The intensity of this election cycle, combined with our biweekly summer schedule, pushed the mail on two quite well received articles to the back of our letters file. Esther Kaplan’s July 12 “The Jewish Divide on Israel” drew a huge positive response. Liza Featherstone’s “Will Labor Take the Wal-Mart Challenge?” [June 28] also compelled many thoughtful letters. This sampling proves that some issues are timeless.   –The Editors

JEWS WHO JUST SAY NO–TO AIPAC

Warsaw, Ind.

Thank you for the article by Esther Kaplan about the silent Jewish majority! I’ve had a hard time believing that everyone in the Jewish community wants to wrap their arms around Ariel Sharon. You have restored my respect for Judaism. Every member of the House and Senate must read this.

DEBBIE COLLEEN PARKER


Philadelphia

Judaism has nurtured in me the values of compassion and social justice that transcend national boundaries. A Jewish state must reflect, not violate, these values. Occupation violates human dignity and breeds despair. I hope that the people who have been calling me slanderous, hurtful names as I stand for justice, often in solidarity with Palestinians, will read this brave article.

SUSAN LANDAU


Honolulu

Esther Kaplan’s report on the growing debate in the American Jewish community about the Israel-Palestine issue is most welcome. It is encouraging that the United States is emerging from the suffocating effects of the Bush and Sharon administrations’ parallel “circle the wagons, don’t think” reactions to 9/11 and Palestinian resistance. Obsessed by their narrow view of national security, Bush and Sharon have steered their ships of state into dangerous waters of scofflaw isolationism, ironically rendering them less secure. In addition, by elevating the ends over the means, both leaders have seriously eroded their great contributions to world culture: constitutional guarantees of human rights and the ethical heritage of Judaism. It seems fitting that increased numbers of concerned Americans are pulling back the suffocating cloak of unquestioning “patriotism” and “support for Israel” at the same time.

JANET THEBAUD GILLMAR


Philadelphia

Esther Kaplan is my hero for informing the public, and dissenting Jews who may feel isolated and alone, that there are lots of us out here. AIPAC doesn’t speak for the majority of Jewish Americans, although it has convinced Congress that it does, and it has been responsible for the defeat of many Congress members who have dared to defy AIPAC’s gag rule on what may be said about Israel’s crimes against Palestinian humanity. I’ve had numerous phone talks with my Representative’s foreign affairs aide, who patiently tells me, again, that it would be political suicide for his boss to vote against more, and more, military aid for Israel, more, and more, resolutions supporting Israel’s theft of Palestinian lands and aquifers for new or expanded settlements. Jewish-Americans of conscience in every US city are networking online, working to convince Jews and non-Jews alike that it’s not anti-Semitic to condemn Israel’s policy of Palestinian ethnic cleansing.

Jewish-Americans of all stripes are well aware that the United States has the power to bolster–or alter–Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians. It is time to stop allowing AIPAC and its agents in the White House and Congress to dictate policy on Israel. It is time for Jewish-Americans of conscience to help restore the honor of the Jewish people. We have nothing to lose but our shame.

EVALYN F. SEGAL


Lenox, Mass.

Esther Kaplan is right. There is a growing movement among American Jews against the occupation. American aid to Israel–financial and diplomatic–fuels the conflict. A change in US policy, such as making aid contingent on progress toward a negotiated settlement, could provide a strong incentive to resume peace talks. American Jews have great influence in this regard–and also great responsibility. What Israel is doing to the Palestinians violates the ethical precepts and traditions of our religion. It is time for us to find our voice and tell our leaders that we stand against the oppression of any race or people (see www.semitism.org).

ANDREW SCHAMESS


New York City

There is a consensus in the American Jewish community that Esther Kaplan cites (but underestimates), of which many of us in the peace camp are very proud–the 60 to 70 percent support for a two-state solution, an end to the occupation and withdrawal from the settlements. That consensus mirrors, almost exactly, the consensus held by the Israeli public, and it transcends whoever is prime minister in Israel.

Largely because of the brilliant light shone by the Israeli and Palestinian patriots who fashioned the Geneva Initiative, Prime Minister Sharon spoke to that consensus in his proposal for unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. Now the task for the peace camps, in Israel and the United States, is to insure that the Gaza withdrawal actually takes place, and that it is not used as a pretext for Israel to hold on to huge swaths of the West Bank.

