Encountering Peace: J Street is my street

This amazing outpouring of support for a Jewish, democratic and peaceful Israel is a remarkable boost for the soul.

j street website 311 (photo credit: www.jstreet.org)
j street website 311
(photo credit: www.jstreet.org)
I am writing from J Street in Washington, DC. Two thousand five hundred American Jews, including more than 650 university students, have come together for J Street’s annual conference, under the title “Making History.”
This amazing outpouring of support for a Jewish, democratic and peaceful Israel is a remarkable boost for the soul of a lonely Israeli, Jewish, Zionist, peace activist. Invited to inspire this part of the American Jewish community, instead I am inspired by them.
Amos Oz was the featured speaker at the conference’s opening. He was brilliant, eloquent, forceful and so clear in his vision of a just, democratic and Jewish Israel where social justice also means peace with our neighbors and a determination to not allow anyone to miss what very well may be the last opportunity for a fair two-state solution.
An elated Oz received a standing ovation, in response to which he commented to the people sitting with him, “it is hard to imagine this kind of response in Israel today.”
He is so right, and Oz, one of the most inspiring Israelis I know, was inspired himself by what he heard and saw at J Street.
There are some members of Knesset, such as Danny Danon from the Likud, Otniel Schneller from Kadima and others, who have the chutzpah to accuse J Street of being anti-Israel. Shame on them. J Street is more pro-Israel in its real and honest concern for Israel’s future than the likes of Danon, who wage war on Israel’s democracy, advocate the suicidal policies of unilateral annexation of vast parts of the West Bank and call on the government to bypass the Supreme Court.
J Street and its thousands of supporters across the United States say proudly: We come together as proud supporters of the two-state solution. We believe to our very core in Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish homeland and a democracy that guarantees equality to all its citizens.
We fight for an Israel whose people live in security with recognized borders, an Israel living in peace and prosperity alongside a Palestinian homeland, where citizens can thrive and build their own country.
We believe in an Israel that is guided by its principles, its ethics, and its values, as enshrined in its founding documents. We believe that “tikkun olam” is part of building a Jewish homeland, not separate from it.
This should be the platform of every political party in Israel. This should be the credo of our prime minister.
What is anti-Israel in this platform? If you truly care about Israel, how can you not support this doctrine of belief in Israel and the role of the Jewish people around the world in helping to secure Israel’s future? It is really heartening to feel the passion of support for Israel, for peace and justice expressed by J Street participants through their deep sense of commitment to Jewish communal life, Jewish organizational participation and activism for a just and democratic Israel.
There is no despair here, hope is still alive. J Street members personify the belief in Israel and an allegiance to the classical Zionist dream of building an exemplary state that we can all be proud of.
J Street activists, not surprisingly, are also on the front lines of the struggle for social justice in the United States. They have taken to the streets in the “Occupy Wall Street” movement that has spread across America because the same values and moral fabric which shape their views on Israeli political issues puts them in the forefront of progressive politics in the United States.
The Jews who marched with Martin Luther King for equality in the 1960s and were on the front lines of the demonstrations against the war in Vietnam and then cried in joy with Israel in 1967 have been reincarnated into the movement of thousands of American Jewish voices of J Street. I was a child living in the United States when I first linked arms in demonstrations and sang with Peter, Paul and Mary and Joan Baez that “We Shall Overcome.” Those experiences of fighting for justice then shaped my identity and my memories.
When, at the age of 14, I joined Young Judaea, and at 16 decided to make aliya, and when I completed my undergraduate education, these experiences were part of my Jewish soul and Zionist identity.
It was then, in 1975, when I first came to the awareness that being Jewish, Zionist and Israeli meant that we had to share our land with the other people living on it. The only way to be pro-Israeli is to be pro-peace.
If you are not, you cannot claim that you really care about Israel’s future. Being pro-Israeli means that one must also be pro-Palestinian. Israel’s survival and Israel’s very soul is invested in its ability to live in peace in our part of the world. This is not a hippyish “Kumbaya” – let’s hold hands and make believe that everyone loves us. In the words of Amos Oz, we need to make peace, not love. He is so right.
I thank J Street for existing, for bringing together this proud and loud critical voice of American Jews.
Every American Jew and every single Israeli citizen should be a supporter of J Street! If you are not, then what are your values that prevent you from supporting tikkun olam, peace and democracy for Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people?
Gershon Baskin is the co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post, a radio host on All for Peace Radio and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit.