Conference of OrganizersChicago 1-2 June 2002
The U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation was formed during the spring and summer of 2001, when groups of activists met in New York and Washington DC to address the U.S. role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In October 2001, participants in these meetings adopted a Call to Action as the basis for the Campaign, within the framework of international law and human rights. The Campaign purpose is to change U.S. policies that support the Israeli occupation of Palestine to policies that promote an end to occupation and equal rights for all.
An Interim Organizing Committee followed up on the initiative. It convened a workshop in January 2002 to design a long-term education program, and held discussions on ways to challenge U.S. military aid to Israel while the occupation continued. A sub-committee undertook the task of convening the first Organizers' Conference for the Campaign. The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), one of the first organizations to endorse the Campaign, offered logistical support to the Organizers' Conference through its network of offices.
Over 100 organizers met in Chicago 1-2 June in response to an invitation to help shape the Campaign and agree a course of action for the immediate future. The meeting was truly nationwide: of the participants, 35% were from the Midwest, 28% from the East coast, 18% from the West coast, 9% from the South, 6% from the Northeast, and 4% from the Southwest.
The conference agenda was structured to set the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a global context; provide an overview of the mechanisms through which the U.S. effectively perpetuates occupation; discuss the legal and human rights challenges that could be mounted; learn lessons from existing activities so as to build for the future; look at ways to build alliances across constituencies; and adopt mandates that the conferees could take back (program attached).
Three task forces were formed: corporate campaigns, Congressional action, and national mobilizations. Groups also discussed media as well as fund-raising, and participants signed up to work on resources as well as on outreach.
1) Corporate Campaigns Task Force
Jerry Silberman and John Bagley facilitated group discussion, which focused on three main ideas: divestment campaigns (i.e., getting institutional investors, such as colleges, municipalities, pension funds, to sell stock in companies which either do business in the Occupied Territories or profit from the occupation through their business with Israel); consumer boycott of corporations doing business in Israel or Occupied Territories (e.g. Proctor & Gamble and Estee Lauder); and targeting particular corporations doing business with Israel. The first two options were seen as either beyond the Campaign's scope at present or not contributing directly to Campaign goals of educating Americans about the occupation and changing US policy. The third option was adopted, and discussion focused on Lockheed and Caterpillar.
- Lockheed is the largest US military producer, both for domestic and international consumption. This is its primary business, far exceeding its civilian aircraft and its new role as a welfare administrator. It is already the target of numerous social justice campaigns and organizations, and has extensive installations in many states, making it easy to involve people as well as offering the possibility of broad coalition work. AFSC is working on a project targeted at Lockheed for the next year, and Rahul Mahajan, who is standing as candidate for Texas governor on the Green Party ticket, is prepared to make their activities an issue (see www.southernstudies.org "missiles and magnolias"). The primacy of arms sales within Lockheed's overall production makes it a most appropriate but simultaneously difficult target, because it has little room to move into other business lines in response to public pressure. Lockheed took over the international weapons business from GE, when GE was pressured to divest by the peace movement.
- Caterpillar is the world's largest manufacturer of heavy-duty earthmoving and construction equipment, hence its role as supplier of the bulldozers used in Israeli aggression and house demolition. It is not a weapons manufacturer per se, and Israeli business is not central to the company's financial success. Caterpillar has name recognition and its equipment is very widely used by agricultural producers in the U.S. as well as all levels of government for highway construction, maintenance, etc. Our gasoline taxes form a significant part of Cat's income. Several groups, including the End the Occupation Coalition (represented in the Task Force by John Bagley and Mary Romero) have already challenged Caterpillar, and Martha Reese has produced a very useful high quality brochure on this subject. SUSTAIN, the National Lawyers Guild, and Pax Christi have also done some work already on Cat.
Both Lockheed and Caterpillar are highly unionized, although Caterpillar was subject of a long strike and has had bitter relations over several years with the UAW at its primary plant in Peoria. The Task Force will continue discussions about how to involve the unions in the Campaign and minimize the potential negative impact on the workers.
