On the same day that President Bush holds a summit with Arab leaders in Cairo, about 500 activists will visit 160 Capitol Hill offices today with the message that some supporters of Israel believe its security depends on creating a viable Palestinian state.
Participants in the "Teach-in to Congress," many of them Jewish, have been meeting in Washington since Sunday to discuss, among other things, how to counter the influence of the American Israeli Political Affairs Committee. Organizers of the conference said that offsetting AIPAC's lobbying efforts would help bring about a more even-handed U.S. approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"This is the first attempt to build a national organization that is an alternative to AIPAC," said Michael Lerner, editor of the Jewish magazine Tikkun and an organizer of the four-day conference. "We are a progressive middle path. We are both pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian."
Bush will meet tomorrow in Jordan with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, in an effort to demonstrate U.S. involvement in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to prompt both sides to take steps to show their commitment to the so-called road map for bringing peace to the Holy Land.
The Tikkun conference has drafted a resolution for Middle East peace that U.S. Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio) will introduce tomorrow, conference spokeswoman Deborah Kory said. The resolution urges Bush to bring an end to the violence between Israelis and Palestinians by introducing "an international buffer" of "neutral forces to separate and provide protection" for both sides. It includes calls for an end to Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, reparations for Palestinian refugees and the creation of a Palestinian state that would include parts of East Jerusalem.
The conference, which is being held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Northwest Washington, was organized by the Tikkun Community, an organization launched a year ago with the goal of rethinking foreign policy in light of spiritual values and principles. Tikkun is a Hebrew word that means healing and transformation.
The new group, which claims to have 5,000 members, is co-chaired by Lerner; Susannah Heschel, who chairs Dartmouth University's Jewish studies program; and Princeton religion professor and author Cornel West, who addressed the conference Sunday. Other speakers included authors Jonathan Schell, Marianne Williamson and Deepak Chopra.
The conference's agenda included discussions on how spiritual understanding of the world could enhance promoting peace and justice, and workshops on "breaking the lock of AIPAC and the pro-Sharon forces on American politics." In preparation for today's lobbying, there was a session on "How to Speak to Elected Officials."
At one workshop, two Muslims and an Orthodox Jewish community activist from Boston discussed ways that Jews and Muslims could improve their interactions. "We need to create a political community where we're really caring for each other," said the Boston activist, Hayyim Feldman.
Heschel said in an interview that when it came to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she and others at the conference had three things on their minds: to find some hope, to create a vision and to organize. "We need to have some kind of vision of what it will be like when peace comes to that region," she said. "If you don't have vision, you're in no hurry to get there because you don't know where you're going."
Among the conference participants from the Washington area was Joe Collier of Springfield, a member of Church of the Savior. Collier said he attended because he wanted to show support for Jews who appreciate "the pain both sides have gone through. We recognize that both groups have been victims."
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