Friday, June 25, 2010

Who Speaks for American Jews?

As the programming year winds down and people begin to scatter, I'm pleased to announce that this fall's Harold Hoffman Memorial Lecture promises to be one of the most noteworthy in the history of this prestigious series. Save the date of Thursday, October 7, for a dialogue on a topic of great importance to all of us, Israel's future.

The question now isn't merely how to make the best case for Israel, but who should make it. The upstart group on the Israel Advocacy scene is J-Street, which claims, with some justification, to give political voice to the mainstream of American Jews, supporters of Israel who have progressive values and a liberal-leaning political orientation. J-Street has gained quite a bit of traction recently, as Israel has become increasingly isolated, not only from its enemies, but from many friends in the US.

But the question arises as to whether it is healthy for Israel advocacy to come from multiple addresses. This past week, Congress was flooded with various pre-Israel letters, and our representatives had to decide whether to support the AIPAC letter, the J-Street letter, or both. Does J-Street's competing with AIPAC only serve to dilute Israel's core support - and the message of Israel's case? On the other hand, do J-Street's positions allow an important segment of America's Jews to be heard, especially those frustrated with the policies of the current Israeli government - and those who otherwise might stop supporting Israel altogether?

These, I submit, are the key questions faced by American Jews in regard to Israel today:

Can we get beyond the distractions of apartments in Jerusalem and boats on the Mediterranean?

Can we stand tough against extremists while still seeking out those might really want peace?

Can we speak in one loud voice on Iran while acknowledging differences - some nuanced, others more significant, in other areas?

Can we at last turn a corner on energy legislation that will free the world from Iranian blackmail and our environment from the stain of spillage?

And in the end, when we call out to our political leaders, whose voice will they hear? Who speaks for American Jews?

Looming over it all is the specter of Iran hovering on the verge of nuclear capability. Just hours ago, the House and Senate approved tough new sanctions, which the President now must sign. That will be helpful, reinforcing the actions of the Europeans and the the UN. It is up to the President to follow through, not only in signing the bill, but in making it stick, in action and in tough rhetoric. And it is now up to American Jews speak in one voice to make sure that happens. BUT CAN WE DO THAT?

So on October 7, our dialogue will feature J-Street's founder and director Jeremy Ben-Ami, along with Alan Dershowitz, whose, powerful, articulate defense of Israeli policies has made him perhaps the prime Israel advocate of them all. Rabbi Mark Golub will moderate the discussion - which I am hoping will not become a debate. Ben-Ami and Desrshowitz already debated once, at the 92nd St Y. We don't need that. The topic is too important - and Israel's fate too fragile - for this to become a contest of debating skill (they both very good at that). I know that Rabbi Golub, perhaps the best interviewer on the Jewish scene, will be able to help us all find some common ground.

So... Dershowitz - Ben Ami: At TBE on October 7.

Mark your calendars now.

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