Tuesday, June 3, 2003

A meeting of 500 religious peace activists — the majority of them Jewish — will seek to counter powerful pro-Israel lobbies today with a “teach-in” on the Hill.

It begins with a 10 a.m. hearing at the Rayburn House Office Building chaired by Rep. John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat. Speakers will urge support of the Bush administration’s “road map” plan for peace in the Middle East and explain why Israel must be made to support it.

Activists have been meeting since Sunday at the Capitol Hill Hyatt to discuss peace issues and prepare for a day of lobbying Congress. The Berkeley, Calif.-based Tikkun Community, an interfaith antiwar group founded by Rabbi Michael Lerner, is sponsoring the conference.

Former U.S. Rep. Pete McCloskey, a California congressman who opposed the Vietnam War and Richard Nixon’s Republican presidential nomination in 1972, spoke to the group yesterday. He told them their presentations must be effective.

“The last thing a congressman wants to be bothered by is a bunch of nuts who want peace in the world,” he said. “These congressmen have an attention span of 30 seconds … but everyone knows there will be no peace until those [Israeli West Bank] settlements are abolished.”

Activists will present a “Resolution for Middle East Peace” that urges the United States to support “dramatic steps” to resolve the Palestinian conflict. Expected to be introduced in the House by Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, Ohio Democrat, it details how Israel should return to its pre-1967 borders in exchange for recognition from surrounding Arab and Islamic countries.

Ziad Asali, president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, called the conflict a mishmash of two peoples and three religions who act like “abused children … hurt beyond reason and compromise.” The United States, he said, is the world’s sole candidate to resolve the intractable conflict.

Several speakers criticized the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a 65,000-member pro-Israel lobby that credits itself with getting 100 pro-Israel initiatives passed each year. At yesterday’s overflowing Alternatives to AIPAC workshop, dozens of people said they were overwhelmed by the lobby.

“The salvation of Israel is the Tikkun view, not the AIPAC view,” Mr. McCloskey reminded them. The majority of the Jewish community backs Tikkun’s views and peace activists need to publicize that, he said.

Stephen Zunes, chairman of the Peace & Justice Studies Program at the University of San Francisco, said politicians will produce excuses on why they do not support peace.

“I’ve heard [Hill] staffers say off the record that the boss agrees with the peace movement, but he needs Jewish money to get elected,” he said. “If we don’t challenge Israel’s policies for the right reasons, we leave it to the Pat Buchanans to challenge it for the wrong reasons.”

Mr. Buchanan, a paleoconservative, has criticized U.S. foreign policy as being too pro-Israel.

“Nancy Pelosi [California Democrat and House minority leader] and the Democrats take a position on Israel that’s closer to the Christian Coalition than the National Council of Churches,” he said. “We must not support any Democrat who supports [the ruling Israeli party] Likud, period.”

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