An open letter to Ambassador Michael Oren

An open letter to Ambass

Dear Ambassador Oren, I am writing to reiterate an invitation to you to address the first National Conference of the new pro-Israel lobby, J Street taking place later this month. In just two weeks, over 1,000 people - most of them American Jews - will gather in Washington to give voice to a burgeoning movement that loves Israel, cares about its future, and believes only peaceful and immediate resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can secure Israel's future as the democratic home of the Jewish people. Attendees at the conference will represent over 20 organizations. Many share a common bond in liberal and progressive political activism in other aspects of our lives. They range in age from 250 college students to others whose support for Israel predates the creation of the state. We will come together as pro-Israel activists to discuss the best path forward for Israel and the United States in troubling circumstances, balancing a desire for security and for peace and a commitment to the values we bring to the table as Jews and as Americans. You've spoken publicly of the need for Israeli officials to engage with progressive elements in the American Jewish community that have not traditionally been attracted to pro-Israel lobbying. You seem well aware, both as an American by birth and as a student of American Jewish communal dynamics, that the connection to Israel for a large number of Jewish Americans has become strained over time. We're all looking at the same research and data. A majority of Jewish Americans have never been to Israel. Large - and increasing - numbers don't take part in the traditional communal organizations. Levels of attendance at synagogues among the non-Orthodox remain low. There is a generational dimension to these trends as well, one you undoubtedly noticed as a respected academic in the classroom. Young, liberal Jews have even less connection to Israel than their parents and grandparents, and they talk more openly about the challenges and difficulties facing Israel and about its responses. THERE IS good news, however. The excitement that J Street has generated and its rapid early growth indicates that there is a thirst in the progressive Jewish community - and among young liberal Jews - to find a way to relate to, to talk about and, yes, to advocate for Israel that is consistent with progressive Jewish values. We are only one facet of a new and growing movement in American Jewry that is attracting hundreds of thousands of progressive Jews into study, communal service and non-traditional observance. It seems to me that your initial inclination was correct. Engaging this part of the community and finding common ground, even as we differ on policy, would be an important step for Israel in ensuring continued, long-term and deep support for Israel across the breadth of our community. Public comments by your spokesman last week indicate that you have "concerns over certain policies [of J Street's] that could impair Israel's interests." I'm sure you also have concerns and disagreements over policies advocated by certain political parties and their leaders in Israel. That's democracy - and it is fitting that there would be deep disagreements at moments of important communal decision. We too have our own serious concerns over the policies of the present Israeli government and its impact not just on Israel's interests but on our interests as Americans and as American Jews. As Jews who care about Israel, we fear that, on Israel's present path, we will see our shared dream of a Jewish, democratic home in the state of Israel slip through our fingers. As Americans, we worry about the impact of Israeli policies on vital US interests in the Middle East and around the world. Finally, as American Jews, we worry that the health and vitality of our community will be deeply affected by what happens in the region, how the world perceives Israel and by how our community here at home deals with increasingly complex conversations around Israel. MR. AMBASSADOR, what J Street shares in common with you far outweighs that on which we disagree. J Street, on behalf of the many Jewish Americans who share our views, urges you to join us as we discuss, debate and - in the best tradition of the Jewish people - argue over how best to ensure the health, safety and vibrancy of the Jewish people and of Israel for generations to come. Your attendance - even to clarify some of our areas of disagreement - will be respectfully welcomed, and we promise you an open hearing as we hope and expect you will welcome us at the embassy one day to present our views and opinions in that same spirit. We hope to see you at the Conference on the 25th. The writer is Executive Director of J Street.