The crusader of Israel-Palestinian peace

Last Monday night after dinner, after the dishes were cleared, I sat in my dining room with Mark Rosenblum and asked him the question I’d long been meaning to ask: Why don’t you just give up?

In 1978, a group of former Israeli army officers and activists formed Shalom Achshav — Peace Now — to persuade their government that Israel could never have true security without negotiating a settlement with the Palestinians.  

Mark, then a young Queens College professor, threw himself into organizing a stateside support system for Shalom Achshav.

In 1984, just after I moved back from two years in Israel and was looking to stay involved in the country’s future, Mark hired me to organize a Los Angeles office of Americans for Peace Now (APN).  

He was tireless, driven and caring. He introduced me to his heroes — decorated warriors like Gen. Yehoshafat Harkabi, who called for direct negotiations with the Palestinians. When Mark escorted Harkabi to a Beverly Hills synagogue, local armchair warriors tried to shout the general down. Mark argued back, but he never shouted, never called names. 

“What convinces people to listen to you,” he said, “is when you listen to them.”

The illogic of occupation, he was certain, would ultimately vindicate Peace Now.

I left activism for journalism — I still find it more fulfilling to convey differing stories and points of view than promote my own. Over the years, many others also left. Two intifadas, several bad-faith peace negotiations, the duplicitous Yasser Arafat, Israel’s relentless settlement expansion — in the face of all that, the Israeli left withered. Fighting for peace is still fighting, and the warriors grew tired, battle-scarred. Many, like Aaron David Miller, made public their disillusion: “Good riddance, ‘peace process,’ ” Miller wrote two years ago in the Los Angeles Times.

But Mark won’t quit.

He stepped down from running APN full time. But he still travels, speaks and raises money for the organization — 30 hours each week, if not the 80 he used to put in. He juggles Middle East peace with running the Center for Jewish Studies at Queens College and its Center for Ethnic Racial & Religious Understanding. He still looks tireless, shlepping into town in his loose dark suit, thick glasses, his hair somewhat thin and graying, a worn, paper-stuffed Nader-esque black satchel by his side.

“Why,” I asked, “don’t you just give up?”

Mark took a sip of the tea I’d made, then answered.

His mother, father and siblings had moved in 1997 to Kibbutz Hatzor, near Gaza. 

“When the rockets hit,” he said, “you can feel the earth shaking.”

They’re still there. He stayed in Larchmont, N.Y.

Language was a large part of the reason, he said — revealing something I never knew. As a child, Mark suffered from such a traumatic stutter that he didn’t speak until the age of 8. The person who has given countless lectures and participated in as many debates on Israel and Palestine told me he has to concentrate hard just to get his words out right. The idea of mastering a new language, Hebrew, was too daunting.

So Mark focused his energies on Israel in a different way.

 “I feel loyalty and connection, and that makes me feel like I can’t join the ‘exes,’ those who have given up. I’m still haunted by the fact that I feel close, but I’m doing advocacy from the outside,” he said.

Mark has seen four generations of peace activists, Palestinians and Israelis, come and go. But, he said, the voice he represents is more important than ever. The right has given up on the two-state solution; the left is giving up on Israel. A few weeks ago, he publicly debated the anti-Zionist Israeli Ilan Pappé in Seattle. 

Mark explained to the crowd that Peace Now was first a general’s movement — people like Harkabi, who died in 1994, saw peace as the best way to achieve security.

“He was my mentor,” Mark said. “He was a security dove, a Machiavellian dove.”

Peace isn’t just morally right; it is in the security interests of all sides. If that’s the left, Mark said, it is, “in the center right” of the left.   

His is also an idea that has, in a way, won. Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and now Benjamin Netanyahu all eventually came around to seeing the two-state solution and negotiations with the Palestinians — ideas that once got Mark shouted down in synagogues — as the best way to secure Israel.

“The left makes the ideas,” Mark said. “The right makes the peace.”

So, I asked Mark, is the most recent peace process by Secretary of State John Kerry going to do the trick?

“Nine months isn’t serious,” Mark said. “There’s huge heavy lifting to be done in the midst of incredible turmoil.”

