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As American Jews who have served in many national leadership positions in the community, including the chairmanships of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and of the United Jewish Appeal, respectively, we share Isi Leibler's concern over the indifference to and even alienation from Israel on the part of many American Jews under 35, as expressed in his November 12th Post column, "Sending our youth the wrong signals."
This is a very serious problem that Jews in Israel and the Diaspora must confront together (and are in many instances), and not blame each other for the current situation.
However, we completely disagree with Mr. Leibler's approach. It is not only misguided and misinformed; it actually exacerbates the problem. In fact, what many under-35 Diaspora Jews say push them away from Israel is the type of criticism Leibler levels at "Diaspora Jewish leaders" who provide "communal platforms" for controversial Israeli or Jewish speakers who take issue with (or "delegitimize," in Leibler's parlance) the way the "Jewish state behaves."
Hearing contentious or disturbing ideas, or opposing views, does not lead to the indifference or alienation we are all concerned about. On the contrary. The under-35 Jews in the Diaspora welcome the same open, vigorous debate over the way Israel behaves that is displayed daily in Israel's newspapers and body politic. They are turned off by attempts to squelch such debate - especially when characterized as "anti-Israel" or "anti-Zionist" - and may become disaffected with Israel and the Jewish community as a result. That sends them the wrong signal.
Mr. Leibler's gratuitous attack on Israel Policy Forum, which we currently serve as president and chair respectively, is particularly offensive and deplorable. If we were "Jews against Zion" (Leibler's repugnant description), would Rabin, Sharon, Peres, Netanyahu, Barak, Olmert, Livni, Ramon (to name just a few Israeli leaders, current and past) speak at IPF events or meet with IPF leaders? We think not.
SINCE ITS inception in 1993, IPF has been working with US administrations and Israeli governments, with members of Congress and the Knesset, on both sides of the aisle, and with many other interested parties, to support and encourage efforts to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to attain long-term security for Israel and to end the shedding of Israeli and Palestinian blood. IPF is now energetically backing the current attempt by Secretary of State Rice to convene an Annapolis conference and follow-up meetings aimed at forging an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.
Along with Prime Minister Olmert and Secretary Rice, and many others, we at IPF understand that, in Palestinian President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad, Israel has negotiating partners who have demonstrated their commitment to reaching an accord with Israel.
Supporting these critical activities is "pro-Israel." Supporting peace and security for Israel through negotiated agreements is "pro-Israel." Supporting this process is not only vital to Israel's well-being, but is also in America's interest. Opposing these efforts and believing that the status quo can remain forever is unrealistic in today's complicated world, especially in the Middle East, and dangerous to Israel.
Why would increasing the risk to Israel and placing more Israeli lives at risk be considered a "safer" policy and more "pro-Israel" than working to promote Israel's peace and security through negotiations, if that is at all possible?
This, not incidentally, is the point of view of the majority of Israelis and American Jews, particularly those under 35 and even more predominantly among those on college campuses. Advocating this position and facilitating honest and open debate on Israel-related issues - activities which IPF embraces and Leibler spurns - is the best way to build a connection between Diaspora youth and Israel.
Reich is president of the Israel Policy Forum and past chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Lender is chair of the Israel Policy Forum and past national chairman and president of United Jewish Appeal.
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