Maxim Ghilan (1931–2005), an Israeli writer and activist and publisher of Israel & Palestine Political Report, founded the International Jewish Peace Union (IJPU) in Paris in 1982 in response to the Lebanon War. IJPU, with Ghilan as its director, advocated for an end to the Israeli Occupation and for recognition of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as a dialogue partner in promoting a two-state solution. There were chapters and affiliates in West European countries as well as in North America: New York City, Washington DC, Berkeley, Seattle, Vancouver and Montreal. IJPU had no official position on Zionism per se and attracted a range of Jewish leftists, in part for that reason. As a practical and social matter, IJPU and New Jewish Agenda membership often overlapped in some of these cities.
The IJPU initially concentrated on the Israeli incursion into Lebanon and supported Yesh Gvul, a movement of Israeli reserve soldiers who refused to serve in the occupied territories or fight in Lebanon. IJPU chapters brought formerly imprisoned Yesh Gvul activists on tours of speaking engagements. Frequently Israeli activists were paired on “peace tours” with Palestinian speakers to talk at synagogues, community venues, nightclubs, churches, and peace movement rallies and at conferences. The preference was to work in as broad a coalition as possible to garner a wider audience when sponsoring such activities. Palestinian speakers at various IJPU sponsored events included Professors Hanan Ashwari, Edward Said, Ibrahim Abu Lughod and Rashid Khalidi. Israeli speakers included former general Matti Peled, Dr. Ruhema Marton, and journalists Gideon Levy, Adam Keller, and Uri Avnery. In 1983 the London affiliate, the Jewish Socialist Group, helped to organize the first public meeting in Britain with Uri Avnery from the Israeli peace movement and Dr Issam Sartawi from the PLO on the same platform. 300 people attended the event, held at County Hall in London.
Later, the IJPU organized medical relief, primarily for women, in Lebanon and in the occupied territories. It also provided a network of overseas support for women political prisoners through a monthly fax campaign known as the Human Rights Rapid Response Network. The group’s work with a range of Palestinian solidarity groups centered on opposition to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and sometimes explicit support of a two-state solution. It sponsored Jewish – Palestinian cultural evenings, and also held commemorations for those who were killed in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in 1982. Protests of human rights violations were a particular focus for North American activists.
In response to the beginning of the first intifada, IJPU spearheaded a diverse coalition of Jewish organizations that organized a Passover Peace Action in April 1988. The coalition included Jewish Peace Fellowship, Friends of Peace Now (now Americans for Peace Now), New Jewish Agenda, and the Labor Zionist Alliance (now Ameinu). More than 3000 people called for an end to the Occupation and to violence on both sides, and for mutual recognition. It was the largest demonstration in support of a two-state solution in U.S. history. The same coalition organized a second Passover Peace Action for April 1989. The chief demand was for Israeli negotiations with the PLO. Organizers prepared a set of inserts for a Passover Haggadah to focus on the Occupation. The Haggadah asked “four questions about the Occupation.” It was used during the Peace Action and widely distributed to participants and Jewish groups. Speakers in 1988-1989 included Rabbi Marshall Meyer, actor Ed Asner, and Peter Yarrow. After 1991, IJPU activities began to wind down in the wake of U.S. intervention in the first Gulf War, which it actively opposed.