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As Israel Turns Away From a Two-State Solution, Will American Jewish Leaders Embrace the Netanyahu Regime?

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
May - June 2009

The new Israeli government has turned away from the goal enunciated by both Republican and Democratic administrations of a two-state solution. In what The New York Times called “a blunt and belligerent speech on his first day as Israel’s new foreign minister,” Avigdor Lieberman declared that “those who wish for peace should prepare for war” and that Israel was not obligated by understandings on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict reached at an American-sponsored peace conference in late 2007. The new government reversed the policies of its predecessor, led by Ehud Olmert, which had been quietly attempting to negotiate a final settlement of the conflict with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.  
Editorially, The Washington Post (March 31, 2009) declared: “Though he has promised to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority, Mr. Netanyahu has never endorsed the creation of a Palestinian state — and he has said that he will support the ‘natural growth’ of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.”  
How leaders of established American Jewish organizations will respond to Mr. Netanyahu’s failure to accept Palestinian statehood remains to be seen. What seems clear is that more and more prominent American Jewish voices are being heard in opposition to the stance of Israel’s new government.  
Columnist Leonard Fein, writing in The Forward (April 24, 2009) notes that, “It took an unconsciously long time for the Palestine Liberation Organization to accept the idea of a two-state solution. Yet today, its most ardent advocate is Mahmoud Abbas, still president of the Palestinian Authority. And the Saudis are not far behind. In the meantime, Israel has a prime minister who is steadfast in his distaste for the two-state idea. The world has turned upside down. Fortunately, President Obama is apparently quite serious in his commitment to the two-state solution, even if that means provoking a real divide between Jerusalem and Washington ... So we approach a moment of truth for pro-Israel American Jews: Accept the sterile Netanyahu perspective, all foam and no beer, or stand firm, with Obama, against the status quo and for a two-state solution, which is to say, for a Jewish state.”  
Mr. Fein puts the question this way: “Let there be no mistake: a one-state solution with Jews in control and the Palestinian majority offered less than full rights of citizenship is morally and politically bankrupt. It is an invitation to continuing violence. A one-state solution with the Palestinian majority in control means an end to the Zionist enterprise, to the Jewish state. But: A two-state solution is not an option that will always be available. Unfolding facts on the ground — growing Palestinian resentment, growing Israeli settlement — are already subverting its prospect. In Khartoum in 1967, the Arab world famously issued its ‘three no’s: No to peace with Israel, no to recognition of Israel and no to negotiations with Israel. First Egypt, then Jordan rescinded that doctrine. Now the Saudis and the Syrians are willing, even eager, to negotiate, as are significant elements among the Palestinians. And the Israelis? By turning toward Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman, they turn away from the serious pursuit of peace, hence away from an enduring Jewish state. There are times when what seems to be mere irony is in fact tragedy.”  
The new Jewish lobbying group, J Street, which challenges the position of AIPAC and other established Jewish organizations, believes that with the arrival of the Netanyahu-Lieberman government, American Jews have reached a fork in the road. Jeremy Ben-Ami, J Street’s executive director, states that, “The second coming of Netanyahu may ... bring us to a fork in the road. On this side of the ocean, American Jews just helped usher in a new progressive era — with 78% of us voting to elect Barack Ohama president. American Jews overwhelmingly have opposed the war in Iraq and favor engagement, not conflict, with Iran. By and large, we want a sophisticated foreign policy that pragmatically advances American interests and security — not the simplicity of a neo-conservative outlook that views the world in black and white.”  
At the same time, he notes, “Israeli politics has taken a hard turn rightward. The ... prime minister cannot bring himself to support a two-state solution, a proposition at the heart of American and Israeli policy for a generation. And the settler movement seems bent on making a viable Palestinian state a physical impossibility — putting at risk the notion that Israel can be both a democratic state and a Jewish homeland ... For organizations at the heart of the Jewish community, the best strategy would be to welcome and encourage an open and respectful airing of differences of opinion over policies and strategies and on what it means to be pro-Israel. Insisting on unquestioning loyalty — and communal consensus — when it comes to Israel will become ever more difficult if the interests and values of the two largest Jewish communities in the world continue to diverge.”  
Ben-Ami argues that, “If the organized Jewish community won’t accommodate within its tent civil debate and questioning of Israel’s actions, I fear many American Jews may be driven away. This will risk not only their support for the State of Israel, but also their connection to the Jewish community and even to the Jewish religion itself. An Israeli government built on rejecting peace, with coalition members who show little regard for democratic values, can expect far more loyal dissent than unquestioning loyalty from the broad base of Jewish Americans. The challenge on which our community’s leadership and institutions should focus ... is not how to maintain rigid loyalty to Israel in the Netanyahu-Lieberman era but how to welcome vibrant debate and healthy dissent within the pro-Israel tent.” (The Forward, March 27, 2009).  
Discussing Israel’s new government, Tikkun (May/June 2009) provided this assessment: “Their policies will increase the number of West Bank settlers; legitimate the demeaning of not just Palestinians outside Israel but also of Arabs who are citizens of Israel; and maintain the power of religious fundamentalists to impose religious restrictions on the lives of secular Israelis, while simultaneously refusing to acknowledge that Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and Renewal Judaism have any legitimacy or right to do weddings or conversions. And it will be even harder for the Israeli government to hide the fact that the primary obstacle to peace is not terrorism, but Israel’s insistence on holding onto territory won through military conquest — territory that provides little security but instead intensifies the anger of the world toward Israel and toward those Jews who are willing to shut their eyes to the human rights abuses committed by Israel in order to maintain its occupation of the territories it has dominated since 1967.”  
Tikkun declares that, “AIPAC is gearing up ... to make the ultra-right-wing government appear normal rather than acknowledge, as we do, that it is an extremist rejection of many of the values that made Israel a society deserving of respect even when its policies toward Palestinians were oppressive.”  
A recent survey for J Street shows that President Obama is “considerably more popular” among American Jews than Netanyahu by a 73-58 margin, and Avigdor Lieberman’s views are “resoundingly rejected by American Jews.”  
Columnist Douglas Bloomfield, writing in Washington Jewish Week (April 9, 2009) reports that, “There is a hard-core element in the Jewish community that will support Israel do or die, but the J Street data shows fewer and fewer under 30 will. Their grandparents forged their ties with Israel during the vulnerable years of its birth and struggle for survival; their parents are of the post-1967 generation that grew up knowing the muscular Israel anxious to make peace. The 21st century Jews see a different Israel, said a prominent pro-Israel lobbyist. ‘They see oppression, excess use of force and arrogance, he said. For many of them it is no longer the center of their Jewish identity. Particularly noteworthy was a finding that political contributors, a cornerstone of pro-Israel lobbying, are more progressive, more Democratic, and more supportive of the U.S. playing an assertive role supporting peace.”

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