What About Peace? is a Global Exchange international arts contest for youth ages 14 – 20 to express ideas and thoughts about peace by responding to the question, “What About Peace?” through artistic expression.

With the submission deadline just one day away, it is finally time to announce who this year’s What About Peace? Grand Judge is, and that person is….drum roll please…

Rae Abileah!!!

What About Peace 2012 Grand Judge Rae Abileah

Rae Abileah is the co-director of CODEPINK Women for Peace (www.codepink.org).  She is also a founding member of Young Jewish Proud, the youth wing of Jewish Voice for Peace. Rae is a contributing author to 10 Excellent Reasons Not to Join the Military; Sisters Singing: Incantations, Blessings, Chants, Prayers, Art and Sacred Stories by Women; Beyond Tribal Loyalties: Stories of Jewish Peace Activists; and Beautiful Trouble: A Toolbox for Revolution.  Her articles have been published on Mondoweiss, AlterNet, Common Dreams, Pink Tank, and she has guest blogged for Global Exchange.

Please join me in welcoming Rae as this year’s What About Peace? Grand Judge. Rae is a shining example of what it takes to be a truly dedicated activist, role model, and leader in the struggle for justice around the world! Last year Kirsten Moller served as the Grand Judge.

The "What About Peace?" art contest submission table

Submissions are pouring in as the deadline approaches. All entries must be received in our office on or before February 15th, 2012 to qualify. The Grand prize is $1000, but more than $2500 in total prizes will be awarded. Check out www.whataboutpeace.org for all the contest details.

On my way to lunch this afternoon, I passed a big pile of incoming mail. The person watching the front desk area told me “Most of these are “What About Peace?” submissions. Crazy, huh?”

I picked one envelope up out of curiosity. The return address said Philippines.

“So cool,” I thought. Each one of these art submissions was created by a young person…poems and short stories, photographs and paintings. Graphic designs, essays and cartoons. Piles of submissions, all about peace. All by young people. From all over the world.

Yes, so cool. And now that we have a cool Grand Judge, we are gearing up for the big announcement. Who will be crowned this year’s What About Peace winner? Stay tuned.


The following is a guest post by Rae Abileah with contributing writers Sharon Shay Sloan and Eva Lyons. An uplifting and timely read, especially for those who’ve been following our various Occupy Wall Street West posts.

A day of hard rain and wind could not dampen the spirits of activists representing the 99% as they gathered at Justin Herman Plaza (dubbed Bradley Manning Plaza by locals) in San Francisco on Friday, January 20th, 2012, to mark the dark anniversary of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision with a day of action. Organized by a coalition of over 55 Bay Area organizations and dozens of OccupySF affinity groups, protestors disrupted business as usual with demands that banks end predatory evictions and foreclosures and that corporations lose the rights of personhood.

The day was called Occupy Wall Street West (OWSW), alluding to the power of the SF financial district and state in the global market – California is the 9th largest economy in the world.  Activists executed plans for traditional nonviolent direct action to block the doors to big banks, effectively shutting down Wells Fargo Corporate Headquarters and occupying Bank of America’s main branch.  And then came a surprise tactic: dance.

A flash mob called “One People” converged on the plaza affront the building that houses Bank of America and Goldman Sachs and commenced with a freeze.  A single dancer called out “Mic check!” and the group responded, “Mic check!” and commenced a piercing scream of anguish, which collapsed into a die-in and then transformed into an upbeat dance.  The dance gave a positive message for our collective future with creative prowess, illustrating a cry of pain against oppression and injustice, and, through street theater, invoking a powerful bridge of reconciliation between the 1% and the 99%. This is a bridge that can only span the chasm of class divide through significant financial reform and the recognition of shared humanity.  The dance finished with a chorus singing “Now is the Time,” words from Dr. Martin Luther King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, apropos to the actual time, since Dr. King’s birthday was observed a few days earlier.

