Author the Future

Earlier this week, I was in Washington, DC for a J Street Leadership Summit, during which roughly 200 leaders of J Street gathered from around the country to learn and strategize about how to achieve the long sought 2 state solution between Israelis and Palestinians. Of course, this is no easy task, and cannot be done without many partners.

During the opening plenary session, the featured speakers were Israeli Brig. Gen. (res.) Udi Dekel sitting side by side with Ambassador Dr. Husam Zomlot, Chief Representative of the Palestinian General Delegation to the United States. While these two experienced men did not always agree, they both believe that a 2 state solution is both necessary and possible.

During Amb. Zomlot’s presentation, he said three words that struck a chord during our troubling times. He encouraged us to, “author the future.”

Of course, each of us may choose to author the future in our own way. But one thing we cannot afford to do is sit back and do nothing while others determine our future for us.

Understandably, given the wide array of challenges which we all face on both a personal and societal level, it is quite easy to become paralyzed by the belief that one cannot have any impact by taking any particular action. Yet, in my 30+ years of engaging in systems change on a wide variety of topics, I have borne witness to the power of both individual and collective action that has the power to author the future in a positive manner.

Of course, no one can author the future of every single problem that one faces. There are, of course, a myriad of problems, both personal and societal that we all face, and nobody can take every single one of them on. Perhaps, to author the future, means to determine which problems each of us will take an active role in addressing, and then in what manner.

By doing something to author the future, including voting and contributing to causes one believes in, you are pushing back against the aphorism, the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing.

The day after learning from Amb. Zomlot and many others, I joined J Street leaders on Capitol Hill as we met with our members of Congress. Between meetings, many of us grabbed lunch in the Longworth House Cafeteria, where Congressional staff and visitors often eat. As I was getting up to leave for my next meeting, I was surprised to see an icon of the civil rights movement, who is also a great J Street supporter, Cong. John Lewis, eating lunch with a staff person.

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Before leaving for my next meeting, I took the time to introduce myself and thank Rep. Lewis for his decades of service to our nation. I also introduced him to a college student who is on the board of J Street U, who was joining me for Congressional meetings. Rep. Lewis encouraged us to keep up the good work and when we told him that we were going to meet with our Congressman Mark Pocan, he told us that Rep. Pocan was a great Congressman. By introducing a young advocate to this great leader, I hope I helped to author the future of a young man by inspiring him to continue his advocacy to help to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

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For more information on how Jeff Spitzer-Resnick can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact him by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.

 

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Diaspora Gathering

My wife and I just returned from spending over 2 weeks in Israel. This trip was not your typical tourist trip. In fact, with the exception of one night in Mitzpe Ramon, home to the gigantic and beautiful Ramon Craterwe spent every other night staying with family and friends.

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Sculpture overlooking the Ramon Crater

Our son, Josh, is in his second year of college at the TechnionIsrael’s Institute of Technology, in Haifa, and this was our first opportunity to visit him there. He plays hockey with the Haifa Hawks, and coincidentally, the first thing we did on our arrival was watch him play hockey.

Josh also led us on a walk on  the beach of the last Arabic town on the Israeli Mediterranean, Jisr al Zarkawhere beauty, history and poverty are all intertwined.

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Fisherman pulling in their net on the beach at Jisr al Zarka

In addition, my mother and her husband are spending the winter in Netanya, where they have spent every winter except last year for the past 12 years, and we spent most of our nights with them. It was a pleasure to spend quality time with them in the place that has become their home away from home.

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My mother Rachel and her husband Peter

As I reflect back on what was primarily a visiting trip, I realize that, like most Jews, while my family is spread around the world in what is known as the diaspora, as they fled oppression in Europe prior to the Holocaust, Israel is the place where some of the family with whom I am closest as well as childhood and college friends, have returned and made a life for themselves.

Part of my family fled Europe, but were not allowed into the United States to join the rest of their family in the 1930s, so they settled in Mexico. One of my Mexican cousins, Isaac (Pelon) Leventhal, immigrated to Israel when he was 18 years old in the early 1970s. After meeting him in Mexico City at his sister’s wedding just before he emigrated, I have visited him numerous times in Israel from 1976 through this most recent trip. As he and I have grown older, we have married and had children, and now he and his lovely wife Eli, have 8 grandchildren. Our son has had the opportunity to get to know these cousins better while he studies in Israel, and we were able to visit all of their homes and families during our stay. The warmth of my Israeli family will stay with me for the rest of my life even though time and distance separates us.

