WASHINGTON (Feb. 23)
Audrey Clement biked across night-darkened bridges and through driving winter rain to make her point: Her party — the Green Party — made a fundamental mistake in a resolution calling for divestment from Israel. She waited patiently for the DC-Statehood-Green Party to wade through its monthly agenda items of procedural items, reports on efforts to revive schools and libraries in afflicted areas of Washington and a lengthy discussion on making the Web site accessible to all members.
Then she rose and launched her critique of a resolution that calls for total divestment from Israel for its alleged abuses of Palestinians: “What I am addressing is what I believe is subliminal anti-Semitism,” she said.
Clement appealed to the Washington branch at the Feb. 2 meeting because her Virginia branch of the party had ignored her request for a hearing.
Her appearance — and a debate now raging throughout the party’s rank and file — was the result of a hard-driven campaign by Gary Acheatel, a banker in Portland, Ore., launched not long after the Green Party passed the resolution in November.
Acheatel said the resolution was the final straw in what he said was Israel’s diminishing profile on the left. He joined the Greens and started contacting the delegates who voted against Resolution 190 losing a lopsided 55-7 vote.
Acheatel said one national Jewish group rebuffed him because the Greens are on the fringe of American political life. The party has diminished substantially in status since Ralph Nader’s run for the presidency in 2000. They were not a factor in the last elections, and the party currently has slightly more than 300,000 registered voters.
“I don’t believe the Greens to be so inconsequential,” Acheatel countered. “Its candidates are invited to debates and merit coverage in the mainstream press. This enables the party to exercise an influence beyond its numbers.”
Acheatel contacted Lorna Salzman, a veteran Green Party activist from New York City and they launched the “Let 190 Go” campaign, headquartered on the Web at www.advocatesforisrael.org. It has made some inroads.
In addition to Clement’s appearance in Washington, a number of Jewish veterans of the party are appealing for the resolution to be rescinded, including former candidates such as Stanley Aronowitz of New York, and Marakay Rogers, a candidate for governor of Pennsylvania.
“The credibility of the U.S. Green Party has been badly damaged; resignations from the party are occurring and letters are coming in to the media committee expressing anger and disappointment with the party,” Aronowitz and Rogers wrote in a letter to the party’s national committee. “We will continue to lose prospective members and we need to take these criticisms seriously.”
Acheatel said he has an additional goal: empowering Jews on the left, who Acheatel believes are not as versed in combating anti-Israel activism as their peers on the right.
“This is a perfect avenue for Jewish advocacy on the left to gain the taste of victory,” Acheatel told JTA.
On that score, Acheatel’s campaign has scored a considerable success, enlisting a number of synagogues and progressive Jewish groups. The San Francisco-based Tikkun Community and the Progressive Jewish Alliance have each made appeals to the party.
National Jewish groups are playing a role too. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs organized a conference call on the issue for about 15 Jewish community relations councils, and the Anti-Defamation League distributed material to Green Party delegates.
Much of the debate’s focus is on how the resolution singles out Israel, while ignoring human rights abuses in a number of other countries, including many in the Middle East.
“I am concerned by the anti-Semitic undertones of the proposal,” Nikolas Schiller, an officer of the Washington branch, said after listening to Clement’s presentation. “I agree with the more global aspects” of an alternative that would take a range of nations to task.
Other chapter members favored keeping the resolution as is, saying singling out Israel did not by itself constitute anti-Semitism. The meeting concluded with a decision to discuss it further.
A statement accompanying the resolution takes other recent divestment proposals a step further by calling for the “serious consideration of a single secular, democratic state as the national home of both Israelis and Palestinians.”
It is that call that has sparked the most acrimonious debate.
“I don’t support Israeli aggression but I do support its right to exist as an independent state,” Salzman said in an exchange with Ron Francis, the co-chairman of the Massachusetts Green-Rainbow Party, a major backer of the disinvestments issue. “If you don’t, then come out and say it straight, don’t beat around the bush.”
Francis had referred, in the exchange, to his state party’s statement supporting “a secular, democratic governing entity for all people in the geographic region of historic Palestine (today referred to by some people as Israel, the West Bank and Gaza).”
Other considerations drive the debate. Some Green Party activists resented the passing of the national resolution without debate at the local level — a hallmark of the party that grass-roots members cherish.
At the Washington chapter meeting, members berated the national delegate for failing to raise the matter with them before she voted for the resolution.
Others say the party is betraying its feminist component by singling out Israel while ignoring the repression of women’s rights by the Palestinians and other Arab nations.
“Israel is a proxy for a larger issue, and that issue is women’s rights in the Middle East,” said Clement, 56, a computer programmer from Arlington, Va. “I see these states trampling the rights of women as absolutely as they trample Israel.”
Finally, some opponents of the resolution question the paradox of singling out the region’s strongest proponent of environmental protections.
“Resolution 190 violates the environmental bent of the Green Party,” said Jason Rosenwach, an American University student who attended the Washington branch meeting.
Rosenwach told the meeting that Israel has the region’s most aggressive green policies, including a commitment to plant more trees than it uses.
The U.S. party also ignored the international green movement’s tradition of consulting the relevant regional branch before committing to a policy.
“We are very disappointed that our sister party in the U.S. did not consult with the Israel Green Party before passing this resolution,” Peer Visner, the deputy mayor of Tel Aviv and the chairman of Israel’s Green Party, said in a statement. He called the resolution a “breach in trust.”