Actor Jason Alexander of Seinfeld fame arrived in Israel earlier this week, with the media questioning the sincerity of his efforts to bring “serenity now” to Israel and the conflict. But the OneVoice Delegation Tour - an eclectic group of business professionals and philanthropists from the U.S. and Europe - strives to be more than yet another celebrity tour for a trendy cause.
The delegates arrived on Sunday for a weeklong trip geared toward providing participants with a broader, more informed understanding of both the Israeli and Palestinian narratives of the conflict, while fostering a deeper commitment to a two-state solution.
“As an American Jew, you feel like it is your job to advocate for the state of Israel,” Josh Bernstein, president of Bernstein Management and director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and the United Jewish Endowment Fund told Haaretz.
“But Israel has grown from a state that is fighting for its existence to a democracy, and unfortunately, it doesn’t always uphold the values it was built upon. For American Jews, this has become awkward – this is not the Israel we love.”
Many of the delegates shared Bernstein’s sentiments, expressing a love and commitment to the state of Israel, but difficulty reconciling their Jewish values and vision for a democratic country with the current reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
James and Sonia Cummings, chairman and trustee of the Nathan Cummings Foundation, that launches and sponsors community projects that promote economic and social justice based on Jewish tradition and democratic values, were disappointed at the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships’ inability to reach a solution. However, they remained hopeful that the youth they had met through OneVoice were part of a new generation that could inspire change.
“It is so important to enlighten the Diaspora about what is really going on in Israel – we need more unity,” Sonia Cummings told Haaretz.
“It is about the future of the next generation. Meeting with young people on this trip has been very enlightening; there is hope, they are living in the present. Maybe we can grab that, and communicate it to the Diaspora, so that we can create a movement of peace,” she added.
OneVoice, an international grassroots movement that operates in Israel, the West Bank, Europe and the United States, has a “Youth Leadership Program” in which young adults from both the Israeli and Palestinian sectors are given extensive training on the conflict and peace-building efforts toward a two-state-solution.
These young leaders met with the delegates and shared their experiences growing up in their respective communities as well as their aspirations and hopes for peace.
The delegates attended a OneVoice Palestine town hall meeting in the West Bank city of Qalqilya on Wednesday, where youth leaders debated the issue of land swaps and borders. Later that night, the delegates met with representatives from both OneVoice Israel and OneVoice Palestine for a group dinner in Tel Aviv, after attending a question and answer session with opposition leader Tzipi Livni.
“Every Israeli should have the opportunity we just had, because without that there will never be peace,” Marcia Mishcon, a major supporter of the United Jewish Appeal told Haaretz. “Meeting with the youth has been so amazing, I have been so impressed,” she added.
Daniel Lubetzky, founder and president of the PeaceWorks Foundation that conceived the OneVoice movement and continues to guide it, told Haaretz he has seen a paradigm shift amongst the delegates.
“On the one hand, there has been a collective understanding that we know less (than we thought we did) about the issues at hand, and on the other hand there has been an appreciation for the challenges before us and a real determination to bridge these gaps,” Lubetzky told Haaretz.
For Alan Meltzer, CEO of the financial services company Meltzer Group, who has served on the board of directors for the For Love of Children United Jewish Endowment Fund, these complexities have really come into focus on this trip.
“I am very much a Zionist,” Meltzer, who has been to Israel roughly 20 times, told Haaretz. “I came on this trip because a lot of people were casting doubts on whether Israel was truly a ‘light unto the nations’. I love Israel but it is losing its battle with the world.”
Meltzer told Haaretz about the importance of emulating Jewish values and implementing them in the governance of Israel, and how many of its settlement policies are harming both its economy as well as its image on the international stage.
“The settlements do nothing for Israel,” Meltzer told Haaretz, adding, “Think about how much money the country would save if there were no checkpoints.”
Tal Harris, Executive Director of OneVoice Israel, told Haaretz that he and the entire OneVoice staff were extremely impressed by the delegates and their commitment to a just solution to the conflict.
“We are extremely inspired by the support we received from the delegates, who are willing to engage in the conflict in a constructive way,” Harris told Haaretz.
“They have come here with the right attitude, offering their support to both Palestinians and Israelis in the region by realizing the shared stake we all have in settling the conflict peacefully. This is crucial to moving forward.”
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