V15 is still alive – and now it’s campaigning for peace
Israeli soldier casts his vote
(photo credit: IDF)
After failing to elect ‘anyone but Bibi,’ the get-out-the-vote campaign is returning to its roots in NGO OneVoice, to advocate for a two-state solution.
A small group of activists, mostly in their 30s, sat in a sunfilled conference room above a trendy Tel Aviv restaurant last week, as first prime minister David Ben-Gurion watched them through the window, his visage featuring prominently on a banner on Independence Hall, across the street.The activists, from NGO V15-OneVoice, were talking about November 29, 1947, the day the UN Partition Plan was accepted, ending the British Mandate and allowing for the establishment of a Jewish state. The streets of Israel were filled with people dancing and singing, spontaneous parades took place and flags were waved wherever there were Jewish people.V15-OneVoice wants to bring back that exciting day, with events all over the country, with dancing to classic Israeli music, hummus and falafel to eat, and discussions of what Zionism means to the participants.“We want to put it in people’s heads that we’re celebrating this day, make it a tradition and have continuity, and as an organization we want to be connected to it,” Polly Bronstein, V15 and OneVoice Israel’s executive director, suggested. “We were excited back then to have a Jewish state next to an Arab one. The state was smaller than what we wanted, but it was Jewish.” Ayala Brilliant, who is in charge of training, highlighted what she thought the message of the events should be: “Dividing the land isn’t a new thing, and it’s part of the solution.”“On November 29, we became part of part of the family of nations. We want people to feel the gut feeling of how amazing that was,” Ayala added.“We want to celebrate the day the world accepted a Jewish state,” another activist chimed in.THE MEETING about November 29 exemplifies where V15 is focusing its energies these days.V15 is the notorious or acclaimed – depending on your politics – get-out-the- vote organization that popped up before this year’s election with the aim to have “anyone but Bibi” elected.V15’s roots are in OneVoice International, a grassroots two-state solution advocacy organization with Israeli, Palestinian, American and European chapters, founded during the second intifada intending to be a moderate voice.Bronstein entered her position at the Israeli branch, which works separately from the Palestinian branches in Ramallah and Gaza City, shortly after Operation Protective Edge last year, and found “a movement in crisis” following another round of failed peace talks, during which OneVoice Israel launched a “Peace Pays” campaign to explain the economic benefits of peace.“People had zero hope for a diplomatic solution,” Bronstein told The Jerusalem Post from her office last week. “The feeling among people in the movement was that [Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] doesn’t really want two states, even though he said he does.... The feeling was that he and the right-wing government were the problem; they’re what stood between us and a compromise with the Palestinians.”The 2015 election surprised OneVoice Israel, which was working on its next campaign to advocate for negotiations.The organization changed directions and used the volunteers and activists it already had to encourage Center-Left voters – “They used to be called the ‘peace camp,’” Bronstein noted bitterly – to vote, thinking that if the campaign succeeded, they would outnumber the Right.“To have peace talks, we have to change the government,” she explained.OneVoice Israel sought to use all the data it could find to identify potential Center-Left voters and send volunteers door-to-door to talk to them. The research was able to reach an astounding level of detail, so that volunteers would have a good idea of whether to talk to people about housing prices, or education policy, or any other issue. At the same time, they would launch a massive online campaign.Bronstein met Nimrod Dweck and Itamar Weizman, who were working on an ad hoc campaign that was very similar to the one OneVoice Israel was planning, and they merged their efforts, naming the campaign V15. All of OneVoice Israel’s resources were directed to the project to bring down Netanyahu.It’s those very resources that led some to question V15’s claim of being a totally grassroots campaign.The organization hired Jeremy Bird, US President Barack Obama’s national field director for his 2012 presidential campaign, as a consultant.Plus, in 2013, the US State Department gave OneVoice Israel a $233,500 grant for a project to “Defray Costs for Program ‘Campaign to Support the Negotiations’ Between the Israel Government & Palestinian Authority – Build Up Public SUPPORT,” according to think tank NGO Monitor.Bronstein denied connections between V15 and the Obama administration and said the money from the State Department ran out in November 2014, was not used for V15, and that all of V15’s contributions came from private people, all of whom are Jewish, though some live abroad.In any event, V15 ultimately failed in reaching its goal, with the Likud getting 30 seats, more than anyone seemed to have expected, but they knocked on 250,000 doors and have thousands of volunteers and 160,000 pledge cards filled out by supporters which they can galvanize for the next project, which is the project OneVoice has been working on for the past 13 years: Peace.