Wednesday, September 29, 2010

One Week to Go: J-Street and Dershowitz at TBE

Meanwhile, one week from now we'll be preparing for a High Holiday-sized turnout for the Harold Hoffman Memorial Lecture featuring Alan Dershowitz and J-Street's Jeremy Ben-Ami, entitled "Who Speaks for American Jews?" People will be coming from all over the country. Read the Jewish Week's article, U-Turn on J-Street, for some background on why next Thursday will be of vital importance to American Jewry and to Israel. I encourage all of you to come - don't let the expected crowds dissuade you, just plan to get here very early.

Current accusations have raised questions about Ben-Ami; but while he is clearly on the defensive - and his own job may be in jeopardy - there is still a need for some group to represent the feelings of a large segment of American Jewry who simply don't buy the pro-settlement spin. It's not a matter of the rightness of the argument on either side. It's that many aren't buying it. I don't think Israel wants to write off the support of a huge portion of American Jewry. I know I don't.

Read Tzipi Livni's recent JPost op-ed: Time for a new Jewish conversation. Her centrist Kadima party will, I believe, become increasingly vocal as it positions itself as the inevitable coalition partner for Likud as negotiating pressures heat up. She writes:

For too many young Diaspora Jews that I meet, Israel is not the source of pride or inspiration that it was for their parents' generation. Living in vibrant Jewish communities abroad - within states that embrace multiculturalism and respect religious and minority rights - too many Jews no longer feel they need Israel as a safe haven or as an anchor for their identity. What's more, they feel they have been taken for granted - their loyalty to Israel is expected, but their voice and their concerns are not heard.

As I've said before, if there were no J-Street, someone would have to invent it, Soros or no Soros. I've been a vocal supporter of AIPAC and other pro-Israel organizations. Most do not choose to hear the concerns of those who question (often lovingly) Israeli government choices. Not all Jews agree that the Land is the ultimate value. I would contend that Judaism itself does not agree. There is a conversation to be had there, although likely not a meeting of the minds.

Livni also stated: This state of affairs requires a dramatic reframing of the role of Israel in Jewish life and the nature of the relationship between it and world Jewry that should be built around four key principles: First, if Israel is to realize its mission as the national home of the Jewish people, it must act like one. It must find ways to welcome rather than alienate Jews regardless of their opinions or the stream of Judaism with which they are affiliated. It must embrace an inclusive and pluralistic Jewish agenda that respects our traditions without denying the legitimacy of difference.

There is reason to believe that within Israel a new consensus is beginning to coalesce around the principles of pluralism so eloquently stated by Livni. Disgust over the continued provocations of the Haredim are fast reaching a tipping point. This week, it wasn't about arresting a woman for carrying a Torah or racist attacks against school integration with Sephardim. No, this week, a court ruling had to stop Ultra Orthodox Jews from erecting a plywood barrier in Jerusalem down the middle of a sidewalk and forcing women to walk on the other side. (See Israeli Court Rules Against Gender Segregated Sidewalks). This is not an Israel many American Jews would be proud of - and try as we might to separate "domestic" matters from negotiations with the Palestinians, it's impossible to do that, when we see the same engine driving the train. That's what PM Netanyahu understood when he shelved the Rotem Bill (though only for six months). But it took the Federation movement to convince him that he was heading toward a trainwreck.

I'd love for American Jews to be able to support Israel with one voice - I'm not sure that is possible. When a left-leaning government is next in power, and J-Street is securely in the Prime Minster's back pocket, the ZOA will certainly agree with me on that point. But short of seeking unanimity, we can still seek a little civility and some honesty as well. There is common ground to be had. Maybe it's about human rights. Maybe it's about what to say to Congress. Maybe it's even about conversion and the separation of religion and state. Let's find it.

And it's certainly about Iran.

I assume the sign is already on Bibi's desk. "It's Iran, Stupid!" What does that mean? It means that nothing else matters. I would assume it means that Israel knows that maintaining strong Administration support is more important than, well, just about anything. I have no problem with building houses in Ma'aleh Adumim, eventually. But I'd rather they not be incinerated, thank you.

I just hope that sign is on Bibi's desk.

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