J Street is leading ‘great constituency for peace’

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.

October 9, 2013 21:51
3 minute read.
Secretary of State John Kerry hold press conference with Tzipi Livni and Saeb Erekat, July 30, 2013.

Kerry, Livni, Erekat press conference 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)


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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 students.

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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.

With over 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 community.

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 solution.

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 require.

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 reunification.

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 Jewish history.

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.

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