In these tough times, I want to share with you a few thoughts that give me hope and that, I believe, will give you hope as well.
President Obama is speaking our language of linking Jewish values to the quest for peace. In recent days, President Obama has shifted, in a very positive way, his discourse on Israel-Palestine. Today, he is speaking OUR language – a language that directly connects core progressive Jewish values (OUR values) like democracy, pluralism, equality, tolerance, and peace – with the imperative to achieve a two-state solution that resolves the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He juxtaposes these values with the pernicious policies and practices of Netanyahu and his government(s) – policies and practices that promote not democracy but proto-fascism; not pluralism but racism and divisiveness; not equality but discrimination; not tolerance, but bigotry; not peace, but, rather, ever-deepening occupation. By shifting to a values-focused discourse, President Obama is today eloquently articulating the strong bond between core American values and progressive Jewish values, and expressing his frustration – and the frustration that exists equally in the hearts of most American Jews – with the growing gap between these values and those that are increasingly manifesting themselves in Israeli public life.
Israel canceled plans to segregate West Bank buses. Peace Now in Israel took a leading role in sounding the alarm against an Israeli government plan to institute segregation on West Bank buses – separate buses for Israeli settlers and for Palestinians. While this bus plan is only one small facet of occupation, the fact that Israel canceled the plan in the face of international and domestic outrage demonstrates that when people – in Israel and in the international community – understand the real ugliness of occupation practices, they stand up for what is right and stand against such policies. It also shows that the government of Israel can be sensitive and responsive to the kind of external criticism – criticism that highlights the contradiction between Israeli government policies and progressive Jewish values – that is at the core of APN’s mission.
There are prospects for unprecedented new partnerships in Israel. On APN’s recent study tour to Israel, we met with leader of Israel’s new joint Arab party, MK Ayman Odeh. Of all of our meetings in Israel, this is the one that inspired us the most and gave us the most hope for the future. Odeh laid out for us his vision of a partnership between Israel’s Arab citizens and the progressive Jewish, Zionist left. His is a vision that unites the struggle for equality and justice for Israel’s Arab citizens and the struggle for peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors. His words echoed the extraordinary campaign that the Joint Arab List ran during the last election – a campaign grounded in the assertion that all Israelis, Arab and Jewish, are part of one community with shared interests and a shared future. We were most struck when Odeh quoted to us from a poem by Shaul Tshernihovski, one of Israel’s national poets – a poem highlighting the dream of peace and harmonious coexistence.
We are on track for a diplomatic agreement with Iran. Our efforts to promote a diplomatic solution on Iran are bearing fruit. Despite the best effort of hawks and war-mongers, a deal that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapons appears within reach. Our efforts – your efforts as activists – helped get us to this day. If and when there is a deal, we can rightfully take pride in our unceasing activism in support of a diplomatic solution – a solution which we know will serve the best interests of both Israel and the United States. A year ago such a deal seemed remote, in part because of the strong lobbying against it coming from some in our community and from Israel. Today, it is within reach.
Positive international pressure is building. It is clear to everyone by now that the world will no longer stand by quietly as the Israeli government acts to destroy any possibility for a two-state solution. Momentum is growing for action in the UN Security Council on settlements and on parameters for a two-state solution. APN strongly supports such action. It is also clear that for now such action is on the back burner, pending completion of Iran deal. Looking ahead to the coming months, APN will proudly be pressing the Obama Administration to support action in the UN that advances the two-solution.
I am sharing all of this with you not to pretend that these are anything but terrifically challenging times. Rather, my purpose is to remind you – as we are reminding ourselves – that we are fighting for a worthy cause and giving in to despair is neither appropriate nor an option.