Opening Night

J Street’s 5th National Conference–held in Washington, DC, March 21-24, 2015–came at a pivotal moment for US-Israel relations, nuclear negotiations with Iran and the future of the two-state solution.


The event hosted over 3,000 pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans from across the country, including 1,100 students from 110 campuses, as well as policy makers and opinion leaders from the US and Middle East. Top speakers included White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, Chief PLO Negotiator Saeb Erekat, six members of the next Israeli Knesset, and the 61st US Secretary of State, James A. Baker, III.


WATCH: Plenary Session – Policy Perspectives: Finding a Way Forward


Concern over the consequences of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s re-election was a recurring theme at the conference, which also focused on American Jewish communal responsibility for Israel’s future. In his keynote address, McDonough said the Obama administration was not satisfied by Netanyahu’s attempt to take back statements he made in the final days of the election campaign – notably his promise to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state.


“We cannot simply pretend that these comments were never made,” McDonough said. “An occupation that has gone on for almost 50 years must end.” At J Street’s annual gala dinner, Baker warned that “Israel’s future, absent a two-state solution, could be very difficult at best.”


WATCH: Plenary Session – A Clear Choice for a Better Future


In his address on opening night, J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami promised that in the months ahead, J Street would challenge Jewish communal leaders to make clear their opposition to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory. “Mr. Prime Minister you do not speak for us,” he declared. “We at J Street have no plans to give up our fight.”


WATCH: Plenary Session – The Choices Ahead: Views from Israel


This sentiment was echoed by the seven Knesset Members in attendance from center-left parties, who pledged to put forward a clear alternative to the right-wing Netanyahu government that was taking shape in Israel. To repeated ovations, Labor MK Stav Shaffir laid out a hopeful vision for Israel in which the government takes responsibility for its citizens and seeks peace with the Palestinians. “The frustration, my friends, is natural,” she said. “But despair, this we cannot afford.” The speakers also highlighted the critical role of partnership with the American Jewish community–“Tell your Congress: it is good for Israel when America pushes for two states,” urged MK Yoel Hasson of the Zionist Union.


Students also played key roles in the conference, moderating and presenting in sessions and leading a student-only plenary for J Street U, J Street’s student arm. Students highlighted ways to work together with Jewish communal organizations and hold them accountable for policies that affect the prospects of a two-state solution. This activism culminated in a 500-student march to Hillel International headquarters on Monday, March 23, to demand a meeting with the group’s board after Hillel President Eric Fingerhut withdrew his involvement with the conference.


On the final day of the conference on Tuesday, March 24th, attendees participated in more than 150 meetings on Capitol Hill to advocate for a diplomatic resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a strong US-Israel relationship. In meetings with Members of Congress and their staff, participants lobbied for legislation supporting a negotiated agreement that would prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and in opposition to legislation that would undermine talks at their most critical stage or prevent implementation of a good deal.


Opening Night: A Clear Choice for a Better Future

Plenary Session:
The Choices Ahead: Views from Israel

Plenary Session:
Does Liberal Zionism Have a Future?

Plenary Session:
Policy Perspectives: A Way Forward

Live-Streamed Sessions

What Happens From Here?
A Look at the Israeli Elections

What Can the US and International
Community Do About Settlements?

The Iranian Nuclear Negotiations:
The Political Challenges Ahead

What’s Next for Palestinian Leadership?

Arab Spring, ISIS Fall?

