Activists jockey during Obama transition

Activists jockey during Obama transition

NEW YORK — The weeks leading up to the inauguration of a new U.S. president can be heady times for those seeking the ear of the incoming administration. So it was no surprise that among Jewish groups, even those with opposing views, saw an opportunity over the weekend to rally their members and stake their positions early.
Capitalizing on the singular political moment, liberal Jewish thinkers and activists gathered at an all-day conference Sunday titled “Jews Uniting to End the War and Heal America: Organizing for Action.” Sponsored by The Shalom Center, Jewish Currents and Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring, the program summoned anti-war activists from the Jewish community who appealed to the incoming administration to end the war in Iraq.
“We want to be heard,” said Rabbi Ellen Lippmann of Brooklyn’s Kolot Chayeinu congregation, who helped organize the conference at the Central Synagogue in midtown Manhattan. “Not to let some voices dominate policy, but to hopefully have some influence with the new administration.”
Thirteen city blocks to the south — and several degrees to the right politically — the Zionist Organization of America celebrated its 111th Anniversary Justice Louis B. Brandeis Dinner at the Grand Hyatt Hotel. Early in the program, U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) highlighted the subtext of this year’s dinner taking place during President-elect Barack Obama’s transition period.
“People are going to be reassessing the very foundations of our discussion about Israel,” he said. “They are going to be questioning the things we’ve taken for granted in the past.”
For many at the ZOA event, this means pushing the Obama administration to keep up the fight against Islamic fundamentalism — and step back from supporting the Palestinian Authority or pushing any new diplomatic initiatives that could lead to pressure on Israel.
To be sure, the sentiment that policies are being re-evaluated galvanized organizers of the anti-war conference to plan their event, even before knowing the outcome of the American presidential election.
“For too many years, the American Jewish community has not acted on our deepest values with enough vigor,” said Rabbi Arthur Waskow, the director of The Shalom Center.
Using a metaphor of a tugboat that steers large ocean liners, Waskow urged conference attendees to change the course of mainstream Jewish organizations and public opinion. He also touted increased international and interreligious dialogue and peacemaking efforts in Israel.