For months, I’ve been following the plans for a possible new progressive alternative to AIPAC being formed within the American Jewish community. I was tremendously excited when George Soros was named as a possible supporter and funder. When he backed out (foolishly in my opinion), I thought the idea was likely dead. But good ideas don’t die easily and others have carried on the discussions:
Merger talks are heating up among three leading dovish Israel advocacy groups in a development that proponents hope will produce a new mega-organization with greater political clout and more money to push for a two-state solution.
Leaders of Americans for Peace Now, the Israel Policy Forum and Brit Tzedek v’Shalom are weighing the idea and are expected to reach a decision by the fall. The discussions are being held within each of the groups and between leaders of the three organizations, under the auspices of several Washington-based activists who are promoting the idea of a pro-peace Jewish lobby.
…Some liberal observers are hoping that a new joint entity could emerge as a counter to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby that doves have accused of working against efforts to convince the White House to do more to advance Israeli-Palestinian talks. Organizers of the new initiative are publicly dismissing any talk of weakening or competing against Aipac; at the same time, they insist that the goal is to create a new voice for American Jews.
The Forward article notes a bold funding initiative for the new group which is impressive if they can bring it off:
Proponents of the merger aim to raise $10 million — double the combined annual budgets of the three organizations — to help launch the new initiative. Part of the money would come from contributors who already back the three existing groups, but most of the $10 million — if the goal is reached — is expected to come from donors who currently do not give to Jewish organizations or to other pro-Israel groups. Among the potential donors being targeted are Jewish figures in Hollywood, as well as young liberal Jewish philanthropists who currently focus their giving on non-Jewish causes
As a Jewish communal fundraiser, I’d hate to be dubious about such a potentially wonderful venture, but this sounds like the pipe dreams that lots of progressives have about finding funding. The truth is usually that the money comes from those who are committed and I don’t see Hollywood Jews or those who don’t currently give to Jewish causes as strong prospects. There’s a reason why they don’t give to Jewish causes (alienation and remoteness) and they’re not likely to make an exception for this one.
But hey, prove me wrong. It won’t bother me a bit.
One of the sticking points has been the structure of the new entity:
According to sources familiar with the talks, the organizations are being asked to choose between two options: instituting a formal merger that would create a joint pro-peace organization under which the three existing groups would continue to operate, or creating a separate new body that would raise funds independently and provide financial assistance and backing to projects directed by the existing groups.
This is confusing. How do you have a “formal merger” in which the three groups would continue to operate? Unless each of the three groups would focus on a single distinctive area of operation like research, lobbying and outreach, say–but all within one over-arching organization. I’m agnostic on the idea of creating a funding mechanism that would support the three separate groups. It seems a bit cumbersome to have 3 groups fundraising separately and then have a fourth raising money for all of them.
A friend who works for one of the groups gave it a 50/50 chance of ever getting off the ground. I’d say that’s still about right. But we need such a new venture. We need a bolder, stronger, better funded voice to combat the hidebound notions of AIPAC. Israel is in desperate straits and needs to hear a voice of encouragement and friendship, but also one of realism and pragamatism from the American Jewish community. Separately, these groups have had much success. But in a joint venture there is much more that could be achieved.
We aren’t doing enough. The situation is very bad. It calls for more from us. But can we give it? Do we have it in us?