“The flash mob gives the opportunity for people across generations and walks of life to voice their rage and dreams for the future through public art,” said Magalie Bonneau-Marcil, who produced the flash mob and founded Dancing Without Borders.  Former world-class athlete Bonneau-Marcil is using the organizing skills she learned from collaborative training for the Olympics to work for social justice.  She started Dancing without Borders in August, 2011, to reclaim the healing and unifying power of free-form dance and flash mob as a ritual, community-building and empowerment vehicle for real change.

The One People flash mob appealed to many who felt an urge to support the message behind Occupy but were not inspired by picketing and marching.  It brought together dozens of dancers between 8 and 80 years old, of all socio-economic backgrounds. For many, this was their first direct action and their first time dancing in the streets.  It also brought together three women-led organizations: Dancing Without Borders, CODEPINK, and the San Francisco chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW).  Leaders of these groups believe that the power of the feminine is essential in cultivating this new movement, and sought to emphasize the role of women’s creative leadership through their collaboration on this project.  CODEPINK has started a network of women across Occupies to weave this connection even further (see www.womenoccupy.org).

“Dance illustrates that it will take creativity and collective action to uplift American society and redirect our precious financial resources away from corporate greed and war profiteering and into green jobs creation, education, health care and renewable energy,” said Rae Abileah, co-director of CODEPINK Women for Peace.   “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.  And we’re not waiting anymore!”

Flash mobs leverage the power of social media, art and collective participation, drawing attention to the essential messages of Occupy. A film showing footage of a recent performance of the One People flash mob had 150,000+ views on YouTube within a mere few weeks. Queer activists with SF Pride at Work created the “Occupy Telephone” flash mob in the lead-up to OWSW, to protest Wells Fargo’s role in the economic and housing crisis, and their video has also been seen by thousands on YouTube. From the massive “I Will Survive Capitalism” parody flash mob during the Occupy Oakland General Strike to the “Democracy is Dead” shopping mall die-in flash mob from Occupy Sydney, Australia, footage of flash mob actions is creating a visual declaration of accessible, celebratory, and action-oriented art.

“The Occupy Movement is not a war against evil,” said Bonneau-Marcil. “And if that’s how we frame it, it will never produce the results that we seek. This is a movement that’s about accelerating the shift of consciousness away from separation and scarcity.” The OWSW Day of Action raised awareness by engaging hundreds of people in action; generating major mainstream media coverage of the myriad of colorful protests, arrests, and creative disruptions; and putting big banks and investment firms on red alert.  Many reporters and politicians have asked what the demands of the Occupy Movement are; this flash mob responded to those questions by embodying solutionary thinking and revealing a new narrative of reconciliation.

Dancing is not the answer, but it is an important tool to reveal and amplify the vitality, dignity and resilience of this growing global movement.  As Bonneau-Marcil proclaimed, “You can’t evict an idea that has been embodied.”

This article was written by Rae Abileah, codirector of CODEPINK, rae@codepink.org, with contributions by Sharon Shay Sloan, Eva Lyons, and Magalie Bonneau-Marcil.  The One People flash mob was organized by Magalie Bonneau-Marcil, founder of Dancing without Borders, who lives in El Cerrito, CA and can be reached at m@dancingwithoutborders.org.

CODEPINK: Women for Peace , Global Exchange, Interfaith Peace-builders, and the Fellowship of Reconciliation, together with over 100 peace and justice groups, organized the Move Over AIPAC conference that took place in Washington, DC on May 22-24, 2011. The purpose; to expose the AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) lobby and build the vision for a new US foreign policy in the Middle East.

Move Over AIPAC attendees; Rae Abileah in pink flowered skirt Photo Credit: By acourtney6☆

CODEPINK’s Medea, Shaden, Alli, Sasha, Rae, Tighe, and the Move Over AIPAC Team summed up the events that took place during this 3 day conference:

