The Forward reports that the new dovish American Jewish Mideast peace coalition announced in the Jewish press last month has continued developing apace. George Soros himself attended a meeting held last month indicating his deepening interest in the concept:
Planners of a new pro-peace Jewish lobbying initiative say they are considering an initial, two-phase strategy, entailing fundraising for existing peace groups in its first stage and launching a new action initiative in the second stage.
The group aims to raise millions of dollars in the coming months to fund existing groups working toward a two-state solution for Israeli-Palestinian peace…
Activists from several Jewish peace groups met in New York on October 25 with potential donors and their representatives to discuss their needs. Among the participants at this meeting were Soros himself, who in the past has refrained from contributing to Jewish groups, and Alan Solomont, a prominent community activist and Democratic Party fundraiser who has long supported Middle East peace initiatives.
To further indicate the seriousness of the efforts, two well-connected Jewish political operatives have taken on the lead coordinator roles:
Two Washington professionals emerged from the meeting as active coordinators who will take charge of raising funds and preparing a blueprint for further actions. One, Morton Halperin, who held foreign policy posts in the Nixon and Clinton administrations, now serves as director of American advocacy for the Open Society Institute, which was founded by George Soros. The other, Jeremy Ben-Ami, is senior vice president of Fenton Communications and served as an adviser to President Clinton.
Halperin and Ben-Ami have held a series of meetings in recent months with Jewish groups and individuals known to be supporters of the two-state solution. The main question raised in these meetings, participants said, has been whether to form a new group that will conduct its own lobbying operations, or work with existing groups and concentrate on channeling funds to these organizations.
“There is a lot of work being done and a lot of interest in the idea,” Ben-Ami told the Forward. “We will have to see in the next few months if this enthusiasm can be translated into contributions and practical measures.”
I also like the ambitiousness of the fundraising effort:
…Participants in [an organizational planning] meeting insist that it is only a matter of time before the group comes up with a set of recommendations for practical action. The main goal now is to raise some $10 million to $15 million, described by participants as “venture capital” for investment in pro-peace groups. The goal, according to one of the activists, is to “significantly raise” the level of donations that existing peace groups are receiving and upgrade them into the spectrum of the millions of dollars.
Having been deeply involved in numerous Jewish peace groups over the decades (and having worked for one or two), I can attest to the utter poverty conditions under which they did their work. Everything is hand to mouth. And sometimes the amateurish results attested to this. But I think the three groups which are spearheading this effort have got their act together despite operating on a shoestring budget (currently at least).
For these groups to get such an infusion of cash and energy from these fundraising efforts would revolutionize the Jewish peace movement, allowing it to play on almost equal terms to the big boys like Aipac and the ADL.
Unfortunately, some of the folks behind this effort still are maintaining the fiction that the new group will get on like a house afire with Aipac:
Several participants in one of the first meetings, held in mid-September, were said to be offended by media reports that the new initiative will in some way compete with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the best-known pro-Israel lobbying organization. Organizers sought to emphasize that regardless of the new group’s final shape, it will work side by side with Aipac and should not be seen as a competition to the long-established lobbying organization.
As I’ve written here before: who are they kiddin’? Peace Now, Brit Tzedek and Israel Policy Forum united to clean Aipac’s clock a few months ago during the lobbying campaign to pass the Palestinian Anti-Terror Act. Again, as I’ve written here–if this new group does NOT take on Aipac in similar ways, then there is virtually no reason for it to exist. Though if someone wants to maintain this fiction in the group’s initial startup phase so as not to begin organizing on a confrontational note, then that’s OK by me.
With today’s news of a ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians, this new lobbying effort is needed more desperately than ever. We must push the Bush Administration to engage as an honest broker in the negotiation process. Aipac isn’t going to be pushing for this. Someone in our community must do this and do it forcefully and with sufficient funding to really make a difference. We must tell the American people and this president that Jews want peace–a 2 state solution, an end to violence, and mutual recognition–and that we will support any president who can get us there.