Opinion

AIPAC 2017: No Political Camp Has the Right to Define Who's pro-Israel

We opposed David Friedman. We stand with refugees and undocumented immigrants. We call out anti-Muslim hate and combat anti-Semitism. And we’re still firmly in the pro-Israel camp.

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) afternoon general session in Washington March 21, 2016.
Joshua Roberts / REUTERS

AIPAC’s Policy Conference returns to Washington this weekend. Like many other pro-Israel Americans, I know that America’s relationship with our closest ally in the Middle East, and the only Jewish state in the world, is best sustained when it transcends the partisan rancor that divides entrenched opponents on so many other issues. Diverse American political support for Israel is a source of strength for both nations and for the Jewish community.

During this first Policy Conference during the Trump administration, how do we avoid letting shared pro-Israel values be overwhelmed by differences on other issues – or differences on what it means to be “pro-Israel”? The answer is clear: we don’t shrink from those differences, but we express our positions with passion, with vigor, and with respect.

When we disagree with this Administration, as we have with presidents from both parties over many decades, we do so as clearly and powerfully as we can.

The Reform Movement’s response to the current political situation is robust and multifaceted. For example, we strongly opposed the recent confirmation of U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman. However, now that has been confirmed, we are ready to work with him even as we hold him accountable to the testimony that he offered during his Senate hearings, in which he affirmed that the two-state solution remains the best hope for peace and expressed regret for his history of insulting comments about liberal American Jews.

We also hosted a Shabbat service for over 3,000 Reform activists in Washington for the Women’s March, speaking out for vital issues like pay equity and reproductive rights. In our congregations and at America’s ports of entry, we are standing with refugees seeking a haven in the United States and with undocumented immigrants at risk of deportation. We call out anti-Muslim hate and combat anti-Semitism. Our commitment to welcoming all people and supporting the most vulnerable members of our society is at the center of our advocacy agenda and at the core of our Reform Jewish community.

And as we raise our voices in our pursuit of justice, we stand firmly within the pro-Israel community.

Our vision for the best way to support Israel and secure its Jewish, democratic future may differ, but we share a commitment – common among the many Democratic and Republican officials who will address Policy Conference – to maintaining the close friendship between Israel and the United States.

The Reform Jewish Movement in North America has an unbreakable bond with Israel. We don’t cede ground to anyone in our support for a nation so central to the identity of the Jewish people. We also are unrelenting in our progressive Zionist vision of a democratic Jewish state, defined by egalitarianism and religious pluralism, with its future secured by the successful negotiation of a two-state solution. To achieve that, we work with Democrats and Republicans alike, Israelis from across the political spectrum, and Palestinian leaders committed to peace. A Reform delegation, led by my colleague Rabbi Rick Jacobs, recently returned from a trip to Israel that included meetings with both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas. We don’t always agree with either leader, but we can have forthright conversations about where we stand with both of them.

I’ll bring that spirit and that message with me when I attend AIPAC’s 2017 policy conference with thousands of other pro-Israel activists this week, where I am helping to lead a Shabbat service for Reform Jews in attendance. These pro-Israel values, by the way, are the same ones I carried into the room when I addressed J Street’s annual conference last month.

This Shabbat, we read Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei, a combined parsha of that last two readings o Exodus. They tell of how, while wandering in the desert, Moses assembled the Israelites share instructions he had received from God, asking them to come together to build the Mishkan, or the Tabernacle, a place where the Children of Israel could come together and experience the Divine Presence. Immediately, all those “whose heart was lifted up, whose spirit was willing,” to work, each using his or her unique skills and resources to help with the construction. It took a diverse community to build the Tabernacle.

In the same way, it will to take activists of diverse views to ensure the strength of the bonds between the U.S. and Israel and work for an Israeli future defined by peace, security, and justice. When I attend AIPAC, joining with thousands of other pro-Israel activists for worship, learning and advocacy, I won’t minimize the areas where we have differences. But the values that lead me, and thousands of other Reform activists, to love Israel and fight for its future are deeper than a particular political moment.

Rabbi Pesner is the Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.