New Jewish Agenda (NJA)

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New Jewish Agenda (NJA), which was disbanded in 1992, was an American Jewish organization active between 1980 and 1992. Its slogan was "a Jewish voice among progressives and a progressive voice among Jews." Some of its heritage can be traced back to Breira.

NJA was criticised by Jeffrey Blankfort,in this 1990 article, as a Zionist front. Many of the same people seem to be involved in Brit Tzedek v'Shalom (Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace) which was founded in 2002.

Jeffrey Blankfort reports (July 1990):[1]

More than a year a half has passed since Proposition W, a measure calling for a two-state resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was turned down by the voters of San Francisco. In the process of analysing that defeat I found increasing evidence that certain organizations and individuals holding prominent positions in the US Middle East peace movement and who were involved either directly or indirectly in the Prop. W campaign have been engaged in what can accurately be described as a "pacification program" directed at every element of the movement and at Palestinians and Arab-Americans, in particular.

...

What we are concerned with here is a phenomena that to date has neither been sufficiently challenged nor examined, i.e., how, since the start of the intifada, Jewish individuals and organizations in the so-called "peace camp," New Jewish Agenda (NJA), in particular, with other non-denominational peace groups not so naively tagging behind, succeeded, until mid-summer of 1990, in defining the "correct" response for progressive Americans of all denominations to the months of unremitting Israeli violence.

The Palestinian intifada has produced such dramatic changes in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that it is easy to forget the quiescent period with its relative lack of activity that preceded it. We refer not only to the West Bank and Gaza, itself long ignored by a PLO preoccupied with its survival in Lebanon, or to the attitude of the heads of the Arab states who at their 1987 summit meeting ignored Palestinian aspirations altogether, but to the situation among Middle East "peace and justice" groups in the United States, where little activity of any significance was taking place.

How much of this can be laid at the door of NJA and its allies, and how much was the responsibility of pro-Palestinian activists is perhaps judged best on a case by case basis, but regarding NJA, certain things have become apparent.

A review of the organization's publications and internal documents would seem to indicate that controlling the agenda of the Middle East peace movement has been the goal of NJA beginning well before the intifada . What is significant is that both the language and tone of its positions have been essentially unaffected by the mounting statistics of dead, injured and imprisoned in the West Bank and Gaza, and by the changes within Israel itself. And in no area has its position been more rigid than on the question of US aid to Israel.

This was confirmed long after this article was initiated by an internal document of the organization – a letter sent by its national leadership to its San Francisco chapter warning its members that they would be expelled if they took a position calling for the suspension of aid to Israel until it agrees to withdraw from the Occupied Territories. After a series of bitter meetings, this had become a requirement for membership in the revamped Middle East Peace Network (MEPN), a quite different version from the original network of which had taken over the campaign for Prop. W. In the letter, dated Dec. 4, 1989, NJA's national co-chairs admonished the San Francisco NJA members for not having "formed solid relationships" with Palestinian and Arab-American groups in the Bay Area.

In contrast, they presented the NJA chapters in Los Angeles and Orange counties as examples of how it should be done. These chapters, the letter said, "participate in strong progressive coalitions which have expressly not taken up the aid issue. These chapters' relationships with Palestinian and Arab-American groups helped these groups understand NJA's position." The letter aggravated an ongoing debate on the aid issue in the Bay Area chapter which led to its dissolution.

NJA's ability to suppress the aid issue in Southern California and until recently in the San Francisco area demonstrates how it has been more successful in dealing with Middle East peace groups than with the mainstream Jewish community which ostensibly was its original focus. The approach it has taken to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the beginning is non-judgmental and it was this position that was subsequently adopted en toto by the Prop. W leadership, Non-judgmental meant that no one, i.e. Israel, must be "blamed." "Balance" must be maintained. The accepted terminology: "two-state solution" and "international peace conference." The unmentionables:

  1. Israeli atrocities,
  2. the "untouchable" $3 billion plus in US annual aid to Israel ($30+ billion since 1980) and
  3. the activities of the powerful pro-Israel lobby which continues to stifle public debate at every level of government, and which will be discussed in more detail further on.

Comparing the "acceptables" to the "unmentionables" is not designed to pose one group against the other. Rather, it might be said that the historic failure to integrate the "unmentionables" into the broader context of the US peace and non-intervention movement has made the creation of a Palestinian mini-state side by side with Israel ( the "two-state solution" ) with or without an "international peace conference," appear to be the only practical, if unlikely solution at this point in time. What is practical, however, should not be confused with what is just. After 40 years of dispossession from their native Palestine and after 20 years of military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, it cannot be seriously argued that there is anything equitable about "giving" the Palestinians a truncated state limited to those areas.

This is what the leadership of New Jewish Agenda has been trying to do, however, since its founding conference in 1980, supposedly as an alternative to the mainstream pro-Israel Jewish organizations – "a progressive voice in the Jewish community, a Jewish voice in the progressive community."

Whether NJA has lived up to that promise depends upon one's perspective and priorities. Many Jewish non-Zionists who joined in its early years soon quit in frustration, concluding that NJA was merely an old form in new clothing. In succeeding years, other Jewish activists seeking a progressive Jewish response to the continuing occupation and unfamiliar with the organization's history, have been attracted to NJA's ranks. Despite sharp criticism from the Zionist ultra-right, as well as the center of the Jewish mainstream for which it claims to be an alternative, NJA's raison d'etre, however, is fundamentally the same. As Proposition W author, Salwa Soladay pointed out in describing the Bay Area NJA Chapter's approach to Prop. W in 1988: "They had three goals: the first was Israel's survival; the second, not to disturb Jewish sensibilities; and the third, to win without sacrificing the first two."

An examination NJA's history should lead one to wonder how it was able to achieve a position of prominence in the Middle East peace movement.

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Other entities whose entries refer to New Jewish Agenda (NJA)

Cherie R. Brown   • Brit_Tzedek_v’Shalom_(Jewish_Alliance_for_Justice_and_Peace)   • Michel Roublev   • David L. Mandel   • Salwa Soladay

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