneers who generously shared their stories and longtime activist Hillel Schenker Co-Editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal, for his counsel on the Israeli peace movement. Read the first installment: Jewish Peace Movement Timeline 1967-69.
Cover photo of Arthur Waskow in February 1977 at the Breira National Conference. At the time, Waskow was a Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and board member of Breira. Photo credit: Bill Aron.
The Radical Zionist Alliance (RZA)
RZA was a grassroots, chapter-based organization, officially founded in 1970, that supported national self-determination for both Jews and Palestinians using frameworks from international liberation movements and early socialist Zionist ideologues. The group sought to unite civil rights and anti-war activists with leftists from the socialist Zionist youth groups Habonim Dror and Hashomer Hatzair. RZA placed great importance on debates with the anti-Zionist left. They spread their ideas through their newspaper Nitzotz (Spark). The RZA slogan, “Be a Revolutionary in Zion and a Zionist in the Revolution,” expressed the seriousness of their belief that emigration to Israel was the best means to change Israeli society and influence American Jewish consciousness. Their ideology was also their downfall. After many key leaders had made aliyah, RZA ceased functioning in 1972.
Search for Peace in the Middle East
In January 1970, the American and Canadian Friends Service Committee (AFSC) published the book, Search for Peace in the Middle East written by a predominantly Quaker team that also included Jewish academic Don Peretz. The book concluded that the rights and interests of both Israelis and Palestinians should be “recognized and reconciled on some just and peaceful basis.” The publication inspired American Jews who felt an affinity with pacifism to become involved in Middle East peace activism. In fact, Jews assumed leadership roles in Middle East peace work at the AFSC, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, (WILPF), and the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR).
First, the Israeli government must give forthright assurances on eventual withdrawal from occupied territories as part of an overall peace settlement and should attempt to refute accusations of further expansionist aims. Second, the Arab governments must declare their acceptance of the fact of Israel’s existence as a sovereign state and must make clear their willingness to live in a condition of non-belligerency with Israel. Third, the Big Four should declare their readiness to underwrite a peace settlement agreed upon by Israel, Jordan, and Egypt and negotiated in consultation with the Palestinian Arab.
Jewish Student Press Service (JSPS)
JSPS was founded in 1970 as a project of the North American Jewish Students’ Network, (referred to as “Network”). It provided student-written feature articles and distributed news for Jewish student and young adult publications in North America that addressed the political, social, and cultural issues gripping their generation in Israel and the Diaspora. Then rabbinical student Gerald Serotta created an Israel bureau of JSPS in 1971 and contributed articles whose topics included the Israeli left, the Black Panthers, the nascent Israeli peace movement, and the situation for Palestinians in the occupied territories. For many years, JSPS organized an annual meeting of student editors and a three-week seminar for journalists that provided important national networking opportunities.
Committee on New Alternatives in the Middle East (CONAME)
The Committee on New Alternatives in the Middle East (CONAME) was founded in 1970 by anti-war activists “to foster a national effort of full and creative dialogue on reconciliation and peace in the Middle East.” Founding director Allan Solomonow described it as “a forum and a resource for peace-seeking alternatives to the currently internecine status quo; we are the gadfly to the consciences of the resigned, of the apathetic, of those mired in propaganda and dogma.” To that end, the organization’s principal work was educational: disseminating articles, touring speakers, and organizing Middle East delegations to mitigate “the pervasive polarization of opinion that has characterized the Middle East crisis” and seek avenues to peace. The group’s membership was predominantly, though not exclusively, Jewish. CONAME joined the Fellowship of Reconciliation after the founding of Breira.
1970s US tours of Israeli & Palestinian dovesThroughout the 1970s, dovish Israelis and Palestinians toured the US in Jewish and secular venues, and whenever possible, held off the record meetings with mainstream Jewish leadership.The AFSC sponsored many of these tours and worked collaboratively to bring their voices to Jewish venues.