In their effort to end the occupation and achieve self-determination, many Palestinian activists believe that conventional diplomacy aimed at achieving a two-state solution through negotiations is no longer sufficient to achieve their goals. This panel will explore different non-violent strategies and tactics that Palestinian communal, business and civil society leaders are pursuing. These leaders will discuss their different approaches to pursuing their rights and achieving peace—including building the institutions of statehood, promoting citizen diplomacy and promoting Palestinian rights and representation within Israel—as well as their perspectives on the current state of Palestinian public and political opinion.
Panelists: Bassam Aramin, (Palestinian International Relations Director, The Parents Circle), Huda Abuarquob (Regional Director, Alliance for Middle East Peace), Nabila Espanioly (Activist, Hadash Party; Founding Member and Former Chair, Mossawa Center)
Moderator: Samer Makhlouf (Executive Director, OneVoice Palestine)
After last summer’s crisis in Gaza, the face of Palestinian leadership appears increasingly fractured—with Fatah and Hamas each struggling to find a message and a course of action that addresses the Palestinian people’s desire for self-determination and dignity. As the international community refuses to deal with Hamas and President Mahmoud Abbas enters the twilight of his career, what lies ahead for Palestinian leadership? Is seeking recognition from international forums a useful tool and what are its costs? What other strategies are in play? How solid is the Palestinian Authority and what might happen if it were to collapse?
Panelists: Huda Abuarquob (Regional Director, Alliance for Middle East Peace), Sam Bahour (Palestinian-American business consultant), Khaled Elgindy (Fellow, Center for Middle East Policy, Brookings)
Moderator: Muna Shikaki (Correspondent, Al-Arabiya)
*Choices for a Better Future sessions explore the crucial choices facing American, Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

A frequent critique of the Israeli “peace camp” —those who campaign actively for a two-state solution as an urgent policy priority— is that it’s primarily made up of Ashkenazi, secular elites. Yet to make real progress in changing the political calculus in Israel, voices of other constituencies are needed as well. Why are the voices of Mizrachi, Haredi, Russian and Arab Israelis not often heard in the ranks of the “peace camp”? What are emerging and seasoned community leaders doing to address this gulf? To what extent can broadening the Israeli constituency for peace help move the ball forward in the next Knesset?
Panelists: Noam Shuster (Program Director, Interpeace) Ksenia Svetlova (Journalist and Commentator; Candidate for Knesset, Hatnua Party [Zionist Union])
Moderator: Orly Noy (Editor and Blogger, Local Call)
Frustrated with the way the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is covered in the mainstream media? Join us to learn how citizen journalists, bloggers and new media in Israel are reshaping mainstream conversations about issues of inequality, occupation, human rights and non-violence. Where can we find voices that challenge the status quo? How do we know what sources to trust? Is there a “balanced” way to cover the conflict? What role can emerging independent platforms in Israel play in bolstering free speech and challenging top-down narratives?
Panelists: Ronit Avni (Founder and Former Executive Director, Just Vision), Orly Noy (Co-Editor, Local Call), Noam Sheizaf (Founder and Editor, +972 Magazine)
Moderator: Muna Shikaki (Correspondent, Al-Arabiya)
While many Jewish communal organizations express public support for a two-state solution, too often they stop short of translating that support into action. This panel will explore the choices that synagogues, organizations and campuses face in deciding whether, how and when to actively push a two-state agenda. What are the stumbling blocks to “walking the walk,” and can they be overcome? If one presumes that there is the will to promote two states, what role could the American Jewish community play in addressing the existential threat to Israel posed by the lack of a two-state resolution to the conflict? And what would it take for Jewish communal leaders to take action?
Panelists: Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater (Senior Rabbi, Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center), Geri D. Palast (Managing Director, JFNA/JCPA Israel Action Network), Rabbi Josh Weinberg (President, Association of Reform Zionists of America)
Moderators: Ariella Hohl (Columbia University/Jewish Theological Seminary Class of 2017; Co-Chair J Street U Columbia), Jacob Kraus (Macalester College Class of 2015; Regional Co-Chair, J Street U Midwest Chair)
*Choices for a Better Future sessions explore the crucial choices facing American, Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
Since before the founding of Israel, American philanthropic dollars have significantly influenced realities on the ground in the region. In March 2014, the Jewish Daily Forward released a report highlighting the hundreds of millions of dollars that the American Jewish community raises for Israel, as well as the sometimes opaque nature of where that money ends up. While major Jewish and non-Jewish financial contributions to projects beyond the Green Line are well-established, there remain many questions about the impact of these dollars. What are the policies of communal Jewish charity organizations like Federations towards funding programs across the Green Line? Is there transparency over the allocation of communal charity for Israel? What role do American contributions have on settlement projects and the future of a two-state solution? Join us to explore how American charitable giving is impacting the future of Israel and the Palestinian territory.
Panelists: Kenneth Bob (National President, Ameinu), Rabbi Jill Jacobs (Executive Director, T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights), Menachem Leibovic (Deputy Director, Jewish National Fund), Sarah Anne Minkin (Post-Doctoral Student, University of California-Berkeley)
Moderators: Hannah Nayowith (Carleton College Class of 2016; Co-Chair, J Street U Carleton), Rachael Stryer (Stanford University
Class of 2017; Northwest Regional Co-Chair, J Street U)
*Beyond the Green Line sessions delve into issues of settlements and occupation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Presented by the New Israel Fund
Do Israelis feel more secure today than they did 20 years ago? Has the dependence on military options brought more security? Can Israel find a productive relationship with its moderate neighbors? Join the New Israel Fund for a discussion with leading Israeli security and foreign policy experts bringing a diplomatic,
Panelists: Brig. Gen. (ret.) Shlomo Brom (Visiting Fellow, Center for American Progress), Nimrod Goren, (Chairman (Mitvim—The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies), Heather Hurlburt (Director, New Models of Policy Change, New American Foundation)
Moderator: Libby Lenkinski (Vice President for Strategy, NIF)
At J Street’s first national conference skeptics wondered aloud if a viable pro-Israel, pro-peace movement could be built and can hold together over time. They questioned whether a politically diverse coalition—combining those bringing primarily their concern for Israel’s security and those moved foremost by upset over the occupation—could work together with those in between to build the numbers necessary under a pro-Israel banner to change the politics on Israel in this country. Six years later—after three escalations in Gaza, two failed US-led peace initiatives and the continued rightward drift in Israel’s politics—we revisit the question: can J Street balance the demands of its left and right flanks and continue to build an ever more potent and coherent political force? What will it take to do so?
Panelists: Lisa Goldman (Contributing Editor, +972 Magazine), Rachel A. Lerner (Senior Vice President for Community Relations, J Street), Daniel May (Former Director, J Street U; Co-Founder, If Not Now)
Moderator: Ron Kampeas (Washington Bureau Chief, JTA)

