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Annual Conference Report, 2004

Speaking Out & Being Effective, June 4-7, 2004, Washington, DC

1. Overview
2. Priority Actions
3. Steering Committee Elections

4. Notes from Presentations and Workshops
5. Outreach on the Hill
6. Evaluation


1. OVERVIEW

The U.S Campaign’s 3rd annual conference convened in Washington DC 4-7 June 2004, marking the 37th year of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Over 150 representatives of member groups from all over the U.S. traveled to DC to participate in two days of strategizing, networking, and information-sharing in the Jack Morton Auditorium of George Washington University. Special features of the 2004 Campaign conference included 

* The Friday night celebration of the life of Professor Edward W. Said, one of the Campaign’s founding members, focused on his contributions to the anti-apartheid and anti-racism movements;

* 11 delegate-led workshops where member groups exchanged experiences and skills in areas as diverse as fund-raising and challenging stereotypes;

* Caucuses, a reception, and screening of “Peace, Propaganda, and the Promised Land” at The Palestine Center; and

* A press conference on Monday to kick off the grassroots advocacy day on the Hill and a petition to Congress and State signed by 194 groups from across the US - one of many actions during a week-long, nationwide series of actions against the occupation.

The conference was co-hosted by the Islamic Alliance for Justice at George Washington University, a US Campaign member group, and participants warmly thanked the Alliance and its point person Maryam Sarafee for all their help in organizing the conference.

Participants gave the conference top marks on their evaluation forms (see section 6 for more detail), finding most valuable the case studies on media and activism and least valuable the format of the strategizing workshops. As one participant put it, “It exceeded my expectations. There were NO long, boring speeches. Virtually all the people were interesting and fun. There was optimism, no painful emotion, and very well organized – a very hands-on conference with a long view as well.”


2. PRIORITY ACTIONS & ORGANIZING TO ACHIEVE THEM

After exchanging organizing experience in panels and in workshops and discussing strategy in small groups on Saturday and Sunday, the conference convened in plenary to discuss and vote on priorities for the coming period. While the plenary was open to all participants, only official delegates (two per national organization and 1 per local chapter of a national organization) were entitled to vote. Delegates reaffirmed the US Campaign priorities established at earlier conferences: CAT, the Wall, and Divestment.

Delegates voted to add two new priorities for the Campaign’s national education and outreach work: dual occupations – drawing the parallels between Israel’s occupation of Palestine and the US occupation of Iraq and connecting more strongly to the anti-war effort (almost unanimous vote); and the right of return (a majority with 55 participants voting yes, 11 voting no, and 14 abstaining). It should be noted that neither decision involves a shift in the Campaign’s existing framework of human rights and international law. In particular, the Campaign has from its inception supported the Palestinian right of return. What has changed is that the Bush Administration in April 2004 explicitly rejected this right, thereby necessitating more proactive education and outreach on the part of the Campaign.

Thus, within its overall focus on US policies that sustain the occupation and its international law and human rights framework, the US Campaign will concentrate its national education and outreach efforts on five priorities

- The Wall
- CAT
- Divestment
- Right of return
- Dual occupations

These five priorities will also be reflected in the education and outreach work of member groups, taking into account their own local priorities, objectives and work plans.

Delegates then went on to discuss what mechanisms they needed to educate and reach out to promote US policies that end the occupation and uphold human rights for all, highlighting the five priority areas. They voted to establish new and uphold existing task forces and/or networks as follows:

- Legislative task force/congressional district coordinator network
- Media task force/media coordinator network
- Non-violent direct action task force
- Outreach task force – especially to churches, students, African Americans, labor, and Arab Americans
- Resources & information task force

The Steering Committee was tasked to identify conveners for the task forces/networks and contact the Campaign membership through the listserv to join them.


3. STEERING COMMITTEE ELECTIONS

The nominations process was launched on Saturday June 5th by the Nominations Committee, which was chaired by Chris Toensing, MERIP, and included Ceanna Stephens, Global Exchange; and Ali Assad, Pittsburgh Solidarity Committee. Four members of the Steering Committee stepped down: Geoff Hartman, Jeff Mendez, Roger Normand, and Ora Wise. Steering Committee co-chairs Phyllis Bennis and Nadia Hijab announced their intention to step down as co-chairs at the end of the conference, although they would remain on the Steering Committee to serve out their term. Nominations were accepted for the four vacant positions until 9pm on Saturday night, and the candidates introduced themselves briefly to the plenary on Sunday morning. Voting then took place until 2pm on Sunday.