I even had the opportunity to visit friends on Kibbutz Ein Gev, where I volunteered during the winter of 1979-80, while my cousins Pelon & Eli lived there. Coincidentally, a friend from England, whom I volunteered with so many years ago, was visiting the kibbutz at the same time we were there and we had a small reunion with our friend and kibbutznik Uzi.

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At the end of our trip, we traveled to Mevaseret, a suburb of Jerusalem to stay with an old college friend, Richard and his lovely wife Michal. They led us on a beautiful hike on Har Eitan, after which we traveled into the city of Jerusalem to visit an old childhood friend, Galia, and her husband Roni for lunch.

It is truly an understatement to describe Israel as one of the most controversial nations in the world. Almost everyone has strong feelings about it, both positive and negative, and while I love that Israel has provided refuge for millions of Jews, including family and friends, it saddens me that Israel has been unable to resolve its generations old conflict with its Palestinian neighbors.

Due to my love of Israel and hope for its survival as a just, peaceful and democratic state, I have taken on a leadership role in advocating for a just and peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by becoming Chair of the Madison chapter of J Street, which advocates for a two state solution to resolve the conflict. My advocacy is quite public so both my family and friends in Israel are quite aware of my positions, most of whom do not agree with me.

Despite our political disagreements, our love for each other is not diminished. In fact, my choice to repeatedly visit family and friends in Israel to maintain our relationships and better understand their lives there serves to enhance our relationship. On a few occasions during our recent trip, both friends and family were clear that they disagreed with my positions, but I often successfully found small, but important points where we did have common ground. Equally important, our disagreements never interfered with our ability to have warm and loving relationships.

As I reflect back on how my friends, family and I can agree to disagree, and not let that poison our relationships, I hope that the lessons I learned in Israel can be applied to the often poisonous political conflict in the US. After all, when friends and family can love each other despite their disagreements, one realizes that one warm hug can overcome virtually any political dispute.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

 

Bereaved Parents Wage Peace

Yesterday afternoon, I had the great privilege of being part of a group that hosted the Parents Circle Families Forum during which 3 Israeli and Palestinian bereaved parents gave a moving presentation about the personal losses of their children and how that motivated them to fight for a just and peaceful resolution of the longstanding conflict between their peoples. My role was as Chair of J Street Madison and President of Congregation Shaarei Shamayim, both of which served as co-sponsors along with other churches and peace groups.

The presentation started with a moving video, Taking Steps (click here to watch). Then Israeli Rami Elhanan described his own background: his grandparents died in the Holocaust, his father escaped the Holocaust and immigrated to Israel and Rami fought in the Yom Kippur war.

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Then, one day, in 1997, everything changed. His 14 year old daughter, Smadar, was murdered by a Palestinian suicide bomber in Jerusalem. While he could have succumbed to anger and hatred, he made a very different and profound decision to use the power of his pain to bring light and hope to others seeking peace in his troubled nation. Rami stated quite eloquently that despite his personal tragedy and the tragedy of so many other families who have been scarred by losing an innocent child to senseless violence, he insists that,

We are not doomed.

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Israeli father Rami Elhanan speaking with Najwa and George Sa’adeh in the background

Rami used the separation wall between Israel and the Palestinian territory in the occupied West Bank as a metaphor as he believes that the Parents Circle helps to create cracks in the wall and through those cracks, each side can see each other and begin to break down the wall and create peace. As he put it, “our blood is the same color, our tears are made of the same salt water.” As Rami introduced the next speaker, Palestinian George Sa’adeh, he called him his brother.

George’s great-grandfather was the Mayor of Bethlehem in 1860 and his family has resided in Bethlehem for many generations. His dream was to work in the aerospace industry, but since Israeli security will not allow Palestinians to work in that field, George studied aerospace engineering at UCLA. However, when he returned to Bethlehem, he was only permitted to work as a mechanical engineer.

