Opinion |

The Real Reason for ‘Mainstream’ Jewish America’s Appalling Silence on Annexation

Israel’s leaders are sacrificing democracy and human rights on the altar of ethno-nationalism. And all those U.S. Jewish groups claiming to back a two state solution have suddenly lost their voice?

Hadar Susskind
Hadar Susskind
Supporters of Benjamin Netanyahu wave Israeli flags during a rally as his corruption trial opens, near the Jerusalem District Court, May 24, 2020.
Supporters of Benjamin Netanyahu wave Israeli flags during a rally as his corruption trial opens, near the Jerusalem District Court, May 24, 2020Credit: AMIR COHEN/ REUTERS
Hadar Susskind
Hadar Susskind

There was a time in our history when standing up in support of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a bold stance for a Jewish community leader or organization to take. Those who did so were often criticized and even ostracized.

Following that there was a period of time in which our community’s center and center/right organizations came around, and they too declared their support for two states as the only effective way to end the conflict. Today "mainstream" Jewish organizations all tout their support of a two-state solution.

But whether or not you support two-states is the 1990’s question. Today it comes down to this: what are you going to do about it? When actions are taken that threaten the viability of two states living side by side in peace and security, what do you say? What do you do?

Unfortunately, for too many organizations the answer is one long awkward silence. It’s like Prime Minister Netanyahu is the man in the elevator cursing loudly and threatening someone on his cell phone and all those Jewish community organizations are just staring at the ceiling and hoping they get to their floor before he says something even worse.

The failure of U.S. Jewish groups which officially support the two-state solution to come out in opposition to the Israeli government’s annexation initiative – an initiative that is completely antithetical to the two-state solution – is appalling.

Right now, the Israeli government is making plans that, if implemented, will be incredibly damaging. Annexation threatens the futures of Palestine and Israel. It threatens Israel’s relationships with the Arab world, including its neighbors Jordan and Egypt. And, never forget, it threatens the U.S.-Israel relationship and, in perhaps the saddest manifestation, the relationship between Israel and the American Jewish community.

Yet AIPAC continues to refer to Israel as “the only democracy in the Middle East” even as annexation threatens to further erode that reality, and they tell us that "bipartisan support for the fundamentals of the U.S.-Israel strategic relationship must supersede any policy dispute," including a possible dispute over West Bank annexation.

At least they have said something, however misguided. Whither the rest of the alphabet soup that claims to speak on behalf of our community? These groups all subscribed years ago to the two-state solution, for a good reason. They all know that two sovereign viable states, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace and security, is the only realistic way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

So why are they silent now, when the government of Israel is turning the only viable path to peace into a minefield?

Good question.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presents annexation plans at a press conference ahead of the second round of Israel's elections, September 10, 2019.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Could it be, as we so often hear, that they don’t want to directly oppose the American president? Maybe, but I don’t recall them having that particular problem during the last administration. In fact, they didn’t have problem under George H.W. Bush either.

Perhaps it is their discomfort in criticizing or disagreeing with the Israeli government. That could be. If only we could ask Yitzhak Rabin how that went when he was in office.

Or maybe, just maybe, the answer is that they are not so committed to a two-state solution. Maybe they are more interested in maintaining their proximity to power. Maybe they are more interested in protecting their façade of bipartisanship. Maybe they are more interested in making sure that no donors are upset.

These are difficult times for Israel and for those who are committed to a future in which Israel remains a Jewish and democratic state. That vision is challenged by those who would sacrifice democracy and human rights on the altar of ethno-nationalism, as well as by those who would endorse a bi-national state.

Responding to these times, and leading, requires being willing to speak up, to step outside your personal and organizational comfort zone, and to root yourself in the greater truth that Israel’s Jewish nature and Israel’s democracy are both essential, and that neither can be sacrificed.

The organization I work for, Americans for Peace Now, is clear and unequivocal. We support a Jewish and democratic Israel. And we support a future that holds a two-state solution, Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security.

And when this future is under threat, we will speak up, we will speak out, and we will fight for the vision that reflects both Israel’s founders and the view of the vast majority of American Jews. We call on all our colleagues to join us in protecting a Jewish and democratic Israel by clearly and forcefully opposing annexation. Don’t wait until it is too late.

Hadar Susskind is the President and CEO of Americans for Peace Now. He has previously served as Senior Vice President of Government Relations for the Council on Foundations, Director of Bend the Arc Jewish Action, Vice President for Policy and Strategy at J Street and Vice President and Washington Director for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA). Twitter: @HadarSusskind

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