The way Mark sees it, there are two Palestines — Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. There are also two Israels — inside the 1967 borders and what he called a “runaway settler movement” outside the 1967 borders. The Palestinians will have to find a formula to accept Israel as a Jewish state. Netanyahu may be able to make peace, but his current government can’t. Perhaps Kerry can establish enough incremental agreements to construct larger compromises — but that’s not an uphill battle, Mark said, “it’s up-mountain.”

In the meantime, Mark will keep pushing the cause. 

“None of it’s impossible,” he said. “It’s just a bit fanciful.”

Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

Americans for Peace Now opens campus unit

Americans for Peace Now is establishing a presence on college campuses aimed at reaching students and faculty.

The left-leaning group is working “in full coordination” with J Street U to provide information and speakers that can be used on campuses across the country, said APN spokesman Ori  Nir. Campuses in the Washington area have been sent information kits, and other universities will be receiving them as well, he said.

The aim of the program is “to counter opposition from the growing voices calling for a one-state scenario,” said Nir, whose group supports a two-state solution.

APN on Campus also will work with the American Task Force on Palestine, “a pro-Palestinian group which in very broad terms shares our two-state solution,” he said.

Nir said it's not just right-wing groups that favor a one-state solution. “That is now the mantra of the left,” he said.

Aaron Mann, the outreach and research associate for APN, will be coordinating the campus program as its co-manager. In a statement, Mann said he is “a Jew and a Zionist. I’m pro-Israel and pro-peace. I want security for Israel. I want rights for Palestinians.”

He added, “The pursuit of a balanced and fact-based education for college students is the foundation of APN on Campus. We want to create more space at colleges and universities for moderate voices on Israel.”

APN on Campus includes an academic resource program designed to aid faculty members to “enrich and diversify the conversation about Israel in classrooms and beyond,” the program said in a statement.

The program will offer expert speakers and add an interactive online resource page by the spring semester. A student advocacy initiative will aim “to bolster and broaden” events held by students.

APN opposes Iran bill, despite ‘improvements’

Americans for Peace Now welcomed what it said were improvements to an Iran sanctions bill, but still opposed the proposed law.

“Positive changes to the bill, which APN had called for, include the addition of significant waiver authorities for the President throughout the bill, even if in many cases that authority is highly circumscribed,” the group said. “These waivers are critical to giving the President at least the minimally necessary flexibility in his conduct of U.S. foreign policy, in particular vis-a-vis the critical challenge posed by Iran.”

APN is the only major Jewish group that opposes the enhanced sanctions, which target third-party entities that deal with Iran’s energy and banking sectors in a bid to persuade its regime to make transparent its nuclear activities.

“APN’s core concern about this bill remains unchanged: imposing sanctions the goal of which is to ‘cripple’ the civilian economy and inflict misery on the population—in the hopes that this population will rise up against its government—is a flawed and in all likelihood counterproductive approach,” the statement said.

Democrats and Republicans again; Suissa’s Pico-Robertson ‘hood; A correction

Bill Boyarsky

Bill Boyarsky’s piece on public schools neglected to mention both Bob Hertzberg and Dr. Keith Richman’s contribution to the movement to transform Los Angeles schools (“Mayor’s Plan for Schools Gets ‘E’ for Effort,” Sept. 22) Most importantly, teachers not politicians, will be the final arbiters of whether our schools set high standards, improve and obtain excellent results or not.

David Tokofsky
Los Angeles School Board
District 5

Fire in the Hood

What David Suissa made explicit in his beautiful article we would like to make explicit (“Fire in the Hood,” Sept. 29). The bite of the ordeal we are going through as a result of the fire has been considerably softened by the love we feel around us. We are blessed. Thank you to everyone for your concern, for your help and for your prayers.

My hunch is that someday all of us who live in this community will look back at this period some day and realize that we were living through a charmed golden moment of the “West Coast exile.” David Suissa’s articles go well beyond describing our beautiful community, they help us to redefine it.

Kol Hakavod.