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Palestinian father George Sa’adeh

One tragic day in 2003, his family was driving in Bethlehem. George noticed the streets were empty, except for Israeli army jeeps, though he did not know why. All of a sudden, Israeli soldiers opened fire, shooting approximately 300 bullets into his vehicle, striking George, his wife Najwa and both of his daughters. His 14 year old daughter Christine was killed in the gunfire. George, Najwa and their other daughter survived after surgery and hospitalization.

Approximately 50,000 people attended Christine’s funeral, the biggest ever in Bethlehem, but like Rami, after all those giving condolences were gone, George had to decide what to do with his grief. Like Rami, he chose the path of peace. He believes the region needs strong leaders who will work for peace, justice and human rights, instead of waging war against each other with hundreds of innocent victims. Profoundly, George stated that he and his wife forgive the soldiers who shot them and killed their daughter, as they have no hatred, because, “hatred will kill us.

The Parents Circle is a unique group as it is probably the only membership group that wants no more members. Rather, they have decided that,

from our pain, we make peace.

Finally, Najwa Sa’adeh spoke of her love for her daughter, Christine, who spoke of her  impending death during the year before she died, which puzzled her parents as she was a happy child who only wanted to help others. In fact, she told her parents that when she died, she believed she would be famous. So, now Najwa and George share her story so others can, “feel with us.”

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Najwa Sa’adeh

In addition to sharing their stories and demonstrating that despite the greatest loss, they can work side by side for peace, the Parents Circle does a lot to bring Israelis and Palestinians together, from summer camps to professional interest groups. They had received funding from the USAID and the European Union, but that dried up after the most recent so-called knife intifada. In fact, President Obama mentioned the Parents Circle in his speech to the Egyptian people in Cairo, as the only group that gave hope for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

When they took questions, someone asked about whether they support a particular territorial solution. Rami made it quite clear that the number of states is irrelevant. As he said, “nothing is sacred about a state. The key is respect.”

Rami closed with the following profound and moving statements:

We must work together, not alone.

We are  working for the security of our children.

You cannot clap with one hand (an Arabic saying).

You cannot make peace with yourself

We demand that you work for peace and justice.

It is people like these who will overcome power hungry leaders and bring peace to their peoples. After their talk, I let Rami, George & Najwa know that my son was returning to Israel that day to begin his sophomore year at the Technion (Israel’s Institute of Technology), and that he does what he can to meet those working for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. All 3 of them let me know that my son is welcome in their homes and when we visit him next year, we are also welcome. I look forward to visiting them in Bethlehem and Jerusalem and continuing to help them break down barriers and work for peace and justice.

If you want to contribute to their work, you can go to this link.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

My Congressman in Palestine

Cong. Mark Pocan (D-Madison) is a progressive leader whom I have known since before he was elected to the Wisconsin Assembly in 1998. I have had the pleasure of meeting with him many times and he is always eager to learn from whomever he meets.

Recently, his local Chief of Staff reached out to invite me to attend a talk Cong. Pocan was giving in Madison to share what he learned from his trip to Palestinian territories this past June. Fortunately, my calendar was clear and earlier today, I attended his very interesting presentation.

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Cong. Mark Pocan talking about his recent trip to the Palestinian territories.

Cong. Pocan has had a human rights lens to his world view dating back to his visits to Madison sister cities in Colombia and El Salvador when he served on the Dane County Board 25 years ago. As such, although he entered Congress with little knowledge of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he was eager to learn and see what he could do to promote peace in the region. Although he had traveled to Israel on previous Congressional delegations, he wanted to visit the Palestinian territories and meet with their leaders and citizens. An opportunity arose when the Humpty Dumpty Institute (which seeks to put the pieces back together in broken situations), sponsored a trip for him and a few other progressive colleagues in Congress to see what was really going on in the Palestinian territories. It was the first Congressional delegation to Palestine.

Cong. Pocan met with the US consul to Palestine, had lunch with Israeli Arab members of the Knesset (Israel’s parliament), met with Palestinian youth and students, as well as leaders including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and chief peace negotiator Saeb Erekat. He visited E. Jerusalem, Hebron and Bethlehem and candidly admitted that he is still learning about this complex situation and does not claim to be an expert.

