Partners for Progressive Israel
Arthur S. Obermayer
|Focus||Civil Rights in Israel, Human Rights and a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict|
|United States, Israel and the Israeli-occupied territories|
|Method||"public campaigns, symposia, conferences, lectures, street activities, conference calls, and demonstrations."|
|Prof. Paul Scham (President) |
Dr. Leonard Grob (Vice President) Karen Shapiro (Vice President) Theodore Bikel (former Board Chair)
Rabbi Israel Dresner (former President, current Vice President)
Harold M. Shapiro (former President)
Nathan Hersh (former Director)
Maya Haber (former Director)
Partners for Progressive Israel (formerly Meretz USA) is a non-governmental organization and registered 501(c)3 devoted to civil rights in Israel, and human rights throughout the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. The organization advocates a two-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, social justice, human rights (especially for ethnic and sexual minorities), religious freedom, and environmentalism.
Partners for Progressive Israel's philosophy comes from a merger of two schools of Zionism: Socialist Zionism and Labor Zionism. Socialist Zionism's principles were shared society, peace and social justice. Labor Zionism championed standards such as civil and human rights, religious pluralism and political and economic sustainability. Today, all of these issues comprise the group's mission.
Organizationally, Partners for Progressive Israel has roots in the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement, which was founded in 1913 in Galicia, Austria-Hungary. In 1947, adult former members of Hashomer Hatzair in the United States, who due to World War II were unable to move to the Yishuv (pre-statehood Israel), driven to maintain a social and political cohesion, came together and created the Progressive Zionist League (PZL).
In the years immediately following Israel's independence, PZL members sought a means for involving people not from "the movement" to share in the political activities; in 1950, PZL formed a related group, Americans for Progressive Israel (API). API was active in promoting peaceful relations between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs. In 1952, PZL began publication of a magazine, Israel Horizons. The publication was a voice for left-wing Zionists for 59 years. Taken over by API a few years after it was formed, IH continued publication until 2011. When the PZL folded in the 1950s, API assumed the mantle of the adult "arm" of the movement represented by Hashomer Hatzair, as well as PZL's representation in the American Zionist movement and its diverse organizations.
Immediately following the Israeli victory in the Six-Day War, API was the first Zionist group in the United States to call for direct negotiations between the government of the State of Israel and the Arab states. Many of API's leaders joined with several other left-Zionists in the U.S. to create a number of peace-seeking American Zionist organizations, including such groups as Breira and Americans for Peace Now.
Meanwhile, in Israel, many of those adults who had been members of Hashomer Hatzair in the U.S. who had made aliya (moved to Israel) became active in the political party that was formed to represent the views of the Kibbutz Artzi Federation of Hashomer Hatzair, together with their urban socialists counterparts. The party, Mapam (the United Workers Party), was among the first political parties in Israel to discuss openly the need to negotiate with the Palestinians. In the early 1950s, Mapam was the second largest party in Israel. Later, in 1992, Mapam merged with two other parties—Ratz and Shinui—under a single ideological banner of peace. The new coalition party they formed, called Meretz, included such active, peace-driven politicians as Shulamit Aloni, Amnon Rubenstein, and, later, Yossi Beilin, who brought in a smaller group he formed and led called Shachar. In the mid-1990s, Meretz was Yitzhak Rabin's most supportive coalition partner in the pursuit of a negotiated agreement with the Palestinians, via negotiations with their representatives of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). In 1997, Meretz became an independent political party, and today it is headed by MK Zehava Gal-On and holds 5 seats in the Knesset.
In the United States in 1997, API merged with two overlapping organizations, American Friends of Ratz—formed to provide financial support for the Ratz party in Israel — and the Education Fund for Israeli Civil Rights and Peace—formed as a non-profit to promote Ratz's political agenda in the United States. The merger of these three groups gave birth to a new organization, Meretz USA. Meretz USA engaged in advocacy for peaceful negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and worked to promote an open debate among American Jews about the realization of liberal values in Israel.
