When I was elected to serve as president of J Street U’s national student board this summer, I had no idea that just a few months later, my fellow students and I would be facing the prospect of a new presidential administration deeply opposed to our basic values and our hopes for the future in both the United States and Israel.
I don’t take the threats and rhetoric of the Trump campaign and the new administration lightly.
Having grown up Jewish in the South, even I have some small experience with what it feels like to be treated like the other. Of course, my own experience pales with that of African Americans around me or of Palestinians in the West Bank. But my sense of Jewish history and my brushes with the ignorant and the bigoted have helped inspire my commitment to Israel and my belief in the need for Jewish people to stand up and fight for ourselves and others against oppression.
It’s absolutely clear to me that right now, J Street U and the American Jewish community need to stand up and defend our fellow Americans who have been targeted by hateful words and acts. We have to fight to secure the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians to live free from a cycle of hate, fear and conflict.
Last week, my fellow J Street U leaders and I sent that message to our community in a letter that we published in the Forward. It’s what we told them in person on Monday and Tuesday as a large group of us attended the Jewish Federations of North America’s annual General Assembly (GA) in Washington, DC.
At the GA, we saw many people dejected by Donald Trump’s victory and concerned about what it will mean for our country and Israel. We share those feelings — but we also feel an intense sense of urgency. We discussed with those whom we met with that while this is an extremely difficult moment, it’s also an opportunity for many in the Jewish community to break down old barriers, form new partnerships and rally around our most important traditions and beliefs.
Our outspoken leadership is sorely needed. In this moment, silence will be seen as normalizing and acquiescing to the unacceptable. As American Jews, we cannot stay silent.
At J Street, we know that — which is why we helped mobilize over 18,000 people to take action this week and call on our Members of Congress to oppose Trump’s appointment of white nationalist and misogynist Steve Bannon to a senior White House position. Our actions and the calls of many others in our community and beyond helped drive almost the entire House Democratic caucus to sign a letter calling on Trump to rescind Bannon’s appointment.
We know that we can’t look away when someone who traffics in hatred is being given a position of power.
We can’t look away when the Republican Party has removed support for two states from its platform, when AIPAC has quietly removed support for the two-state solution from their official talking points and when powerful Israeli minister Naftali Bennett has said that “The era of the Palestinian state is over.”
We can’t look away when new Israeli legislation would flagrantly disobey Israel’s High Court by retroactively legalizing illegal outposts built on Palestinian land throughout the West Bank, while Palestinian villages like Susya remain under threat of imminent demolition.
We can’t let anti-Semitic and Islamophobic hatred become normalized. We can’t let all hope for Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, and for self-determination for Palestinians, be destroyed.
At J Street U, we’re ready to build new alliances with leaders in the American Jewish community and beyond, to fight back for what we believe in. We’re excited and proud to stand with the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement, and with fellow Americans on our campuses and around our country in defense of our democratic values in the US and in Israel. We will not be daunted by the challenges and opposition we face.
As we wrote in our letter this week, “This moment calls for courage, and for action.”
Now let’s go to work.
Thanks for all that you do,