A nonsectarian peace group is urging members to travel to Israel in March for a week of meetings and seminars with activists and government officials.
NJ Peace Action is passing along invitations from Meretz USA, the American arm of the left-of-center Israeli political party. Meretz officials say participants will meet Israeli politicians from “all sides of the aisle,” as well as officials of the Palestinian Authority.
Although focusing mainly on opposing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and ending nuclear proliferation, NJ Peace Action has sometimes been critical of Israel. Last year, in an open letter to President Obama, the group criticized Israel for adding and expanding “illegal settlements,” and said it opposed “the ongoing supply of U.S. weapons to Israel.”
Meretz USA also opposes building Jewish settlements in the occupied territories. The Meretz Party has three seats in the current Israeli Knesset.
Larry Lerner, a Warren attorney who is president of the American Friends of Meretz, said he wanted the members of NJ Peace Action “to know there is a significant portion of the Israeli population that is in favor of the peace process and doesn’t go along with Benjamin Netanyahu’s views. We will go to the Knesset and talk to all sides of the aisle — Shas and Likud. We will go to Ramallah to meet with officials of the Palestinian Authority who are available. But we have not been able to go to Gaza.”
Lerner insisted the symposium was not limited to people on the political Left.
“I’ve brought along right-wingers on my trip. I’ve brought along a Republican who was a supporter of George W. Bush. We don’t proselytize; we provide facts,” he said.
Madelyn Hoffman, executive director of NJ Peace Action, said she studied in Israel in the late 1970s and is the grandniece of a prestate Israeli pioneer.
“I believe that people-to-people contact is often the best chance we have for building a more peaceful world. Governments often get locked into political positions,” she said in a Feb. 3 phone interview from her Bloomfield office. “We see what you want and you desire, and we make a bond, we build a bridge, and by doing so it is harder for us to be swept way one way or the other by our government’s positions.”
Hoffman said she forwarded an e-mail invitation from Meretz USA seeking recruits for the symposium, which runs from March 26 to April 2.
“Our Israel Symposium has been happening for 15 years,” said Lerner. “If someone wants to know about the politics of Israel and the Arab world, they should go on our symposium; they will meet everybody.”
Those wishing to register for or learn more about the Israel Symposium can contact Meretz USA at 212-242-4500 or firstname.lastname@example.org.