TEL AVIV (Feb. 24)
For Jason Alexander, best known as Jerry Seinfeld’s hapless sidekick George Costanza, a grass-roots peace initiative to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace is more than just "yadda yadda yadda."
Alexander visited Israel this week to help launch One Voice, a project that hopes to empower people on both sides of the conflict through a public, electronic referendum.
As of Tuesday, Israelis and Palestinians will be able to cast ballots that allow them to present their positions on the key issues of the conflict. From their answers, a synthesized peace proposal will be crafted and then presented to leaders on both sides.
In an interview with JTA, Alexander said the idea spoke to him because it held the promise of tapping into the majority on both sides who do want peace.
"The vision was so specific, so well worked out about how to reconnect the sort of silent majority who have been silenced by the violence and get them reinvigorated and reinvested," he said.
Speaking Tuesday at a news conference in Petach Tikva, Alexander predicted he would be able to bring his children to Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Ramallah without fear within a year
Alexander first heard about One Voice from its main organizers during a meeting at the home of fellow actors Danny Devito and Rhea Perlman last year.
Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, who are on the organization’s American advisory board, were also at the meeting.
Organizers are planning to bring other celebrities to Israel to help promote the project and have established an "Entertainment Council" to help mobilize actors, writers, producers, directors and others to back it.
Among entertainment industry members who have signed on in support of the idea are Ed Norton and Mili Avital.
While in the region, Alexander is planning to meet Israeli actors and members of the entertainment community in Tel Aviv and their Palestinian counterparts in Ramallah.
Daniel Lubetsky, an American businessman, leads One Voice together with its Middle East director Mohammed Darawshe, an Israeli Arab long involved in coexistence efforts.
Lubetsky said the project is different than other recent alternative peace plans because the plan’s specifics come from the grass roots.
"We’re essentially a democratic process where we are going straight to the people and asking them to express themselves," Lubetsky said.
Participants in the poll will vote either by Internet on the site, www.silentnolonger.com, or via remote control on television sets, the telephone, newspapers or in voting booths.
The organizers say results would then be tabulated by a computer system donated by IBM to the project. Those results would then be used to produce a consensus-style mandate that organizers say would accurately reflect the will of Israelis and Palestinians.
The referendum asks voters to comment on a series of proposals including a two-state solution, the possibility of setting the 1967 borders as final borders, and the evacuation of most Jewish settlements as part of a peace deal.
After Alexander toured Israel in 1991 at the end of the first Gulf War "Israel went from absolute zero in my life to something I really became concerned with and passionate about."
He said Jews in Hollywood seem to be reluctant to speak out on the subject of Israel. Some, he said, think they will immediately be seen as choosing the Israeli side because they are Jewish if they say anything. Others, he said, priding themselves as leftists, choose to overtly side with the Palestinians.
"In both cases I guarantee you that most of them do not understand the history or nature of this conflict. American secular Jews distance themselves from Israel; I was just as guilty before I came here," he said.
Part of what draws Alexander to Israel, he said, is what he described as the passionate involvement of Israelis in their country.
He says he misses seeing that involvement in the United States and that his character George was void of it altogether.
"George would not know Israel was on the map. George and his cohorts were the most supremely selfish people in the history of television and anything that did not happen in their apartment and diner was outside of their field of experience," Alexander said, smiling. "So the best you could get was he’d come here and try to recruit a ballplayer for the Yankees."