Coalition of Bay Area leaders unites in support of two states

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Worried about the future of the two-state solution, a coalition of Bay Area leaders is promoting Invest in Peace — an organization seeking to raise the profile of groups that foster coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians.

The campaign, launched in October by the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council and media consulting group BMWL, is in its nascent stages — and currently exists most prominently as an online media platform, supported by more than 100 Bay Area business leaders, elected officials and community organizers who work inside and outside the Jewish community.

“It’s a statement that we feel strongly about something and we’re not just going to sit back and be silent,” said Dan Kalb, an Oakland City Council member in the coalition who said he has supported a two-state solution since the 1980s and fears the incoming Trump administration is not committed to that plan.

President-elect Trump has nominated David Friedman, who has spoken out against the two-state solution, as ambassador to Israel.

“It is fundamental to Israel’s long-term survival for us to speak up, in a united voice, about the importance of a lasting, pragmatic peace that necessarily includes a two-state solution,” Kalb said. “If we, in the Greater Bay Area, can show our broad-based support for those who are in Israel and the Palestinian territories and working on a lasting, negotiated peace, then maybe that will help.”

The Rev. Paul J. Fitzgerald, president of the University of San Francisco and another member of the coalition, said he joined the group largely due to his positive experience visiting Israel last April with a group of civic leaders through the JCRC. The tour included meetings with architects of social peace and economic development in the region.

“I was very grateful to be asked to support this very important initiative,” Fitzgerald said in a phone interview. “The Invest in Peace initiative is building goodwill — and this attitude and commitment is about healing the wounds and mending the tears in the social fabric, paving the way to peace through mutual respect and active kindness.”

In addition to its community of supporters, the campaign has an active internet presence. A Facebook page has more than 22,000 likes and regularly posts updates on the “peacemakers” the coalition supports — nongovernmental agencies on the ground in the Mideast working to bring conflicting peoples together.

For organizations to make the list, they must currently be doing work in the region, be working toward peaceful coexistence for the two peoples and be engaged in substantive efforts — such as Ultimate Peace, a group that brings Israeli Arab, Israeli Jewish and Palestinian youth together to play Ultimate Frisbee, and the Arava Institute — an environmental teaching and research program in the Middle East.

The purpose of Invest in Peace is not to raise money for those organizations — in fact, the website has no solicitations for donations. Rather, it is intended to raise attention and “let people know that organizations like this exist and are engaged in these efforts,” said Sam Lauter, a pro-Israel activist who worked on the campaign as the BMWL media consultant.

“We wanted, when people discussed the issues, for them to be able to have positive discussions about it — to be able to focus on the people-to-people engagement going on, rather than just the politics,” he said. “Because that’s how we sew the seeds of peace for the future.”

“A lot of people have come to us asking what they can do to support the two-state solution,” said Jeremy Russell, the JCRC’s director of marketing and communications. “We couldn’t believe that no one had done this yet — put all this information together. We want people to know about those people, so they can know how to get involved.”

While the JCRC had wanted to create such an index of “peacemakers” for a while, Russell said interest became more urgent over the past year as the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement garnered more attention in the Bay Area. Russell said that, in conceiving Invest in Peace, organizers were looking for a strategy that could provide an alternative to BDS that was “positive and pro-active” as it sought peace in the region.

Lauter said his goal for 2017 is to see Invest in Peace become more widely known, as a way to further push the message of coexistence, adding, “There are going to be a lot of ongoing questions about what’s happening, and we hope to provide those answers.”

“I’m very worried because we have a government in Israel right now that is probably the most narrowly crafted right wing we’ve ever seen in the country. There are extremists on both sides and those extremists are not being helpful,” Kalb said. “The point is to remind ourselves and put upfront those people and entities that maybe aren’t the loudest when it comes to discussing these issues, but are often the most thoughtful and the most pragmatic.”

Hannah Rubin

Hannah Rubin is a writer at J. She can be reached at [email protected].