Despite occasional media warnings of a “distancing” between American Jews and
Israel, there is nothing like actually visiting the Jewish state to feel the
close connections between the world’s two largest Jewish communities.
what better time to come and experience that bond than right after national
elections in both countries and as Israel’s 65th anniversary fast approaches?
With all the hype we have been hearing about an Arab Spring that would magically
transform the Middle East, Israel remains the region’s sole American-style
democracy, where universal suffrage, the strength of civil society and peaceful
transfers of power empower citizens to choose their government at the ballot
I AM here with a large delegation of American Jewish Committee (AJC)
For more than a century, AJC, whose main mission is global
advocacy, has fought for the rights and security of Jews around the world. Since
1948, we have sought to help Israel by energetically arguing its case in the
halls of power, diplomatic chancelleries and the mass media.
years ago, AJC was the first American Jewish organization to open a permanent
office in the Jewish state.
Through our innovative Project Interchange
program, more than six thousand influential non-Jews from the US, Europe,
Africa, Asia and Latin America have visited Israel for week-long educational
seminars, enabling these leaders to see for themselves the challenges the
country faces and the accomplishments it has achieved.
Our itinerary this
week reflects our priority concerns.
On the existential threat that an
Iran with nuclear weapons capability would pose not only to Israel, but to
regional and global security, we are meeting with President Shimon Peres, top
government officials, Iran experts and foreign ambassadors posted to Israel.
Their perspectives on this key issue will help us immeasurably in our ongoing
advocacy with the Obama administration, Congress, and other governments, as we
continue to urge additional tightening of sanctions and political isolation
We are meeting with Israeli and Palestinian opinion
leaders on how it might be possible to reenergize prospects for peace. To be
sure, AJC is not a group of starry-eyed optimists.
Though we have long
favored a negotiated two-state solution, we are well aware that Palestinian
recalcitrance has been the longtime barrier to negotiations – whether in the
form of Hamas rejectionism and violence, or Fatah’s refusal to talk face-to-face
and its resorting instead to unilateral action at the UN.
with the people of southern Israel, we are visiting Sderot, which experienced
the brunt of the rocket attacks from Gaza that necessitated Israel’s recent
Operation Pillar of Defense. Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon received a
large AJC gift to strengthen its emergency facilities that were strained to
capacity during the fighting.
WE ALSO are exploring, on this trip, as
always, Israel’s intergroup challenge. Israel has long faced the daunting and
complex task of integrating Jews, Christians and Muslims, not to speak of a
plethora of ethnic groups, into a common citizenship.
And within the
Jewish people itself, the problems posed by different definitions of Jewish
identity plague both our communities, but are especially acute in Israel with
issues surrounding, for instance, the chief rabbinate and personal status
questions, access to the Western Wall, and funding for religious institutions.
Thus, meeting with representatives of the various streams of Judaism in Israel
is an essential component of our visit.
After all, the global Jewish
people are, and must remain, one. Any rupture in Jewish solidarity, whether in
Israel, the US or elsewhere, affects us all as a people and, yes, potentially
undermines Israel’s national security.
Above all, we are here to
emphasize the link between two extraordinarily successful Jewish communities. It
is surely no accident that they thrive in two of the world’s greatest
democracies.Robert Elman is president of the American Jewish Committee.