Israeli Jewish speakers who toured during the 1970s included: Uri Avnery, politician, journalist, and editor of HaOlam Hazeh, a political weekly magazine; Simha Flapan, historian, politician, and editor of New Outlook Middle East Monthly; Marcia Freedman, feminist and politician; Reuven Kaminer, writer and founder of Siah; Amos Kenan, writer and artist; Peretz Kidron, journalist; Meir Pa’il, retired colonel, politician, and military historian; Mattiyahu (Matti) Peled, retired Major General and scholar; David Shaham, editor of New Outlook Middle East Monthly.
The Israeli doves’ message often focused on the simultaneous opportunity for peace and urgent need to get out of the occupied territories and curtail the growth of the messianic Greater Israel movement. They encouraged American Jews to help get the U.S. government to press Israel to change course on the occupation with the analogy: “If you know a bus is running down hill and about to go over a cliff, you need somebody to put the foot on the brake.” They also encouraged American Jews to have a robust dialogue about the occupation akin to the contemporaneous debate in Israel. Some speakers encouraged American Jews to make aliyah and join the Israeli left.
Palestinians like journalists Raymonda Tawil and Jamil Hamad were sometimes paired with Israeli speakers. In 1971 the Jewish Peace Fellowship co-sponsored a tour of Four al-Asmar, the noted Palestinian Israeli writer and activist whose searing book, To Be An Arab In Israel, was published in 1975. He very well may have been the first Palestinian voice many American Jews had ever heard.
The Bush Is Burning!
Arthur Waskow’s book, The Bush Is Burning! Radical Judaism Faces the Pharaohs of the Modern Superstate presented a multi-issue response to current events from a perspective of prophetic Judaism. The chapter, Israel and Zion included the text from a sign-on statement, “The Liberation of Palestine and Israel,” that was printed as an ad in the July 1, 1971 New York Review of Books. The 33 predominantly Jewish signers included Barbara Bick, Noam Chomsky, Rabbi Arthur Green, Todd Gitlin, Abbie Hoffman, John Ruskay, Benjamin Spock, and Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf.
All the peoples of the Middle East are entitled to liberation — liberation from war, from the imperial designs of the great powers, from exploitation of their labor and resources, from oppression by neighboring peoples or oligarchic governments, from genocide. Liberation to determine their own destinies.
Israel cannot make a just peace with the governments of Jordan or Egypt or Syria or the Soviet Union, while she ignores the Palestinians. And the Palestinians cannot simply treat Israel as an extension of Western imperialism, for although the Israeli government has allied itself with the Western Empires, an Israeli people exists and they will not disappear, except through genocide…We have a stake in the survival and full liberation of the Israeli people. We have an equal stake in the survival and full liberation of the Palestinian people. And we have a stake in preventing the U.S. government and American corporations from pursuing business-imperial adventures in the Middle East: no matter which “side” they seem to support, the rulers of America pursue as their overriding aim the maximizing of their own power and profits they win there to increase their power over us..We call on Israel to announce at once that she accepts the full right of the Palestinian people to a state of their own where they now live…
Land of the Hart
Eretz Ha’tzvi by Aryeh (Lova) Eliav, former General Secretary of the Labor Party, was published in 1972 and translated into English in 1974 as Land of the Hart: Israelis, Arabs, the Territories, and a Vision for the Future.
We [Zionists] struggled for the right of self-determination of Jews and succeeded. How can we deny this right to others than to people who wish to see themselves as a nation? The Palestinian nation has a history of its own, wars, sacrifices, sufferings, and heroes of its own, poetic and literary express of its own. The Six Day War intensified the Palestinian Arab identity.
There is room in the land of the Twelve Tribes for the State of Israel and a Palestinian-Jordanian state. In exchange for a full and permanent peace we will waive implanting part of our historical rights in this Arab state.
Israeli dove on Capitol HillIn 1973, lobbyist Rosalie Riechman Pressman brought Meir Pa’il, an IDF colonel and dovish Moked Party Knesset Member, to meet with Senator Jim Abourezk (D-SD) on Capitol Hill. At what may have been the first pro-peace lobbying visit by an Israeli politician, Abourezk took out his guitar and the two politicians sang together.