If there is to be hope, it is not in cultivating a schism among Israelis or American Jews but in finding a way for a positive Palestinian consensus in favor of harmony with the underlying consensus in the Jewish communities of Israel and, secondarily, the United States. That is what those of us in the American Jewish peace camp who believe in a two-state solution and the right of both peoples to live in peace and security are working for.

CHARNEY V. BROMBERG
Executive director, Meretz USA


Madison, Wisc.

If Esther Kaplan is accurately portraying the main fault line in American Jewish attitudes toward Israel by focusing on the differences between conservative, right-wing organizations like AIPAC and more “liberal” groups like Brit Tzedek, then we are in trouble.

I am the founder of the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project. Our organization has two key aims: to give a local voice to the Palestinian cause and to establish grassroots humanitarian programs on the ground in Rafah, in Gaza. We have been modestly successful despite united opposition from organized American Jewry.

This past spring and summer, the local Jewish leadership here in Madison spearheaded a vicious, unethical and sustained attack on me personally and on the Madison-Rafah project in general. Objections to our project ranged from accusations that we are anti-Semitic, Israel-bashing terrorist sympathizers wanting to sister with a “terrorist city,” to the claim that such a project is just “too divisive” for little Madison–i.e., it upset too many Jews.

While support for this project was numerically far greater and broadly based, opposition was, with very few exceptions, entirely Jewish. Nonetheless, Madison mayor Dave Cieslewicz, beholden to Madison’s Jewish leadership, threatened to veto the resolution if it passed. Not a single major Jewish organization supported the Madison-Rafah project, though we received international attention, and of the five local Jewish congregations, the rabbi from only one of them–Laurie Zimmerman of the tiny Reconstructionist synagogue–voiced support for our project. It may seem to self-identified liberal and conservative Jews that they differ significantly from one another. But to the rest of us these differences are cosmetic: When it comes to allowing Palestinians to speak for themselves, not one of these groups is ready to say yes.

JENNIFER LOEWENSTEIN


San Mateo, Calif.

Some American Jews are choosing to bridge the divides with listening and dialogue. In an unprecedented breakthrough in Detroit, Jews and Muslims brought together their young people, who wrote, and performed on stage, The Children of Abraham Project to communicate their different stories and hopes for a better, shared future. It was endorsed by the ADL, AJC and Hadassah, along with the Arab-American Center for Economic and Social Services and Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan.

In September, California’s Jewish Camp Tawonga hosted the second annual Palestinian-Jewish Family Peacemakers Camp–Oseh Shalom/Sanea al-Salam, the first in North America, maybe anywhere. Whole families, including Israeli staff, lived together for two days and three nights, continuing to transform their relationships. Our local Jewish community has invited panels from the twelve-year-old Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue Group into the local university’s Jewish student Shabbatons and Israel awareness events, so we can better remember who we are–neighbors forever.

LIBBY TRAUBMAN, LEN TRAUBMAN
Founders, Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue in California


UP AGAINST THE WAL-MART

Amherst, Mass.

Kudos to Liza Featherstone for writing about the importance of unionizing Wal-Mart. However, she seems to suggest a single organizing strategy, “open source unionism,” whereby individuals can join the union without having to organize their entire workplace. If we have learned anything in the labor movement over the past decade, it is that any serious effort to topple this behemoth will require multiple strategies. A serious campaign against Wal-Mart will have to bring real economic pressure against it, using the most aggressive, multifaceted and creative coordinated strategic campaign we can muster. We will have to undertake a massive research effort to understand Wal-Mart and its operations and begin to exploit its vulnerabilities in a number of areas simultaneously. For example, given the exposés of Wal-Mart workers being locked in after stores close and its discrimination against women, we should explore action in regulatory areas. Board members and lenders should be examined and, taking a page from HERE’s hotel-organizing playbook, we may want to find ways to interfere with Wal-Mart construction until it agrees to union neutrality once a store is built. We also must not forget that Wal-Mart is a global company, so our campaign must be global as well. Let’s not close down our thinking in search of the one true way, but instead bring together as many ideas and strategies as we can. We’re going to need them all.

TOM JURAVICH
Labor Center, UMass


Seattle

Liza Featherstone’s emphasis on bringing Wal-Mart workers into the union camp is right on. Wal-Mart is the game if you’re talking about rebuilding the unions: 1.2 million workers, biggest private US employer, the very heart of darkness when it comes to antiunionism, etc., etc. Featherstone mentions all the creative union organizing, but one idea is missing: mobilizing union members to help organize. In summer 2001 the UFCW published the results of a poll showing that more than 10 percent (!) of the UFCW’s 1.2 million members were willing to donate five hours a month to “organize the un-organized.” Imagine 150,000 UFCW-ers turned loose on Wal-Mart! UFCW could never hire even a hundredth of that group, and these folks are willing to do it for free.

