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Interfaith peace group gets first Jewish executive director after 107 years

In Forward columns, Ariel Gold wrote of her 2018 deportation from Israel for supporting BDS

A religiously based nonviolent activist group whose past leaders helped spark the civil rights movement has named a Jewish executive director for the first time in its 107-year history.

Ariel Gold, currently the national co-director and Middle East policy analyst for CODEPINK Women for Peace, will lead the interfaith Fellowship of Reconciliation beginning August 1. The FOR traces its roots to a pledge by a British Quaker and a German Lutheran pastor who met at the onset of World War I in hopes of finding an alternative to war. Their Christian pacifist counterparts in the U.S. created the American branch a year later in 1915. The group is now interfaith.

(Disclosure: The author of this piece served as the group’s communications director in the early 1990s.)

“One of the things that excites me so much about FOR,” Gold said in an interview, “is connecting the Jewish grounding in nonviolence with the Islamic grounding in nonviolence and the Christian grounding in nonviolence and the Buddhist grounding in nonviolence, and finding those interconnections.”

Gold, 47, also spoke of the FOR’s history as an organization of pacifists — those who oppose all war — and its need to be inclusive with those who employ nonviolence as a tactic toward achieving a specific goal in righting injustice.

“We talk a lot about nonviolence as a strategy in a lot of different movements – from U.S. civil rights and on and on. And that’s fantastic,” she said. “I’m a believer in strategic nonviolence. But for some, myself included, it really comes from a faith-based place. Most major religions have a road map for nonviolence and pacifism, as both a strategy and a faith practice or spiritual practice.”

Gold’s nonviolent activism on behalf of Palestinians — particularly her support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement — has put her in conflict with others of her faith. In 2018,  she was denied entry into Israel and deported. She wrote several commentaries about that incident and similar subjects in the Forward.

Gold will lead the American chapter of the FOR, based in Stony Point, N.Y., one of 50 worldwide of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation. Each encourages grassroots activists and major political figures alike to embrace nonviolent action over armed struggle. A comic book originally published by the FOR in 1958 – “Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story” was reprinted in Arabic in 2011 and is credited as an inspiration of the Arab Spring.

The FOR chronicled King’s story, but the group was also part of it, participating in the Montgomery Bus Boycott by dispatching a minister, the Rev. Glenn Smiley, to Alabama to serve as a mentor on nonviolence to the young civil rights leader. Earlier, the FOR had in its employ three young activists — Jim Farmer, George Houser and Bayard Rustin — who would later dramatically shape the civil rights movement; Farmer and Houser as co-founders of the Congress of Racial Equality, and Rustin as the organizer of the 1963 March on Washington.

“What drew me to apply to FOR is the emphasis FOR has right now on domestic issues,” Gold said. “I think right now is the moment we have to reflect and improve the struggle for peace and justice here at home so that it will reflect outward. That’s the biggest impact we can have internationally.”

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