Next Steps: Interim Task Force convenors and participants will spread word of these decisions to all their contacts and undertake a review of existing efforts. Roger Normand agreed to initiate an e-discussion group. Jeff Smith said he had the capability to produce video spots. Anthony Arnove suggested writing a Znet commentary on this element of the US Campaign. Rahul Mahajan will contact Texas Green party to take up this issue in their electoral campaign.
2) Congress/Administration/Government Task Force
This Task Force began by discussing several ideas:
- Approaching local city councils and putting an end to the occupation on the ballot - this has been tried by local activists and it serves the purpose of mobilizing people;
- Raising the issue of military aid at the November elections;
- Focusing on the issue of international protection, given the emergency situation in which Palestinians live;
- Coordinating with the work of the ISM - it is very effective when a member of congress talks to one of their own constituents;
- Lobbying Congress to eliminate aid used for settlements;
- Going for a non-binding resolution to support an end to occupation and end to settlements - this would be a good tactic to mobilize support and commitment;
- The National Lawyers' Guild is developing a legal theory that sending weapons to a country engaging in human rights violations means aiding and abetting those violations.
Several participants raised the need for a network with a focal point in Washington to keep groups informed so that they could act when issues came up. Josh Ruebner put forward a proposal for a "hub-and-spoke system" for relations between activists in districts and in DC. This would enable local activists to approach their members of congress in their districts from a more effective position linked to a national campaign.
Carl LeVan proposed identifying clearer goals for the task force, which should decide whether the aim is to build consciousness, in which case it should work on a non-binding resolution on military aid; or to forge alliances; or to go for a "wedge issue". An example of a wedge issue is the land mine campaign, or the gun control lobby (which focused on assault weapons). In the case of the Campaign, a wedge issue could be a focus on Apache helicopters. There are also several alternatives to cutting aid across the board - e.g. getting a decision that no aid is possible until the president certifies it is not going to settlements.
After extensive discussion, the participants decided to focus both on challenging U.S. military aid to Israel and challenging the pattern of U.S. vetoes in the U.N. that prevents international protection for the Palestinian people. "Stop Military Aid - International Protection Now". This enables a negative as well as a positive action, and makes it possible to link with many efforts.
Next Steps Josh offered to commit time and effort to setting up a locus for a network based in Washington. George Naggiar offered to assist. Khaled Turaani will collaborate on this effort. Geoff Hartman will assist re the website. They will draft a resolution that can be used to get local areas to actively build relations with their members of congress in their districts. Linda Frank will share the list of US vetoes of international protection. Andy Silver will share his network of 50 congressional districts. Nadia will write up a fact sheet on the Campaign that can be used by local activists.
3) National Mobilizations Task Force
After much discussion, the group put forth the following ideas:
- Instead of one centralized action, we will organize monthly activities that groups and individuals around the country can do at a local level.
- There are key sectors in the US that need to be mobilized: African American, Latino, white working class, unions. These groups are natural allies, but it will take time to educate and mobilize them. We need to target the leaders in each of these communities.
- What are the key cities we need to concentrate our efforts in? Why these cities?
Cindy Levitt proposed a list of dates and activities as a place to begin educating and mobilizing, culminating in June and the 36th anniversary of occupation:
September - teach-ins
October - elected officials
November - house parties
December - holidays
January - drama, storytelling
February - check points in cities
March - Delegation to Israel-Palestine
April - Tax Day
May - teach-ins
June - end the occupation
Next Steps: The Task Force will discuss and decide on dates as well as activities, and mobilizations to be undertaken on those dates.
* * *
In addition to the task forces, two groups met on the media, and on fund-raising. Several participants who sat in on the task forces also signed up for these two committees, as well as for a committee for resources, expressing their interest in working on these areas after the Chicago conference.
Carl Schieren and John Usher met on fundraising (other participants have also signed on to be part of this group), and discussed possible areas for Campaign fundraising: foundations, individuals, corporations, and foreign donations. Foundations will likely want to make specific project grants, but partial support of core expenses is possible. Small grants from small, family foundations and large support from major foundations working in peace and human rights are most likely. Re individuals, successful members of the Arab-American business community are logical sources, and there should also be strong potential for support among wealthy Jewish leaders who feel that ending the occupation is an essential step towards peace and in the best long-term interest of Israel, the United States and the Palestinians. Consideration could also be given to suggesting individual contributions of $100 annually or more for five years rather than the $20 minimum currently suggested.
