Soros Sits In as Fledgling Dovish Coalition Sets Out To Raise Millions

By Nathan Guttman

Published November 24, 2006, issue of November 24, 2006.
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Planners of a new pro-peace Jewish lobbying initiative say they are considering an initial, two-phase strategy, entailing fundraising for existing peace groups in its first stage and launching a new action initiative in the second stage.

The group aims to raise millions of dollars in the coming months to fund existing groups working toward a two-state solution for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Among those who have shown interest in the new group is billionaire currency trader and philanthropist George Soros.

Activists from several Jewish peace groups met in New York on October 25 with potential donors and their representatives to discuss their needs. Among the participants at this meeting were Soros himself, who in the past has refrained from contributing to Jewish groups, and Alan Solomont, a prominent community activist and Democratic Party fundraiser who has long supported Middle East peace initiatives.

The New York meeting did not reach any concrete decisions on how the new peace lobby should move forward, several participants said, but it succeeded in clarifying the various expectations that potential donors and heads of existing peace organizations have of the new organization.

Two Washington professionals emerged from the meeting as active coordinators who will take charge of raising funds and preparing a blueprint for further actions. One, Morton Halperin, who held foreign policy posts in the Nixon and Clinton administrations, now serves as director of American advocacy for the Open Society Institute, which was founded by George Soros. The other, Jeremy Ben-Ami, is senior vice president of Fenton Communications and served as an adviser to President Clinton.

Halperin and Ben-Ami have held a series of meetings in recent months with Jewish groups and individuals known to be supporters of the two-state solution. The main question raised in these meetings, participants said, has been whether to form a new group that will conduct its own lobbying operations, or work with existing groups and concentrate on channeling funds to these organizations.

“There is a lot of work being done and a lot of interest in the idea,” Ben-Ami told the Forward. “We will have to see in the next few months if this enthusiasm can be translated into contributions and practical measures.”

A source close to the group said that the preferred route at present is a parallel pursuit of both avenues: seeking funding for ongoing projects of existing groups and launching new programs initiated by the new organization.

The three main groups mentioned as possible recipients of the funds are the Israel Policy Forum, Americans for Peace Now and Brit Tzedek v’Shalom — all organizations that actively advocate a two-state solution.

Though the new group still has no name and no clear model for its operation, participants in the meeting insist that it is only a matter of time before the group comes up with a set of recommendations for practical action. The main goal now is to raise some $10 million to $15 million, described by participants as “venture capital” for investment in pro-peace groups. The goal, according to one of the activists, is to “significantly raise” the level of donations that existing peace groups are receiving and upgrade them into the spectrum of the millions of dollars.

The target deadline for this initial step is early in 2007, allowing the group to solicit funds during the period when major donors begin planning their contributions for the next year. One of the participants in the talks said the group shares a “certain sense of urgency” because activists do not want to lose the momentum gained in the past months since the talks began.

Rabbi David Saperstein, who heads the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and is one of several mainstream communal leaders taking part in the talks, said there is an increasingly urgent need for Jewish groups to take a strong stand on the issue of peace in the Middle East, because of the situation on the ground. “Political realities will drive the need for a renewed U.S. vigor in trying to explore options for diplomatic negotiated effort for peace,” Saperstein said. “The question is what the Jewish community will be doing to support this effort.”

Organizers of the new initiative said they have been trying to maintain a low profile and keep their activity out of the public eye, stressing that talks are still in a preliminary stage and that no new organization has been formed yet. Several participants in one of the first meetings, held in mid-September, were said to be offended by media reports that the new initiative will in some way compete with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the best-known pro-Israel lobbying organization. Organizers sought to emphasize that regardless of the new group’s final shape, it will work side by side with Aipac and should not be seen as a competition to the long-established lobbying organization.

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