When you've spent years working to bring peace to Israel and to build support for that idea, watching someone else kick it around like a political football is just too much to swallow without speaking up. Two weeks ago, 54 members of Congress sent a letter to President Barack Obama expressing concern for Israel's security, for the humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip, and for the urgency of reaching a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The letter was authored by Congressmen Jim McDermott and circulated by both Congressman McDermott and Congressman Keith Ellison. It was supported by more than 15 advocacy groups including both J Street and Americans for Peace Now. Not a single major Jewish communal organization opposed the letter during the six weeks it was open for signatures. There is a good reason no groups opposed the letter, because there is nothing in it that would justify such opposition.
Yet now, the Republican Jewish Coalition (not a Jewish communal organization but rather a partisan organization that targets the Jewish community), for its own narrow political reasons, is attacking members of Congress who signed the letter, grossly mischaracterizing its content and the focus of its message.
Apoplectic letters to the editor and quasi-journalistic screeds opened with the lie that the House letter demanded that Israel "open its border" with Gaza, despite the fact that anybody with a PDF reader could verify that the letter made no such demand, and indeed recognized that Israeli security measures were imposed "out of a legitimate and keenly felt fear of continued terrorist action by Hamas and other militant groups."
THE LETTER'S signers were accused of taking an inherently anti-Israel stance, despite the fact that a broad segment of Israeli society itself believes, as the Israeli newspaper Haaretz articulated in a January editorial, in the return to regulated and monitored functioning of the border crossings. "The economic embargo, which has brought severe distress to the inhabitants of Gaza, has not brought down Hamas, nor has it freed kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit," said the article.
With their marching orders in hand, RJC members are now trying to create an echo chamber to make it appear as if there is broad opposition to this letter in the Jewish community, and they are using both Israel's security and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza for their own partisan foil. Their cynical effort to silence those voices that are brave enough to speak up and to score points, without regard to the truth or the real life consequences of their actions, cannot go unchallenged.
No American - Jewish, Muslim or Christian, Democrat or Republican - who recognizes the security benefit to Israel in ending rather than enabling Hamas' monopoly over basic goods in Gaza, who sees that furthering a humanitarian crisis does not equate to fighting terrorism, and who cares for the future of children in the Middle East, Israeli and Palestinian, should let anyone use fear and smear tactics for their own partisan benefit.
There are real threats to Israel. There really are people out there who don't support Israel as a Jewish democratic homeland.
We don't need to invent opposition to Israel and we certainly don't
need to push people who are supportive of Israel away from us by
calling them "anti-Israel" every time someone expresses either concern
for Palestinians or opposition to a particular Israeli government
position. Sadly, not everyone seems to understand that.
Hadar Susskind is the Director of Policy and Strategy at J Street.
Lara Friedman is the Director of Policy and Government Relations at
Americans for Peace Now.