Following the merger, Meretz USA applied for membership in the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, but was rejected on repeated occasions. The reasons cited for the rejection included insufficient membership and budget, but some suspected that the rejection was due to the organization's left-leaning orientation.
In the early 2000s, Meretz USA collaborated with the Labor Zionist Alliance (today called Ameinu), as well as college-aged members of the two left-Zionist youth groups, Habonim Dror North America and Hashomer Hatzair, to create the Union of Progressive Zionists (UPZ). By 2007, the UPZ had chapters at 60 universities and colleges across the United States. In 2009, the UPZ became J Street U.
In early 2011, Meretz USA became the first U.S. Zionist organization to call for its constituents to refrain from purchasing products manufactured in Israeli settlements established beyond the Green Line, i.e., the line separating the State of Israel from the territories occupied by Israel beyond the country's internationally recognized boundaries. The campaign was intended to reassert the line between the settlements and Israel proper, which many in Israel and in other countries, including the United States, have attempted to obfuscate. The organization opposes a boycott of Israel and the BDS campaign.
In mid-2011, Meretz USA changed its name from Meretz USA to Partners for Progressive Israel in order to better reflect its "fundamental mission – promoting partnership and collaboration between all Israelis and Americans who support a progressive Israel and Zionist movement."
Partners for Progressive Israel has supporters and partners in many places across the United States. It has board members in California, Florida, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, South Carolina, Washington DC, and more. Its national offices are located in New York City.
Partners for Progressive Israel is the American branch of the World Union of Meretz. The organization's activities in the U.S. include:
- A webinar series, entitled “Conversations with Israel and Palestine”
- Kolot – Voices of Hope: Profiles of progressive civil society work being done by organizations and individuals in Israel
- Israel Horizons – relaunched in 2017 as an online magazine that informs its readers about the activities, ideas, and issues of the Israeli left and its American supporters. (The original Israel Horizons magazine was published by the organization in print from 1952 until 2011. It was founded by journalist Richard Yaffe, Avraham Schenker, Valia Hirsch, Moshe Kagan and Zvi Lurie.
- Public lectures and events
- Theodore Bikel Peace and Justice Internship Program (formerly the “Intern in Israel Initiative”), awarding grants to young activists who volunteer in Israel to advance civil and human rights, social and environmental justice, women’s rights, or LGBTQ rights
- A regularly updated blog
- Participation in the Celebrate Israel Parade as a member of the "progressive cluster" with the New Israel Fund, Ameinu, Americans for Peace Now, B’Tselem USA, and T'ruah (formerly Rabbis for Human Rights-North America).
- Street demonstrations
The organization's activities in Israel include:
- The Israel Symposium, an annual week-long study trip to Israel. Symposium participants meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials, as well as with activists and journalists.
- Participation in the elections to and the meetings of the World Zionist Congress, the governing body of the World Zionist Organization (WZO). In recent years, Partners for Progressive Israel has been a leading organization in the progressive Zionist Hatikvah Slate, which has sent U.S. delegates and alternates to the World Zionist Congress. In 2015, the slate won eight delegates and sixteen alternates, up from five and ten, respectively, the previous election. In February, 2015, Partners for Progressive Israel delegates to the Va’ad Hapoel (General Council) of the WZO, which meets between Congresses, working with colleagues in the U.S. and elsewhere from the World Labour Zionist Movement and Arzenu (representing the Reform Zionist stream), proposed, and ultimately passed, two resolutions as part of a wider campaign to take back control of the budget of the Settlement Division of the WZO from the Israeli government. Both resolutions passed by wide margins. 
- "Who We Are". Partners for Progressive Israel. Retrieved 20 February 2014.
- Singer, David; Grossman, Lawrence (2003). American Jewish Year. ISBN 9780874951264.
- New Israel Fund, With More Partners, will March Again in New York’s Annual ‘Celebrate Israel’ Parade Archived May 23, 2012[Date mismatch], at the Wayback Machine