The majority of world Jewry agrees today: the future, security and character of the state of Israel all depend on reaching a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
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That’s why Secretary of State John Kerry’s push to achieve it is perhaps the most vital pro-Israel initiative since Bill Clinton was President.
Right now, the fate of that effort hangs in the balance. With negotiations stalled, the effort could break down leading to a rapid growth in Israel’s international isolation and in efforts to pressure it through boycotts, divestment and the like.
Given the significant negative consequences that could follow failure, one might imagine that pro-Israel advocates would be screaming from the rooftops to do everything possible to help the talks succeed before it’s too late.
Yet instead of organizing to meet this existential threat, some on the far right of the American Jewish community are focusing their effort and their fire in a different direction – on members of their own community. In particular, there is a new well-funded and energetic campaign to defame and delegitimize J Street, centered on an hour-long attack-umentary called the “J Street Challenge.”
Sadly even a couple of mainstream, established Jewish organizations and figures are associating themselves with it - contrary to our community's firm commitment to civil debate on issues of legitimate disagreement.
Those who've made the film and are hawking it are, however, missing the real challenges that J Street is posing to the Jewish community. Here are a few of them:
• With the world losing patience with Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians, will we rally to urge the national homeland of our people to change course before it loses its democracy or its Jewish character?
• As the BDS Movement against Israel gains traction, will we recognize that the best way to defeat it isn’t spending our energy on preventing its supporters from being heard, but on ending the conflict in two states for two peoples?
• If you recognize the existential necessity of a two-state solution for Israel to survive as a Jewish and democratic homeland, isn’t it time to acknowledge the price that has to be paid to achieve it? How can we say we support a two-state solution but oppose establishing borders based on the pre-67 lines with swaps? How can we say we support two states and oppose a Palestinian capital in the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem?
• Is it appropriate to call those who criticize Israeli government policy anti-Israel or anti-Semitic? Plenty of Israelis including security chiefs, former Prime Ministers and Members of the Knesset are critical of present policy, and they’re certainly not anti-Israel. In fact, using the anti-Semitism label to describe criticism of Israeli policy demeans the horror of real anti-Semitism.
• Is it right or smart to limit the right to speak in Jewish communal spaces to those with whom you agree? The more we limit admission to Jewish communal spaces by imposing ideological litmus tests regarding Israel, the smaller our Jewish community will be.
• Are we, as a people, treating the Palestinian people the way we ourselves want to be treated? Are we living up to the moral standards of our people and have we learned the lessons of our own oppression through the centuries and across the globe?
• Can we finally stop ignoring what is happening beyond the Green Line? The day-to-day maintenance of a 47-year occupation of another people runs counter to the interests and values of Israel and the Jewish people. It places all the wonder and accomplishment of the state of Israel at risk. It is time for the occupation to end.
We urge those attacking us to spend a little less time leveling baseless accusations against a now-established Jewish organization and a little more time addressing these fundamental challenges facing the Israel we love.
One participant in the “Challenge” movie, Daniel Gordis, recently did, and we had a wonderful, substantive discussion about all these critical issues. We didn’t change each other's minds but we provided food for thought for hundreds who came to hear us.
The possible failure of the Kerry mission is a disaster of epic proportions for the Jewish people and the state of Israel. That’s a challenge worthy of the time and effort of people like Alan Dershowitz and Charles Jacobs.
In Jewish communal venues here and across the globe, let’s call an end to the attack videos and mudslinging and let’s start discussing the significant challenges that really threaten not just Israel but the heart and the soul of the Jewish people.
Jeremy Ben-Ami is the founder and president of J Street.