During his talk, Cong. Pocan made it quite clear that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman are obstacles to peace. He reminded everyone of Netanyahu’s snub of President Obama when he refused to meet with him but created a political commercial for himself when he spoke to Congress. Cong. Pocan refused to attend that talk along with 60 other members of Congress.

Rep. Pocan also reminded the audience of the tremendous blow back that he and other members of Congress took for supporting the Iran nuclear agreement. He singled out Sec. Clinton for her strong effort to sway Congress to support it.

Pocan noted that continued Israeli settlement expansion violates any meaningful effort towards achieving a peaceful 2 state solution. Daily checkpoints along the barrier wall which Israel has erected, manned by young Israeli soldiers makes life difficult for both sides.

When the delegation went to Hebron, they saw the inequity between Israel’s protection of approximately 800 settlers in a Palestinian city of 270,000.  He noted that many settlers are actually American citizens. While the delegation was able to see whatever they wanted in the West Bank, visiting Gaza was another matter altogether.

They were told by both the Israeli and the U.S. government that it was unsafe to go to Gaza. However, that did not deter Cong. Pocan, as he heard the same things when he went to Colombia and El Salvador in the 90s, and in fact, was held captive for 5 days by Colombian rebels during one visit. His delegation had arranged for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) to escort them through Gaza. Unfortunately, however, the Israeli government refused to let the delegation enter Gaza. Cong. Pocan hopes to visit Gaza in the future and he said that J Street has agreed to help sponsor another Congressional trip there.

While Cong. Pocan noted the Israeli government’s obstacles to achieving a peaceful resolution, he also noted that Gaza has no effective government and that Palestinian students are dismayed with the Palestinian Authority as it has made no progress in achieving statehood. He mentioned that students at Bir Zeit University recently voted to support Hamas and now support a 1 state solution.

Cong. Pocan will continue to encourage President Obama to set forth the groundwork for peace before he leaves office. He pledges to push the next President to work hard to achieve peace and believes that a multi-national effort is needed. He looks forward to bringing his views to the floor of Congress in September. He believes that real people, not politicians, want peace in both Israel and Palestine and to support those people, he wants the US to support human rights in the region.

In conclusion, Cong. Pocan  made clear that achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians is the strongest blow back that we can make against ISIS, which uses the Palestinian struggle for statehood as a recruiting tool. As Chair of J Street Madison, I look forward to continuing to work with Cong. Pocan to help his effort to achieve a peaceful 2 state solution.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Liberation through Questioning

As Passover approaches, and Jews all over the world gather around the seder table for a festive meal and to retell the story of liberation from their slavery in Egypt thousands of years ago, my wife and I will celebrate tonight in the absence of our son, for the first time since he was born over 19 years ago, as he is going to school in Israel and celebrating with his gracious cousins Rafi and Rachael in Jerusalem as I write this.

As Josh was traveling from Haifa to Jerusalem, he posed many questions about liberation given that he lives with two Palestinian students from East Jerusalem, and part of his journey to Jerusalem travels alongside the huge separation barrier dividing Israelis and Palestinians. His questions follow the long Jewish tradition which starts out the Seder with the youngest child asking questions which start:

Why is this night different from all other nights?

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The rest of the Seder seeks to answer those questions. Yet, we ask the question each year because we understand that freedom is fragile and none of us are fully liberated. Some of us have more freedom than others. Some of us are oppressed by others and some of us oppress ourselves. So, Passover provides a time and a structure for asking ourselves important questions about how to liberate ourselves, knowing that we never achieve complete freedom, and that others need our help to liberate themselves from oppression.

My son’s questions included challenging questions about a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians. They included:

  • What would happen if a state was created right now and they had the law of return?
  • Where would the line be drawn?
  • Would Israel take down the wall that infringes on their territory?
  • Would the Palestinians?
  • Would Israel build another wall on the actual Green Line?
  • Would Israel allow them enough air waves to actually have smartphones and data?
  • Would Israel let them in?
  • Would Israel let them use their ports?
  • Would settlers become Palestinians or permanent residents?
  • Are we even talking about Gaza?