  • On Friday we kicked off our actions with a demonstration outside the White House, and participated in the Hava Nagila parody flashmob, which has been seen by more than 30,000 people so far! See it here.
  • On Saturday we had the privilege to hear keynote talks from The Israel Lobby authors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, renowned authors, and a stellar panel of analysts discussing the way forward.
  • On Sunday we surrounded the AIPAC meeting at the convention center with chants, music and amazing visuals like the apartheid wall that turned into a Palestinian village scene and a human-powered flotilla to Gaza.
  • On Monday the protests continued outside the Justice Department demanding AIPAC be registered as a foreign agent, followed by a march to our workshop about military aid to Israel and lobbying training.  That night during the AIPAC gala, a group of five brave activists stood up to disrupt Netanyahu’s speech with messages about what is really “indefensible” – occupying land, starving Gaza, silencing dissenters.
  • On Tuesday Move Over AIPAC participants lobbied members of Congress, while courageous CODEPINK organizer Rae Abileah interrupted Netanyahu’s Congressional address with a banner that said “Occupying Land Is Indefensible” and shouting, “No more occupation, stop Israel war crimes, equal rights for Palestinians, occupation is indefensible.” Read her account of the action here.

Dalit Baum, Global Exchange’s Economic Activism for Palestine Director, attended the Move Over AIPAC conference and had this to share:

For me, it was striking to see first-hand the hordes of well-dressed people coming into the AIPAC gala event from hundreds of buses. More and more of them: congressmen, African American community organizers, business people, Jewish youth from all around –  so many –

Speaking to whomever we could, there was even one open-mike session when demonstrators invited the AIPACers to come on stage and speak to us. Again and again, I saw in these conversations such total blinded ignorance about the fate of the country they claim to support, about the implications of sending more and more free weapons to Israel. I also encountered a lot of polite racism and Islamophobia – most of the well dressed gala guests who spoke with me would not listen to anything a Palestinian says; they dismissed all accounts of human rights violations, imprisonment, torture, checkpoints, land grab etc. as an anti-Semitic fabrication. It was very different then similar arguments in Israel, where people are mostly aware of the facts, but they try and justify the crimes by “security”.

I was amazed by the courage of Rae and the rest of our friends who went into the gala and then into Congress to confront Netanyahu’s speech. If it weren’t for them, all left on record would have been the 29 standing ovations and outpouring of unconditional US support to one of Israel’s most hawkish, neo-liberal and racist governments. The protesters inside had to deal with the most brutally violent, sexist and hateful elements among the well dressed AIPACers, and they had to face this violence alone. I am very grateful for their courage.

More On the Move Over AIPAC Conference

Move Over AIPAC Press Coverage: www.moveoveraipac.org/press
Move Over AIPAC Photos: www.flickr.com/groups/moveoveraipac

The following post was written by Rae Abileah and originally appeared on MONDOWEISS The War of Ideas in the Middle East. Rae Abileah is a 28-year-old Jewish-American of Israeli descent and is a national organizer with CODEPINK Women for Peace and a member of Jewish Voice for Peace.  She lives in San Francisco, CA and can be reached at rae@codepink.org.

Being young and Jewish and realizing what Israel’s occupation is really like, contrary to what we may have been taught in our religious schools or high school trips to the holy land, can be a lonely journey. It can be compared to a “coming out” experience, where sharing your perceptions with friends and family, let alone a room full of over 4,000 Jews, can be a daunting task.  While more American Jews—and particularly young American Jews—are growing disillusioned with Israeli policies implemented in the name of all Jews with the support of old-guard groups such as AIPAC, it is still often a scary thing to publicly criticize Israel within the broader community.

In New Orleans during the Jewish Federation’s General Assembly (GA), Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) created a safe space for young Jews, like myself, whose stomachs are still churning from the bombings in Gaza nearly two years ago, and whose eyes can no longer be averted from the daily reality of oppression for Palestinians. We came together to organize effectively and from the heart.  And if we have faith in our generation’s capacity to transform politics and create peace, then we can believe in JVP’s mission as possible in the face of all odds.

On Monday morning, the GA plenary began with Oscar the Grouch — seriously, the Sesame Street puppet opened the plenary with a satire about how gross it was that Israelis were so friendly, always sharing, caring and helping each other out. Next, New Orleans Mayor Landrieu stressed a belief in tikkun olam, the Jewish principle of “repairing the world”, and almost in the same breath, an unending support for Israel. Contradiction? We think so.  Our well-orchestrated protest began with the bold voice of local New Orleans resident Emily Ratner, who stood up after applause for Netanyahu and proclaimed, “The Loyalty Oath delegitimizes Israel!” as she unfurled a banner with the same message.  (The protest was captured on video by AP here) As Emily was removed from the room she continued shouting, and Netanyahu commented from the podium, “If they came to delegitimize Israel, they came to the wrong address.” We believe we were knocking on exactly the right door, with a message to the Jews in attendance: Israel’s occupation and oppressive policies delegitimize Israel in the eyes of the world.

