WASHINGTON - On the opening night of the annual J Street conference, Israeli lawmaker Tamar Zandberg, the head of the liberal Meretz party, drew a comparison between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Donald Trump and attacked them for their policies. Zandberg said that "in both of our countries we see these days the same contempt for civil rights, racism, chauvinism and politics of fear, starting at the highest levels of government."
Speaking before supporters of the left-wing Jewish group, Zandberg said that there is "a clear alliance between the right wing camps in Israel and the U.S., both pardoning and embracing American and European anti-Semites and extreme right-wing populists." She added that the Trump-Netanyahu alliance "has dangerous consequences for both our countries."
Zandberg said that the struggle for democracy is the same "in Tel Aviv and in Charlottesville, in Washington and in the West Bank.
"Netanyahu and Trump both try to call us unpatriotic. True patriotism is not in their hands, but here, in this room," she added. "When the alt-right embraces Israel, that is a badge of shame, not a badge of honor."
One-state status quo
Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of J Street, said that "the one-state reality is fast becoming a true, one-state nightmare." He added that "Israel is at a fork in the road where it must either take the two-state path and remain both democratic and Jewish, or take the one-state path where it must choose whether to be one or the other." He also said that "the status quo isn’t simply unsustainable, it is cruel – as the suffering and violence in Gaza demonstrate."
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Ben-Ami spoke about the Trump administration's strikes in Syria and said that Congress needs to reassert its authority on the use of military power. "Last night’s strike was limited in scope, hitting targets tied to the gas attack outside Damascus, and the action had the support of a number of our allies.
"However, a limited tactical strike does not form the basis of a strategy nor does the legitimacy of the targets alone establish the legality of the action," Ben-Ami said.
He added that "the U.S. constitution vests war-making authority in the Congress. Congress needs to assert that authority in the coming weeks to ensure that the president gets the necessary legal authority for any further military action, places such action in the context of a larger political and diplomatic strategy and builds broader international support for that strategy."
Ben Ami spoke about the importance of the 2018 mid-term elections for J Street, and said that electing politicians who support the organization's values should be a priority for every person attending the conference. He also said that "our partners in Israel and Palestine - they too must work to bring in new leaders who will show the courage of those who have ended conflicts in the past."
'The most important in our lifetime'
The last speaker of the conference's opening night was Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers labor union, who also spoke about the similarities between Trump and Netanyahu. "I don't know who is imitating who," she said, comparing the two leaders' use of social media to incite against their critics, but also noting the similarities in their stances on immigration, democratic norms and peace. "It's a global battle for justice and the values we believe in," she said.
"We believe in America, and we believe in Israel. But democratic norms and institutions are under fierce attack in both countries we love," Weingarten said. "One of the struggles that binds us – that gets more difficult by the day – is how to maintain the dream of peace and justice for Israelis and Palestinians. Two states for two people."
Weingarten said that "whether our democracy survives here and in Israel, it depends on us. We must repair our democracies, engage in election, fight for a better world, no one sit on the sidelines. We can't shrink from this critical moment." She called the upcoming midterm elections in America "the most important in our lifetime."