When I responded that Israelis and Palestinians can answer all these questions if they choose to engage in a peaceful resolution of their dispute, but nobody should be naive and believe that everything will be perfect upon the signing of a treaty that creates a Palestinian state. So, we will need to continue to work to make our world a better place, he had more questions:

  • What does “better” mean?
  • Does it also mean being a Jewish state with a controlled minority, even if it is in Israel proper?

Having just returned from the J Street National Assembly, I suggested that he examine J Street’s policy positions which answers most of these questions.

But then, he asked:

What does having a liberating Pesach (Passover) mean?

To that excellent question, I replied:

Sometimes it is little things like buying a homeless woman a smoothie & picking up the garbage in the park every morning. Other times it means fighting for peace & justice. It can’t happen all at once and frankly, will always need to be worked on because people are imperfect and too many of them want to put down others.

Liberation is a process. It starts with the questions. The answers are both large and small. The work of liberation is continuous.

May everyone have a liberating Passover.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

The Wisdom of Elder Dialogue

It has long been my firm belief that big problems cannot be solved without dialogue. Since my business, Systems Change Consulting, is to help solve big problems, I have spent the past two years working to expand the dialogue around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. After my synagogue, Congregation Shaarei Shamayimhosted a few Jewish Dialogue sessions for our members, nearly 2 years ago, I recognized the need to expand this remarkable process, which allows for all opinions to be shared and understood by all participants, to the larger Madison Jewish community. To that end, I was able to convince the other 2 Madison synagogues, Temple Beth El and Beth Israel Center, as well as the Jewish Federation of Madison and the UW-Hillel to co-sponsor 3 dialogue sessions that were held during April-May, 2014.

Those sessions were so well received, that we submitted a Social Innovation grant to the Jewish Federation of Madison, which agreed to fund monthly dialogue sessions during 2015. These sessions have been held in a variety of locations around Madison and continue to be well received. Some of the sessions have targeted specific segments of Madison’s Jewish community, such as University of Wisconsin students and Board members of the sponsoring Jewish organizations.

But, last night’s session was truly remarkable. As many elders are unable to travel, we decided to convene a session at Capitol Lakes, an independent living retirement community. Unlike all of our other sessions, where we adhered to a fairly strict advance registration policy to ensure that the sessions did not get too large to engage in meaningful dialogue, the Capitol Lakes social worker informed us that advanced registration would not be practical there, and we could not exclude any of their residents who wanted to attend.

So, I worked closely with our Rabbi, Laurie Zimmerman, and our facilitator, Harry Webne-Behrman, to modify our typical dialogue arrangement in order to prepare for what Capitol Lakes expected would be 30-35 attendees. Rather than place everyone in a circle, as was our usual practice, we decided to set up tables for 4 participants to talk with each other.

I arrived early to make sure the room was set up appropriately, and to make final plans with Harry. As elders often do, participants started showing up 20 minutes before the scheduled starting time. I had fascinating discussions with one gentleman from Ireland, who clearly remembers the radio announcement of the Germans invading Poland, and another who shared a joke about Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

As the room filled, we quickly realized that we needed to add more tables, as over 50 residents had joined us.

Cap Lakes Dialogue

Harry did his typically wonderful job informing everyone that the purpose of the session was to learn from and understand each other. After all, this was a dialogue, not a debate. The participants revealed themselves to include many who had been to Israel, some who had lived there, and many who had never travelled there. Their views were from across the political spectrum.

Participants included both Jews and non-Jews. At one point, one non-Jew asked whether she and other non-Jews were welcome, and we informed her that everyone was welcome. To my great pleasure, one of the Jewish participants told everyone that she felt the dialogue was enriched by having both Jews and non-Jews attend. Indeed, as Harry and I wandered around the room, we witnesses everyone deeply engaged in meaningful dialogue.

No, we did not bring peace to the Middle East last night. But 50 elders engaged in meaningful dialogue and learned a lot from each other. Many thought that educating Israeli and Palestinian youth together was the long-term answer, though others expressed skepticism that the current generation, with so much history of conflict, could provide appropriate educational models for the next generation. Fortunately, there are some successful examples of such Israeli-Palestinian schools, which were shared with the group.

