J Street Launches $1 Million Campaign To Mobilize U.S. Jews For Peace

Pro-Israel, pro-peace J Street is kicking off its national conference by launching a major campaign to mobilize American Jewish support for U.S.-led Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Sigal Samuel reports.

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Here at the opening night of J Street’s national conference in D.C., the first plenary session is about to kick off with a big announcement: the pro-Israel, pro-peace organization is launching a $1 million campaign aimed at getting American Jews to rally behind the U.S.-led Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Any minute now, J Street will debut the below video, featuring Israeli political, military, and civic leaders all urging American Jews to back the new initiative, dubbed the “2 Campaign” in honor of the two-state solution it hopes to realize.

The goal of the initiative, J Street explained in a press release today, is to “demonstrate that the majority of American Jews will stand behind the Obama administration’s efforts to hold the parties to the hard choices necessary to reach a two-state solution.”Though that articulation refers to “parties,” plural, it seems clear that J Street’s goal is to convince President Obama that most American Jews will support him if he goes hard on Israel, and that he therefore shouldn’t worry too much about alienating the more hawkish constituencies in the Israel lobby.

For Israel, the “hard choices” necessary to achieve a two-state solution will center largely on the issue of West Bank settlements, which Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is more determined than ever to strengthen, and which the U.S. has so far refrained from materially opposing—even as the European Union has stepped up its opposition in the form of sanctions against settlement products.

“The plan [of the 2 Campaign] is to focus on what has been perceived as being obstacles to a resolution until this point: Jerusalem, borders, refugees, and security,” J Street Communications Director Jessica Rosenblum said in a phone call today. The issue of settlements and the potential need for settlement evacuations would fall under the category of “borders,” she noted.

As for the specific mechanics of the 2 Campaign, J Street stated that there will be “a high-profile national advertising campaign that will unfold as the negotiations progress,” plus the following nuts and bolts:

The 2 Campaign will start by gathering tens of thousands of signatures backing the parameters of a peace agreement and the compromises both sides must make to get there. From there, it will build outwards to demonstrate the growing constituency for peace in dozens of town hall meetings, educational programs across the nation and outreach to Congress.

All of which sounds very impressive—and, if successful, potentially very fruitful. But it bears noting that there’s a tight deadline on all of this: Secretary of State Kerry set a nine-month timeframe for this round of negotiations.

J Street, of course, is aware of the deadline, but doesn’t necessarily see the 2 Campaign as confined to those nine months. “The plan is to be flexible and fluid, to give the support to the negotiations that they need as they progress,” Rosenblum said, adding that how the money is used “will be largely determined by the events that unfold—and by what transpires in Congress.”

“The campaign will continue as long as the negotiations continue,” she said.

Still, the cautious optimism that persisted at the start of the talks is now even more cautious. Between the shooting of three Palestinians from Qalandiya, the killing of two Israeli soldiers, and the clashes on the Temple Mount, things are heating up on the ground. And all of that takes a toll on negotiations. If J Street’s 2 Campaign is to make a meaningful difference before the talks run off the rails, it will need American Jews not only to move in great numbers, but to move fast.