J Street conference.
(photo credit: .)
I am writing from Washington DC, where I’m attending the second annual conference
of J Street, together with more than 2,000 American Jews from all walks of life,
four MKs from Kadima and one from Labor.
There are a number of other
Israelis representing various peace and human-rights organizations.
opening evening was dedicated to honoring heroes of peace and courage who most
Israelis would not know. Each of them received a standing ovation. One of them
was Peter Beinart – author, journalist and Jewish philosopher who, in June 2010,
wrote an essay in the New York Review of Books
, “The Failure of the American
Jewish Establishment,” that now serves as the manifesto for liberal American
Jews, and provides them with a voice against accusations that they have
abandoned their Jewish identity and affinity for Israel because they are
critical of the policies of its government.
Another was Sara Benninga, a
young Israeli who, growing up in west Jerusalem, was not particularly engaged in
any political activity until Israel decided to remove several Palestinians from
their home in Sheikh Jarrah, a few kilometers away. The blatant injustice was
the claim that the original Jewish owners from prior to 1948 had the right to
reclaim their property, while the Palestinians who had been removed from their
homes inside Israel in 1948 had no right to reclaim their property.
act of injustice touched the soul of Benninga and hundreds of others, who
decided to raise their voices, and have done so every Friday afternoon for the
past two years in Sheikh Jarrah, and now in Silwan and in other locations.
Benninga and many others have been arrested several times, and face trial on
charges of illegal gatherings and trespassing.
The third was Dr. Izzeldin
Abuelaish from Gaza, who is better known to the public. His three daughters and
one niece were killed by tanks shells in their own home during Operation Cast
Lead. The shelling was an error by the IDF. Abuelaish, a physician who also
worked at Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, has now dedicated his life to
preserving the memory of his daughters by seeking justice, not revenge. His
translation of seeking justice is to bring peace.
It is hard to imagine
these three heroes being awarded such an honor within Israel. The first two
would likely be considered “self-hating Jews.” Many Israelis would be glad to
see Benninga and her friends (this writer amongst them) behind bars for treason.
Abuelaish received wide exposure in Israel immediately after his daughters were
killed. It was later reported that he decided to emigrate to Canada. I spoke
with him after the ceremony, and heard a man with a burning desire to reach out
to Israelis and make them understand that we must put an end to the
ON SATURDAY I attended a demonstration of several hundred
American Arabs in front of the White House calling for freedom, democracy and
liberation from dictators. The various communities took the megaphone in turn,
shouting out: “Free Libya!” “Free Bahrain!” “Free Yemen!” “Free Syria!” and one
young Palestinian woman with one small Palestinian flag shouting “Free
Palestine!” It was fascinating to watch these people with their nations’ flags
chanting “the people united will never be defeated,” each one of them with deep
concern about their loved ones facing the violence of despots who refuse to give
up their thrones.
How sad that the men in the White House have supported
those despots and tyrants over the years, defending stability and oil rather
than human rights, democracy and justice.
I raise my voice in support of
the three heroes of the J Street conference, and with the heroes of the Middle
East from Tunisia to Egypt to Libya to Bahrain, Syria and Yemen.
struggle for freedom, human rights and dignity is my struggle. Abuelaish called
it the struggle for human values.
They want what I want, and what most
Israelis want. We would not want to live without human dignity and
What could be more appropriate for us as Jews than to celebrate
people in the region standing up against oppression and for freedom? When the
Palestinians ultimately take to the streets (because the revolutions throughout
the region will not stop at the gates of the West Bank and Gaza), I hope they
will also use the power of nonviolence. If they do, I and many others will be on
the front lines with them, liberating them from our occupation, and liberating
us from occupying them.
I felt at home in the J Street conference. The
passion of expression there emanated from a deep sense of Jewish identity and a
love of Israel. The criticism against the government – and the policies of most
governments since 1967 – came from a sense of deep pain, concern and fear that
Israel is becoming the kind of state they will no longer be able to support. As
that happens, a piece of their soul is being destroyed.
I can only ask
myself, why aren’t all Jews here? What don’t all Israelis support the principles
of J Street? Why can’t we bring 2,000 Israelis together for an intensive
three-day seminar focused on justice, democr acy, peace and security? We have a
lot to learn from J Street.The writer is co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine
Center for Research and Information (www.ipcri.org), and is in the process of
founding the Center for Israeli Progress (http://israeli-progress.org).