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J Street U has spent the past year calling on leaders in the American Jewish community to take leadership on the settlement issue for the sake of Israel’s future. A significant part of that means reckoning with the complexity of the settlement issue and expressing public disagreements with Israeli officials when they fail to.
This week, ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt did just that by writing an excellent piece in Foreign Policy. Greenblatt took Prime Minister Netanyahu to task on his false charge that Palestinians were advocating for “ethnic cleansing” in the West Bank and his offensive comparison between Israeli settlers and Palestinian citizens of Israel.
In doing so, Greenblatt set a precedent for other Jewish communal leaders to speak publicly about the realities of the situation in the West Bank.
These days, that’s especially important. The Israeli government is moving forward with its creeping annexation of the West Bank. Israeli policies and rhetoric (as Ehud Barak just pointed out in the Washington Post) can actually put Israel at risk. Groups receiving tax-deductible US dollars are working day-in and day-out to entrench the occupation. The Palestinian village of Susya still faces the threat of demolition – which may leave dozens of families homeless. The settlements could make a Palestinian state impossible, which would force Israel to choose between being a Jewish or a democratic state. A binational state or permanent occupation would be catastrophic, which is why Israel’s future hangs in the balance.
That’s why we need more American Jewish leaders to follow Greenblatt’s example and tackle these issues head on. His op-ed is a good example of how to do just that.
His piece is a good model for what it means for heads of Jewish organizations to substantively address the settlement issue. By acknowledging that the situation is far more complex than Israeli officials sometimes let on, Greenblatt opened up an important space in the highest levels of the American Jewish community to look critically at statements by Israeli officials. Greenblatt, in criticizing Netanyahu’s views on settlements, is helping create a precedent for American Jewish leaders to take greater responsibility for helping improve conditions for a two-state solution.
This also helps us grow the pro-Israel, pro-peace, pro-democracy movement on campus. Our campuses are still incredibly polarized. While we try to stake out a middle ground between harder-line positions in the pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian camps, the students we’re trying to reach would take our pro-Israel, pro-peace, pro-democracy option more seriously if we could point to instances of established Jewish community leaders speaking out in the face of Israeli actions or statements that undermine peace. If rigorous and thoughtful pieces like this were more commonplace, we would have a far easier time demonstrating our case not just that being pro-Israel means sometimes criticizing Israel policies and rhetoric, but that this type of criticism of Israel really does stem from our desire to see it thrive.