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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom

Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace

Op/Ed: Courage Of Convictions

Baltimore Jewish Times

By Rabbi Scott Weiner

November 23, 2007

Jews around the world are busily dusting off their menorahs and counting their Chanukah candles to prepare for our winter holiday. The central observance of Chanukkah concerns the miracle of one days supply of oil lasting for eight days, no small matter in the festival story.

The lighting of the Chanukkah menorah is testament to that miracle. But why do we have no ritual to commemorate the Maccabees victory over the Syrio-Greek army?

Some suggest this is because the rabbis wanted to take the focus off of the military aspect of the holiday in favor of its miraculous post-war symbolism of light and joy; emphasizing peaceful times, rather than violence. Even in our day and age, we, too, try to focus on peace rather than war.

We speak proudly of those moments in Israels history when she stood for light and reconciliation, rather than violence and war: her offer to the Arab nations to return all territory in exchange for peace after the 1967 war; the return of the Sinai Peninsula in 1979 in exchange for peace with Egypt; the signing of a peace treaty with Jordan, the offer of land for peace at the Clinton Camp David Summit in 2000 and later at Taba. These were some of Israels proudest moments because she stood for peace with tangible proposals.

Soon, for the first time in seven years, Israelis and Palestinians will be sitting down at the same table, beginning serious peace negotiations. The talks in Annapolis are meant to create a process that will eventually lead to two viable states, a Palestinian state, side-by-side and at peace with a secure Israel. And the end of the conflict -- a goal to which we all aspire; a moment to which future generations can point with pride.

Simply put, Israels long-term peace and security require that the talks be successful and American Jewish advocacy for a negotiated peace is essential. With a new presidency in the offing, we have a chance to effect real change in the future of the Middle East.

And yet, our institutional leadership has largely failed to come forward in support of the conference. Rather than embrace the opportunity for renewed hope, they have remained hesitant or fearful, unwilling to do the very thing that would provide security for Israel: support this effort for peace. One group of rabbis has even issued an open letter to President Bush calling on him to cancel the conference, lest the Almighty bring destruction to America!

The consequences of failure at these talks would be considerable. Neither Israelis nor the Palestinians have the luxury of enduring more rockets fired on Israels southern towns, more military operations inside the occupied territories, more destruction, more despair but that will be their lot if Annapolis leads nowhere.

By next Chanukah, we will be able to evaluate the success of the conference, based on whether it served as a starting point for a sustained peace process. In the meantime, the American Jewish community must work to ensure that we can look back with satisfaction.

It is significant that in so doing, we will be acting on a long-held Jewish position: polls consistently demonstrate that the overwhelming majority of American Jews support a negotiated, two-state solution. A recent survey indicates that this includes 87 percent of our community, and that 68 percent of us are more likely to support a candidate who pledges to take an active role in the peace process.

Yet even if Annapolis yields great results, it will clearly only be the beginning - and by next Chanukah, we will look to a new president to move the process forward.

The last seven years have taught us that without consistent U.S. diplomatic engagement, Middle East diplomacy, at best, grinds its wheels; at worst, it bogs down and slips into full-fledged violence. We in the American Jewish community must make clear to all presidential candidates - regardless of party - that commitment to Israel means challenging, not supporting the status quo. Being pro-Israel must also mean doing everything possible to bring about a negotiated, two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians.

Being pro-Israel means being pro-peace.

Without a clear commitment from the American Jewish community, though, the presidential candidates will continue to hedge their pro-Israel stance into a pro-status quo position. Without our advocacy, they will find it too easy to stand by the status quo, failing to take the courageous steps necessary to make real change possible.

The American Jewish community must not allow this to happen, and neither should we support a new administration which acts as President Bush has, waiting seven years before fully engaging in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. We know far too well the consequences of diplomatic neglect.

The words of the prophet Zechariah, which we read at Hanukkah time each year, warn us against relying on either might or power. Neither alone can guarantee Israels peace and security.

Let us act to support a successful outcome to the Annapolis conference, and call upon every one of the presidential candidates to demonstrate their commitment to Israel through their support for the peace process and an active American role in that process.

When we arrive at Chanukah next year, will we look back in pride at a new beginning in the Middle East? If that is our goal, let us stand strongly for the Annapolis conference and embrace the possibility of peace. As we light our candles of miracles, let us light them for peace.

Rabbi Weiner serves as rabbi of Hebrew Tabernacle Congregation in New York City and as a board and Rabbinic Cabinet member of Brit Tzedek vShalom, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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