Kenneth Bob

kenneth bob

“Young activists want to understand where they link up with where we've been. I find there's an appetite there to talk, to learn, and to really connect.”

Peace Activism
1969 - present
J Street
Ameinu
Radical Jewish Union
Habonim

Interview Date
December 14, 2015

Interviewer
Aliza Becker

The Interview

The seeds of Kenneth Bob’s lifelong activism for Israeli-Palestinian peace were planted when he joined the Habonim Labor Zionist youth movement in the early 1960s. The movement provided the foundation for his understanding the centrality of Israel to the Jewish people and inspired his lifelong activism to work for peace. Following his campus activism at University of California, Berkeley, Bob lived in Israel for more than a decade. Since 2005, he has been national president of Ameinu, long associated with Israel’s Labor Zionist Movement.

Bob developed a nuanced and values-driven perspective on Israel at Habonim, which encouraged young people to develop their own opinions on Israel-related issues. Bob remembers that even as teen-agers, they had meaningful conversations on “what it means to be an occupier” following the Six Day War. “The milieu I was in among my Habonim friends in our teens was this whole notion that we wanted to be part of the Left, but the Left was abandoning us, and that partially made us think about what does that mean for Israel.” In 1973, Habonim campers under Bob’s leadership performed the controversial Israeli anti-war song Shir Lashalom on Visitor’s Day, explaining to the parents that Israel must make peace with its neighbors.

Bob remembers the chorus of this unofficial political anthem of the Israeli peace movement:

Don't say the day will come
bring the day about

For it is not a dream
and in all the city squares
cheer for peace.

As Habonim’s National Director, Bob sent a letter from the organization to Prime Minister Golda Meir. He called on her government to cease building settlements in the West Bank or anything else that might “endanger a future peace agreement with Palestinians.” A couple weeks later, a response arrived: “Prime Minister Meir cannot respond to your letter now. She’s busy fighting a war.” The Yom Kippur War had broken out.

Biography

Kenneth Bob was born in 1952 and spent most of his youth in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He was a camper, counselor, and served as the elected National Director of Habonim from 1973 to 1975.

Bob took his first trip to Israel as a high school junior in 1969 as part of an exchange program between the JCC of Minneapolis and Rishon Letzion. He remembers it as “a very positive experience” that made him “really connected to Israel.”

Bob was a leader in the Radical Jewish Union at the University of California at Berkley from 1970-72. Other alumni include David Biale, Ian Lustick, Bradley Burston, and Rabbi John Rosove. He was a founder of the Socialist Zionist Alliance, national chair of the Jewish Student Press Service, and a member of the Radical Zionist Alliance in the early 1970s.

Bob helped coordinate garinim (settlement groups) of about 80 people to reestablish Kibbutz Gezer between 1974 and 1977. In Israel, Bob became involved in the young leadership of the Labor Party, including an internal caucus of Shalom Achshav (Peace Now). Bob was also actively involved in the Kibbutz Federation, a union of diverse kibbutzim from across Israel. He was a shaliach (Israeli emissary) of the Kibbutz Federation in Los Angeles and New York from 1982 through 1985.

Since 2005 Bob has served as president of Ameinu. He serves on the J Street Board of Directors as Treasurer, and is a member of the Forward Association Board of Directors. He also serves as a member of the World Zionist Organization’s Executive Board and the Jewish Agency Board of Governors. He is past chair of the Habonim Dror Foundation and currently serves on the Board of Trustees.

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