The victory of Benjamin Netanyahu and the extreme right in the Israeli elections sorely disappointed those who had pinned their hopes on the Labor-led Zionist Camp so they could resume the peace process.
The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the Obama administration and the European Union (EU) now have to face the fact that the Palestinians have no partner for peace. They will have to take actions they had hoped to avoid and ramp up outside pressure on Israel to reach a just and lasting agreement.
Yet Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory are not the only battleground where the future of Palestinians and Israelis is being decided. The United States is also an important sphere. And, coincidentally, two major—and very different—American Jewish conferences bookended the Israeli elections. The Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) National Membership Meeting was held in Baltimore from March 13 to 15, and the J Street National Conference is being held this week in Washington, DC, from March 21 to 24.
J Street is the larger and better-funded organization, but JVP is proving to be a real magnet for American Jews who are outraged by Israel’s policies and even more by Netanyahu’s claim to be speaking in their name, and who want to take action, including boycotts. JVP’s roughly 204,000 Facebook “likes” are more than seven times that of J Street’s, and its 41,800 Twitter followers are well over three times those of J Street’s.
J Street, does not support the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, defining itself as “pro-Israel, pro-peace” and as part of the American Jewish establishment. JVP, which has supported BDS for years, issued a statement earlier this year fully endorsing the BDS call. It positions itself as pro-justice and universal human rights and says the mainstream Jewish community does not speak for it.
Despite, indeed because, of these out-of-the-box positions, JVP is growing fast. In recent months, the number of chapters across the United States increased from forty-one to seventy-two; the number of members has shot up to 9,000, and online supporters have nearly hit the 200,000 mark. Significantly, much of this growth happened after Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” against the besieged Gaza Strip in the summer of 2014, pushing thousands off the fence of inaction.
JVP’S burgeoning energy and maturity drew hundreds to its conference, which sold out at 600 participants six weeks early; nearly 200 additional video passes were also issued. The theme of the weekend was “We’re Not Waiting,” and participants came from as far as England and California to compare notes, strategize, mourn the lives lost over the summer and celebrate their growing strength. There was a striking number of young people as well as grandparents, long-time activists and newcomers to the cause. And this year, this Palestinian went to the conference, too.