Visions for a Progressive Israel

Categories: Personal Stories of Zionism, Israel and Progressive Identity
By UPZ Staff

UPZ Student Leadership Conference
September 16-18, 2005

This September 16-18 the Union of Progressive Zionists (UPZ) ? a not-for-profit student organization advocating across North American campuses for peace and social justice in Israel/Palestine ? launched its 2005-2006 year of activism at its second annual student leadership conference entitled: ?Visions for a Progressive Israel.? One hundred activists from across the United States and Canada convened for the weekend at the Pearlstone Retreat Center in Reisterstown, MD, where they learned from some of the most prominent figures in Israeli and Palestinian peace activism, and formulated regional and national campaigns to further the UPZ?s goal of promoting peaceful, nuanced, civil and inclusive dialogue on campus regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Author, journalist and educator Dr. Leonard Fein opened the conference with a talk entitled ?Between the Honey and the Thorn: Progressive Zionism Past and Present.? The conference also featured such speakers as deputy mayor of Tel Aviv-Yafo and long-time peace activist Yael Dayan, who spoke alongside Executive Director of the American Task Force on Palestine Rafi Dajani on disengagement and ?The Day After?; Director of Policy Analysis for Israel Policy Forum MJ Rosenberg, who spoke on the climate in Congress and the pro-Israel lobby; and Ambassador at Large Philip Wilcox, who gave a briefing on the Israeli settlements and the importance of American mediation.

Workshops and breakout sessions included a crash course on campus organizing with Temple University teacher and activist Elliot Ratzman, a discussion on how to get into the press with Gabrielle Birkner of the New York Jewish Week and the staff of New Voices, and a session on making the best use of Hillel and other campus resources with Ilan Wagner, North American emissary for the Jewish agency. Other organizations represented on panels and in workshops included the Jewish Dialogue Group, Americans for Peace Now, and USD/Hagshama, and other topics covered included American Jews? connection to Israel, how to respond to divestment campaigns, and how to create successful dialogues dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Students also met in small groups over the course of the weekend, where they discussed the UPZ?s statement of principles and identified issues they would most like to engage this year. These included: Educating about the concept of progressive Zionism, which includes grappling with what it means for Israel to be both a Jewish and democratic state; acting to end the existence and development of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories and pushing for a two-state solution; advocating for equal rights and economic parity for all citizens and residents of Israel. At a town hall meeting on Saturday night, students brainstormed ideas for nationally coordinated events and campaigns, including proposals for a campaign in which 100 campuses would sign mock peace accords and a nationally coordinated event on dozens of campuses to commemorate the anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin?s assassination in November.

On Sunday morning, students formed committees to plan and manage tasks such as: ongoing individual campus programming; simultaneous national events; response teams/policy statements; communication and networking; and a task force for integrating small campuses. These committees set in place the building blocks for the organizational structure of the UPZ.

Campuses Represented at the Conference (38):

Allegheny College, American U, Boston U, Brandeis, Brookdale Community College, Brown, Carelton College, Carleton U, Catonsville Community College, Clark, Columbia, Dickinson, George Washington, Goucher, Kendall College, Marlboro, Massachusetts Art Institute, Mcgill, Michigan State, New Jersey Institute of Technology, NYU, Oberlin College, Pace U, Rice U, SUNY Binghamton, SUNY Newpaltz, Temple U,
Tufts U, U of Illinois-Urbana, U of Maryland, U of Michigan, U of Toronto, U of Virginia, U of Wisconsin-Madison, UCLA, Vassar, Wesleyan, York

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