WASHINGTON (JTA) — Tzipi Livni, the top Israeli peace negotiator, made an impassioned case for peace with the Palestinians and for supporting Israel’s army in remarks to J Street’s national policy conference.
The opening Saturday night of the conference, which runs through Tuesday, heard speeches from Livni, who is also the justice minister; U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.); and Dror Moreh, who directed “Gatekeepers,” the Oscar-nominated film about top Israeli security officials and their advocacy for engaging with the Palestinians.
Livni, who heads the Israeli negotiation team in the newly relaunched peace talks, spent much of her speech defending the necessity of a two-state solution.
“It’s not a favor to the Palestinians, to the Arab world, to President Obama,” she said. “It’s in our interest.”
Speaking of breaking from the ideology of her parents, who were staunch right-wing supporters of greater Israel, Livni said it was in Israel’s self-interest to give up land in exchange for peace.
“I believe what we’re doing is not for the sake of our parents but for the sake of our children,” Livni said.
While Livni received a rousing welcome and warm support from the crowd for her comments defending the two-state solution, the reception was more ambivalent when Livni switched gears to defending the Israeli army.
“Delegitimization of Israel focuses on our soldiers,” Livni said. “Believe me, what they are doing is defending the State of Israel and trying to avoid civilian casualties.”
J Street describes itself as “pro-Israel, pro-peace” and is widely seen as a more left-wing alternative to the more established American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the organization, announced a new campaign aiming to gather thousands of signatures to a petition calling for concrete steps that the Israelis and Palestinians must take toward creating a two-state solution.
It was announced that J Street is pledging $1 million toward the so-called 2 Campaign, which also is to include town hall meetings around the country and lobbying Congress.
Ben-Ami slammed the one-state solution offered as a resolution to the conflict by those further left on the political spectrum than J Street.
“There is no evidence that nationalism is receding or that the world is moving toward universalism,” Ben-Ami said. “The two-state solution isn’t a favor to anyone, it is in the self-interest of the Israelis and the Palestinians.”
Organizers announced that more than 2,800 supporters registered for the conference, including 900 college students from 125 campuses in North America, the United Kingdom and Israel.
Lewis in a wide-ranging, impassioned speech that traced his history as a peace and civil rights activist and recounted his childhood raising chickens, offered strong support for J Street.
“As leaders of J Street you must lead, you must stand up and speak out and never give up or give out or give in,” Lewis told the crowd. “You have the power to be the headlights.”
Vice President Joe Biden and Israeli opposition leader Shelly Yachimovich are scheduled to speak later in the conference.