In advance, it may have seemed a trivial detail that the fourth J Street conference, "Our Time to Lead," was scheduled to straddle the end and beginning of Washington's fiscal year, with the conference's advocacy day to be held on the first day of the new fiscal year, Oct. 1. No one knew that Congress would find itself unable to agree on a budget and would shut down the government, furloughing a half-million federal employees.
The shutdown, however, did not stop over 2800 activists – among them over 140 from Boston – who had gathered in Washington to educate themselves about and advocate for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a solution that leaders are currently negotiating in U.S.-mediated peace talks. Panel discussions about international issues proceeded with energy and intensity, just a mile away from where Congress members were locked in heated debate about domestic issues. And that nearly three thousand people came to the J Street conference in Washington to announce themselves as "the great constituency for peace," in response to Secretary Kerry's call, is a great reason for optimism.
The shutdown didn’t stop our elected officials from showing their concern for this issue, either. Despite the political crisis in our nation’s capital, the administration and members of Congress made special efforts to attend. Notably, Vice President Joe Biden gave a rousing conference keynote, and Minority leader Nancy Pelosi made a special appearance at the conference gala dinner. Hundreds of scheduled meetings of J Street delegations with Congressional representatives and aides were still held during the first day of the shutdown, including meetings of the Boston delegation with Senators Warren and Markey and with Reps. Kennedy, Tierney and Tsongas.
That Israeli-Palestinian peace talks continued through all this and that the dream of peace has been kept alive during such a politically challenging time in Congress is especially laudable. Secretary of State John Kerry, who is mediating the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that began in Washington last July, has traveled to the region six times in six months.
The compromises needed to reach an agreement will certainly be challenging. And when an agreement is reached, some individuals will be asked to adjust their deeply held beliefs and in some cases sacrifice their lifestyles to make this peace a reality. Some will be brought home, and some may not have the opportunity to come home. No agreement will be perfect in everyone's eyes. But in the final analysis, despite the challenges, peace is in everyone's interests – Israelis, Palestinians, Americans and others – and it is also simply the right thing to do.
As the U.S. federal government shutdown appears to have reached a resolution, hopefully this will serve as an inspiration for how leaders can compromise and move forward.
Meanwhile, on the ground, J Street’s work continues unabated. At the conference, J Street announced its launch of The 2 Campaign, a national initiative to demonstrate broad American Jewish support for the two-state solution. Large numbers of American Jews are speaking out to recognize and support the great effort that Washington is investing into resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Here in Boston, where there are thousands of J Street supporters, the 2 Campaign will be announced in our community through the efforts of supporters and volunteers. Those who share this vision of a two-state future can join J Street's work. As John Kerry has said, this is a great moment for "summoning the courage to achieve peace."