BOSTON − J Street’s Town Hall meeting here last week, one of a series the organization hopes will drum up support among American Jews for Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to reach a two-state solution, began with a rabbi describing the disorientation felt by the People of Israel after the death of Moses. That may be a fitting depiction of present-day ennui about Israel’s future.
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Then, as now, it put the question of destiny back into the hands of the people. “How will you love peace and pursue it?” asked Rabbi Jeremy S. Morrison, quoting from the Talmud.
It’s that sense of restiveness that J Street, the dovish pro-Israel Washington, D.C. lobbying group, seeks to harness into grass-roots activism with their 2 Campaign, a million-dollar bid to rally support for a two-state solution as the Obama administration makes a push for the sides to reach a potentially historic compromise to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Despite the full-court press for a deal and the messaging that time is running out for a two-state solution − soon to be eclipsed by the specter of an Israel ruling over a Palestinian majority − the perception is that it’s a peace plan America wants more than the two sides themselves.
The Boston gathering on Wednesday at Temple Israel, a large reform synagogue where Kerry’s brother, who converted to Judaism, is a member and sister-in-law is president, is one of a series of town hall-style meetings across the U.S. organized by J Street as part of the mobilization campaign.
Fran Price was among those who came out on the snowy night, despite her concerns that Israel’s right-wing government was not interested in negotiations. “I see the extreme effort Kerry is making and I think it’s now or never and I need to involve myself,” she said. “Pessimism is the easy way out because it gets you off the hook.”
Borrowing one of Kerry’s own lines, the some 200 people gathered waved gray placards that read “I’m a part of the Great Constituency for Peace.”
On the other side of the signs was another slogan, “2 States for 2 Peoples”, a modern-day echo of the mantra of the early Zionists over a century ago: “A land for people for a people without land.”
“We have our work cut out for us,” Jeremy Ben-Ami, J Street’s founder and president told those gathered in a high-ceilinged hall paneled with menorahs and tablets of the Ten Commandments carved into dark wood. He cited key moments in the last two decades when peace seemed to be at hand only to collapse into violence or stalemate.
In the coming weeks Kerry is expected to put forward a framework for a peace deal. And with it, Ben-Ami warned, will come backlash from the Jewish settlers in the West Bank and their supporters. “This time has to be different and we as Americans, especially those with deep affection for Israel, have an enormous role to play. Only with friendly push will the two leaders, Benjmain Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas. choose the path of peace,” he said. According to a J Street poll, 80 percent of American Jews support a two-state solution.
Dovish retired general Amram Mitzna, a one-time prime ministerial candidate of Israel’s Labor party, was at the Boston meeting and several other J Street events this week. He too spoke of what might happen if a peace deal is not finally reached, and soon.
Aside from the possibility of a new round of uprising and violence, he said, there are the present-day calls for boycotts and a growing sense of political and economic isolation that may intensify.
“We have to understand. The price might be very high,” said Mitzna.
“And there are the fruits if we succeed: more security, economic development, better international relations. Israel will remain democratic with a Jewish majority.”