It may be overstating the case to call Galia Golan, a founder of Peace Now -- the Israeli peace movement -- a hurricane-like force, but only mildly.
"Her name alone works wonders," says Yiftach Levy of the organization's Los Angeles office. "She really opens doors."
Golan arrived in L.A. this summer on a one-year sabbatical from Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where she is an internationally respected scholar in Russian and Women's studies. Her vacation plan: to take over the L.A. branch of APN -- Israel's largest and oldest grass-roots peace movement.
"She's an exceptional person and I think she's a great person to have in L.A.," said Richard Gunther, former APN president.
Since arriving in L.A., Golan has organized APN meetings with her friend Leah Rabin, widow of the slain prime minister; Edward Walker, U.S. ambassador to Israel; and with Labor party leader Ehud Barak. The meetings, along with impassioned phone calls from a Rolodex of longtime and would-be supporters, have already improved the organization's fund-raising outlook.
Golan said she intends to galvanize support for APN and represent the needs of Jewish-American peace advocates at a time when the fitful peace process continues to frazzle Israeli citizens and U.S. and Israel relations. She plans to speak at local synagogues and Jewish organizations and meet with important local political figures.
"I decided to contribute a lot of my time to Peace Now as a consultant mainly because the picture is so discouraging at home," said Golan in an interview with The Journal at the APN office in Beverly Hills.
The worry of future bloodshed, increasing unemployment and the receding economy amplify the urgency of Golan's work here. According to Golan, many Israelis are concerned that war will break out after May 1999, when Arafat will declare a Palestinian state with or without Israeli or U.S. approval.
"This is not time that can be wasted," Golan said. "I think the U.S. has a very important role to play as a third party, and Jews in the Diaspora have a right to speak their mind regarding Israel."
The American-born Golan, who has lived in Israel most of her adult life, helped turn Peace Now, or Shalom Achshav, into a large, American-style peace group. Founded in March 1978 by 348 reserve officers in the Israel Defense Force, the organization -- which emphasizes that only a negotiated solution can bring a secure peace to the Mideast -- has held rallies, educational programs, Arab-Jewish dialogues and watchdog efforts in Israel. It was at a Peace Now rally three years ago where Yitzhak Rabin was killed by an assassin's bullet. "What we'd like to be doing is holding a rally in celebration of peace between Israelis and Palestinians," said Golan.
In the U.S., APN members raise money for the organization and meet with their congressional representatives to urge progress in peace talks.
Golan's arrival in L.A., where she is also connected with the Center for International Studies at UCLA, is yet another sign of American Jewry's growing importance to the peace movement in Israel and Washington D.C.
Indicative of APN's growing influence: the stream of high-ranking Israeli dignitaries stopping by to energize consciousness and contributions; the $300,000 generated in Los Angeles to support the peace movement last year; and an upcoming fund-raiser at a tony Manhattan restaurant.
Next weekend, APN will honor Los Angeles activist Stanley Sheinbaum and former Congressman Wayne Owens at a big ticket dinner at Tavern on the Green. The honorary chairs for the Annual Shimon Peres Peace Award Dinner are President and Mrs. Clinton and Leah Rabin.
At the meeting with Rabin, held in the living room of a Bel Air home on Oct. 6, about 40 APN supporters heard the impassioned widow call for support of the Oslo peace accords.
"Peace is like a sukkah," said Rabin. "It is shaky at first. You have to support it, hold it up, until it can become as strong as a castle."
Rabin's pleas culminated with a standing ovation -- led by a clearly pleased Galia Golan.