Some corporations, such as oil companies or others like Intel with major investments in Israel, may wish to support the campaign, on the basis that ending the occupation will be in their long-term business interests. It might also be possible to approach foreign donor governments: Norway (convenor of the Oslo process), Japan (wants to be increasingly engaged) and Saudi Arabia (launched the Saudi initiative), for example have particular reasons to welcome the campaign, assuming there is no legal or political objection to soliciting their support.
Next steps The group will review the existing fund-raising proposal to suggest specific fundraising goals and revised proposals. Carl to research Foundation Center for foundations that might support campaign. John to make contacts in San Francisco as discussed. Carl to explore Norwegians and he and Roger to explore idea of Jewish sources. It was also suggested to send conference participants names of 20 foundations to ask for staff/board members they may know.
Bob Jensen, Janice Hayden, and Chris Toensing discussed what various groups around the country are already doing re the media, and where efforts could be combined. For example, the Boston Coalition for Palestinian Rights has an extensive media and media watch operation and others are likely doing similar things. The group discussed the possibility of setting up an email discussion list for interested folks, and using the campaign web site to share information about the media. For example, when people write op/eds for local markets, we could post those and encourage others to download them and modify them for submission to local papers. One question that obviously will affect local media work is whether the Campaign has the funds to hire a national media coordinator. Bob Jensen later agreed to serve as convenor for the media listserve, beginning with a discussion about what media work the Campaign should do to avoid duplicating others' efforts.
The Campaign's Interim Organizing Committee circulated two background papers at the conference: "Ideas for Mechanisms for Ongoing Coordination" and "Ideas for Campaign Strategy and Workplan". In terms of structure, the Interim Committee proposed the following: a Campaign Steering Committee, on which members would serve in an individual capacity; a Committee of Local Organizations, to which each organization signing on to the Campaign would name a delegate; and a Campaign Coordinator. The note set out proposed responsibilities for each group. Participants were encouraged to give comments and feedback on structure both at the conference and during the two-week period following the conference. If no major changes were put forth, then the proposed structure would be adopted. As regards ideas for campaign strategy and workplan, these would be discussed and refined by the task forces and working groups on 2 June.
Mahmood Mamdani, Herbert Lehman Professor of Government, and Director, Institute of African Studies at Columbia University, spoke of a return to the colonial period, with the world once again divided into two. Where the rule of law applies, individuals are held responsible for their actions; where it does not, communities are held responsible for individual actions. "We are on the threshold of a people's movement against terror, against global terror - against terror in all its forms, state terrorism or societal terror - whatever the language it uses, religious or secular. I am here because I feel the core of that global movement will be the movement against colonial occupation in Palestine and for full human and people's rights in Israel".
Dr. Mamdani addressed the lessons learned from the "experience of the last intractable problem the world faced: apartheid South Africa". Like Israel, apartheid South Africa claimed that it was the only functioning democracy in the region (it was a social democracy for whites, and a colonial power for Blacks), and the apartheid regime was elected with a greater majority at each successive election. Today, there are two starkly different models. In Israel, power is the prerequisite for survival, while in South Africa, giving up the monopoly of power may be a better guarantee of survival.
Some of the lessons of the South African experience are relevant. The struggle against apartheid was a constant, ongoing debate: there was armed propaganda, but no armed struggle. Like the first intifadah, Soweto was a struggle waged with no more than stones. The form of struggle made possible the organization of the broadest possible front. The key debate was: who to organize and who was the enemy. The answer to this question provided the dividing line between two kinds of nationalism: conservative nationalism, a mirror image of the ideology of the settler state; and militant nationalism, which refused to accept that mirror image. At Steve Biko put it, black is an experience, not a color - everyone oppressed by white power is black. The point is that the enemy is not a people, but a political ideology, a form of the state. The opening claim of the Freedom Charter is that South Africa belongs to all those who live in it: not white supremacy, but equal rights for all. Is it not time to say that Israel, like Palestine, must also belong to all those who live in it?
