PPI’s Roots and History

PPI’s Roots and History

The following has been written by Arieh Lebowitz and Ralph Seliger:

Partners for Progressive Israel’s philosophy comes from a merger of two schools of Zionism: Socialist Zionism (exemplified in its earliest forms by the concepts of Dov Ber Borochov and the Hashomer Hatzair socialist youth movement) and liberal Zionist thinkers and activists including Martin Buber and Albert Einstein. Socialist Zionism’s principles included social solidarity, peace and social justice. Liberal currents in Zionism championed individual civil & human rights, women’s rights, religious pluralism and economic sustainability; the greatest standard bearer for these principles was the late Shulamit Aloni. Today, all of these values comprise our mission.

Organizationally, Partners for Progressive Israel has roots in the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement, founded in 1913 in Galicia, Austria-Hungary. In 1947, a number of adult former members of Hashomer Hatzair felt the need to maintain social and political cohesion even if not making Aliyah (moving to Israel); many were involved in the Progressive Party campaign of Henry Wallace. They created an organization called the Progressive Zionist League (PZL).

In 1950, a number of politically active members of the PZL formed a socialist group called Americans for Progressive Israel (API). API was active in promoting peaceful relations between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs, and in 1952, it began publishing a magazine called “Israel Horizons.” IH was a voice for left-wing Zionists for 59 years; it was published on a varying schedule and in two different formats after being adopted by Meretz USA, from 1997 until early 2011, when it was discontinued.

Immediately following the Israeli victory in the Six Day War, API was the first pro-Israel group to call for direct negotiations between Israel and the Arab states. API joined with several other left-Zionist organizations in the United States to create a group of peace-seeking American Zionist organizations, including Breira and Americans for Peace Now.

Meanwhile, in Israel, the former members of Hashomer Hatzair formed a new political party (merged for several years with the Achdut Ha’Ovoda — fellowship of labor movement) to represent the views of kibbutzniks and urban socialists. They called their party Mapam, and it was the first political party to discuss openly the need to negotiate with the Palestinians.  Until the early 1950s, Mapam was the second largest party in Israel.  From 1968 through the 1981 election campaign, Mapam ran together with the newly constituted Labor Party on a common list in national elections called the Labor Alignment (the Ma’arakh). 

In 1992, members of the Mapam party formed an electoral alliance with two other parties—Ratz and Shinui—under a single ideological banner of peace. The coalition they formed was called Meretz (energy or vigor), and it included such civil-rights minded and peace-driven politicians as Shulamit Aloni, Yossi Sarid and, later, Yossi Beilin. In the early to mid-1990s, Meretz was Yitzhak Rabin’s main coalition partner in the pursuit of a negotiated peace agreement with the Palestine Liberation Organization. In 1997, Meretz became a single unified political party.

In the United States in 1997, API merged with two overlapping organizations, American Friends of Ratz and the Education Fund for Israeli Civil Rights and Peace to form Meretz USA, advocating a peacefully negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinians and promoting the realization of liberal and social democratic values in Israel.

In the early 2000s, Meretz USA collaborated with the Labor Zionist Alliance (today called Ameinu), as well as the Habonim-Dror and Hashomer Hatzair youth groups, 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 2011 we changed our name from Meretz USA to Partners for Progressive Israel (PPI).

Also in 2011, PPI became the first US-based Zionist organization to call for an economic boycott of Israeli settlements established in the West Bank. The campaign is intended to reassert the fact that the settlements are not part of Israel proper, and that a border needs to be negotiated and agreed upon between Israel and representatives of the Palestinian people.

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