WASHINGTON – The nation’s capital was abuzz last week as peace activists from around the country pondered the next steps in the fight against the Bush doctrine of preemptive war at teach-ins organized by the Tikkun Community and United for Peace and Justice.
The meetings, which began on May 31, ended June 4 when 500 people, most of them of Jewish heritage, jammed a teach-in held in a hearing room in the Rayburn Building demanding that President Bush deliver on his promise of a “roadmap” leading to an independent Palestinian state, coexisting peacefully with Israel. The plan was drawn up by the UN, the European Union, the United States and Russia.
Teach-in participants, who had come to the meeting at the call of the Tikkun Community, cheered when Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) announced her endorsement of Tikkun’s Mideast peace resolution that had been introduced by Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio) earlier in the day.
In his remarks Kucinich praised Tikkun for “bringing this discussion to Washington on a plan that can bring peace to the Middle East.”
Tikkun founder Rabbi Michael Lerner told the meeting that his organization, dedicated to the search for a just peace in the Middle East, represents an alternative to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a conservative lobbying group.
“It is no secret that many Congressional leaders have been intimidated by the Committee and oppose the roadmap,” Lerner said, adding that the teach-in brought together the voices of many Americans “who understand that security for Israel can only come when there is security and self-determination for the Palestinian people.”
Lerner said many Israeli peace activists have criticized the road map because it lacks a “clear destination.” By contrast, the Tikkun resolution calls on Israel to withdraw to its 1967 borders with minor changes allowing Israel to retain sections of Jerusalem, and to create an “economically and politically viable Palestinian state.”
Josh Ruebner, executive director of Jews for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, told the World, “This is perhaps the largest advocacy day for Palestinian-Israeli peace ever. I hope it has an impact on how lawmakers view the two-state solution. Tikkun is trying to put more substance on the bones of the roadmap.”
Other speakers included Yaniv Iczkovits, an Israeli reservist and co-founder of “Courage to Refuse,” who described how he was ordered to search Palestinian houses in the West Bank for weapons. “I didn’t think about going into a house at
1 a.m. in the morning waking up the children,” he said. “It is totally open to any soldier who wants to get in. When we dehumanize other people, we dehumanize ourselves. When we deny others freedom, we definitely are not free.” The crowd erupted in applause.
A May 31 National Teach-in organized by United For Peace and Justice (UFPJ) brought 2,000 enthusiastic participants to Washington’s National City Christian Church to protest the U.S. occupation of Iraq and the threat posed by the Bush doctrine of preemptive war.
The crowd, described by The Washington Post as “teenagers in jeans and sneakers [and] retirees in slacks and shined shoes,” filled the pews at the National City Christian Church, saying the war in Iraq is a long way from ending. Those interviewed by the Post said they had come because the fight did not end the day Bush declared victory in the Iraq war and because they were worried about the direction of the country’s foreign and domestic policies.
The Rev. Graylan S. Hagler, the African-American pastor of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ, was elated by the large turnout. “Now we must discern and decide what the next steps are,” he told the World in a brief interview. “Tremendous energy and unity have been built into this movement. We have to be cautious not to squander it.”
Hagler, who plans to attend the June 6-7 UFPJ conference in Chicago, said the movement is shifting from an “anti-war” to an “anti-occupation movement – one that opposes the empire building” of the Bush administration.
Hagler voiced the concern that the traditional peace movement insufficiently reflects the diverse make-up of the U.S. population. “At this point we are holding open discussions about reaching out to the Black and Hispanic communities,” he said. “If you are going to remove the Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld regime from power, it is going to take every stream of our population.”
Hagler said the peace movement should be looking to the 2004 election with a platform “that resonates in people’s hearts” by emphasizing funding social needs and ending preemptive war. “Our struggle against the Iraq war was righteous,” he said. “Everything that has come out since shows that we were on target.”
Organizers said the teach-in was held to help build a mass movement opposed not only to war but current U.S. policy as well. “What happened in Iraq was not an accident, was not an anomaly,” Leslie Cagan told a Post reporter. “It was part of a total global plan by the Bush administration.”
Other speakers included Ralph Nader, Cynthia McKinney and Arundhati Roy.
Tim Wheeler can be reached at email@example.com