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Israel Policy Forum

ISRAEL POLICY FORUM

ISRAEL POLICY FORUM (ipf) was established in 1993 by a group of American Jewish leaders who were encouraged by recent developments in the Middle East peace process and discouraged that some of the American Jewish community's most established organizations did not seem to embrace them despite overwhelming evidence from polls that American Jews were supportive. Indeed, ipf's first public act was an advertisement on the op-ed page of The New York Times supporting what would soon be known as the "Oslo process."

In its first year, ipf focused primarily on education within the institutional Jewish community. When it became clear that those opposed to the peace efforts both from Israel and within the American Jewish community were going to Capitol Hill to lobby against the policies advanced by the government of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and U.S. President Bill Clinton, the organization expanded its activities to include advocacy on Capitol Hill.

ipf's activities took on new meaning after the assassination of Rabin and the subsequent election of Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister. Until that time, American Jews who associated themselves with ipf could also say they were supporting the policies of the government of Israel. Although Netanyahu did follow through with some of the commitments made by his predecessors in the Oslo accords, he did so reluctantly and largely as a result of prodding from Clinton. ipf distinguished itself by mobilizing American Jewish support for Clinton's efforts through its education and advocacy activities. In a September 1997 opinion survey commissioned by ipf, 89% of American Jews agreed that "to be effective and credible to both sides, the U.S. must be even-handed when facilitating negotiations."

Significantly, ipf carved out its unique conceptual niche during the Clinton-Netanyahu years when it asserted that the role of the United States is to serve as both Israel's best friend and ally and as a credible mediator in the peace process. In a full page ad, which appeared in The Washington Post on the eve of the Israeli-Palestinian Summit at the Wye Plantation in October 1998, ipf proclaimed that "continuing, balanced U.S. diplomacy is needed to keep the peace process moving forward," an important shift from the more traditional view, as articulated in aipac's position that there should be "no daylight" between the U.S. and Israel.

When Ehud Barak became Israel's leader, ipf found itself once again more closely identified with Israeli government policies. Barak made a point of meeting with both ipf and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations on his first official visit to U.S., sending a signal that he was looking for more reliable support from American Jewish organizations than Rabin was able to count on.

ipf was a leading catalyst of "pro-Israel, pro-peace" activities during the period leading up to the failed Camp David ii summit. Clinton recognized the central role played by ipf when he unveiled his plan for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at an ipf gala only weeks before he left office.

The years after Camp David ii were challenging to ipf but the organization carried out some important projects nevertheless, such as "Foundations for a Future Peace" by Mideast scholar Stephen P. Cohen. Among the principles it articulated was the prescient point: "Peace must not be perceived as the enemy of religion and traditional faith. If it is, what is now a national conflict will degenerate further into a religious conflict." During the same period, ipf sponsored a task force on U.S. diplomacy in the Mideast, which outlined a regional strategy that would simultaneously address the interrelated issues involving Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

ipf was the leading Jewish force supporting Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan in 2004 and 2005. After the disengagement, ipf launched a campaign to encourage assertive U.S. efforts to parlay Israel's bold move into a process that would lead to the establishment of a viable Palestinian state living in peace alongside the State of Israel.

[Jonathan Jacoby (2nd ed.)]

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