Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, a national organization dedicated to promoting a two-state solution between the Israelis and Palestinians, has formed a new chapter in Pittsburgh.
A committee of 12 people organized the chapter, whose first event will be Monday, April 13, 7 p.m. at the Squirrel Hill Jewish Community Center. Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, a Palestinian physician whose home was hit by Israeli rocket fire during the recent Gaza fighting, killing three of his children, will be the featured speaker.
Abuelaish has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, it was announced Monday by Belgium’s state secretary. The gynecologist, 55, who trained in Israel and speaks Hebrew, also received a letter from the Nobel committee.
“I believe for a long time, as many of my colleagues do, that a two-state solution is a way to maintain Israel as a democracy without occupying other territory,” said Rabbi Art Donsky of Temple Ohav Shalom in the North Hills, one of the founding members of the Pittsburgh chapter. “A two-state solution allows Israel to focus on raising the standard of living for all of its citizens, Jewish and Arab alike. It allows the Palestinians the right to self-determination.”
Nationally, Brit Tzedek, which was established in 2002, has about 40 chapters and 45,000 dues-paying members.
The group’s mission is to promote the two-state solution through education, and doesn’t use political means. J Street, another group devoted to the two-state solution, is the politically based group.
“J Street is the political arm of those advocating a two-state solution,” Donksy said. “Brit Tzedek is about grassroots organizing and education programming. It’s not a political program; it’s education.”
There are currently 40 people on the Pittsburgh chapter’s mailing list, although the group hopes to expand that number.
“We would like to have a 100 people. It depends on how much outreach we do,” said Nancy Bernstein, another founding member of the Pittsburgh chapter. “I think there are people out there who are frustrated like we are.”
For the next year, the group will be under review by the national organization. If the Pittsburgh chapter can meet all of Brit Tzedek’s requirements, then it will receive a charter.
To make sure that happens, Donsky said the chapter will hold monthly educational programs around Pittsburgh and bring in speakers.
The members who formed the chapter have either been a part of Brit Tzedek nationally or have been in favor for a two-state solution for years.
“Many of us have been online supporters since the national organization began in 2002,” Donsky said.
“I wanted to get involved because I wanted to have the chance to work with others who feel the same way I do and who are frustrated with the way the peace process has moved,” Bernstein said.
While the group isn’t political, both Donsky and Bernstein say the Obama administration is the best chance for a two-state solution.
“The previous eight years gave lip service to the peace process,” Donsky said. “The sad part of that lip service was the loss of thousands of lives.”
“Eighty-seven percent of Jews voted for Obama knowing he wanted a more democratic process in peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” Donsky continued.
Membership in Brit Tzedek, nationally and in Pittsburgh, is open only to Jews. Bernstein said that this group gives people the opportunity to raise their voices.
“I think this is a test of the Jewish community in this area,” she said. “It will provide the opportunity for people in this area who have been frustrated to show their support.”
However, she knows there are multiple viewpoints as to how peace in the region should be obtained.
“We aren’t trying to hit anyone over the head, Bernstein said, “we want to be open to providing programs to people who want to know more about the issue.”
(Mike Zoller can be reached at email@example.com.)