March 13, 2013
J Street, StandWithUs heads tangle at Temple Isaiah
These are tough times for people hoping for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
A recent cover story in The New Republic optimistically called the prospects for a two-state solution “not altogether hopeless.” President Barack Obama has made clear that he will not present a new peace plan during his visit to Israel later this month. And in Los Angeles, a recent, tense conversation between two leaders of opposing pro-Israel groups at Temple Isaiah ended without any evidence of common ground between them.
Jeremy Ben-Ami, the founder and president of J Street, a “pro-Israel, pro-Peace” lobbying group, and Roz Rothstein, co-founder and CEO of the right-leaning pro-Israel nonprofit StandWithUs, appeared together on stage at the L.A. synagogue on March 11 for a well-attended conversation about Israel’s future and the role of the American Jewish community.
Over the course of the 90-minute event, the two differed on a number of issues, including how much area in the West Bank was occupied by Israeli settlements and whether an American group had the right to lobby the U.S. government in support of policies that run counter to those of the Israeli government.
But the chasm dividing the two speakers was most evident when the moderator, Los Angeles Times reporter (and Temple Isaiah member) Mitchell Landsberg, read a question from the audience asking each to describe, in one minute or less, their vision of an “achievable and fair” solution to the conflict.
“First of all, it’s two states for two peoples,” Ben-Ami said. In about 100 seconds, he presented his preferred outcome: the border should be negotiated — start with the pre-1967 Green Line and use land swaps to bring most settlers into Israel proper — Jerusalem should be home to an Israeli capital in the west and a Palestinian capital in the east and the Palestinians should have no right of return to Israel.
Following applause – from one side of the mostly filled 400-seat sanctuary — Rothstein, who at one point had criticized Ben-Ami for using language that she felt was not appropriate for an event in a synagogue, offered her own response.
“I find it fascinating that you have a plan like that,” said Rothstein, who then proceeded to read a quote from a wealthy Palestinian who said that his people had wasted money and missed opportunities to build their own state. After some prodding from Landsberg, Rothstein answered the question directly.
“My solution is that people need to come to the table,” she said. “Why do I need to come up with a solution when the Israelis and the Palestinians need to sit down and talk?”
Supporters of each side left the event unconvinced by the other; still, Temple Isaiah Associate Rabbi Dara Frimmer said that she was glad the conversation was taking place at the synagogue.
“As a Reform congregation, I think the more we talk about Israel, the better,” she said.
“But on a conversational level,” Frimmer added, “I think there’s a lot of work we all need to be doing, about how we listen to one another, how we try to express our ideas, how we push back in a way that enhances our dialogue.”