“What we have seen emerge is the need for [young] people to feel like they can take action on the ground in their community and be visible around an opposition to the Occupation.”
June 30, 2015
For more than a decade, the prominent features of Carinne Luck’s work in the Jewish peace movement have been a fierce commitment to justice, a fresh perspective on American Jewry, and creative organizing skills. Her unique viewpoint has been reflected in her innovative organizing as national grassroots field director for the American two-state peace organizations Brit Tzedek v’Shalom and J Street (2004 to 2011), and as a co-founder in 2014 of IfNotNow.
Luck is a fourth generation Israeli from Tel Aviv. After her family moved to England and then the United States, the bicultural activist returned to Israel each summer and maintained continuity in her Israeli identity.
When Luck started Boston University in 1999, she was astounded to find that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was “the major political issue” on campus despite the fact that Israel is “very far away.” Although Luck did feel close to the left on many other issues, when it came to Israel, she felt isolated. She was especially upset when the left conflated Iraq and Palestine at anti-Iraq War protests. She recalls, “I was like why is this about Ariel Sharon? America clearly had its own very strong brand of rightwing militarism that I feel was pretty disconnected from Israel.” Even worse was that some justified suicide bombings as righteous acts of resistance. She thought, “I don't think your humanism extends to me and my family.”
Luck found an American home on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, where she began an organizing job in 2004. She believes that the primary legacy of the grassroots peace group was the “American style of community organizing it brought to this issue.” Its political strategy targeted Congress and the President; its communal strategy was based on building relationships with supportive rabbis and Jewish communal institutions; and its messaging strategy emphasized discipline and accessibility. Brit Tzedek members were encouraged to stay focused on the organizational message as part of something larger than their own opinions, and to express it using language others could hear. This enabled Brit Tzedek “to punch far above its weight.”
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Brit Tzedek brought its own message to Jewish communal activities rather than merely “being outside and protesting, which you see in the solidarity movement.” At a rally in support of the Gaza disengagement, for example, Brit Tzedek activists carried signs urging a negotiated withdrawal alongside signs from the Jewish mainstream supporting the position of the Israeli government.
The group maximized its limited resources by working in coalition with other center-left Jewish, Christian, and Arab and groups. Their biggest success was organizing Congressional support on behalf of the bipartisan 2007 Ackerman-Boustany Letter, the largest pro-two state letter ever written.
Luck considers Brit Tzedek’s recognition that Jewish trauma from the “collective experience of near-extermination” has interfered with efforts to reach a political solution to the conflict to be a significant aspect of the group’s work. She notes that the impact of the trauma includes emotions ranging from anxiety and defensiveness to guilt and shame.
“Whatever the next stage of the movement for Israeli and Palestinian freedom, it will build upon the work of Brit Tzedek.”
J Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami hired Luck to be the first staff person of the new pro-Israel/pro-peace organization in 2007. The group was founded when digital and online organizing was flourishing and the “Obama campaign was gaining steam.” J Street sought to insert itself into that “communication and political space: by building a Political Action Committee (PAC) to raise political funding for candidates who endorsed pro-Israel, pro-peace positions.
When J Street was publicly launched on April 15, 2008, it was modeled on other digital organizing groups. Its message: “For too long the loudest voices on Israel have come from the rightwing, but they do not represent us. We're much bigger than that… For too long, others have dictated the rules of the game on Israel and politics in D.C. Let's raise our voices; let's raise the dollars, and let's demonstrate our power” to our elected officials.
Brit Tzedek joined J Street in 2010, and brought along its organized grassroots base. “What Brit Tzedek had understood and what J Street realized was that you couldn't have a base separate from communications and politics. It made sense for everything to be integrated.”
When Luck left J Street in 2012, she felt it had begun to significantly open up the two-state dialogue in Congress and the administration. However, she asserts, “the very real problem today is that we face an occupation that becomes more entrenched every day” and dysfunction in Washington and Israel that limits “what a politically aligned president can do.”
“What we have seen emerge,” says Luck, “is the need for people to feel like they can take action on the ground in their community and be visible around an opposition to the Occupation.” Young people want to feel part of “movements for democracy and resistance.” This is a need that the group IfNotNow seeks to fill.
Luck believes that the Zionism of her ancestors was a search “for a way for Jews to live in equality, freedom, and democracy.” Her hope is to create “a movement that emboldens the people” in Israel and Palestine to find a way together to create “freedom and dignity for all people.” In this manner, Jews can achieve the liberation they have long sought.
Carinne Luck was born in Tel Aviv in 1981 to a family whose roots there go back to the 1880s. Her great, great grandfather immigrated to Mandatatory Palestine “because he felt that Jews would only be safe with other ‘sons of Shem.’” He worked with Theodore Herzl to become the first general manager of the Anglo Palestine Bank in 1902, the forerunner of Bank Leumi. His memoir is entitled, To the Land of our Forefathers.
Luck’s family moved to England when she was four, but she continued to spend summers in Israel. When she moved to the U.S. in 1999, Luck viewed her Judaism and her Israeli identity as synonymous in the sense that they were “secular, national, and cultural.” The cultural component is Middle Eastern: “anyone can come to your house; the door is always open; having really delicious food, and being crazy drivers.”
Luck did her undergraduate work at Boston University and her graduate studies at New York University. She worked for Brit Tzedek v’Shalom as National Organizer/Director of Grassroots Organizing from 2004-2007,. Luck was hired in 2007 as J Street’s Chief of Staff and then became Field Director and Vice President for Field and Campaigns until she left in 2012. She was a co-founder of IfNotNow in August of 2014 and continues to advise the group.
Luck is an Independent Organizer/Campaign Strategist.