Nine from dovish parties elected to KnessetIn the December 1973 Knesset elections, nine members were elected from parties with dovish platforms. The Moment for Citizens Rights Party (Ratz) Party won three seats; Moked won one seat, and The New Communist List (Rakach) won four seats. Lova Eliav, who was reelected on the Labor list, soon defected and established his own faction. In addition, individuals with dovish views were elected to the Knesset in the Mapam Party, the Independent Liberal Party, and the National Religious Party.
Abie Nathan launches peacenik pirate radioOn May 19, 1973, Abraham Jacob (Abie) Nathan launched Voice of Peace radio station, airing the first broadcast to the entire Middle East from a ship 25 kilometers from the cost of Israel. Nathan was a lifelong activist. He flew a plane to Egypt in 1966 to call for peace between Israel and Egypt, met with PLO representatives in the 1970s, and went on a hunger strike to protest Israeli settlements.
Iconic singers Pete Seeger and John Lennon are rumored to have donated money to the “Peace Ship,” which was the site of the station. It was the first in Israel to broadcast 24 hours a day, primarily in English, and included music and discussions of current affairs. The radio station broadcast continuously until November 1993, and was relaunched as an online station in 2009.
Breira: A Project of Concern in Israel-Diaspora RelationsBreira was launched in November 1973 by a working group composed largely of graduate students, who had met at a national gathering of the Havurah movement the prior Spring. Aiming to organize the Jewish center, their initial advisory group included prominent Reform and Conservative clergy.
Breira sought to open an urgently needed conversation on the role of the Diaspora community in relationship to Israel out of “love and respect for the people and the land of Israel as well as our understanding that the continuity of Jewish life in the Diaspora is inextricably linked to the existence of Israel.”
They also wanted to take advantage of the window of opportunity for territorial compromise following the 1967 War to establish the basis of what is now called the two-state solution. Their slogan expressed their sense of urgency: “Time is not on our side.”
Founding director, Robert (Bob) Loeb described Breira not as a peace group but rather “a Jewish organization…committed to the existence of the State of Israel.”
This commitment lies at the root of our criticisms of some Israeli policies which we believe are damaging to Israel’s long term interests and run counter to the aims of the Zionist movement…
The danger of erosion of support for Israel in the Diaspora lies not in our dissent, but in denying Diaspora Jewry any responsible role in defining Jewish interests, which include our interest in relation to Israel and to the countries in which we live. We must begin to define roles and institutional structures for World Jewry which are independent of the Israeli party system, democratically (and not financially) based, and committed to the highest ethical values of the Jewish tradition.
The group issued position papers on current events, sponsored speaking tours, and organized sign-on petitions. InterChange, Breira’s monthly publication, started in 1975, included writing by the foremost Jewish intellectuals of the time.
Breira’s work and the controversies that ensued generated extensive coverage in Jewish and mainstream media. The Jewish Defense League (JDL) infamously attacked the Breira National Conference in February 1977. The group closed it doors soon afterward amidst a combination of McCarthyite type attacks on its leadership and serious internal leadership and funding issues.
US Senate hearings on Middle East peaceOn July 31, 1975 Robert (Bob) Loeb, founding Executive Director of Breira, testified in a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs. He implied that a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires each of the parties to recognize the other’s right to “national self-determination.” He testified as an individual, not in his capacity as director of Breira, in perhaps the first Congressional testimony by a Jew on behalf of two states.
Israeli Council for Israel-Palestine Peace
Aryeh (Lova) Eliav, Uri Avnery, Dr. Yaa’kov Arnon, General Mattityahu (Mati) Peled, and Simcha Flapan were among those who founded the Israeli Council for Israel-Palestine Peace in December 1975. They published a Manifesto in 1976 in which they stated that Israel should challenge the PLO to make peace on the basis of withdrawal from the occupied territories and the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza with a shared Jerusalem. They also called on Israel to abolish all discriminatory laws and practices against Palestinian Israelis. The group ended in the mid-1990s.
