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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom

Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace

Op-ed: Politics as usual hurts Israel

The Jewish Advocate

September 12, 2008

By Jeremy Ben-Ami

In a few months, a new U.S. President will face a fundamental foreign policy choice: step up boldly to assert real leadership in achieving peace and lasting security for Israel or push the issue yet again to the back burner, allowing the parties to fend for themselves and violence and suffering to continue.
How American Jews choose to speak on the issue will be critical to that President's choice. Will we press for the steps necessary to ensure Israel's long-term security through peace or will we throw our hands up in despair?

American leadership has always been essential to Middle East peacemaking - and will have to be again if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to be resolved now. U.S. leadership was key to Israel's treaties with Egypt and Jordan, and President Clinton's doggedness at Taba in 2001 brought Israel and the Palestinians as close as they have ever come to an agreement.

Unfortunately, the President's decision won't be based purely on policy or American interests. It will be based on raw political calculus. For too long, American elected officials have believed they can't actively press for peace because of the price they would pay in Jewish votes and political support. Conventional wisdom taught that political success requires telling Jews "what they want to hear" about Israel. And the assumption is that American Jews don't want to hear an American President pressing for peace.

Yet the views of American Jewry are broadly misrepresented and misunderstood. While a vocal minority on the far right claims to speak for the entire Jewish community, polls (including one this July by J Street) show that the majority of American Jews would like to see a viable Palestinian state living in peace beside Israel and to see the U.S. actively engaged in making that happen.

Several American Jewish organizations are working to create the political space that will allow American politicians to take the needed dramatic steps. J Street is supporting candidates who will break with past U.S. hesitancy; Brit Tzedek v'Shalom has built a grassroots advocacy organization nearly 40,000 strong; and Americans for Peace Now and the Israel Policy Forum have worked tirelessly to get legislators to act.

Israel faces urgent threats. To speak up for Israel and its future, Jewish voices must insist ever more strongly that the only way for Israel to survive and thrive is next door to a viable Palestinian state. If American politicians see that the majority of American Jews favor a serious U.S. push for peace, the current political impasse can dissolve.

This election period is a critical time for "pro-Israel, pro-peace" voices to speak up loudly. Candidates need to hear how many American Jews and other friends of Israel understand that a meandering, now-and-then peace process that drifts toward failure is no way for the U.S. to be a friend to Israel.
It is the echoes of these voices that the next President will hear in January when it's time for a critical decision on how involved to get in Middle East peacemaking.

Jeremy Ben-Ami is founder and executive director of J Street, a lobby and political action committee that promotes peace and security in the Middle East.

 

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