It is my belief that through dialogue, these elders made achieving peace one step closer to reality. We have submitted a grant application to continue these dialogue sessions next year, when we hope to deepen the sessions to explore specific hot-button topics such as settlements, water rights, the Iran nuclear deal, and boycott, divestment and sanctions. If the grant is funded, I look forward to returning to Capitol Lakes once again to learn more from these elders.

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For more information on how Jeff Spitzer-Resnick can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change, visit his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Insight not Incite

Last night, I had the pleasure of engaging in dialogue with fellow leaders in the Madison Jewish community about the seemingly intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  I was reminded once again why it is so important to create safe space for meaningful dialogue.  This was the 3rd monthly session this year, with monthly dialogue sessions to continue throughout the year. Dates and registration information are available herecover_image_for_constant_contact_e

At the outset of last night’s session, our facilitator reminded the participants that through dialogue, our goal was to gain insight and not to incite, which felt highly appropriate given the inflammatory nature of so much that is said about this conflict, and about those who are trying so hard to solve it.

Earlier this week, I attended the 5th J Street Conference in Washington, DC. Together with over 3000 pro-peace, pro-democracy, pro-Israel attendees, including over 1000 college students, I gained tremendous insight about both the challenges and opportunities for peace.

The challenges, of course, include Prime Minister Netanyahu’s renouncement of a two-state solution (which he later backtracked on after securing his election victory) as well as deep fractures within Palestinian leadership. (A web cast of this session is available here. Start watching at the 13 minute mark). But despite these challenges, opportunities abound, and were demonstrated profoundly in a few ways at the conference.

First, during Monday afternoon’s plenary session, two remarkable things happened.  As was well covered in the media worldwide, President Obama’s Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, made clear that the United States friendship with Israel remains strong.  But, he also made clear that Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories must end in order maintain the viability of  Israel as the secure, democratic homeland of the Jewish people. He received multiple standing ovations from the crowd. (A web cast of this session is available here.  Start watching at the 44 minute mark).

Later in that same plenary, Hilik Bar, the leader of Israel’s Labor Party, sat side by side with Saeb Erekat, the PLO’s Chief negotiator.  They both spoke of their mutual desire to achieve a peaceful two state solution. (A web cast of this session is available here. Start watching at the 2:05 hour:minute mark). These 2 statesmen continued their conversation during a packed workshop, during which it was clear that while they did not agree on everything, they did agree on the fundamental need to establish a Palestinian state for each nation’s mutual security. I would like to see them go on a world-wide Partners for Peace tour.

That evening, at dinner, former Secretary of State James Baker reaffirmed the longstanding bi-partisan support for Israel and for a 2 state solution.  He went on to support President Obama’s efforts to come to a nuclear agreement with Iran and chided those in Congress who have attempted to scuttle those sensitive negotiations. He reminded the audience that American opposition to Israel’s expanded settlement occupation of the West Bank has also been bi-partisan.  Indeed, when he was Secretary of State under the first President Bush, the United States withheld $10 million in loan guarantees to Israel when then Prime Minister Shamir insisted on expanding those settlements over US opposition. He added that Shamir’s actions were followed by his election defeat and the election of Prime Minister Yithak Rabin. (A web cast of this session is available here. Start watching at the 41 minute mark). Witnessing the staunch Republican Baker essentially agreeing with President Obama’s Chief of Staff made clear that these positions are indeed bi-partisan.

Yet, despite the ability of Republican and Democrat, Israeli and Palestinian to find ample room for agreement, journalists like the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin choose to incite by describing J Street as “anti-Israel” when she blasted McDonough’s speech at the conference. Worse yet, conservative talk show host, Mark Levin, fueled more incite when slamming Sec. Baker’s J Street speech, described J Street as a “left wing hate group.”

As Chair of J Street Madison, with family and friends in Israel, I can assure you that my work with J Street is premised on both my love for Israel and J Street’s support for Israel’s long-term viability as the peaceful, democratic homeland of the Jewish people. Hate? I saw no hate at the J Street conference.  Only insight on how to solve the seemingly intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

coexist

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For more information on how Jeff Spitzer-Resnick can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change, visit his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Take Courage: Despair is the Enemy of Progress

The world can be a scary place.  ISIS beheads innocents. Terrorists enter public places to slaughter shoppers, worshippers and anyone in their way. Governors slash hundreds of millions of dollars from public education, social services programs and other vital services upon which millions depend.

