President Obama, you are one of the greatest political speakers of my generation. I have watched you speak eloquently and powerfully about our shared values and dreams. What I have always most admired about these speeches is your faith in the capacity of rhetoric and passion to change minds and your ability to articulate who we are as a nation and what we as a people believe.
This year, Mr. President, I want you to bring that gift to the J Street annual national conference. (For those who don’t know, J Street is a non-profit political action organization that promotes pro-Israel policies while advocating for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict).
I want you to address our conference and send a message that Israel’s existence as a democratic and Jewish state is too important for Israel’s foremost global ally to stand idly by as it is endangered. You could address the difficult truths about threats to Israel, not from war or terrorism, but from democratic decay and the endless occupation of another people.
I can already see your advisors telling you that such a move is political suicide and that inflaming the hawkish pro-Netanyahu constituency that the American Israel Public Affairs Commitee (AIPAC) represents would mean losing the votes of thousands of American Jews. This kind of thinking has dominated Washington for decades, but it is simply wrong. The right may make a lot of noise, but the vast majority of American Jews supports peace. J Street recently conducted a poll regarding the voting concerns of American Jews after your re-election, and the results emphatically ratify the political wisdom of such a move.
70 percent of American Jews endorsed your re-election and showed that the money and hype of individuals like the millionaire conservative lobbyist Sheldon Adelson hardly changed any minds. As much as Adelson and AIPAC like to pretend that they represent American Jews, in truth they constitute a vocal minority. According to the poll, 79 percent of American Jews support a two-state solution with Jerusalem shared between Israel and Palestine, and 81 percent believe that it is necessary to strengthen Israel’s democratic character. Mr. President, if you speak at J Street’s national conference, you will be addressing an organization that represents the views of the vast majority of American Jews.
Supporting J Street is not just a good domestic policy. It is also emphatically in Israel’s best interest. On this point, AIPAC and its supporters have a cogent case to make. They are right when they point out that Israel is small and bordered by unstable countries that oppose Israel’s existence. However, what AIPAC fails to understand is how damaging the occupation is to Israel and its citizenry. Settlements cost the Israeli government hundreds of millions of dollars and siphon off money that could and should be used for education, infrastructure, and investment. The endless occupation incites hostility against Israel and the Jewish people, degrades Israeli democracy, and provides the material for anti-Israel activists worldwide. If you help Israel end the occupation, you will build a foundation on which a strong, democratic, and accepted Israel will exist for generations to come.
There is also a moral imperative. Israel’s existence is the dream of an entire people. It was founded on the hope that it would embody the best of Jewish and liberal traditions and be worthy of the sacrifice and memory of those who helped to create it. If Israel ceases to be a Jewish state or betrays its democratic values, the efforts of all who came before us will have been for nothing. Moreover, Zionism cannot succeed as long as we continue to deny the Palestinian people what we aspired to for so long. The Palestinians deserve a state and a home. I believe this is an important issue for the President of the United States to address because, as Jewish philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel once taught, to do nothing does not absolve us of guilt for the crime. History is watching, Mr. President. What will you do?