Last June, US Secretary of State John Kerry called on American Jews to join him
in a “great constituency for peace” that would support his efforts to finally
end the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
Last week’s J Street conference in
Washington, DC, was the clearest sign yet that this constituency is taking
shape. Supporters of a two-state solution converged from cities and college
campuses around the United States, over 2,800 in all, including 900 university
When J Street was founded five years ago, many on the right of
the Israeli political spectrum and their allies in the American Jewish community
felt profoundly threatened. How dare an organization actually step forward to
speak for the vast majority within our community who love Israel but worry
deeply about its future and know that it needs to find a way to end the
occupation and make peace with the Palestinians? The response from some in the
Israeli government and the American- Jewish establishment was to demonize,
vilify, distort, shun, boycott, ignore and try to negate the existence of J
Street. Though some continue that misguided and quixotic campaign in the pages
of The Jerusalem Post and elsewhere, their efforts have clearly failed. Instead
of faltering, J Street has thrived. Most of those who sought to ignore us now
acknowledge us. Those who sought to cast us out of the pro-Israel tent now sit
alongside us. The conference showed how firmly J Street had established itself
as a powerful force and compelling voice within the community.
100 speakers, a vast array of opinions were heard. Eight Knesset members from
six parties, including three party leaders, spoke representing both the
coalition and opposition.
Everyone was listened to attentively and
courteously and applauded generously.
Critics were reduced to going
around from session to session with imaginary “clapometers,” measuring which
lines received more and which less applause.
Such “analysis,” while empty
and fatuous in its own right, ignores the key point: almost 3,000 people coming
together, united in their determination to get behind Secretary Kerry’s peace
initiative. J Street has clearly emerged as the leader and mobilizing force
behind this effort.
It is precisely this singularity of focus that
distinguishes J Street from other organizations within our
Only by tirelessly and credibly pushing for a two-state
solution was J Street able to attract Israeli politicians from Meretz, Labor,
Hatnua, Yesh Atid, Shas and even the Likud, as well as a core of younger
Palestinian leadership, to address its convention, all supporting a two-state
It is this drive that also brought Vice President Joe Biden and
former House speaker Nancy Pelosi to the conference.
And it is the
breadth of support from people who arrive at the same conclusion from different
perspectives that has breathed life into and sustained the two-state approach
through these many years.
The challenge before us now is to grow the
great constituency of peace that began to take shape in Washington last week. To
do so we as a community must move beyond a passive acceptance of a two-state
solution, acknowledge what that solution will look like, and signal that we are
ready to support the painful compromises that an agreement will
Fortunately, since the parties have negotiated on and off over
the past 20 years, we know what it will take to end the conflict. The borders of
the two states will be based on the 1967 lines with minor land swaps. Most Arab
neighborhoods in east Jerusalem will fall under Palestinian sovereignty so that
it can become the capital of the new state, and there will be special
arrangements guaranteeing access to holy sites. The parties will cooperate on
robust security arrangements that will keep Israelis safe. Finally, Palestinian
refugees will have the right to settle in their new state, with perhaps a
limited number to return to Israel for the purpose of family
At the opening night of the J Street conference, civil
rights hero and congressman John Lewis expounded on the theme of brotherhood,
eliciting the image of “One House,” an apt allusion recalling significant
periods not only in American history, but with at least equal resonance in
Our “clapometer” critics should take heed lest they find
that while they have been taking the temperature of the room, the house has
collapsed around them. For its part, J Street will continue to build the great
constituency for peace and push forward toward the goal of a safe and secure
Jewish and democratic Israel.
The author, a Chicago lawyer, is a member
of the J Street board of directors.