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J Street Pro: It's Time to Stand Up and Be Counted

January 28, 2010 By:
Steve Masters, Jon Grabelle Herrmann and Elliot Ratzman
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The people of Philadelphia have something of a history of standing up for our values and demanding honest representation. What was good enough for Benjamin Franklin in the 18th century should be good enough for us in the 21st.

We're told that to be a good ally to Israel, the U.S. government and the American Jewish community must uncritically support the Israeli government's policies. We're told that the only way to support Israel is to unquestioningly back its military efforts. We're told that the range of acceptable opinion for Jews who are pro-Israel is narrow and hawkish. And we're told that those who disagree with these points represent an insignificant minority.

None of that is true.

The vast majority of American Jews -- more than 75 percent --believe that establishing an independent Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel is the best way to resolve the conflict, according to a March 2009 survey undertaken by the group J Street. More than two-thirds of us support the idea of the Obama government putting pressure on Palestinians and Israelis alike to achieve the necessary compromise so that Israel isn't forced to choose between being a Jewish homeland and or being a democracy.

The organization that best represents the views of this decisive majority is J Street. If you are pro-Israel and pro-peace, then it's time to stand up and be counted. You will find that you are in good company.

For a long time, the hawkish political right has been the loudest and most influential faction in our community regarding U.S. policy on Israel. Their voices, however, represent neither the American Jewish people nor the progressive Jewish values that are so important to so many of us.

Despite the centrality of debate in Jewish tradition, many within the Jewish establishment have sought to silence those who dare to disagree with a hawkish agenda, leading many, particularly the young, to give up and walk away from their community.

We're fooling ourselves if we think that the American government will take bold steps toward a peace agreement as long as the conventional, hawkish wisdom holds. We're fooling ourselves if we think that broadening the discourse within our own community and on the national stage will not require a great deal of hard work. And we're fooling ourselves if we think that Israel has the luxury of time on its side.

The settlements continue to expand, the tensions on the border with Gaza continue to rise, and both sides of the conflict continue to accumulate painful stories and deep losses that draw them further from compromise. If we don't move fast, the two-state solution stands in real danger of becoming an impossibility.

If we want our true views to be represented accurately -- and we want the goal of a secure, democratic Jewish state to be achieved -- then we must reclaim the middle ground, and join together to urge President Barack Obama to act decisively and quickly to bring Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. We must combine our resources and our efforts, and from the bottom up, let our government and institutional leadership know the truth: We are pro-Israel, and we are pro-peace. If they want to represent us, they need to advance that agenda.

October's J Street conference was a tremendous success, with a turnout nearly 50 percent larger than expected. The event itself incorporated greetings from leading Israeli politicians and garnered enthusiastic support from 140 members of the U.S. Congress.

But perhaps the best sign of the organization's relevance was the following anecdote.

One attendee, an advocate of Israeli-Palestinian peace who has been fighting the good fight for more than 40 years, looked with a smile and said: "These are the Jews I've been waiting for since 1967. I feel like saying a Shechecheyanu."

Steve Masters is chair of the National Advisory Board of J Street Local. Jon Grabelle Herrmann and Elliot Ratzman are the co-chairs of J Street Local Philadelphia (www.JStreet.org/Philadelphia).

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