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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom

Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace

Op-ed: Let Us Not Remain The Jews Of Silence

Special To The Jewish Week

January 9, 2008

By Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf and Steve Masters

The American Jewish community has been one of Israels most stalwart supporters since its foundation. We rightly see the Jewish state as our spiritual home, and in times of trouble, never fail to stand by Israels side. Why do we not do so in times of hope?

After seven long years of inactivity, President Bush himself flew to Israel and the West Bank this week, in order to try to keep the negotiation process launched in Annapolis on track. His trip marks a possible turning point in decades of bloodshed, as Bush, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attempt a process of reconciliation one in which painful concessions will be made, but which is intended to lead to peace and security on all sides. For the first time in years, Israelis, Palestinians and the U.S. are engaged in a genuine effort to resolve the conflict.

Yet rather than encourage such an outcome, most of institutional American Jewry was and remains stunningly silent regarding the Annapolis process — if not openly hostile.

As leaders in our community for many years we find this inexplicable.

For years, every poll conducted has shown that an overwhelming majority of American Jews supports a U.S.-brokered peace initiative between Israel and the Palestinians. Most recently, a survey found that 68 percent of us are more likely to support a presidential candidate who pledges an active role in negotiations, and that 87 percent of American Jews support a two-state solution.

Is there anything else in the American public discourse on which so many Jews agree?

Let’s not misunderstand the stakes: The fact that a clear majority of American Jews — and, not incidentally, a clear majority of Israelis and Palestinians — want a negotiated two-state solution to the conflict, does not mean it will happen.

The initial Annapolis conference was heartening. It gave hope when, for so long, there has been little. But for that hope to be realized, all those who would see a sustainable peace have to invest real effort in standing by Israel as it attempts to change history. As we consider the outcome of the president’s visit, the fog of war continues to drift over the region — with rockets falling on Israel and Israel retaliating with air strikes on Gaza, resulting in the deaths of several civilians as well as combatants, among them a 3-year-old girl.

Alongside the recent controversy over Israeli settlement expansion, this sad continuation of old patterns serves as a terrifying cautionary tale: If the effort launched in Annapolis doesn’t create real change, it will lead nowhere.

When Israel faced war in Lebanon in the summer of 2006, the Jewish community’s response was loud and unambiguous: Solidarity rallies were held nationwide as Israel suffered daily rocket attacks, and intense fundraising efforts were launched by every Jewish federation, to provide critical aid to the war’s victims.

It simply doesn’t make sense that we were so present at such a time, but when 20 Arab nations and the leaders of the Palestinian people sit down with Israel’s prime minister, our voice was barely heard. How can it be that our community speaks up in times of war, but not when there is a genuine opportunity to actually prevent war?

Our tradition teaches that we must never abandon hope; nor are we permitted to give up on what we’ve started, even if we’re unable to complete the task ourselves. We survived centuries of persecution to emerge into the light of a newly formed modern nation; we must never allow our hopes and dreams for peace to be extinguished by doubt and despair.

Now is the time for our community to rise to the challenge of peace. Israel desperately needs our support as it bravely struggles to put an end to the cycle of death and destruction through the path of negotiation. There will always be people, on all sides, dedicated to thwarting the chances for peace; it must become our highest priority not to let them succeed.

With many disappointments and seven years of diplomatic neglect behind us, it would be understandable to give up, to allow Annapolis to become yet another sorry by-word, and stockpile supplies for the next war.

But we dare not. If the president’s trip and the broader Annapolis process don’t bear fruit, there’s no way of knowing what disasters will befall Israel and the Palestinians as they await another chance — if, indeed, another chance presents itself.

If the Jewish public truly wants to give the Jewish state the support it needs, we will stand by our convictions, and act. The current U.S. president and the one who replaces him must know: The American Jewish community stands behind the Annapolis process, and demands sustained diplomatic engagement to ensure a successful outcome.

Our love and hope for Israel demand nothing less.

Arnold Jacob Wolf left, is rabbi emeritus at KAM Isaiah Israel in Chicago.  Steve Masters is national president of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace.

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