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Iowa Conference on US Policy in Palestine-Israel: The Discourse is Changing

Kathleen McQuillen and Samar Sarhan
Kathleen McQuillen, left, and Samar Sarhan were the lead organizers for AFSC's conference on US Policy in Palestine-Israel, held in Ankeny, Iowa in October 2011. To view a slideshow of photos from the conference, click here. Photo: Jon Krieg / AFSC

By Kathleen McQuillen, AFSC Iowa Program Coordinator

A recent opinion piece in the Washington Post calls for the US to consider cutting military aid to Israel; Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority, takes a bid for Palestinian statehood to the UN;  and 35 organizations in Iowa join AFSC in sponsoring a conference to change US policy.

Phyllis Bennis, addressing the Iowa conference US Policy in Palestine-Israel: Engaging the Faith Communities in Pursuit of a Just Peace, made note of the dramatic changes. “The discourse is changing,” she told the 150 people gathered in Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart Church in Ankeny, Iowa. Holding the conference at this site, and the list of co-sponsors – particularly the faith based co-sponsors -- is as good an indication as any that the discourse is changing. The charge of anti-semitism leveled at all who insist Israel be held to the mandates of international law and human rights protocols is steadily losing its power to censor.  Washington has not caught up to this change and still bows to the pressure of the Israel lobby, but those attending the conference insist the light at the end of the tunnel is coming into view.

Benefiting from the evangelical experience of Don Wagner, the organizing experience of Jennifer Bing and Miryam Rashid, and the poetic inspiration of Remi Kanazi, conference participants issued these recommendations, which a steering committee from around the state will now work on:

  • The time is right for birddogging congressional and presidential candidates. With the “Occupy” movement giving focus to the US economic crisis, timing couldn’t be better to demand from congressional and presidential candidates that the $3 billion in annual U.S. military aid to Israel be stopped and redirected to human needs within the US.
  • The time is now to support the divestment movements within faith communities. AFSC has signed onto the TIACref campaign initiated by Jewish Voices for Peace. The annual conference of the United Methodist Church in 2012 will have a resolution for divestment from Caterpillar, Hewitt Packard and Motorola Solutions. The Presbyterian Church has been a leader in this movement and continues to work for selective divestment from companies profiting from Israel’s illegal occupation.
  • Already underway are efforts to support student organizing initiatives to build awareness and action campaigns on Iowa campuses. And wouldn’t it be great to bring spoken word artist Remi Kanazi back for a tour of Iowa campuses!

It was a terrific conference that brought together experts from around the country as well as dedicated people throughout Iowa--people committed to reaching that just peace in Palestine-Israel. The discourse is changing and so too, with our collaborative efforts, will US policy.