However, the Nominations Committee decided it had no choice but to invalidate the first election that was conducted on Sunday, June 6: “The reason was this: we found in the ballot boxes a significantly greater number of ballots than were distributed to conference delegates, according to the records kept at the registration table. Several conference delegates approached us immediately before we closed the voting to request their ballots, but we had none to give them.” The vote was re-conducted on Sunday afternoon and the Elections Committee contacted member groups that had already returned home by fax and email to secure their vote. The results were announced by Committee Chair Chris Toensing in an email to the listserve on 9 June as follows:

Huwaida Arraf, Michigan Peace Team/International Solidarity Movement
Rania Awwad, Palestine Media Watch
Nisrin Elamin, Grassroots International
Mark Lance, SUSTAIN

The new members joined current Steering Committee members: Phyllis Bennis, Kathy Bergen, Zaha Hassan, Nadia Hijab, Nancy Murray, Ladan Sobhani, Damu Smith, and David Wildman.


4. NOTES FROM PRESENTATIONS AND WORKSHOPS

FRIDAY NIGHT, JUNE 4

The conference opened with a beautiful commemoration and celebration of Edward Said’s life and continued legacy at the New Bethel Baptist Church. Participants were welcomed by the Church’s Senior Minister, Rev. Walter Fauntroy, and speakers included Mariam C. Said, widow of Edward Said; Danny Glover, actor and human rights advocate; Jeanette Ndhlovu, Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Republic of South Africa; Bill Fletcher, President, Trans-Africa Forum; Andrew N. Rubin, Georgetown University and former research assistant to Professor Said; Damu Smith, founder of Black Voices for Peace; and Phyllis Bennis.

Mariam Said described how Edward’s political involvement had begun with the Viet Nam war, and the way he re-educated himself ideologically with the works of writers and thinkers whose works he used to interpret the Palestinian struggle. She quoted Edward’s words about the music project he established with Daniel Barenboim, “Separation between peoples is not a solution for any of the problems that divide peoples…. ignorance of the other provides no help whatever.”

Danny Glover and Jeanette Ndhlovu tied the struggles for peace and justice in the Middle East to struggles for justice in the African Diaspora past and present and to the need for continued and stronger solidarity between people around the world against militarism, economic exploitation and occupation.

Bill Fletcher recalled how during the 1980s the African National Congress and the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania were described as terrorist organizations, and how an unsuccessful move was made to split the anti-apartheid movement into “an acceptable movement and an unacceptable movement.” He urged the formation of an “organized constituency in the USA that embraces the Palestinian struggle as a struggle for national sovereignty and human rights … the moral center of the movement for global justice.” Such a constituency would need to be broad and should not be expected to have a very high level of unity as it struggled for the “recognition of the humanity of the Palestinian people and for the respect and actualization of their rights.” In this work, international links were key to success.

Andrew Rubin spoke of the “sustained force and widespread influence” of Edward Said’s thought and writing, and his extraordinary “talent at exposing the hypocrisies that are an inherent part of the prevailing way of which the world is mostly understood.” Indeed, he said, “with Edward’s death one of the greatest things I miss is not only a beloved friend and mentor, but also one of the most eloquent and strident voices of our time who allowed us how to imagine that someday, we shall be free from the coercive and dominative forms of knowledge and power that have been exercised at an extraordinary cost to the experience and lived realities of human beings.”

SATURDAY JUNE 5

Phyllis Bennis from the Institute for Policy Studies and co-chair of the US Campaign opened the conference on Saturday, by speaking about the teaching moments and opportunities that exist for us working around Israel/Palestine as support for the Bush administration’s occupation of Iraq diminishes.
The keynote speaker was Reverend Graylan Hagler of the Plymouth Congregational Church and National President, Ministers for Racial, Social, and Economic Justice, who gave a powerful speech, saying: “We get very afraid that we are going to alienate allies in the struggle when it comes to Palestine…we need to risk alienating those who consider themselves allies when it comes to justice.” He underscored the importance of letting the Palestinians themselves set the agenda for their cause.

The first panel was “Being Effective I: Case Studies in Successful Media and Political Activism”. Ahmed Bouzid of Palestine Media Watch (PMW) presented the successful campaign launched by PMW and the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), which flooded major newspaper op ed pages when Israel’s Apartheid Wall was brought to the International Court of Justice. For four months leading up to the case the ISM contacted major media sources and pushed for “balanced” coverage. The PMW provided for this “demand” by organizing and supplying the Op Eds that appeared in over 15 papers nationwide.

