We need more ‘peace acts’ and less ‘peace talks’

Between the major and minor groups, I often wonder if there are more Jewish professionals employed in advocacy groups than in Israel’s entire Foreign Ministry.

Rabin peace rally 2011 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/ Nir Elias)
Rabin peace rally 2011 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/ Nir Elias)
Recently my wife and I had the privilege of being honorees at a regional Hadassah Israel state dinner. Barbara Goldstein, deputy director of Hadassah, told those assembled that Hadassah wasn’t just “an organization that talked peace, it was an organization that does peace.”
Having been active in so many Jewish organizations the over the 50 years since I was a teenager, this crystallized for me some thoughts I have been having about Jewish organizations in general in recent years and what must be done to make them more effective in promoting Middle East peace and the position of Jews in the world.
Despite the fact that we now have more advocacy organizations per capita than we’ve had in the history of our people, we are told by the recent Pew Polls and census data that our numbers of affiliated Jews are dwindling, as are our numbers in general, with the exceptions of assimilation and low birth rates.
What this tells me is that we are not engaging those we have available to us because we may be flooding people with many contradictory messages.
When you stop to think about it, how many Israel advocacy groups are there? Between the major and minor groups, I often wonder if there are more Jewish professionals employed in advocacy groups than in Israel’s entire Foreign Ministry.
The alphabet soup of advocacy organizations have, in many ways, become a combined Jewish organizational collection agency and firing squad, each trying to grow while shrinking because of diminishing census, a terrible economy and increasing competition.
These organizations are now all resorting to weighing in on all issues by appealing to fears of genocide and anti- Semitism with the standard line: we are your leading organization to fight anti- Semitism. And while each organization individually shrinks, anti-Semitism grows.
Yes, the world is becoming an increasingly dangerous place for Jews, but whining about it with massive campaigns for dollars, and preaching to the choir, is a no-win game. What organizational leaders may realize, but fail to acknowledge, is that organizational pronouncements are frequently not worth the paper they are written on. At least, if they are not backed by those minions who would affix their names to a righteous, positive statement leading to constructive solutions, and not just to condemnations.
There is power in numbers, and that is how peace is made. When individuals step up to to be publicly counted through deeds, appealing to our own and other’s angels and not hiding behind some amorphous not-for-profit corporate structure, all sides take notice and feel a glimmer of promise, for that is grass-roots engagement trying to achieve peaceful outcomes.
HADASSAH IS an organization that does peace because it brings people together to promote healing, research education, leadership and social justice. What a lesson other organizations could learn from it about actually promoting peace. Hadassah is more than happy to get you involved at the grassroots level, and make you and others feel good about these efforts in a way that is personally empowering, where you don’t just feel like a check writer. Hadassah speaks to all communities, including the enemies of Israel, with understanding and compassion, and is admired and listened to.
ZAKA, the incredibly adept disaster and international search, rescue and recovery group based in Israel, is another shining example of “doing peace” rather than “talking peace.” With often little or no regard for a community’s acceptance of Jews or Israel, they are first responders in most of the world’s natural and terrorist disasters, exemplifying our exceptional commitment to the dignity of every human being regardless of race, color or creed, and even in death. Little is said, much is done and much is accomplished in terms of changing hearts and minds.
It is just not enough to preach to the choir for that feel-good moment where you think someone may put something in the collection box. You must engage and empower not just those who agree with you, but those on the fence and even those who disagree with you, to come into your tent and work for peace. There has to be tangible product with which people from all different perspectives can come together.
We stand a better chance of achieving peace and stability when we try to find common ground with those who may disagree with us, and stand by a statement or a project.
This is so important. Some of our organizations are reaching out to others who are not necessarily in agreement with us across the board and engaging them in peaceful collaborations, but we need more.
Our Israel advocacy groups need to find those on the other side and work together more publicly to show cooperation and collaboration so that extremist groups on all sides can no longer block peaceful resolutions with blanket statements about the other.
Within group bashing, excommunication and litmus tests only create obstacles to peace, they do not enhance the prospects for it. We must welcome healthy dialogue and not eschew it for the party line. It may make some feel good, but it does nothing to advance peace.
SO HERE are my recommendation to major Jewish organizations to increase their effectiveness in achieving peace and stability for Jews in the Diaspora and the people of Israel. They revolve around the concept of growing more efforts to “do peace” and not just “talk peace.”
Here are five suggestions that, if acted upon, would give Jewish organizations more credibility not just with true believers, but with those on the other side but who might be willing to come forward to move forward peaceful efforts.
1) Find ways to engage and empower not only those who agree with you, but those who might not agree with you, to get involved in projects where situations and/or people are left better off than before the intervention.
2) Find ways to engage and empower not only those who agree with you, but those who might not agree with you, to have frequent and regular dialogues to get to know others as individuals and not just as a member of a titled group.
3) Be more public, democratic and transparent in your organizational administration and allow for many voices from all strata within the organization to be heard with respect and dignity.
Organizations that successfully incorporate those with different viewpoints have the best chance of being successful.
Big tents are the path to peace and recognition, not myopic closed systems with party lines.
4) Find ways to engage and empower those who may disagree with you to come to your table to find common ground on issues where you can publicly stand together with your minions.
5) We must tell others what they should do, but do what must be done ourselves to show we are heavily invested in peaceful efforts. Telling others what to do will have no effect if we cannot do it with them.
We know incitement, name-calling, condemnation, stonewalling and hiding behind corporate identities is not advancing the cause of peace. Engagement, education and empowerment of those who are on the fence or even those who may disagree with us has been and will always be the path to peace.
The path to peace is a process of engagement, education and empowerment that leads to enabled elevated enlightenment. Invectives and incitement only promote instability, indecision and indictments, with nothing accomplished. Our people must chose which organizations they will support, those that talk peace or those that do peace.
The writer is a retired counselor and psychologist educator, as well as co-founder and president emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.