After years of witnessing a lot of anti-Israel fervor at local rallies and lectures, a few Jews in Marin County had finally had enough. But they didn’t get mad. They got busy.
A year ago, they formed From Here to Peace, a grassroots group that aims to stage positive pro-peace lectures and events in Marin. Organizers say the goal is simple.
“Our only question was, how do we get from here to peace?” said Arlene Stark of Greenbrae, one of the group’s founders. “If we all could just stop the arguing and come up with some answers.”
Stark and her colleagues staged their first event in November; it featured an Israeli man and Palestinian woman, both representing One Voice, a pro-peace group.
In attendance were activists from groups such as Marin Peace and Justice Coalition (which supports the Palestinian cause) sitting with local supporters of Israel.
“We got exactly the audience we were looking for,” Stark beamed. “People from Marin Peace and Justice and also the people we knew from our synagogues. The end result was a program that felt right. It was exactly the message we wanted.”
From Here to Peace is staging its second event on Wednesday, Sept. 16 at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Tiburon. It will feature David Barkan, a San Anselmo resident who hopes Ultimate Frisbee can do for Israeli-Palestinian relations what pingpong did for U.S.-China relations in the 1970s. Earlier this year, he organized a tournament in Tel Aviv for Jewish and Arab youth.
Next month the group will present Gershon Baskin, founder of the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information, a pro-peace think tank based in Israel.
Stark said programs like these are better than what used to be typical for the pro-Israel and anti-Israel sides: lining up on opposite sides of a Mill Valley or Tiburon street for protests, counter-protests and counter–counter-protests.
“They would be across the street from us with their flags, we had our flags, and we’d scream at each other,” she said. “We began to think this was a waste of time.”
Like Stark, Eva Seligman-Kennard of San Anselmo also wanted to balance the one-sidedness of the anti-Israel demonstrations. “We came together from all over Marin County,” she recalled. “And we came to a decision that rather than responding to any one of these presentations, we would show the community there are other ways. ”
She insisted From Here to Peace has no anti-Palestinian agenda. Rather, she stands for what she says is the overwhelming desire of most Palestinians and Israelis: to live together side by side.
“What we want to promote is peace and some of the ways both [sides] can get there,” she says. “We stand for a two-state solution, one for Jews, one for the Palestinians, in peace and security. How you get there is the difficult part.”
Stark says anti-Israel sentiment in Marin is so strong that she has met people, including some Jews, leery of even moderate organizations like the Jewish Community Relations Council. Dealing with that reality, she says she wants to broaden From Here to Peace to include non-Jews. So far, all of the events are being staged in churches.
“If you’re from the [pro-Palestinian] side and you don’t know the nuances, you might assume [Jewish groups] are right-wing fanatics,” Stark noted. “We’re a moderate group. We’re trying to be an organization of our own.”
Seligman-Kennard has loved Israel since her childhood in Holland. She also lived on a kibbutz for a year, has family in Israel and visits frequently. So she takes the anti-Israel invective personally.
“I cannot sit on the sidelines and let things happen,” she said. “I could not live with myself if I didn’t do something to further a cause I feel strongly about.”
From Here to Peace presents speaker David Barkan at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 16 at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 240 Tiburon Blvd., Tiburon. Information: firstname.lastname@example.org.