Martha Reese discussed the Committee for Just Peace in Israel and Palestine’s relationship with their congressional representative who was known for general liberal policies but an unapologetically pro-Israel stance. The committee met with him in 2002 and 2003, challenging monolithic representations of American Jewry as pro-Israel and Zionist. The success could be seen at an AIPAC conference where their representative was the most moderate congressional representative at a time when it is so politically dangerous to challenge hard line blind support for Israel. The Committee has organized events like “Walk for a Just Peace” to a counter a “Walk for Israel” event, and the support for these speaks to the growing dissent in the greater Chicago area.

Zaha Hassan of Americans United for Palestinian Human Rights spoke of the importance of addressing local party politicians to affect the DNC platform. She explained that at the local level politicians might be less likely to follow the democratic hard line of unapologetic support for Israel. In the summer of 2002 Americans United for Palestinian Human Rights brought a proposal to a local council condemning Israel’s human rights abuses and were given a time slot at the local meeting to explain the proposal. AUPHR decided to address Caterpillar and home demolitions to engage the audience on issues of US policy and Palestine. They found that by addressing local leaders they were able to more successfully reach politicians willing to listen to them. Though the state party did not allow them an opportunity to present, they held an alternative function with a large attendance. This opened discussion, educated people in the community and was a clear first step to opening these issues in the community.

The panel was followed by 11 delegate-led workshops on the following issues:

- Engaging the media, Alison Weir, If Americans Knew
- Outreach to labor unions, Jane Hunter, Coalition for Justice in Hawaiian Gardens and Jerusalem

- Organizing when our civil liberties are under attack, Nancy Murray, Boston Coalition for Palestinian Human Rights

- Grassroots fundraising, Stephanie Roth, Jewish Voice for Peace

- Getting involved in electoral work and establishing and working with political action committees, Gerald Merrill, Americans for a Palestinian State and Anne Rettenberg, ADC New York Chapter

- Conveying the Palestinian experience through mainstream television media, Rania Abu-Rish, Imagine-Life and Basil Ayish, Video for Peace

- Organizing a grassroots speaking tour, Michael Brown, Partners for Peace

- Developing education for action curricula for a just peace in Israel/Palestine, Nisrin Elamin, Grassroots International

- Unity or polarization? Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, Arab-bashing, Christian Zionism, religious McCarthyism, and other obstacles to organizing, Rachael Kamel, AFSC and the Philadelphia Jewish Peace Network

- Palestine and Apartheid: How we mobilized globally against apartheid in South Africa and what can we learn in mobilizing globally for justice for the people of Palestine, Dennis Brutus, Professor Emeritus, African Studies, University of Pittsburgh and Kate Daher, Pittsburgh Palestine Solidarity

- Uprooting Caterpillar Corporation from the Occupation – SUSTAIN (Stop US Tax-funded Aid to Israel Now!) and Jewish Voice for Peace

The next session was in plenary to receive the Annual Report. Nadia Hijab, US Campaign Co-chair, presented the report July 2003 – June 2004, which had been distributed in participants’ packets. She referred to the way in which the Campaign’s human rights and international law framework protected it from ideological disputes while providing a big tent for growing participation – in just three years the Campaign had grown from a handful of groups to 130 today.
The Campaign was also evolving the kind of institutional framework that would provide a channel for the work of member groups without in any way replacing their local and national efforts. It was fundraising more successfully and was in a position to increase from one to two full time staff. It had provided important resource materials and facilitated national actions. Points raised by participants in discussion included the need for program initiatives to mobilize people, ways to gauge the success of national actions, ongoing analysis of US policy, and fundraising.

The plenary then broke into seven groups for strategizing workshops to address questions of priorities and organizations. A note on “A Strategy for the New Period” by Phyllis Bennis and David Wildman had been included in conference packets.

The day concluded with a reception and caucuses at The Palestine Center, and the screening of “Peace, Propaganda, and the Promised Land” which was enthusiastically received by viewers. Several remarked that the Q&A session after the film with media expert Hussein Ibish – one of the film’s interviewees – could have continued all night.

SUNDAY JUNE 6
The day began with the panel “Being Effective II: Case Studies of Successful Divestment/Boycott & Campus Activism”. Haley Pollack of Oberlin Students for a Free Palestine (SFP), a recent graduate, explained SFP’s recent divestment success on campus. On Oberlin College’s past student senate referendum, a question written by SFP appeared, “Should Student Senate call on Oberlin College to put a block on investment in any companies that have contracts with the Israeli military?” The Oberlin College Student body responded 496 “yes” 494 “no” and 551 “abstain.” Because of the high number of abstentions the student senate decided to count the vote as a “vote of no results.” Though the vote was discounted, SFP views this vote as huge victory for its education efforts. She noted that while institutional unwillingness to disclose financial holdings inhibits activists’ abilities to give other students full information, it also provides opportunities to form coalitions nationally and within the college with groups on campus. She emphasized that students are an imperative part of the movement and need to continue to be integrated and included in organizations like the US Campaign.