Meetings of American Jewish leaders & PLO membersIn a supposedly off the record meeting on November 15, 1976 Washington DC-area activists Arthur Waskow and Rabbi Max Ticktin, Breira; Olya Margolin, National Council of Jewish Women; David Gorin, American Jewish Congress; and Herman Edelsberg, B’nai Brith, met with Dr. Issa Sartawi and Sabri Jiryis, both two state advocates from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leadership. When news of the meeting was leaked to the public, it raised a dispute among American Jewish organizations about the right of Americans to influence Israeli policy. There was also an off-the-record meeting organized by the AFSC between dovish PLO and American Jewish leaders in NYC.
American Jewish Courier for PeaceIn 1977, while working as the Director of Middle East Programs for the AFSC, Gail Pressberg agreed to serve as a courier between a PLO nationalist and a moderate Zionist member of Knesset. She delivered messages between Member of Knesset Mattityahu (Mati) Peled in Israel and PLO member Issam Sartawi in Paris (assassinated in 1983) and their associates including Yassir Arafat in Beirut, on behalf of the Israel Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace. The Israeli and Palestinian leaders were exploring the possibility of negotiations for an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel and a shift in the PLO position from one democratic, secular state to the two-state solution.
Two members of The Left Camp elected to KnessetIn the May 1977 Knesset elections, Sheli, a pro-peace party officially known as Makhaneh Smol LeYisrael (The Left Camp of Israel Party) was established, based on a a merger between Meir Pa’il’s Moked Party, Uri Avnery’s Haolam Hazeh-Koach Hadash Party, left mavericks from Labor (Eliav) and the Black Panthers (Marciano). Known by its acronym Sheli (Shalom L’Yisrael, Peace for Israel), the party won two seats on a platform that called withdrawal from the occupied territories, the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the abolishment of discrimination against Israeli Palestinians. The seats were held on a rotation basis by Uri Avnery, Lova Eliav, Meir Pa’il, Saadia Marciano, and Walid Haj Yahia.
20th Anniversary New Outlook Conference
In November, 1977, New Outlook, the Israeli Tel Aviv-based monthly devoted to Israeli and Middle Eastern affairs and the promotion of Israeli-Palestinian dialogue and peace, held its 20th anniversary conference in Tel Aviv, under the title “Can the Guns Fall Silent?”. Prominent Israelis like Abba Eban, Shulamit Aloni, Arieh (Lova) Eliav, Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek, Deputy Mayor Meron Benvenisti, Prof. Saul Friedlander, Prof. Shimon Shamir, Prof. Haim Ben-Shahar and others participated alongside international luminaries like Dr. Nahum Goldmann, former French Premier Pierre Mendes-France, American academics like Prof. Roger Fisher (Getting to Yes), Prof. Herbert Kelman (who had been organizing joint Israeli-Palestinian leadership workshops at Harvard since 1971), Lord Caradon (who drafted UNSC Resolution 242), and former American diplomats like George Ball and Amb. Dean Brown. Also participating were prominent Palestinians from the West Bank such as Anwar Nusseibeh, Aziz Shehedah, Raymonda Tawil, Elias Freij and Charles Shammas.
A greeting to the conference was read at the opening session from Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, the first ever public communication between an Arab leader and an Israeli organization.
President Sadat’s historic visit to Israel
On November 19, 1977, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat carried out his promise “to go to the ends of the earth, even to Jerusalem,” and arrived for his historic three day visit to Israel. During the visit, he addressed the Knesset, and met separately with all of the heads of the Knesset factions. The only civil society organization that he met with during the visit was a delegation from the New Outlook conference, which consisted of the editors of New Outlook, Dr. Nahum Goldmann, former French Premier Pierre Mendes-France, American-Jewish entrepreneur (Fabrege), philanthropist and activist Sam Rubin, Inge Lederer Gibel (President of Americans for Progressive Israel-API, forerunner of Partners for Progressive Israel) and others. At the meeting, he told Dr. Goldmann, “we finally get the chance to meet!” The historic visit was the first step that eventually led to the signing of the Camp David Agreement and peace between Israel and Egypt.