Cover Photo

Sharable Graphics

“As difficult as it is, the United States will never stop working for a two-state solution and the lasting peace that…

Posted by J Street on Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Miss White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough’s speech at J Street yesterday? Full text:

Posted by J Street on Tuesday, March 24, 2015

YES. This is how we stand for Israel. Thanks for standing with us, Representative Jan Schakowsky!

Posted by J Street on Monday, March 23, 2015

At 29-years-old, MK Stav Shaffir was one of the stars of J Street’s 2015 National Conference. Watch her speech and you’ll see why:

Posted by J Street on Monday, March 23, 2015

Our Twitter feed blew up this morning with praise for Amna Farooqi, who graced #JSt2015 with her unique story of falling…

Posted by J Street on Sunday, March 22, 2015

After his rousing speech during our opening night plenary, Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Rick Jacobs spent…

Posted by J Street on Sunday, March 22, 2015

Nothing like getting together with 3,000 friends to make change. Day 2 of J Street’s 2015 National Conference starts now.

Posted by J Street on Sunday, March 22, 2015

Opening Night

J Street Address
Jeremy Ben-Ami
President, J Street


Keynote Address
Rabbi Rick Jacobs
President, Union for Reform Judaism


Featured Speakers
Roni Keidar
Activist, Other Voice; Resident of Netiv Ha’asara
Maha Mehanna
Gaza Office Coordinator and Senior Arabic/English Translator, Applied Information Management; Resident of Gaza

Administration Policy Plenary


Keynote Address
Denis McDonough
White House Chief of Staff

Gala Dinner


Keynote Address
The Honorable James A. Baker
III, 61st US Secretary of State


Special Guest Speaker
Randi Weingarten
President, American Federation of Teachers


J Street Address
Jeremy Ben-Ami
President, J Street