Israel is moving away
from the right;
So must American Jews
By Diane Balser,
Interim Executive Director
It’s never been easy to talk within
the American Jewish community about the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict, particularly during those difficult years in which the
Israeli government itself was obstructing or actively opposing
substantive peace talks, and the U.S. government failed to
engage on almost any level.
Annapolis, then, represented real change. Here were
representatives of 20 Arab nations, the Palestinian leadership,
Israel’s Prime Minister and the U.S. President meeting to
launch a new round of negotiations, with all sides expressing an
understanding that the end goal is a two-state solution, one
involving painful compromise.
In short, Brit Tzedek v’Shalom’s long-stated
position of a negotiated two-state solution is now official
Israeli government policy, one that Israel is (at least in
words) actively pursuing. Olmert is calling Palestinian
President Mahmoud Abbas a “partner for peace,” and
has spoken publicly about removing settlements from the West
Bank. Vice-Premier Haim Ramon is talking about sharing Jerusalem
and several Israeli security leaders have spoken about exploring
the possibility of a ceasefire with Hamas.
Yet for all of these positive signs, it would be deeply
dishonest to suggest that our feet are firmly set on the road to
peace. Palestinian militants continue to fire Qassam rockets
into southern Israel; Israel continues to take military action
inside the occupied territories. Olmert may have discussed
dismantling settlements, but new tenders were recently issued
for building new homes in an East Jerusalem settlement. And
while members of his cabinet might be interested in talks with
Hamas, Olmert has rejected the notion.
The American Jewish right seeks to thwart
Israel’s peace moves...again
And what is happening in the American Jewish community? While
the pro-peace groups like Brit Tzedek and our allies have been
busy promoting the Annapolis peace process, the mainstream
Jewish organizations have been almost entirely silent.
But on the right, among those very groups who once called on
all American Jews to support Israeli government policy no matter
what, there is a growing chorus of naysayers, people who now
insist that current Israeli government policy, based on the
ideas of compromise and negotiation, is ill-conceived and must
be blocked. There is a flurry of activity surrounding Jerusalem
in particular, calling for the city to never be
“divided,” though its current size and boundaries
share very little indeed with the city’s historic
parameters, and in spite of the fact that the city is very much
divided along cultural and political lines.
|Once again, the right is looking for absolutely any
wrench that they can throw at the slowly moving wheels of the
In truth, however, this kind of inconsistency on the part of
the American Jewish right is not new. During the Oslo peace
process in the mid-1990’s, groups on the right found ways
to thwart former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s
efforts. Then it was a campaign to move the U.S. embassy in
Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – a move whose singular
intention was to damage the peace process. Now we see moves by
right-wing Jewish groups to declare Jerusalem the “united
and undivided capital of Israel” and to demand changes to
the Fatah party charter (a document made irrelevant by
Israel-PLO agreements). Once again, the right is looking for
absolutely any wrench that they can throw at the slowly moving
wheels of the peace process.
Time for the pro-peace, pro-Israel movement to rise
to the challenge
|Perhaps more detrimental to the efforts of
Rabin and President Clinton was the lack of a solid base of
American Jews standing behind
Of course, the American Jewish right is not solely
responsible for the failures of Oslo. Perhaps more detrimental
to the efforts of Rabin and President Clinton was the lack of a
solid base of American Jews standing behind them. This is,
again, where things now are different. The pro-peace, pro-Israel
movement is stronger than ever, and despite our previous
disfavor with the policies of both Prime Minister Olmert and
President Bush, we have no choice but to rally with them in
their pursuit of peace. No U.S. President or Israeli Prime
Minister is likely to take the necessary and difficult steps to
achieve peace without substantial support from the American
And so those of us who know the urgency of finding a just,
durable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must take
on the task of rallying support for the Annapolis peace process
(even as we continue to pressure all sides to live up to their
commitments). It’s not an easy job, and it certainly
doesn’t promise immediate gratification – but as
Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf recently wrote, Jewish tradition teaches
that we are permitted neither to give up hope, nor to abandon
the work we’ve started, even if we can’t complete
the task ourselves.
|Rather than wait for the next war to show our solidarity,
we must convince the broad mainstream of our community to rally
around Israel as she acts to prevent future wars.
Our Task: Reaching the American Jewish
It’s time for an honest, straight-forward conversation
with the American Jewish center.
After all, for the first time since Brit Tzedek’s
founding in 2002, we aren’t talking about what we want
Israeli policy to be, but about actual Israeli policy. If the
vast majority of us who support a two-state solution can’t
actively support Israel now, when will we speak up? Rather than
wait for the next war to show our solidarity, we must convince
the broad mainstream of our community to rally around Israel as
she acts to prevent future wars.
|We must have the courage to take a public
stand against the misrepresentation provided by our right-wing
If we are sincere in our desire to see Israelis and
Palestinians live in peace and security, we must rally the
American Jewish community in support of the Israeli, U.S. and
Palestinian governments’ efforts at compromise. We must
work to overcome people’s understandable skepticism, and
we must have the courage to take a public stand against the
misrepresentation provided by our right-wing institutions. We
must continue to be a moral voice in the halls of government,
demonstrating to both Congress and the President – as well
as the President who will replace him – that the American
Jewish community does, in fact, stand for peace.
We will have to reach out to rabbis and cantors like the 528
across the denominational spectrum who signed our Hanukkah call
to “Kindle the Light of Peace” – or, indeed,
like orthodox Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, who recently wrote in the
Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles that American Jews should
not interfere with Israel’s ability to negotiate for
itself, including on the status of Jerusalem.
It’s time that we take our place at the mainstream
table. Brit Tzedek members need to join the Israel and social
action committees at their synagogues; help plan Israel 60th
anniversary events with their JCRCs and synagogues; invite Brit
Tzedek leaders to talk about the Annapolis peace process at
community gatherings; and, as always, spread the message of
peace one conversation at a time, by talking with friends and
family at every opportunity.
With Israelis and Palestinians so discouraged, with
extremists and rejectionists claiming the floor, and with an
out-going Administration that has proven in the past far too
hesitant to take a strong position on Israeli-Palestinian peace,
the mainstream American Jewish community and its support for
peace becomes more vitally important than ever before. We must
be firm, we must be pro-active, and we must not let ourselves be
thrown off track by the inevitable difficulties.
|In the battle between peace and unending
conflict, we must say to the American Jewish community:
It’s time to choose
As Nadav Tamir, the Israeli consul general in Boston wrote in
the Boston Globe in early November: “This is no longer an
issue of being pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli, but rather a
confrontation between those who support peace and those who
prefer chaos and bloodshed."
Precisely. In the battle between
peace and unending conflict, we must say to the American Jewish
community: It’s time to choose sides.
Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, The Jewish Alliance for
Justice and Peace
11 E. Adams Street, Suite 707
Phone: (312) 341-1205
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