David, Deena, Aviva and Noa Brandes
Via e-mail

RJC vs. Dems

In the ongoing squabbling in these pages over whether Republicans or Democrats are better for Israel, letter writer Norman Epstein states that “[the American Israel Public Affairs Committee], the Republican Jewish Coalition, and the mainstream Jewish community supported congressional legislation to oppose U.S. funding of Hamas” while “Americans for Peace Now [APN] and other groups whose policies have long been discredited, lobbied for funding Hamas, confusing lawmakers.”

In reality, it is Epstein who is confused. The policies of APN, a Zionist organization supporting the survival of a secure, democratic Israel, far from being discredited, represent the mainstream of pro-Israel American Jewish opinion. APN has never lobbied for U.S. funding of Hamas. Rather, we opposed the House version of this legislation because it had nothing to do with opposing aid to Hamas (aid which is already barred under U.S. law), and everything to do with using Hamas as a pretext for banning, limiting, conditioning and sanctioning virtually every aspect of U.S. contacts with even those Palestinians who oppose Hamas. This is bad policy, for both the United States and Israel. In his confusion, Epstein also seems unaware that the House bill was opposed not only by the entirely nonpartisan APN, but also by President Bush (not generally known as an “aging Jewish liberal”), for very similar reasons to ours.Epstein also seems to have missed the fact that APN supported a more responsible version of the legislation that was eventually passed by the Senate.

Lara Friedman
Director of Policy and Government Relations
Americans for Peace Now
Washington, D.C.

I do not see the RJC speaking about Jack Abramoff and his crew of vicious vipers who have illegally stolen money right and left as they left the White House and Tom Delay’s office. I do not see the RJC talking about the medical bill that is hurting so many Jewish families and Jewish poor. Nor do they talk about the Iraq war, which has now taken as many people as were killed at the World Trade Center, nor the ineptness of the Afghan campaign. I could go on about Katrina, and the shutting out of any Democratic participation in laws that have been passed in the past years under the Republicans. And, lest I forget, the cutting of the estate tax, that the Republicans almost passed. And now look at how many Republicans were involved in blocking any mention of Sen. Mark Foley.

It is time that Jewish Democrats rise up and demand equal time, something that the Republicans have stymied in the media that used to belong to all the people.

Al Mellman
Los Angeles

Orthodox Youth

I would like to thank you for such an excellent article about a very touchy subject (“Orthodox Youth Not Immune To High-Risk Lifestyles,” Sept. 29). As a brother of Joel Bess, I watched him go through his “tough times” and to see him pull himself together is by itself unbelievable, but to start an Organization Issue Anonymous to help other kids is truly unfathomable. He doesn’t like to call it an organization because it might scare away kids; he calls it “a place to talk, eat and chill out.” Yoel (as the family calls him) has a heart of gold and I hope many more needed kids will join. Keep up the great work.

Meir Bess
Roosevelt, N.J.

Jonathan Bornstein

I read with interest Carin Davis’ article on the probable Major League Soccer (MLS) “rookie of the year,” Jonathan Bornstein of ChivasUSA (Pro Soccer Rookie Bornstein Gives Small Goals a Big Kick,” Oct. 13). From what I am told, he is deserving of all the accolades he is receiving.

He is not, however, the only Jewish soccer star playing in the MSL in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Galaxy started the season with two Jewish players, Mike Enfield and Ben Benditson. Enfield remains with the team and is a major contributor. (There were, in fact, seven Jews in the MSL at the start of the season.)Incidentally, Benny Feilhaber was not Jonathan’s only outstanding Jewish teammate as Enfield and he played together at UCLA.

Ephraim A. Moxson,
Jewish Sports Review

And Who Shall Die

Your thoughtful and thought-provoking column on military obituaries a few weeks ago inspired me. As stated in your column, few individuals within the Los Angeles Jewish community have a direct connection with a soldier, living or dead, serving in Iraq or Afghanistan (“And Who Shall Die,” Sept. 22).

When the people with power and money in our society simply don’t know the people who assume the personal risk of combat, it becomes painfully easy for the administration to sell the illusion that this war is necessary and moral.