Steve McDonald, deputy director of communications and public affairs for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. (photo from of Steve McDonald)
Every day, a handful of the approximately 500 volunteers at Road to Recovery head to one of the crossing points in Israel, pick up Palestinians who have medical permits for appointments or treatments in Israeli hospitals, and escort them there and back. Entirely volunteer-driven, this is the kind of peaceful bridge-building that rarely makes the media headlines, but that the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs is hoping to highlight through its recently relaunched program, Seek Peace and Pursue It.
“This program is designed to encourage Canadian individuals and organizations who are concerned about the absence of peace in the Holy Land to rethink the issue by engaging in practical, positive initiatives that help build peace from the ground up,” said Steve McDonald, deputy director of communications and public affairs for CIJA. “Rather than getting distracted by destructive initiatives like the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, Road to Recovery is exactly the sort of thing that will bolster Israeli initiatives to bring the two sides together and keep activists focused on positive engagement.”
The idea for Seek Peace was hatched by former CIJA executive Len Rudner in 2012, after the United Church of Canada declared it would boycott Israeli settlements. At that time, CIJA reached out to UCC leaders.
“We told them BDS does nothing to advance peace or improve life for average Palestinians, we don’t think it fulfils your own interest in helping Palestinians,” said McDonald.
The efforts were in vain and the UCC continued to advocate a boycott, something McDonald says was a betrayal of average UCC members in Canada, as well as an undermining of longstanding Jewish-Christian ties in this country.
One of McDonald’s tasks is to develop CIJA’s relationship with Christian churches and leaders in Canada, many of whom are interested in Israel and want to get engaged in peace-building activities. At the end of May, he will deliver a presentation at the Toronto School of Theology to Baptist, Anglican and Catholic representatives. His focus will be on one organization: Hand in Hand, a network of Jewish-Arab integrated bilingual schools focused on mutual recognition, inclusion and equality.
“There’s tremendous interest among some of our Christian partners for this sort of work,” explained McDonald. “When they see we’re pro-Israel but not anti-Palestinian, they are somewhat surprised that the organized Jewish community is so interested in peace. We want to show them there are constructive alternatives to BDS, positive ways we can be helping build peace.”
Seek Peace is not directly about fundraising, but rather about providing a catalogue of positive initiatives. The organizations featured include Heart to Heart, where Jewish and Palestinian Israeli youth live together in a camping environment for three weeks and tackle politics, culture and identity through dialogue. There is Project Rozana, which is about delivering medical access for Palestinian-Israeli children who need pediatric intensive care, and there is Tsofen, which promotes the integration of Israel’s Arab citizens into the high-tech industry. These are just a handful of the many constructive, peace-building programs that Seek Peace is trying to bring to the forefront, organizations doing impressive work that often goes unreported.
Within a few years from now, McDonald said he’d love to see churches and synagogues partner to host events that highlight one of these particular or similar causes.
“My goal would be for this to be taken on at a local and national level by our Christian friends,” he said, “but it’s not specifically for Christians – any community can get involved.”
In Vancouver, the CIJA team already has strong interfaith relationships and is well-positioned to pitch this project to its existing contacts, he added. “I think Vancouver is a place where there could be a lot of appetite for this kind of thing,” he said.
For more information on Seek Peace, visit cija.ca/resource/seek-peace-and-pursue-it.
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net.