Carl LeVan presented an overview of issues related to lobbying congress. Successful lobbying included: provide resources to staffers - money, votes, and expertise (as well as information). Internal pressures on Congress members include: party positions, caucuses (issues-oriented and held once a week), Party whips, campaign committees (which pick the candidates). External pressures include the constituents - both numbers and organizations, with ethnic lobbies most effective (this is of most concern for junior members) - and money.
Naseer Aruri, Judith Chomsky and Nadia Hijab discussed the legal and human rights framework for the Campaign. Naseer Aruri briefly reviewed US policy over the past five decades. Judith Chomsky noted that Israel was not being held to a special standard, but rather to the same standards established for all in the Geneva conventions. The occupation itself was unlawful. The attacks on Israel did not justify violations of international law by the Israeli state. Nadia Hijab described how the framework of international law and human rights could be used in framing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the reasons why such a presentation is particularly useful in the kind of long-term education program envisaged by the Campaign.
In the final panel of the day, Marc Ellis, Samih Farsoun and David Wildman dealt with the challenges for long-term alliance building and cross-constituency work.
Marc Ellis argued for a change in perspective. Due to the facts on the ground, including the fact that Israel has conquered all of Palestine, there was not likely to be an end to occupation or a fully sovereign Palestinian state in his lifetime. He spoke of the religious and political ecumenical narrative of support for Israel in the US which has proved too strong to change, and the way Israeli leadership have since 1967 essentially agreed on a final status involving no more than Palestinian autonomy.
Asking "What is to be done", he argued that there was a need to break with the past - dissenting Jews and Christians courting their particular communities by demonstrating their credentials as Jews and Christians - and to reach out to anyone who can help in the mission to reverse the logical outcome of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, regardless of background or political affiliation. He noted that establishing credentials for criticism is the beginning of the end of political thought. Mobilization for justice and peace in the Middle East is a form of resistance to injustice; it needs goals and announced objectives, and a broad audience that can be influenced to act. The situation on Israel/Palestine counsels a truth-telling which, even though it might not bring success in the short term, provides the possibility for an alternative sensibility to emerge.
Samih Farsoun, of the Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine, discussed the undercurrents of demonization of Arabs and Muslims in the US. The political context in which we see the tragic events of Sept. 11, played on a stage that already has shifted to the right. The 19th century imperial conquests had a lot to do with anti-third world, anti-black movements. The notion of the self versus the other predominates in terms of US attitude towards Islam and the Arab world: the self is good, the other is evil. It is a discourse that is essentialist, reductionist, ahistorical and decontextual. We need to educate to overcome ignorance of American foreign policy and foreign action, and to talk about America's role in expanding and promoting political and radical Islam, within the framework of human rights and international law.
David Wildman, of the General Board of Global ministries, United Methodist Church, described six dangers: being so forward looking that we ignore the past (for example, the US government approached the World Conference against Racism with a forward looking strategy); having the past confine and define our struggle today; being stuck between state theology and church theology; demonizing the other, particularly the Muslim community; the danger of state theology, and Christian fundamentalists who use the language of human rights to defend Christians from persecution and in the process demonize Islam. We have a job to do in confronting this crass manipulation that suggests that human rights and international law only apply to one faith. He listed 12 "deadly sins", which included: being too balanced - hearing both sides without recognizing power imbalances; diminished expectations, or self-censorship; the right to remain silent is exercised far too often by churches; accepting guilt but not responsibility; seeing dialogue as a goal (the problem with the Oslo accords); conflict avoidance so as not to upset anyone; one more meeting and one more educational conference will mobilize everyone who needs to be mobilized; bad interfaith (is having 20 Christians, 3 Rabbis and 1 Imam interfaith?)
In discussion after this panel, several participants made the point that there was a need to acknowledge failure but not in the sense of defeat rather in order to move forward. One participant recalled that the US army had never lost a battle in Vietnam but it did lose the war. There had been a succession of defeats in South Africa before victory. In some ways, things were more hopeful in that more people were speaking out in much clearer terms than ever. Many college students are mobilizing on this issue.
Working Group Discussions
Two hours were set aside in the afternoon of 1 June for working groups to address the question "What have we been doing?" in order to learn from experience in building for the future. Each group had two facilitators with extensive experience of local organizing in different parts of the U.S. This section summarizes some of the points made by participants.
