Op-ed: Jewish support crucial now for Middle East peace
The Chicago Tribune
January 8, 2008
By Arnold Jacob Wolf
It was supposed to be different. President Bush is headed for Israel and the West Bank, on a trip meant to coincide with the first real progress toward peace after years of diplomatic neglect. The Annapolis peace conference, held in November, was to have been the start of something new.
Instead, it all looks very much the same. Palestinian militants are firing rockets into Israel, and Israel is responding with deadly air strikes -- in one day alone, nine Palestinians died, among them several civilians, including a 3-year-old girl.
It's difficult for me to express the depths of my despair over the endless rounds of violence between Israel and the Palestinians -- as it is difficult for me to express the depths of my frustration over the failure of the American Jewish leadership to take a stand for peace.
Our community has always stood with Israel, our spiritual home. We've prayed for peace, for the security of her people, for justice. Whenever Israel has needed us, we've been ready and willing to offer anything necessary to ease her plight.
But recently, we failed.
Annapolis represents a real chance for real change: President Bush, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas committed themselves to a process of true reconciliation, along with the painful concessions that would entail.
In the course of the meeting, Olmert made a previously unthinkable statement: "I have no doubt that the reality that was created in our region in 1967 will be changed in a very significant way. It will be as difficult as the netherworld for many of us. But it is inevitable. ... We are ready for it." After all these years, it seems that all the parties understand that this is what peace and security demand.
But even as the leaders of 20 Arab nations and the Palestinian people gathered with
Israel's prime minister, most of institutional American Jewry stood shockingly silent -- suspicious if not openly hostile.
Why, when every single poll conducted among our people for years has shown overwhelming support for peace negotiations? Indeed, a recent survey showed that fully 87 percent of American Jews back a negotiated two-state solution to the conflict.
The problem is that this support flies in the face of conventional wisdom, of years of assumptions about what America's Jews will fight for. Thus many of us have felt safer in the embrace of skepticism, mumbling at a time when, in fact, a pro-Israel agenda demands vigorous pro-peace advocacy.
The fact that Bush is visiting the region gives some reason for hope -- for without genuine, constant American involvement, neither Israel nor the Palestinians will have the political cover they need to make the changes necessary. But by the same token, Bush (and those who hope to replace him next fall) will need the support of the American Jewish community if the U.S. government is to have the political will to help change history.
Jewish tradition teaches that we may never abandon hope, nor give up on what we have justly started. Our history bears testimony to our enormous capacity for vision and creativity. Now is the time to call on this history in the service of peace.
I cannot deny that there are some Jews who sincerely oppose any real reconciliation with the Palestinian people. The forces of refusal will always challenge advocates for peace and justice. And after so much heartbreak, I understand why some would want to abandon the cause and consign the president's trip -- and the entire Annapolis affair -- to the scrap heap of good intentions.
But we do not have that choice. If this administration's efforts (however late they come, however precarious they seem) fail to bear fruit, Israel and the Palestinians will be consigned to years of despair and deaths.
If we truly support Israel, we must shoulder our just fears to move ahead on the road to peace.
Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf is rabbi emeritus at KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation in Chicago and serves in the honorary Rabbinic Cabinet of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace.