By Molly Freeman
As a member of the board of J Street, a leader of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter and a co-founder of J Street’s Women’s Leadership Forum, I want to update you on the fantastic National Summit we held last weekend in my hometown.
Much of the conference is available on YouTube and you can watch it here.
As you know, the collapse of Secretary of State John Kerry’s noble attempt to bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians has prompted some deep soul-searching within our movement. But there was no sense of despair among the 600-plus J Street leaders and activists, most from the West Coast, who attended the conference. They left San Francisco with a new sense of purpose and energy, determined to work even harder for a peace that we still believe is possible, necessary and just.
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Our summit got off to a magnificent start with an opening dialogue among former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, Israel’s most recent UN ambassador Gabriela Shalev and the former US ambassador to both Israel and Egypt Dan Kurtzer.
It was wonderful to hear these three experienced officials totally avoid the blame game, aiming their criticism at their own party rather than at each other.
The meat of the conference came on Sunday, opening with a stimulating dialogue among four leaders of the pro-peace movement in the United States–our own Jeremy Ben-Ami, Ken Bob of Ameinu, Debra DeLee of Americans for Peace Now and Daniel Sokatch of the New Israel Fund.
“I’d like everyone to take a look at this whole group,” said DeLee, gesturing to her colleagues on this extraordinary panel. “Because if you care about Israel’s future, as a Jewish and democratic state, that lives by Jewish values … this is where you make your investments, this is where this is going to happen.”
Another incredible session took place on Sunday afternoon when MK Merav Michaeli joined with Rabbi Sharon Brous and UCLA History Professor David Myers discussed the responsibility of American Jews for Israel’s future in the light of the recent decision by the Council of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations to reject J Street as a member.
Rabbi Brous captured the essence of this powerful discussion when she passionately reviewed the sweep of Jewish history and values and concluded that making room for a diversity of views was absolutely fundamental to our tradition.
“Many democratic values are actually drawn out of Jewish values and text. The idea that there’s a multiplicity of truths, that we need to make space for argumentation and diversity, for equality, for human dignity, as the center of the conversation is not democratic more than it’s Jewish. It’s both,” Brous declared to ringing applause from the packed hall.
There were also fascinating breakout sessions throughout the day, too many for me to go into now. This was just a foretaste of what awaits us at the next J Street National Conference in Washington DC, March 21-24 2015.
On Monday, around 70 of us stayed behind for another unique day during which we were able to really go into depth on the challenges facing the pro-peace movement with Ambassadors Kurtzer and Shalev and senior J Street staff. It was an exceptionally invigorating day that was intellectually empowering for all of us.
Finally, I want to highlight the work of the J Street Women’s Leadership Forum which I and other dedicated leaders of J Street have been working on since its launch at our 2013 conference last fall.
One of our aims is to expand the peace agenda to include “human security” issues. Women’s direct connections to the everyday human security needs of their families and communities give us strategic perspective on conflict resolution and on the issues that must be addressed in any sustainable agreement, beyond the struggle for power or territory. These issues include prevention of violence, and access to basic healthcare, housing and education, poverty eradication issues, access to water resources and more.
I hope this note has given you a taste of the incredible weekend we enjoyed in San Francisco and will encourage you to consider attending the next J Street National Conference next March in Washington.