A. Organizing Across Religious Lines
Among the achievements cited were the impact of delegations to Israel/Palestine in opening people's eyes to the nature of the conflict; the ability to gain access to broad audiences, particularly through churches; the success of interfaith initiatives in mobilizing for signature ads, vigils, and the like; and the transformative power of interfaith dialogue in building a deeper understanding among members of different communities. In the words of one participant, "we need honest dialogue about our differences before we can search for common ground."
Challenges in this type of organizing are also many. Those cited in this breakout group included: barriers in gaining access to most Jewish faith communities and to involving institutionalized Jewish organizations in multifaith coalitions; tensions between faith-based and secular groups over whether and how to incorporate religious elements in political actions; and the fact that delegations to the Middle East are economically inaccessible to most people. Several participants commented on the challenges of building support within some Muslim communities for organizing based on human rights rather than religious claims. Specific comments included:
- The U.S. tour by Israeli military resisters was successful and a good tactic for gaining access to mainstream settings (Hilda Silverman Workmen's Circle, Visions of Peace in Israel & Palestine, Women for Peace). However, there had been a struggle with the message: did it make sense to promote a message that was not ours?
- The experience of Christian Peacemaker Teams underscored the importance of working across religious lines. In North America CPT uses its credibility to get into churches of many denominations, teaming up with Jewish and Muslim speakers when possible to break open stereotypes. "Christian Zionists" are a presence and CPT tries to bring the issues to the surface.
- The Interfaith Council for Peace & Justice/Middle East Task Force (Elizabeth Barlow) sent a delegation to Israel/Palestine last year. People from very different backgrounds and preconceptions all came to the same conclusion. It was harder when folks came back and wanted to speak. It was very hard for Jewish participants to gain access to synagogues (or even to their own families). One way was to organize through signature ads, which were then used with elected officials, as well as an educational tool and to open up conversations.
- The Fellowship of Reconciliation sent delegations to Israel/Palestine, which greatly change perspectives; the level of military control in Hebron necessitates interfaith action.
- In Grand Rapids, MI, fundamentalist Christian churches control the City, and it is impossible to get access to Arab American Eastern Orthodox or most other churches to discuss the issues.
- The Board of Interfaith Alliance of the Coordinating Council of Muslim Organizations finds that the Muslim community, like many recent immigrant communities, is internally focused. It is working to promote interfaith honest dialogue about differences in order to search for common ground. It is important to promote dialogue within the Black church ("I grew up under apartheid in the South in a house that was firebombed; I know what it's like to live under occupation").
- Grayland Scott, DC pastor, finds debate and discussion harder in white religious communities than in communities of color. "Tempering" the message is a fatal mistake: you have to put your beliefs forward and always be authentic in the message; dishonesty is always picked up.
- The experience of the Philadelphia-based Jewish Mobilization for a Just Peace (Rachael Kamel) was that constituency building was the only way to counter the role of gate-keepers in institutionalized Jewish life. It is important to foster the struggle within Jewish community for freedom of conscience/diversity of opinion, rather than mandatory allegiance to Zionism.
- At North Park U in Chicago, Bob Hostetter uses the M.E. as a case study in classes on conflict, and also works through drama and the transformative impact of speaking words said by real people under occupation, oral histories of older Palestinians who had lost their lands. Storytelling helps people leapfrog past ideology.
- Just Peace Technologies (California - Donna Baranski) is launching a campaign in support of the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions, 1,000 house parties for "the right to a home and a homeland". Had found good response in seeking sponsorship from US organizations.
- In Boston, Visions of Peace (Janice Hayden) began as mixed group, then transitioned to a Jewish group, with the objective of influencing Jewish community. The Committee for Palestinian Human Rights was more multiethnic but also very secular. Maintaining work with churches meant less success in attracting involvement from Muslim community.
The experience of past movements is that local groups always do their own thing. The role of a national coordinating body is to establish a couple of common strategies & tactics that everyone can agree on. We need to raise a voice as Americans, not an ethnic or religious voice. Americans don't want endless war.
