We won't stand idly by

Guest Columnist: Jewish Americans can see disaster for Israel in the offing, and they’re not willing to simply watch it happen.

J street (do not publish again) (photo credit: Avi Katz)
J street (do not publish again)
(photo credit: Avi Katz)
When Israelis tell American Jews they just don’t understand, they may have a point. There’s much that Americans don’t understand about life in Israel, much they haven’t experienced.
The same might be said about any two peoples separated by an ocean, but the ways in which American and Israeli Jews don’t understand each other carry the sting of family argument – an argument neither side wants, paradoxically made more acrimonious by our very intimacy.
As in any human disagreement, however, it’s important to remember that each side is served by listening – and that family and friends don’t stand idly by in the face of imminent danger.
American Jews have stood with Israel since 1948. The support of groups such as J Street for the Jewish homeland cannot be doubted, nor can their prayers for its safe future. American Jewish lives are bound up with Israel.
They do bring a different perspective to the issues at hand – one that is a real asset, one to which Israelis would be wise to listen.
An outside perspective is often invaluable to cutting through the fog of war.
Lest we forget, the American government played an irreplaceable role in achieving Israel’s peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan.
Speaking frankly, as President Barack Obama has said numerous times in recent days, the friendship between the US and Israel is unshakeable – for all Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s bluster, the support of Congress isn’t what’s at stake here. The friendship between our two countries isn’t even remotely up for debate.
What’s at stake is Israel’s future as a Jewish democracy, and its growing isolation in the world.
THIS IS a pivotal moment in Israel’s history. The proposed UN vote on a Palestinian state, shifting international attitudes toward the conflict, and upheaval in the Arab world – including the Palestinian unity government – all serve to underscore the stark urgency of the moment. The question is: Will Israel be forced to react as events unfold, or will Israel take its fate into its own hands?
Israel has grabbed hold of its destiny countless times, not least when forging those agreements with Egypt and Jordan – states that had actively tried to destroy it in the past – and building a relationship with the PLO, once a rejectionist organization.
And frankly, the disagreements regarding how Israel might best shape its future aren’t nearly as stark as they’re being made out to be.
Israelis and Americans have been talking since the 1990s about a two-state resolution of the conflict based on the 1967 borders with mutual land swaps and measures to ensure Israel’s security. Netanyahu knows this, yet chooses to pander to his far-right-wing base; if he were to look around, he would see just how many Israelis are clamoring for real national leadership, peace and security.
A majority of Israelis and American Jews know the truth: Only a two-state solution will bring the security Israel needs. Only a two-state peace will allow Israel to flourish as a Jewish democracy.
But many in Israel have been saying this for decades. We’ve become so used to hearing it, that for some, it’s become little more than white noise – nice ideas, with little content. Something that will arrive, if we’re lucky, someday.
We can’t afford to wait any longer for someday.
Continued intransigence stands to lead Israel to disaster. Jewish Americans can see that disaster in the offing, and they’re not willing to simply watch it happen.
Across the political spectrum, American Jews know Obama is committed to Israel’s security, and they’re urging him to take bold steps toward a durable peace – to stop talking about talks, to take real action to genuinely resolve the conflict that’s defined the Jewish homeland for far too long.
Rather than declaring them “outside the tent” of Jewish supporters, we should be thanking them.
In any relationship, it’s disingenuous to insist on a kind of mindless fealty, based on the premise that one side “doesn’t understand.”
It’s neither fair nor realistic to call for the support of the American Jewish community, and then insist that that support take one form and one form only. Jews can be passionately supportive of the State of Israel and disagree with some of its government’s policies – from Jerusalem as well as from Washington.
Israel has real, genuine enemies. Rather than belittle the involvement of American Jewish peace advocates such as J Street and doubt the sincerity of those who live far away, Israel should seek the help it needs from the one group of people on whom it’s always been able to depend: American Jews.
They love Israel too much to allow it to walk blindly into disaster. It’s well past time to take their advice, and start working, instead, on solutions.
The writer is chair of J Street’s board and the founder and chairman of Gilo Ventures.