March 31, 2013
The Organized American Jewish Community’s Response to President Obama’s Jerusalem Speech
President Obama’s Jerusalem speech has been praised by most American Jewish Organizations for his eloquent support of Israel, its security, his respect for the historic Jewish attachment to the land of Israel, his tough stand against the Iranian nuclear threat, and his desire to help the parties resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict.
e I should be happy with this praise, but I am instead worried, not for what most of these organizations said in their press releases following Obama’s Middle East visit, but by what they did not say.
In reading the statements of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC), the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), and J Street, in all but the RAC and J Street statements something important was missing.
The AJC quoted Obama as “reaffirming the US supported goal of a negotiated two state-solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” and calling “on the Palestinians to return to direct talks with Israel…” noting that the President praised “Abbas as a partner for peace.”
The ADL said that “The President conveyed a deep understanding of important challenges facing Israel, including the peace process…” and “that the peace process can only be achieved through negotiations without preconditions…”
AIPAC noted that both Obama and Netanyahu “share the view that direct talks should resume between the Israelis and Palestinians without preconditions, with the objective of two states for two peoples.”
The ZOA made no mention of a two-state solution because it does not support a two-state solution.
Here are the relevant remarks in the RAC and J Street statements that are missing from all the others:
The RAC, quoting Obama, repeated: “Israelis must recognize that continued settlement activity is counterproductive to the cause of peace and that an independent Palestine must be viable, with real borders that have to be drawn. I’ve suggested principles on territory and security that I believe can be the basis for these talks.”
J Street said: “[Obama] also laid out the moral case for peace with the Palestinians, based on full recognition of their national right to self-determination and their right to build their lives free of the daily humiliations of military occupation. The President also made it clear that peace is possible and that Israel does have partners in …Abbas and…Fayyad…who are committed to negotiations and to a peaceful solution.”
It seems to me that in their press statements the organized American Jewish community ignored most of the 20 minutes of the President’s 49 minute address that spoke directly and compassionately to the Israeli people about the plight of the Palestinians under occupation and their legitimate rights to a national home of their own side by side with Israel.
Here are a few of the most important lines of Obama’s speech that were not alluded to except by the RAC and J Street:
“[T]he Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and justice must also be recognized. Put yourself in their shoes – look at the world through their eyes.
Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer. Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land.
Peace is possible. It is possible. I’m not saying it’s guaranteed. I can’t even say that it is more likely than not, but it is possible.
Let me say this as a politician, I can promise you this: political leaders will never take risks if the people do not push them to take some risks. You must create the change that you want to see. Ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things.
Today, as we face the twilight of Israel’s founding generation, you – the young people of Israel – must now claim its future. It falls to you to write the next chapter in the great story of this great nation."
What concerns me is the potentially obstructionist role that some in the organized American Jewish community might take (as has happened in the past) when President Obama and Secretary Kerry put concrete proposals on the table about borders, settlements, security, Jerusalem, and refugees. I hope that what is missing in their press statements are merely oversights. I hope as well that the organized American Jewish community will support President Obama fully in his efforts without second guessing him and without partisan rancor in order to help the Israelis and Palestinians find an end of conflict two-state solution without getting in his way.
If this occurs in this next year, come Pesach 2014 we will truly be able to say – Dayeinu!