The second protester was Israeli resident Eitan Isaacson who unfurled a banner stating, “Silencing Dissent Delegitimizes Israel.”  He was forcefully removed from the building while chanting in English and Hebrew. Isaacson stated that the purpose of the action was as follows: “We’re here to call out the elephant in the room. Israel continues to expropriate Palestinian land for Jewish-only communities, passes increasingly racist laws in the Knesset, the foreign minister wants to strip Palestinian citizens of their citizenship — these are the reasons Israel is becoming a pariah in the world.”

After Netanyahu continued to decry delegitimization, Matthew Taylor of Berkeley, CA, arose, unfurled a banner reading “Occupation Delegitimizes Israel” and spoke the slogan loudly.  Taylor was pushed to the ground, his button-down shirt ripped open, and his shoe flung from his foot (he lost the shoe during the protest). (Photo: attached) Meanwhile, an enraged rabbi grabbed Taylor’s banner and proceeded to rip it to pieces with his teeth and fists.

Several minutes later, Israeli activist Matan Cohen stood up on his chair to unfurl yet another banner while shouting, “The siege on Gaza delegitimizes Israel!” Matan is the founder of Anarchists Against the Wall in Israel and has been a prominent organizer at Hampshire College.  Cohen explained his reasoning for demonstrating: “Right now, the choice for those of us who care about the future of Israel and Palestine is between the status quo–which includes continued settlement expansion, the siege of Gaza, and the racist Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman–or Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions. Given that choice, Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions will win every time.”

And finally, after Netanyahu summarized the two “greatest threats” to Israel – a nuclear Iran and “delegitimizers”– I stood up and unfurled a pink banner that read, “The settlements betray Jewish values” and in Hebrew: “Justice, justice you shall pursue,” a verse from Deuteronomy.  The crowd had grown increasingly hostile with each disruption, and I was instantly attacked from all sides.  A man in the row in front of me pulled the El Al seat cover off his chair and tried to gag me with it.  Another man came up from the side and grabbed me by the throat.  I fell into a pile of chairs until two female sheriffs buoyed me up and hustled me out of the room. The police later confided that they were trying to protect me from the angry mob and get me out of there in one piece.

The JTA reported: “Jeff Shapiro from San Antonio grabbed her from behind and put her in a choke hold, dragging her backwards towards the floor.  When asked later if he had ever put a woman in a chokehold, he replied, ‘Not really. No. I really did not know what was going to happen, I wanted to keep her in check. I was trying to help.’” Jeff Shapiro, according to an Internet search is the president of the synagogue brotherhood and a 7th grade teacher at Temple Beth-El, and is the chair of the Federation’s San Antonio Association for Jewish Education.

Some in the audience chanted “Am Yisrael Chai” and later “Bibi! Bibi!” to try to drown out our voices.  Others tackled us or shouted obscenities.  But not all were outraged by our actions and words.  We heard later about the many Jewish students who were brought to tears seeing the visual display of an internal conflict of values they themselves felt.

As Rob Eshman’s blog in the Jewish Journal summarized:
“What were they against?” one Israeli journalist in the audience asked rhetorically. “The loyalty oath? The occupation? Gaza? Most Jews would agree with them.”

Why did we feel the need to take such a bold, direct action that some might view as rude or inappropriate?  We would have been content to stand silently holding up our banners, revealing the truth in a more subtle, somber way, but the instant violence projected at us meant that our banners were ripped from our hands within seconds of unfurling them.  Giving voice to the cause of justice seemed the moral thing to do.  We also would have been happy to participate in dialogue, had the GA created a comprehensive program that encouraged a multiplicity of views and opinions.  Rather, the GA was a propaganda grounds for furthering a narrative about the state of Israel that simply does not stand up to the facts as we have witnessed them.  When the traditional routes of civic engagement fail us, we turn to nonviolent direct action, and the time-honored tactics that secured women the right to vote, an eight-hour day for workers, and civil rights protections for people of color.

