LOS ANGELES (Jul. 19)
New Jewish Agenda (NJA) decided at its biennial convention here last week to send a Benjamin Linder Brigade to Nicaragua in December to reopen the confiscated Managua synagogue as a Jewish cultural center.
Most of Nicaragua’s tiny Jewish community fled the country when the Sandinista-led revolution ousted Gen. Anastasio Somoza-Debayle, the military dictator, in 1979.
Some Jewish organizations contend that the Jews were forced to leave and their property confiscated. Some also accept the Reagan Administration’s linkage of the Sandinista government with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
But NJA, at meetings July 9-12 at the University of California at Los Angeles, took a far different view. Its task force on Central America said its “work has been especially significant in building support against aid to the Contras, building the Jewish sanctuary movement, supporting material aid projects for Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala, challenging disinformation (especially the myth of anti-Semitism in Nicaragua) in the Jewish community and the public at large, and ensuring that Jews are proportionately represented in coalitions and other anti-intervention efforts.”
Several mainstream Jewish organizations have cited evidence of anti-Semitism on the part of the Sandinistas and claim they collaborate with the PLO and Libya.
Criticism of Reagan Administration policies in Central America was just one of many controversial issues examined and debated by 500 members of the seven-year-old Jewish organization with positions to the left of the U.S. Jewish mainstream.
NJA’s five national task forces presented strategy papers that will set the organization’s course for the next two years. A key stratagem is to form alliances for political change.
For the first time, NJA took up the issue of Soviet Jewry. Delegates agreed that NJA must become active on behalf of rights in the Soviet Union, notwithstanding possible objections by a tiny minority of members who regard the USSR as a model society.
But the most controversial positions related to the Middle East. The Middle East strategy paper set out the principal political thrust of the NJA’s work to influence American policy to: support the participation of the PLO in the peace process as the internationally recognized representative of the Palestinian people; help negotiate an international peace conference under United Nations sponsorship with participation of Israel, the PLO, the neighboring Arab states, the U.S. and the Soviet Union; and to work for the reduction of arms supplies to the Middle East and demilitarization of the conflicts there.
The task force also called for religious freedom in Israel for Jews and non-Jews.
Gordie Pellman, co-chair of the Middle East task force, said “The reality of the PLO is that it represents the great majority of Palestinians and we must recognize this.” At the convention’s Mideast workshop, a strong minority position was expressed that NJA has moved too far ahead of the Jewish community on this issue. But the overwhelming consensus was that Israel should seize the moment and negotiate with the PLO.
This was reinforced in a speech at the Mideast plenary by PLO member Afif Safieh, a former staff member at the office of PLO chief Yasir Arafat and currently a visiting professor at Harvard University.
“You can’t make peace with people you never talk to,” he said. “It is in the interests of Israel, the Jewish people and moral decency for Israel and the PLO to sit at a table with other Arab states and the superpowers and negotiate a settlement that would allow for the self-determination of both peoples. It’s taken some convincing, but the majority of the Palestinian people are ready to compromise.”
Latif Dori, a leader of the Mapam Party in Israel, agreed. “If we don’t shake hands we’ll end up shaking guns,” he said. Dori is one of four Israelis who met with a PLO delegation in Rumania. They are currently on trial for violating a law forbidding Israeli citizens to have any contact with the PLO.
NJA resolutions on the Middle East condemned the Reagan Administration decisions to deport Palestinians and to close PLO offices in the U.S. The NJA restated its basic position on the Middle East — support for the two-state Israel/Palestine option as the basis on which to negotiate the future status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
FEMINIST STRATEGY BACKED
The feminist strategy paper proposed to develop and disseminate a feminist perspective on the Jewish family, including gay and lesbian families, and to become a progressive Jewish presence in the feminist movement. It proposed a new Jewish family work group to “function as a think tank for the development of a Jewish feminist analysis of perspectives on the Jewish family, produce articles, position papers and responses to developments on relevant issues in the Jewish communities.”
The economic and social justice task force emphasized anti-apartheid and anti-racist work; opposition to the far right; support for more affordable social services for families with dependent children; job guarantees; and the formation of coalitions for low-income housing.
The disarmament task force stressed the need for educational work for disarmament, opposition to weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East and opposition to Israeli participation in the Reagan Administration’s Strategic Defense Initiative, popularly known as “Star Wars.” It also proposed an end to nuclear testing and abolition of first strike weapons such as the Trident submarine.
The NJA was founded in Washington, D.C., in December 1980. It claims it is the only left-oriented Jewish organization that has grown since then. Its convention made clear that it stands by its original statement of purpose — to provide a political and ideological “home” for Jews uncomfortable with the present Jewish community establishment.