Thursday, July 2, 2020

(Further) Annexation of West Bank Territories? Learn before you talk.

The American Jewish community is facing a serious complication when it comes to Israel in the context of the current US Presidential election cycle. 

First the Trump Peace Plan has been presented by President Trump and endorsed by Prime Minister Netanyahu. It is not easy, however, for all of us who love and support Israel to fall in line, because the plan itself does not represent a unifying or a centrist view in Israel.  AIPAC, for example, has continued its long term policy of a two state solution, with Israel and Palestine living in peace side-by-side one day.  The Trump plan would eliminate that outcome.  In addition, Israel has just resolved a year long loggerhead between the left and the right in its domestic elections, with much of the left resoundingly opposed to Prime Minister Netanyahu's hopes for further annexation.  In such a complex political environment,  it is disingenuous for anyone to claim that being pro-annexation or anti-annexation is the only legitimate way to show support or love for Israel.  It is an internal domestic hot-potato in Israeli politics, but has broad international implication.

Second, former Vice-President Biden, the Democratic challenger to President Trump for the presidency, has always been an ardent supporter of a two-state solution, and of a negotiated settlement to the conflict.  He reinforced that point of view in a statement to the AIPAC policy conference which I attended in March, and repeated it in a statement in late May.

As a result, Democrats and Republicans are lining up on the issue of annexation as if it were a simple extension of their own domestic politics, rather than a separate issue to be analyzed and understood in light of our values, Israel's ideals and the pragmatic determinations about what will be best for Israel in the long run.  Note, for example, the carefully worded statement from the Conservative Movement's Rabbinical Assembly which raises concerns while not crossing too far over the line of party politics.

While support of Israel is meant to be a unifying item in the American Jewish community, in recent years it has fallen prey to the polarization of American and Israeli political societies in general.  The recent battle over the leadership of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations is indicative of this kind of ugliness that is used on this topic, as a leader of HIAS, a Jewish agency that provides immigration support was held back from her legitimate election by those who said her policies were not in line with President Trump and therefore she should not be a leader of the Conference. 

I urge you to start fresh. Ignore the fact that Jared Kushner has designed a proposal that is clearly skewed on the Israeli spectrum to one side. Ignore the fact that the Obama/Biden presidency had a severe falling out with Netanyahu which paralyzed relations in the last year and left Israel vulnerable to UN votes without a US veto at the security council.

The fact is, Israel is considering a political maneuver with far-reaching implications, and it would be implemented by force of unilateral action.  The Palestinians have no voice in the process, for a variety of reasons.  But the main reason in this case is that they were not part of the process, and are not seriously being considered in the solution.  American politicians have diametrically opposed views of the topic: Peace through consolidation of territorial authority, or peace through diplomacy and engagement.  This is a divisive issue, about which people will differ.

Given that, you must read more and learn more.  I recommend going to the Jewish Council for Public Affairs website on the topic.  There they have gathered varied points of view and credible resources that argue their case.   Read each point of view with an open mind. Determine what you believe and why.  Then be ready to articulate that opinion in a calm, thoughtful manner in the days ahead.  No one should be shaming another person on this topic as a lack of love of Israel.

As for the American election, personally I do not believe that Israel should be our first topic.  Israel is one of the most important things in my life, for me, my children and our people.  I believe that Israel will be part of what redeems the world.  But when I vote, I vote as an American for what I believe is best for America.

I also believe that what is best for America will always be what is best for Israel, because of our deeply shared values - regardless of any given president or prime minister of the hour.

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