Besides numbers, a big advantage to having amateurs help with new-member organizing is the increased credibility you get with the people you’re trying to bring into the union. In the workplace, shop stewards are often told they are more believable than professional union reps. Co-workers say, “You’re not getting paid to tell me this stuff, so what’s really going on?” C’mon, big union leaders, let’s mobilize the rank and file and bring Wal-Mart into the fold!

BRIAN KING


San Francisco

Liza Featherstone revealed, perhaps inadvertently, one of the major problems of today’s labor movement: lack of intra-union solidarity. That labor leaders admit the impossibility of getting their members to boycott Wal-Mart is disgraceful. Have they tried? Why isn’t union leadership hyperactive in casting the struggle against low wages and discrimination against women and organizers at Wal-Mart into the broader picture, i.e., an injury to one is an injury to all? Unfortunately, with some notable exceptions, the US labor movement appeals solely to worker self-interest, and union strength is an issue only when one’s contract negotiations are on the table. We’ll have ourselves to blame when our union jobs, too, are swept away by the creeping Wal-Martization of America.

HELEN VOZENILEK
International “Brotherhood” of Electrical Workers, LU 6


Lindenhurst, NY

As a Teamster for twenty-two years, fourteen spent as a shop steward, it was with sad resignation that I read your article about labor taking on Wal-Mart. While I am encouraged that people are working the issue, it’s too early to abandon the boycott concept. It would be a rare circumstance where labor could make real inroads with any company unless its profits are endangered. And resources should be spent on educating the membership as well as the public to this wolf in sheep’s clothing. Watching Wal-Mart’s ad campaign here in New York would have you believing that they’re the best thing to come along since the New Deal, making selfless contributions to communities, dragging slum neighborhoods back into respectability and providing career opportunities to the underprivileged. How, though, do we encourage union members, who make at least 30 percent of their union credit-card purchases at Wal-Mart, not to shop there, when so-called labor leaders like Wade Rathke casually remark that they can’t keep themselves from feeding money to the beast in order to get a good deal on a tire?

MICHAEL ANDERSON


Willmar, Minn.

The key to organizing Wal-Mart workers lies in the NLRB’s power to seek NLRA Section 10(j) injunctive relief on behalf of employees harmed by Wal-Mart’s unfair labor practices during a union representation election. Because Wal-Mart’s antiunion animus is easy to establish by citing the language in its own handbooks, manuals and videotapes, any NLRA Section 7 complaint from Wal-Mart employees should prompt the NLRB to seek a temporary bargaining order while the unfair labor practice complaint is resolved. Since the early days at Wal-Mart, blatant (and illegal) antiunion animus has been the foundation of its expansion and domination. The “We Care” open-door policy, which was established when Wal-Mart had only 2,300 employees, was specifically created to avoid unionization. Thirty-five years of overworking and underpaying “associates,” hundreds of discrimination charges and Fair Labor Standards Act violations, blatant disregard for the NLRA and other efforts to remain union-free clearly illustrate Wal-Mart’s antiunion animus.

Furthermore, every time the NLRB issues an unfair labor practice complaint against Wal-Mart, the regional director should seek an interim 10(j) bargaining order to neutralize Wal-Mart’s historic pattern of irreparably contaminating the “laboratory conditions” that should exist prior to a representation election–even in cases where there has been no conclusive show of majority support for a union. The first step to gaining 10(j) injunctive relief requires the UFCW (or another union) to thoroughly document the Section 7 violations that occur at a given Wal-Mart store during an election campaign. Next, the union must quickly file a thorough and accurate complaint with the local NLRB office, explicitly asking for injunctive relief–temporary recognition of the union and an order to bargain with the union until the initial complaint is adjudicated. It will only take one brave regional director to seek 10(j) injunctive relief and an interim bargaining order in a complaint against Wal-Mart, along with one fair-minded federal district court judge to issue the interim relief, to make a profound change in the entire retail industry. If one Wal-Mart store is forced to recognize and bargain with a union, surely a movement toward union representation would spread to other Wal-Marts, and other retail stores nationwide.

JOHN LINDEMANN