Two weeks ago, our board was elected at J Street U’s Summer Leadership Institute in College Park, Maryland. Simultaneously, less than 150 miles away, white nationalists terrorized Charlottesville, Virginia. As our year begins, this incident is a poignant reminder of how much work we must do to support the most vulnerable among us in this country, even as we double down on our commitment to ending the occupation and securing a two-state solution in the region. These are not disparate missions. Rather, they are inexorably linked.
In recent years, we have watched as far-right extremism has been increasingly tolerated – and even encouraged – by political leadership across the world. For many of us, it is our Jewish heritage that drives us to resist this rising tide of bigotry. We know all too well that surging white supremacy and discrimination have historically spelled catastrophe for Jews.
Our history demands that we resist these trends and the injustice they engender wherever we can. For us in J Street U, that means we can and must focus our work in both Israel and in the United States – where these disturbing trends mirror one another. In both countries those in power seek to disadvantage marginalized communities and undermine democracy. For both countries, we have the ability and obligation to fight for a better future.
In the United States, the problem we face is clear. Although unsurprised, we were deeply disturbed by President Trump’s refusal to clearly disavow white supremacy and Nazism in the wake of Charlottesville. Our synagogues, memorials and cemeteries have been desecrated. Our community centers have been threatened. Chants of “Jews will not replace us” remind us that anti-Semitism has plagued the Jewish people throughout history, and is part of America’s ongoing legacy of racism. Jews are, certainly, not the only or the primary targets of bigotry in the United States. However, the past and present oppression we face compels us to understand that our own fates are entwined with those who are more vulnerable than us.
As Americans, our obligation to fight the rising tide of hatred at home is a product of our values and history. But as American Jews and pro-Israel Americans, we have a tremendous stake in the politics of both Israel and the United States. If we can affect change in both, it would be an abdication of responsibility to focus solely on one.
In Israel, the incorporation of right-wing extremism into the mainstream and the entrenching of the occupation of Palestinian territory consistently threaten the rights of Palestinians and the future of Israeli democracy by undermining the prospects for reaching a two-state solution. The Israeli government continues to target left-wing Israeli NGOs, to demolish Palestinian homes and schools and to expand the Israeli presence in the West Bank. The Trump administration – which recently doubled down on its refusal to support a two-state solution – has given Israel’s government a green light. Indeed, the Netanyahu government failed to condemn Trump in the wake of the events in Charlottesville, signaling the disturbingly close ideological and political alignment between Trump and Netanyahu’s administrations.
Amidst all this, students are preparing to return to campuses across the country. We stand ready to work with them to combat this rising tide of hate in Israel and the United States. We will be unwavering in our support for those impacted by white supremacy, and persistent in our condemnation of those in power who sanction bigotry.
At the same time, motivated by the same values, we will work to support a just future for those in Israel and the Palestinian territory. In particular, we will be working to counter the ongoing reality of demolition and displacement that many Palestinians face. The creeping annexation of the West Bank makes the prospects for a Palestinian state increasingly challenging, and consistently violates the rights of the 300,000 Palestinians who inhabit areas of the West Bank under full Israeli control. The Israeli government continues to pursue its far-right vision of a Greater Israel, tacitly supported by a Trump administration that refuses to support a two-state solution or push back on settlement expansion. In the face of these challenging politics, we will advocate for a two-state solution and stand up to Israeli and American leaders undermining the prospects for peace. We will call on our elected officials and the American Jewish community to do the same.
At J Street U we strive to model the leadership we demand. All around us we see a rise in far-right extremism, and we see those in power elevating racists and bigots with both words and actions. In response, we will continue to resist attempts to deprive people of their safety and dignity, regardless of whether they are in Israel, Gaza, the West Bank or the United States. We call on all those who share our values of tolerance and justice to join us.
The student arm of the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement