J Street Goes to College

September 10, 2009

Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace, Pro-Democracy Lobby Launches Two-State Advocacy Initiatives on Campus

WASHINGTON – As college students return to campus, a new organization—J Street U—will provide an alternative to the polarizing voices from both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide that have long dominated conversations about the conflict on campus.

J Street today officially launched its national student-driven network of activists that will mobilize support on campus for a negotiated, two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and for vigorous US leadership to achieve it. The kick-off will be marked by a series of events on campuses across the country over the coming weeks.

Already, student groups on 30 campuses have signed on to work with J Street U, with a number of other new groups currently in formation as the academic year gets underway. The organization anticipates that it will reach some 15,000 students online and within the next three years will establish a presence on 150 campuses, including at least 40 of the 50 campuses with the largest Jewish populations. A major component of the program will be the development of hundreds of student leaders at these and other campuses. The new organization builds on the solid foundation created by the Union of Progressive Zionists, which joined the J Street family of organizations, as part of the J Street Education Fund.

J Street U’s launch comes following a summer marked by clear signs from the Obama administration that the resolution of the conflict will be one of its leading foreign policy priorities in the coming year, including the president’s speech in Cairo, his call for a complete settlement freeze and the anticipated introduction of a proposal from the administration about how to relaunch the process later this month.

“On too many college campuses, students are forced to choose groups on the poles of the debate,” said Tammy Shapiro, Director of J Street U. “J Street U is the new address for meaningful dialogue and engagement when it comes to the conflict.”

J Street U, governed by a national student board, will provide guidance, education and resources to empower student activists to advocate on their campuses, in their communities and in Washington for a two-state solution. The organization will also work to create an alternate approach to Israel advocacy that promotes open dialogue and constructive activism, as well as critical analysis of policies, be they Israeli, Palestinian, American or other.

“The absence of an intentional and informed middle ground when it comes to discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on campus has left many students tuning out of the conversation altogether,” said Sophie Manuel, a Brown junior and president of J Street U’s national board.  “J Street U gives students the opportunity to practically, politically and, for many, personally bridge the traditional divide in the debate over the conflict.”

J Street U recently hired two new regional organizers—one on each coast—and has plans to further expand its national staff in the coming year with the addition of a Director of Programming and Education. The national staff will work directly with each of the campus groups, mentoring liaisons in developing and implementing effective strategies specific to their campuses.

“J Street U is a critical piece of a larger effort to promote a new direction for American policy in Israel and the Middle East and a broad public policy debate on the U.S. role in the region” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, executive director of J Street.  “J Street U’s efforts on campus will engage the next generation of public and private sector leaders, enhancing our ability to affect great change in Washington and throughout the Middle East.”

Individual campus organizations and J Street U will operate semi-autonomously from J Street itself.  Groups will be given leeway to develop their own approaches to building support for the two-state solution and for J Street’s goal of helping promote peace and security for Israelis, Palestinians and the entire Middle East.