By staging this loud disruption of Netanyahu’s speech, we inserted an alternative narrative into the GA and into the media in Israel and the US. The Israeli occupation and the oppression of Palestinians in Israel cannot be ignored.  We made visible the unsettling disconnect between Jewish values of social justice and current Israeli policies. Instead of the single-sided story Netanyahu and his supporters hoped to present, we were able to create a dynamic conversation that reverberated through the papers, radio stations (including the Israeli Army Radio), blogs, twitter, and among the delegates.  Our disruption has been picked up by AP, the New York Times, Haaretz, The Jersualem Post, NPR, Democracy Now!, The Jewish Forward, Ynet News, and many more outlets.  We heard from many students who said the protest sparked discussions about Israel’s policies and emotional exchanges.  A group of rabbinic students met to discuss the occupation. With our actions, we opened up the possibility for people to have genuine dialogue about these issues, and we are part of a seismic generational shift in the Jewish community that Peter Beinart outlined in his groundbreaking piece in the New York Review of Books entitled “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment.” (Incidentally, Beinart tweeted after our action, “Expect more of this.”) We are not willing to leave our Jewish and democratic values at the door, which means we must stand up and criticize Israeli policies.

The shift is also evident in blogger comments about the actions we took at the GA, which include remarks such as: “I think the use of force in this instance against people peaceably holding banners is more than a bit ridiculous.”  Rabbi Moshe Waldoks commented, “These protests would not have been necessary if the American Jewish leadership at the GA had created an open opportunity to ask the questions that need to be asked about the loyalty oath…”

A new website launched November 8, www.YoungJewishProud.org, presents our group’s Young Jewish Declaration, a compelling vision of collective identity, purpose and values written as an invitation and call to action for peers who care about Israel and Palestine. It is also a strong challenge to elders.  The declaration includes these words: “We are your children, your nieces and nephews, your grandchildren… We refuse to knowingly oppress others, and we refuse to oppress each other. We won’t be won over by free vacations and scholarship money. We won’t buy the logic that slaughter means safety. We will not quietly witness the violation of human rights in Palestine.”

The actions are in part a protest of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) and Jewish Public Affairs Council (JCPA) newly announced $6 million dollar program to target campus, church, peace and human rights groups that are working to end Israel’s human rights violations through nonviolent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions pressure campaigns. The Federations and JCPA are calling this initiative the “Israel Action Network.”  Critics say it is a “Shoot the Messenger” approach.

We also announced the creation of a spoof Birthright Trip called Taglit-Lekulanu, Birthright for All, open to Palestinian and Jewish-Americans, which was followed up with a spoof denial. The goal of the spoof was to highlight the one-sided narrative that Birthright presents, the ways it renders Palestinians invisible. The rebuttal laid bare the problematic assumptions underlying Birthright trips, such as the emphasis on marrying Jews and procreating.  The spoof was picked up Tuesday, November 9 by Haaretz in a piece that sheds a glaring light on the Birthright agenda.

Perhaps the most inspiring voice of the day came from the youngest member of the JVP delegation, 17-year-old Hanna King, a freshman at Swarthmore College, who was quoted in the Jewish Daily Forward as saying, “I think I’m very much succeeding in practicing tikkun olam and derech eretz by standing up for the rights for all people.  It such hypocrisy for these Jewish leaders that I grew up learning to say that, you know, that the Holocaust was a tragedy but what we’re doing to [the Palestinians] is fine.”  In an article in Haaretz, King continued to say, “We believe that the actions that Israel is taking, like settlements, like the occupation, like the loyalty oath, are contrary to the Jewish values that we learnt in Jewish day school.  This is not Tikkun Olam. Oppressing people in refugee camps is not Tikkun Olam. And it is a hypocrisy that I cannot abide.  We must be tough on all countries that abuse human rights but I care about Israel because for me it’s personal.“