B. Relations with the Political Establishment
Discussion focused on the need for a "hub and spoke" system linking district work to national level. It was also important to look beyond Arab and Muslim voters to others such as Jews against the occupation. This would enable organizing in states where there were not large numbers of Arab Americans. Robert Prince gave the experience of work on civil liberties in Denver, which was spearheaded by the local American Indian movement and brought together many elements not involved in the M.E. to get the city council in Denver to declare it would not spy on its peace activists. The Colorado campaign had also successfully mobilized against a bill at the state legislature in support of Israel, moderating it to support of M.E. peace. The Palestinian community as well as the peace community testified - they had never seen us before - 50 people, young and old who were eloquent and influenced the representatives. It wasn't a one-shot deal; we had several meetings with people at the state legislature and they wanted to hear what we had to say. But at the congressional level, it was impossible. The point was made that military corporations provide much of the support to Israel. The Vietnam war ended not because people lobbied congress but because there were millions of people in street so they decided it was no longer worth it. We should not be trying to change Congress but to build a mass movement.
C. Getting the Message Out
Global Exchange has gotten the message out through: direct action, such as sit-ins in front of the State Department; speaking tours of eight cities, most effective in smaller towns which are least likely to hear international speakers; meetings between victims of 9/11 and Afghanis who were victims of US bombing; delegations to the region; and a listserv. There is a need to conduct research centrally to serve organizations without adequate resources to do so.
A Muslim organization in Philadelphia approaches faith-based communities with a "catchy" topic to create an engaged and lively discussion about the region and Islam; it has slide shows ready on a variety of topics and countries. Churches for Middle East Peace coordinates with churches on legislative issues; shares information with Palestinian partners on the ground; works with the religious media; sends delegations to Palestine; and networks with community media.
In Seattle, Linda Frank reported on a campaign to: contact the media and provide resources for a different perspective. In Tacoma, groups established relationships with editors of local newspapers. Judith Kolokoff reported on the effectiveness of speaking as a Jewish woman together with a Palestinian woman of same age (60s) all over Seattle. What's missing is the "connective tissue" for these efforts.
Jennifer Bing-Canar of AFSC in Chicago reported on their tactics in approaching the media: work to get coverage (which happens when there is a new event or Jews and Arabs do something together); work to challenge news bias (they had successfully built relationships and provided resources to editorial writers on the Chicago Tribune); work to become a resource for news (e.g. bringing international speakers, particularly to the suburbs); work to share resources
Ellen Cantarow said Jewish Women for Justice in Israel and Palestine (Boston), found a brilliant media person and organized a terrific tour with Raja Shehadeh and Guy Grossman (refusenik); created series of panels of maps that provide a powerful visual history of changes in the occupation; installation was circulated to schools; and organized street theater.
Kim Fellner underscored the importance of building constituencies; there are a number of "natural" constituencies that are missing, including Latino organizers, prisoners' rights groups, and others. Riyad Mansour pointed to the growing importance of students and youth; there is a new generation of US-born Arab-Americans who know the system and how to communicate. They use street theater to demonstrate the humiliations of life under occupation. Students in Berkeley have found new ways to challenge the occupation.
Saturday, June 1
9:00 Session 1: Coming Together
10:00 Session 2: How the U.S. Perpetuates the Occupation
11:00 Session 3: Challenging the Occupation - Political/Legal Frameworks
1:00 Session 4: What Have We Been Doing?
3:15 Session 5: Building for the Long Term
Sunday, June 2
9:00-12:00 Session 6: Mandates We Can Take Back
1 Conference participants who want to suggest amendments to the report, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
3 Naseer Aruri, Trans-Arab Research Institute; Phyllis Bennis, Institute for Policy Studies; Kathy Bergen, AFSC; Nadia Hijab, author & development consultant; Roger Normand, Center for Economic and Social Rights; Edward W. Said, professor, Columbia University; Zoharah Simmons, civil rights & peace activist; David Wildman, General Board of Global Ministries, United Methodists (institutional affiliations listed for identification purposes only)
4 Conference Planning Committee: Kathy Bergen, AFSC Philadelphia (conference coordinator); Jennifer Bing-Canar, AFSC Chicago (local host program), Nadia Hijab, author, New York; Rachael Kamel, Jewish Mobilization for a Just Peace, Philadelphia; Jerry Silberman, Jewish Mobilization for a Just Peace, Philadelphia. Conference staff: Doug Hostetter and Julie Kosowski, Chicago.