Building the Great Student Constituency for Peace

“Failure will kill the political constituency of the two-state solution,” warned American Task Force on Palestine Director Ghaith Al-Omari at an event co-sponsored by J Street U Brown and Brown RISD Hillel last week. These chilling words reminded me of why it is so essential to demonstrate support for Secretary of State John Kerry’s current efforts to negotiate peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. For the sake of innocent lives, dreams of self-determination, minds free from the trauma of conflict, and the priceless commodity of security, we cannot let this opportunity for peace pass us by. We must act now.

Despite the critical urgency of this moment, Israel-focused groups on my campus have stayed largely quiet when it comes to Kerry’s initiative. The loudest conversations I’ve encountered over the past several months about Israel are debates over two movements: BDS and Open Hillel. BDS – which J Street U opposes –  and Open Hillel are partly symptoms of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and partly demonstrative of our community’s failure to address the conflict in a substantive and appropriate manner. These movements are sending us an important message: college students and young American Jews are frustrated with how the occupation is treated on campus. Pragmatic options – like the two-state solution – for ending the conflict often get lost amidst polarizing rhetoric and inflammatory stances.

So why are we, as Americans and American Jews, hesitant to join the numerous Members of Knesset, former and current Shin Bet directors, and a majority of the Israeli and Palestinian publics in true support of the two-state solution? Since the collapse of the Oslo Accords in 2000, this is the closest we have come to a solution that would secure the Jewish and democratic character of the State of Israel while simultaneously granting the right of self-determination to the Palestinian people. It is time for the American Jewish community to exercise our political power and mobilize behind Kerry in support of a two-state solution, rather than solely expending our energy fighting the symptoms of this continuing conflict.

On my Taglit-Birthright Israel trip and at speeches by Members of Knesset and Israeli embassy officials, I have been told numerous times that I have a stake in Israel’s future. If this is true, then I cannot allow the occupation to persist; for as long as it does, it will be a threat to Israel’s security and a blight on the soul of the Jewish people. My love for Israel drives my critiques of some of its policies because I want to be proud of the state that represents my religion, my people, to the world.

That is why I am standing up for peace and the two-state solution, along with thousands of my peers in 56 J Street U chapters on campuses across the country. When Kerry asked the American public to form a “great constituency for peace” in support of the American-led peace negotiations, we rose to his challenge and launched the 2 Campaign, a nationwide effort to demonstrate the political constituency Kerry recognizes is so crucial to the success of any peace agreement.  Through the 2 Campaign, J Street U students have gathered thousands of signatures from student leaders across the country, declaring their support for a two-state solution and its understood parameters. Nearly three hundred of those student leaders will gather in Baltimore for the J Street U Student Town Hall on April 5-7.

Over the course of the Town Hall’s three days, participants will have the opportunity to interrogate and develop their own beliefs through discussions–  about BDS and Open Hillel, as well as a myriad of other issues: To what extent is the changing discourse on the Hill around Iran an indication of changing views around Israel? What are the tradeoffs between human rights and security in the West Bank? How does the Palestinian-American community organize within their constituency? What is the role of the Israeli left in affecting the outcome of negotiations?

But we won’t only be talking about these issues –  we will also be acting on them. In conversations with major stakeholders like Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, Maryland Congresswoman Donna Edwards, and Ambassador Maen Areikat, Chief Representative of the PLO to the United States, we will make mutual commitments on how to move our respective constituencies and communities forward in demonstrating real support for negotiations and the two-state solution.

We are asking them to join us in preparing Capitol Hill and the American Jewish community for some of the tough compromises inherent in that goal. Peace is not easy. But when we join together as a community, raise our voices in the name of justice and pragmatism, and garner support from some of the top leaders on this issue, peace begins to look a lot less like wishful thinking and lot more like reality.


Joanna Kramer is a student at Brown University and a Co-Chair of the J Street U Student Town Hall.


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