Those who perpetuate terror and those who pull the rug out from under people who are barely surviving are using a tried and true technique to accomplish their goal to consolidate their power: Despair is the Enemy of Progress. For when we despair, many of us simply give up.  Indeed, in the worst case scenario, some commit suicide.

But for those of us who believe that the world can be a better place, giving in to despair simply allows ruthless terrorists and politicians to prevail.  We simply cannot allow that to happen and indeed, many brave people fight back.

Every day, courageous people, against seemingly insurmountable odds, take courage, because they refuse to give in to despair.  Indeed, earlier this morning, I received a message from my friend Adele Raemer, who lives on Kibbutz Nirim in Israel, which borders the Gaza Strip. She and her fellow kibbutzniks experienced the shelling from Hamas in the last Gaza War, and some of her fellow kibbutzniks were hit by those shells. Despite living in the constant shadow of war, she belongs to a secret group of Israelis and Palestinians who work for peace between their people.  Today, she shared a message from a Palestinian who said:

More evil
More troubles
Today
my boss says
Do you want peace with the Jews !! With the Israelis !! I’ve seen your photos on Facebook You are despicable traitor you … You’re Fired Dear traitor…
Never give up
I stand with peace with life with hope with you with humans.

She went on to say that yesterday she:

hosted another group from AIPAC. At one point Gadi Yarkoni came in, since we were right next door to his office. They asked him what he thought of the situation and if his political stance has changed since the summer’s war when he lost both of his legs. He, too, said that we MUST find a way to live in neighborly coexistance with the Palestinians. This is a man who was born here on the border, grew up here, is the CEO of our farm, lost both his legs and two friends on August 26th, and he, too, believes that there CAN be – no MUST be – a solution.

These brave souls, an anonymous Palestinian, Israelis Adele Raemer and Gadi Yarkoni, refuse to give in to despair because they are courageous and believe that a better way of life can be obtained even in the darkest of circumstances.

As I have written in the past:

because

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive, effective systems change, contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.

Dialogue: Now more than ever

We live in perilous times.  On the domestic stage, Americans continue to protest police violence.  Around the world, terrorists continue to engage in horrific murderous acts like the Taliban’s recent rampage killing nearly 150 school children.

While such peril can and does easily lead to violent acts of retribution, attempts to justify torture, or on the personal level, sinking into depression, unless we choose to allow those who commit these horrific acts of unjustified violence to prevail, we must find ways to keep our sanity and allow the best parts of humanity to rise to the top.

At a basic level, if individuals, communities and nations are unable to talk with each other, then their ability to resolve grievances is severely compromised.  Today, we finally see the end of a failed policy through which the United States refused to talk with Cuba, as President Obama announced the restoration of diplomatic relations after 50 years.  While each nation continues to have grievances with each other, with normal diplomatic relations, the opportunity now exists to solve problems rather than exacerbate them.

In the Middle East, we have seen that the inability of Israel and the Palestinians to successfully negotiate a resolution of their longstanding grievances has fanned the flames of violent acts committed by extremists on both sides.  The world watches anxiously as Israeli elections in March may determine whether a path towards a peaceful resolution can be achieved.

At the local level, I continue to work to engage in dialogue with whomever is willing on difficult topics.  In the Jewish community, talking about Israel and its conflict with the Palestinians is a touchy subject, which splits friends and family.  Fortunately, as I have written previously, there is a way to engage in safe & meaningful dialogue, through the methods developed by the Jewish Dialogue Group.  Utilizing these methods of facilitated dialogue, I helped bring the Madison Jewish community together earlier this year for 3 such sessions co-sponsored by my own synagogue, Congregation Shaarei Shamayim, Madison’s other two synagogues, Temple Beth El and the Beth Israel Center, the University of Wisconsin Hillel and the Jewish Federation of Madison.  Each session had about 12 participants, including members of all 3 synagogues, as well as unaffiliated Jews.  Feedback after the sessions was overwhelmingly positive with the only significant critique being that many wanted to participate in additional sessions.

