Some of us had the pleasure to see Zel Lurie at last week’s J Street conference. Jeremy Ben-Ami said the following about our old friend: “At 101 years young, Zel can still match even the J Street U students in the room in his energy and passion to fight for the future of Israel and the Jewish people.”
What follows is most of Zel’s latest column, entitled, “A redhead electrifies J Street’s 5th national conference”:
“We simply did not give the Israelis a clear enough picture of what dreams we have for a better future. That is why we lost the election,” said Stav Shaffir, a pretty redhead who, at 29, is the youngest member of the Knesset and is number 3 on the Zionist Union List. “Since I arrived in the United States,” she said, “I have found nothing but frustration bordering on despair. We cannot afford despair.” She electrified the 3,000 people attending J Street’s annual meeting with a program she called the “politics of happiness”:
“We want an Israel that celebrates diversity,” she began, “We want an Israel that teaches its poor with compassion. We want an Israel that treats minorities with respect. We will not stay silent to racist rants; we want an Israel that treats every citizen as equal regardless of their origin, religion, or financial status. We want an Israel where public officials are held accountable and where public money is distributed with transparency. And above all we want an Israel that does not control millions of Palestinians. We want an Israel that is constantly working for peace.”
Her speech was met with cries of “Stav Shaffir for prime minister”. A woman who heard the speech wrote on twitter: “I’ve never been prouder to be a Jewish woman who is pro-peace and pro-Israel.”
For the media, including a front page report in the New York Times, the highlight of the conference was the speech by President Obama’s Chief of Staff Denis McDonough. “The occupation must end,” he proclaimed, “and Palestinian people must have the right to live in and govern themselves in their own sovereign state.”
He reminded the audience that President Obama had said in Jerusalem two years ago that peace is necessary and that peace is possible. He quoted the president as saying, “peace is the only way to maintain a democratic Jewish state.” “Israel cannot maintain military control of another people indefinitely. That’s the truth.” Obama said, “The Palestinian people deserve an end to occupation and the daily indignities that come with it.” “Over the course of President Obama’s administration,” McDonough said, “most recently with the tireless efforts of Secretary Kerry, The United States has expended tremendous energy in pursuit of this goal. That is why Prime Minister Netanyahu’s comments on the eve of the election — in which he first intimated and then made very clear in response to a follow-up question that a Palestinian state will not be established while he is prime minister — were so troubling.” McDonough reiterated the United States opposition to settlements because “they undermine the prospects for peace.”
This has been United States policy for decades, but successive Israeli governments settled over 300,000 Jews in the West Bank. U.S. policy has been overridden by the support of the Israel government and its policy of expanding settlements by the support of American Jewish organizations. This support has been undermined by Netanyahu’s recent actions and the growth of J Street in membership and influence.
The gala dinner closing the convention was addressed by James Baker, Secretary of State under President H.W. Bush and the long-time adviser to the Bush family, including President George Bush and his brother Jeb Bush who is the front runner for the Republican 2016 nomination. Jim Baker gave the history of President H.W. Bush’s actions to oppose the West Bank settlements in reducing Israel’s loan guarantees by the amount spent on settlements. President Bush and James Baker overcame Israel’s opposition to meeting with Palestinians at the Madrid conference in 1991.
He was critical of Netanyahu’s anti-Arab campaign slogans and his blunt statement, “there will never be a Palestinian state on my watch.”
He said, “I still remain cautiously optimistic—and I stress cautiously—because it seems to be that Israel’s future, absent a two state solution could be very difficult at best.”
Jeb Bush disagreed with his adviser. If he is nominated, Jeb Bush expects millions for his campaign from the casino king, Sheldon Adelson. Jeb Bush’s spokesman issued a statement that said, “Governor Bush’s support for Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu is unwavering”. That statement should satisfy Adelson.
A feature of the gala dinner was the J. Zel Lurie’s Tzedek v’Shalom Award to Richard C. Goodwin, Joanna Goodwin Friedman, and Charles Kremer.
Noam Shuster, a graduate of the school at Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, a school which I funded when it was built essentially a quarter century ago, gave the history of the first Israeli school where Jews and Arabs studied side by side in both Hebrew and Arabic. There are now seven such schools in Israel. She spoke of Richard Goodwin’s continued support of the school for several decades. . . .