“WE DIDN’T expect to lose the election at all. Our strategy wasn’t to move people from Bibi to [Meretz chairwoman] Zehava Gal-On. We just thought that it would be enough to raise the percentage of voters – and the rate went up, all over the country. It just went up on both sides,” Bronstein explained.The lesson V15-One Voice learned from the election is that it can’t talk only to people who agree with its goals; it needs to move toward convincing people who are “right-wing-light.”Bronstein pointed out that OneVoice Israel’s two-state solution caucus, led by MK Hilik Bar (Zionist Union), was the largest in the previous Knesset, with members from Shas and Yesh Atid, and that the organization has worked with members of Likud as well.“We want to break the paradigms of Left and Right,” she said.“First of all, we care about Israel.We think Israel has to protect itself as the nation-state of the Jewish people. We think Israel’s democratic character has to be protected, and there must be full equality for all citizens.“The bottom line is that we are based on values that Israel should be based on, values that speak to a lot of Israelis, and if we succeed in breaking down the way people are stuck in camps, in the end there will be a big moderate group that can agree on many things,” Bronstein added.In order to reach that goal, OneVoice is using V15’s election tactics to campaign for peace in the field. It already is holding parlor meetings and working on strategies – like the November 29 events - to “get into people’s neighborhoods, shopping centers, community centers and living rooms,” Bronstein said.Meanwhile, seven of eight local V15 branches are still active, and their leaders – all volunteers – hold small demonstrations and local projects and come to Tel Aviv weekly to plan activities and prepare for the nationwide campaign.V15-OneVoice’s media manager Eyal Basson said that, because the organization isn’t affiliated with a political party, it’s able to attract young people who aren’t interested in party politics.“People want to do cool things in the field, like turning a Facebook status into a rally. There is a lot of energy in the disappointment from the election, and we want to take that and move forward.If we don’t use it soon, the energy will fade,” he said.Bronstein added: “We want to use the strong and influential social power of Israelis who think things can be different here. The reality we live in now isn’t a force of nature. It doesn’t have to be like this. People are looking for a platform, and we offer it.”V15-ONEVOICE’S management spoke to the Post before the current wave of Palestinian terrorism spread beyond Jerusalem and the West Bank and stabbings became a daily occurrence, but it still admitted that its latest campaign could be an uphill battle, with widespread Israeli skepticism about the Palestinians’ willingness to make peace.Bronstein said the NGO’s “message today is that Israel has to choose its future. It has to act today and be active today in choosing a reality of two states.""We can’t choose our partner.There will never be an ideal partner on the other side, and if we wait for one, we’ll have terrorism forever.”"Even if a final peace settlement is unrealistic in the short term, OneVoice proposes preparatory unilateral steps, like evacuating isolated settlements, to work toward an eventual two-state solution, Bronstein explained.“We can send signals that we’re prepared for two states,” she said.“It builds trust on the other side, prepares Israel for the reality and shows what our endgame is: We don’t want one state from the Jordan to the sea. We want two states, one of which is the nationstate of the Jewish people, our state. We have a real concern that managing the conflict will lead to one state, which will stop being the Jewish nation-state.”Speaking on Tuesday, after a bloody morning of four terrorist attacks, Basson said V15-OneVoice’s latest project is as relevant as ever.“In this cycle of bloodshed, we have to initiate and not just respond. That is what we always believed,” he said.