As a proud partner in the 2nd national J Street conference, Meretz USA invites you to join us in Washington DC between February 26 and March 1 for this important assembly of the American Jewish pro-Israel/pro-peace camp.
When we first gathered under the J Street banner in October 2009, it was clearly a time of renewed, albeit cautious, hope. There was a new activist pro-Israel/pro-peace president in the White House; Israel’s Prime Minister had just declared his nominal commitment to a two-state solution; a moratorium on Israeli settlements was in the works; and, with the boundless energy provided by J Street, the pro-Israel/pro-peace camp in the US had reached unprecedented heights.
As we head back to DC, much has changed.
On the surface, it’s been a tough year for the peace camp (though, as you’ll soon see, there’s also some very good news to report!): Israel said a firm ‘no’ to the US and allowed the settlement moratorium (limited and imperfect though it was) to lapse; the peace talks, which hinged on this moratorium, collapsed; and President Obama, upon whom we had pinned so much (probably too much) hope, seems to have lost his stride after two years of bickering with a recalcitrant Israeli government and a weak and divided Palestinian Authority.
Meanwhile, Israel’s left now finds itself under siege – its patriotism questioned; its leaders defamed; its funding sources threatened; and its legal rights under assault within the very heart of Israel’s democracy – the Knesset.
So it’s understandable why some might feel despair. But despair is a luxury item, affordable only to those who have no stake in Israel’s future. As for the rest of us, the stakeholders, we truly have no choice but to ‘soldier on’ through the dark times, even if our efforts sometimes feel Sisyphean in nature.
Besides, is the current situation really just doom and gloom? Far from it!
While Israel’s government is undeniably the most right-wing in the country’s history, revolutionary developments appear to be bubbling just below the surface. Just read this wonderful piece authored by Haaretz columnist, Bradley Burston, whom we recently co-hosted in Los Angeles, and you’ll see that a new generation of Israeli activists is showing courage, rising against the ‘settlement machine’, and finding its voice: It’s only a matter of time before this generation learns how to translate its strength and energy into the political influence needed to set Israel’s agenda.
And in the American Jewish community, slowly but surely, we’ve been hammering out a new definition of ‘pro-Israel’, one which distinguishes sharply between Israel’s legitimacy within the Green Line and the illegitimate settlement enterprise beyond the Green Line; which insists that love of Israel – concern for the country’s physical and spiritual wellbeing – must not translate into blind support for self-destructive Israeli government policies.
These distinctions have allowed us to expand the boundaries of the pro-Israel discourse in the US: In the last few weeks, we’ve seen both J Street and Americans for Peace Now issue unprecedented calls on the US government not to veto a UN resolution condemning settlement construction. And just last week, Meretz USA became the first American Zionist organization to call for a targeted boycott of settlement goods and services as a tool to help end the Occupation and preserve Israel’s democracy and Jewish majority.
In the meantime, of course, Israel’s right still holds sway and the central institutions of American Jewry are still controlled by individuals, too many of whom see ‘love of Israel’ as an act of cheerleading – a woeful attempt to prove Israel’s infallibility, as it were.
But as we’ve seen in the Middle East so recently, sweeping change is sometimes right around the corner, and just out of sight. So as Meretz USA’s lay and professional leaders head to this year’s J Street conference, we’re not looking forward to a few days of retreat among kindred spirits, and away from the broader American Jewish community. We are looking forward to a time when our voice will be the predominant voice within our community. And not in some distant future, but “B’mheira B’Yameinu” – speedily in our own days.
Let me end with a few words from the optimistic Bradley Burston in Haaretz:
“… a potent opposition is emerging, young, largely unknown, social network-savvy. This revolution, like that of the settlers decades ago, has the potential of transforming both Israel and Judaism as a whole … This revolution has only now begun. It will be waged in cyberspace and in city streets, in occupied areas and in Israel proper, in American synagogues and, in the end, the entire Jewish world. This revolution aims not only at the end of occupation, but at the beginning of a new Israel. Not for settlers, this time. For Israelis.”
February 25, 2011