Celebrating small victories, recognizing large challenges

Jeremy Ben-Ami
on December 6, 2011

J Street staff and leaders delivering 4000 petitions on protecting democracy to the Israeli Embassy

These are challenging times for the pro-Israel, pro-peace, pro-democracy movement as we fight battles on multiple fronts to promote Israel’s security, democracy, and values. But even in hard times, we have to celebrate the victories – those moments when our voices are heard and dangerous trends are even temporarily reversed.

To that end, a quick note highlighting four moves in the right direction:

One: Recently-frozen US and Israeli funds owed to the Palestinian Authority have been released.

Many of Israel’s top military experts argue strongly that withholding aid and/or tax revenue from the PA doesn’t simply undermine the Palestinian Authority, it threatens Israel’s own security.

Thankfully, Congress last month lifted the hold on security assistance for 2011, and Prime Minister Netanyahu announced Wednesday that his government would resume the monthly transfer of Palestinian tax revenues which have been withheld since October.

Even as we welcome this positive step forward, we continue to press Congress to maintain aid to the PA in 2012. Recently, J Street promoted a Congressional letter, which garnered significant support, promoting the importance of continued aid to the PA for both Israel’s security and American interests.

Two: Ha’aretz reports that President Mahmoud Abbas last week submitted his proposal on borders and security issues to the Quartet, fulfilling a promise that both Israel and the PA made in October.

J Street has advocated since last year that the right way to move toward a two-state resolution is to focus diplomacy on substantive issues not on the format and/or timing of further talks. Many accuse Abbas and/or the PA of being unwilling to negotiate.

Let’s take note, then, that the Palestinians have submitted proposals, and let’s urge that Israel do the same by the upcoming deadline.

Three: Rabbis for Human Rights-North America, RHR-Israel, Peace Now, Yachad and the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity movement succeeded in delaying the planned eviction of the Sumarin family from their family home in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem.

The Sumarin eviction would have been the first in five years in contested Palestinian village of Silwan, an area where the settler organization Elad has tried for some time to develop an archaeological site celebrating Jewish history.

When the Jewish National Fund (JNF) stepped forward last week to announce that the eviction of the Sumarin family would be delayed, it was not only a victory for the family’s rights, but a forced admission by the JNF that it is actually responsible for development taking place over the Green Line, something that the JNF had denied until now.

Four: American Jewish opposition gave Prime Minister Netanyahu second thoughts over legislation aimed at limiting foreign funding of Israeli human rights groups.

Our movement stood in clear opposition to the bills – delivering over 4000 letters to Israel’s Ambassador to the United States (see picture above).

And last week, the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman added his voice to growing concern over the corrosive effect of a spate of Knesset initiatives intended to stifle dissent on Israel’s democratic character and its international standing.

Foxman demonstrated a fundamental premise of J Street in action – that being pro-Israel does not mean silent acquiescence to Israeli government policies that do harm to Israel’s future.

The feeling of victory when Prime Minister Netanyahu announced that he would stop that legislation from moving forward was short-lived, as word came a day later of a new bill that would add yet more restrictions on NGO funding.

So, even as we acknowledge our successes – and I thank you for your role in making them possible – let’s be clear that there is much more to do just ahead.

With that in mind, I hope you’re making plans to join us in March at our third National Conference, where this work will continue, and staying for the lobby day component, so nobody in Washington can mistake who we are and what we stand for.