5776: A New Year for J Street

September 13, 2015

Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur come as a welcome relief this year after a stormy summer in which American Jews found ourselves so bitterly split over the Iran nuclear agreement.

We at J Street are proud of our role in this debate — but we take no pleasure in the bitterness and inflamed emotions that were awakened during this bruising battle. We tried very hard to keep the focus solely on the issues and we pushed back hard against those on both sides of the debate who tried to make it personal. Still, in the spirit of the season, if we have offended anyone with the tone of our statements and arguments, we ask for forgiveness.

The holidays provide us with a chance to come together once again as a community and also to reflect on these past few months. It is a chance to focus on the many things on which we in the pro-Israel community can all agree. We are united in our passionate love for Israel and concern about its security. As a community, we all want to see Israel retain its role as a Jewish homeland and its democratic character. And of course, we overwhelmingly want to see Israel live in peace with its neighbors.

No doubt we will find more opportunities ahead to unite in support of measures to address the very real threats that Iran and its proxies pose to Israel.

However, we should also listen carefully to the words of former Shin Bet director Ami Ayalon, MK Omer Bar Lev of the Zionist Bloc and Gen. (ret) Amiram Levin, who were among the Israeli security experts who came to the United States at our invitation to speak out in favor of the Iran agreement. All three, when asked to describe what they saw as the real “existential” threats facing Israel, singled out the failure to make peace with the Palestinians and the continuation of the Occupation.

Gen. Levin, a former deputy director of the Mossad, put it bluntly. With Iran blocked from developing a nuclear weapon, the only remaining existential threat to Israel was “the continuation of its domination of the Palestinians. No modern western army that dominated another people has emerged as the winner,” he said.

We must get back to basics this coming year and truly grapple with this inexorable threat to Israel’s identity as a Jewish homeland and as a democracy if the Occupation continues. This is not a left-versus-right issue. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has acknowledged the challenge. Surely, there are ways we can come together to confront it.

One of the more damaging aspects of the Iran battle has been the tendency to dehumanize the other. Some opponents of the Iran deal, like Sen. Schumer, had to face scurrilous and disgraceful accusations that they had a divided loyalty and were not acting out of their concern for the United States. Others who supported the agreement, like Rep. Jerrold Nadler, found themselves facing despicable attacks on their devotion to the Jewish people and Israel.

This is part and parcel of the tendency by some within our community to always be defining which organizations are “within the tent” and which should be excluded and shunned. As frequent victims of this worldview, we must press for the maximum degree of inclusion in the pro-Israel community characterized by open, democratic debate.

We should strive to follow the example of our sages Hillel and Shammai who disagreed on hundreds of doctrinal issues yet always maintained respect for one another. The Talmud teaches that the opinions of both Houses were considered “words of the living God” since both sides reflected legitimate opinions, expressed in true sincerity.

May their example inspire and guide us in this New Year and beyond as we work together to resolve the conflict.

Shana Tova.

Alan Elsner,
Vice President for Communications, J Street