cover_image_for_constant_contact_eGiven that success and the desire for ongoing dialogue, with my coordination, these same 5 organizations came together to obtain an Innovation grant from the Jewish Federation of Madison which will allow us to convene dialogue sessions on a monthly basis throughout 2015. We will gear some sessions for those who have never participated in such a dialogue and other sessions for those who want to deepen their experience by participating in additional sessions.  In addition, some sessions will target affinity groups, including young adults, college students, interfaith couples, Jewish institutional leadership and Camp Shalom staff.

The first 2 sessions are scheduled to take place at UW Hillel on:

  • January 28th-7-9 PM for young adults (20-30 something); and
  • February 12th-7-9 PM for college students.

Additional sessions will be announced in the coming weeks.

RSVPs are required and space is limited to 15 participants to ensure that all participants have a full chance to engage in meaningful dialogue.  You can get more information and register by e-mailing: office@shamayim.org .

From the local to the international, through dialogue, we can achieve peace & justice.

coexist

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For more information on how Jeff Spitzer-Resnick can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change, visit his website: Systems Change Consulting.

When Right and Wrong are not the Answer

As I watch with dismay the deteriorating situation in Gaza and Israel, I am further dismayed by the deteriorating level of discourse between those who support Israel and those who support the Palestinians.  As one author recently wrote:

there’s also an especially pernicious kind of tribalism that pervades the Israel-Palestine debate within the US-one that turns issues of fact into tests that determine whether or not you’re the right kind of person.

I have watched this kind of debate play out in my nearly 3 decades as a systems change civil rights attorney where one or both sides in litigation is more interested in vilifying the other side and making it pronounce its mea culpas than it is in resolving the dispute at hand.  In these cases, I need to remind my clients that civilized systems of justice were developed to replace vigilante justice and that they should keep their eye on the prize of solving the problem at hand rather than securing their pound of flesh. 

In the interest of full disclosure, I am Jewish.  I made my first visit to Israel in 1976, volunteered on Kibbutz Ein Gev (pictured below on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee at the foot of the Golan Heights which prior to 1967 allowed Syrians to literally drop bombs from the hill above it on the kibbutz below) working side-by-side with Israeli Jews and Arabs and non-Jewish volunteers from around the world during the winter of 1979-80, and have returned many times since to visit family and friends and attend 2 cousins’ weddings.

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I am also the Vice-President and one of the founding members of my synagogue, Congregation Shaarei Shamayim (Gates of Heaven), and the chair of J Street‘s Madison chapter.  With both of these hats on, I have successfully helped to create safe space for meaningful dialogue in my community about this issue and continue to work to expand that dialogue.

But despite my efforts and those of many other peace loving individuals around the world, the debate remains largely unproductive at best and vicious at worst while Israel and Hamas continue to lob bombs at each other.  Historians and diplomats may one day be able to judge why this battle has remained so pernicious for so long but one thing remains clear: peace will not come to Israel and the Palestinians because one side convinces the other side that its version of history is right and its opponent’s version is wrong.

Indeed, perhaps because both sides insist that the other side capitulate to its version of history, the battle rages on.  The question, then, is how can this vicious cycle end?  After all, the killing and recrimination has gone on for decades and no solution seems at hand.

So, too, was the situation in Northern Ireland for decades where religious and nationalist warfare raged for decades killing thousands of people.  Ultimately, it was civilian mothers who founded the Community of Peace People in 1976 ultimately leading to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, which brought an end to the decades known as the “Troubles.” One thing worth noting is though the ongoing terrorism in Northern Ireland has ended, not all the conflict is over.  But despite the remaining disputes, overall peace presides in this once troubled land with significant economic benefit to the people in the region.

Resolving the Troubles in Northern Ireland did not resolve the historical debate over who was right and who was wrong.  Nor did it make Catholics & Protestants all love and forgive each other. So, too, peace will only come between Israel and the Palestinians when their people demand it from their leaders and both sides let go of insisting that they are right and the other side is wrong.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change, contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.