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September 14, 2011

Opinion: It’s time for a Jewish Spring

http://www.jewishjournal.com/opinion/article/its_time_for_a_jewish_spring_20110914

Judea Pearl is a professor at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation (danielpearl.org), named after his son. He is a co-editor of “I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl” (Jewish Lights, 2004), winner of the National Jewish Book Award.

Judea Pearl is a professor at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation (danielpearl.org), named after his son. He is a co-editor of “I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl” (Jewish Lights, 2004), winner of the National Jewish Book Award.

Recent weeks have not blessed us with much good news. Turkey’s bullying threats to Israel in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Palestinian determination to pursue its bid for statehood recognition at the United Nations this month, and the mob attack on the Israeli embassy in Cairo signal a very bleak winter for Israel and a very dark cloud over the entire Middle East.

These are unusual times, and the impending vote at the United Nations, in particular,  illustrates ever more clearly the urgency of Israel’s need for the Jewish people to stop bickering and to unite in support for the very existence of the Jewish state. Even with the U.S. commitment to veto any proposal for Palestinian recognition in the U.N. Security Council, a yes vote for statehood in the U.N. General Assembly would embolden Israel’s adversaries to reject any peace proposal that does not entail her eventual demise, and would further isolate Israel beyond anything we have seen in the past.

We are facing one of those critical moments when a sense of real urgency awakens nations to take charge of their destiny and act together to change the course of history. Are we ready for a Jewish spring?

In view of all this, the only bright light I have spotted in recent weeks’ news is the decision by J Street to oppose the Palestinians’ upcoming move to seek recognition at the United Nations.

I read the J Street statement very carefully, and it struck me as rather odd in its flatness and dryness — it reads like a diplomatic dispatch from the Swiss Embassy in Kamchatka more than a statement from a caring party facing a critical event in the history of our people. It certainly was a far cry from the creative, “out of the box,” “now is the time” statements we have heard from J Street in the past.

True, we can find there the usual “it will [not] advance peace, enhance security and improve conditions on the ground” and the obvious “the creation of a Palestinian state will not necessarily resolve the conflict” and the now dead-tired call for “jump-starting efforts to reach a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” What we do not find there is an earnest assessment of the situation that led to this unexpected decision.

Indeed, if we are to believe previous declarations by J Street leaders, then their decision to oppose the Palestinians’ bid to the United Nations is truly unexpected. If the Palestinians have been craving a peace agreement all along, and the only things that kept them from expressing those intentions were their hardship and hopelessness under the occupation, what could be more effective in boosting their self-esteem than granting them a bona fide state, full membership in the United Nations and a stronger microphone to broadcast their peace proposals worldwide? And if the only things that kept Israel from making painful concessions toward peace have been greed, lack of American pressure and the blindness of Israel’s leaders to Israel’s growing isolation in the word, what could be more conducive to ending this blindness than to shake them into a new reality with a hostile sovereign neighbor — more vocal and more demanding — which would make Israel’s isolation many times more painful and no longer ignorable? So, why did J Street decide to oppose this desirable scenario?

Some commentators are interpreting the J Street move to be a calculated decision to compromise on their agenda and tame their rhetoric in order to increase their influence and relevance among potential Jewish supporters. This makes perfect sense in view of the growing solidarity mainstream American Jewry now feels toward Israel in her new predicament. It might also reflect the understanding that going “all-in” for a conflict-bound Palestinian tactic could mean organizational suicide.

I would like to believe, however, that J Street’s decision reflects a more profound process of introspection, a more realistic assessment of Palestinians’ intentions vis-à-vis Israel’s future and, most important, a more enduring change in the way the Jewish community in general speaks, acts and stands for Israel.

I would like to believe that what J Street’s decision represents is the beginning of a Jewish spring — a period where we do wake up to the urgency of standing united against the rising threats to Israel’s existence, a day of reckoning with the centrality of Israel to our existence as a people, and an earnest commitment to take these threats more seriously than we have done in the past. It is, I believe, imperative to reassess our priorities and to act again as one people, in one big tent, to move toward a genuine and lasting peace.

If others have springs, why can’t we have one?

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