Jeri Rice: from fashion to foreign affairs

Jeri Rice has a good life: a husband and son, a home on Mercer Island, a thriving business in Seattle.

The owner of a Seattle boutique that bears her name, Rice introduced Americans to the now-popular designer label Escada.

She is, it would seem on the surface, an unlikely candidate to be zipping to Washington, D.C., and the Middle East, and spending time locally promoting the cause of peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.

But that's what she's been doing.

``I feel the responsibility to do everything that I can to make sure my son grows up in a peaceful, secure environment,'' said Rice, 52.

On June 9, she will be honored by the Israel Policy Forum at its annual tribute dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City.

The forum, which describes itself as an independent and non-partisan organization, promotes American efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It believes Palestinians should have their own democratic state alongside a safe and secure Israel.

A forum executive committee member, Rice traveled to the Middle East in 2003 on a fact-finding mission to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, academics and journalists. She also has spoken with members of Congress and the Bush administration to tell them that many Americans favor their government playing an active role in encouraging an equitable peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. And, as chairman of the forum's publicity committee, she's brought to the Seattle-area experts from the Middle East and the forum to discuss the issue.

Rice believes that, with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's death in November 2004, now is a prime time to negotiate peace.

``This year is more critical in history than any other because of the timing,'' she said.

Rice's activism began after trips to Cuba in 2002 and 2003 as a founding board member of the Center for Women and Democracy, which aimed to ``link women of the world.''

Meeting the ``enemy'' face -to-face was transformative. Rice discovered the Cuban peoples' humanity from being invited into their homes, seeing their art, hearing their music. This doesn't mean she agrees with the policies of Cuban leader Fidel Castro. She doesn't. But the trips changed her outlook. They led her, indirectly, to the work for the forum and on behalf of the humanitarian organization CARE, lobbying legislators for aid to fight global poverty.

She thinks everyone who can should try to make a positive difference in the world.

``I have friends that have gates around their houses and I say one day you're going to need those if you just sit back.''

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