Mark Lance of SUSTAIN underscored a main lesson of campus activism: “Don’t be afraid of being attacked – this is always an opportunity for education.” A major issue facing student activism is that students graduate and thus there is little continuity and institutional memory. The US Campaign needs to help student groups find a space to place their institutional memory – a liaison to campus movements and advisor for the next generation.

Angela Migally of the University of Pennsylvania Free Palestine Action Network noted that Palestine solidarity activists on campus have started to frame the debate over the past five years distinguishing themselves not as the pro-Palestinian response to Zionism but as a social justice group advocating for an indigenous people and serving social justice as opposed to a supremacist ideology. The divestment movement at Penn had asked that Penn create a committee to investigate its investment in light of human rights and they’ve done so; now student activists need to utilize the committee. Divestment should be part of a broad education effort that could include public debates and street theater, and that should have a simple message articulated throughout the year. Her advice for campus activism: sustainability is more important than volume of activities; root all action in solid notions of social justice; focus objectives.

Stephanie Roth of Jewish Voice for Peace spoke of the strides that have been made around the Caterpillar divestment campaign by buying shareholder stock and putting forward a resolution to investigate violations of CAT’s own code of conduct since Caterpillar bulldozers have been given to Israel through the US foreign military assistance program and have been used to destroy thousands of Palestinian homes. She noted that “shareholder activism” needs to be done in conjunction with mass mobilization and other strategies.

The outcome of the plenary strategy and implementation session has been described in Section 2. The rest of the day focused on training for the advocacy day on the Hill and a meeting of the Congressional District Coordinator network.

MONDAY JUNE 7

A press conference kicked off the advocacy day on Capitol Hill, at which a petition signed by 194 US Campaign member and non-member groups was delivered to Members of Congress. Speakers at the press conference included Lawrence Davidson, Faculty for Israel-Palestinian Peace; Sherif Fam, Boston Coalition for Palestinian Rights; Nadia Hijab, The Palestine Center; and David Wildman, United Methodists General Board of Global Ministries.


6. EVALUATION

The scores on the completed evaluation forms were as follows:

* The vast majority of respondents found the sessions very useful, for a total of 4.4 out of 5 (1 was lowest, 5 highest)
* The conference fulfilled the expectations of most participants; 4.3 out of 5.
* The location, organization & logistics were also broadly welcomed; 4.3 out of 5
* The conferees felt they had left with tools and actions to support their work; 4 out of 5

In their comments, participants highlighted some pluses, some minuses, and things to do better next time. The biggest pluses were the case studies presented on the media panel, with some participants citing especially those of Ahmed Bouzid and Martha Reese. Participants also found the case studies shared on the activism panel very useful.

Least valuable were the strategizing workshops on Saturday afternoon, with several participants commenting that facilitators had not been adequately briefed for their task.

The Friday night commemoration of Edward Said was especially appreciated by participants, “The Friday night program was EXCELLENT”. And there was great “networking, socializing at the Palestine Center” plus “good food, good atmosphere – lots of fun”

The Voter Guide was given a “5” – a “great tool” – and the T-shirts and conference packets were also warmly welcomed.

Things to do better next time:

“Good spaces but hard to move from building to building”

“Wanted more time sit around a table and share ideas with other activists”

“Workshops too jammed – be more selective and give more time”

“I did not know a lot of people here – I would really value activities that actively promote and facilitate meeting new people”

“David did a great job with the tough job of pushing things forward” – but how about “a different overall facilitator for second day – how about a woman? Arab? Young person?

“Would be good to have time for small group political discussion about US policy in the region, what’s old, what’s new etc”

“Rather than the question ‘Should media be a priority for the US Campaign’ ask ‘How could the US Campaign assist member orgs with media strategy’”

“Need for organizing sessions to implement campaign’s priorities and for regional sessions. Need campaign staff to meet with regions every 2 or 3 months if possible for help with media, strategies, issues, etc”

“Candidates for Steering Committee should have been given more time – and should have had bios on handouts for early applicants”

“Concerned about silent toleration of coded anti-Jewish comments, some evoking the discourse of the extreme right – eg ‘Congress being occupied territory.’ I appreciate the importance of maintaining unity, civility and strategic focus, but there needs to be some way to directly challenge these.”

“It would be good to give out a list of Campaign member groups and it would be good to get a report on numbers of people/groups at the conference”

“Would be helpful if there was one specific thing to do that we left with.”

“Campaign continuing to grow and mature” but still “lack of strategic programmatic leadership and how to support local participation”

Yet, all in all – “at last an opportunity for real discussion”