The American political debate over Israel and the Palestinians grows more polarized and less productive by the day. Name-calling, twitter fights and congressional posturing grab headlines while substantive discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – and how to end it – gets pushed to the back burner. The issues at stake – peace and security, prejudice and racism, foreign policy and geopolitics – are vitally important and deserve better than the political grandstanding we’re seeing today.
J Street is dismayed by some of the rhetoric and imagery used by some critics of Israeli policy. Harmful language that echoes long-standing stereotypes and anti-Semitic tropes concern us deeply. It is also our view that the far greater threat to the Jewish community – to its security and its values – comes from the surge of ethno-nationalism and racism that forces on the right, including President Trump, have unleashed here and across the globe.
We agree with and support the sentiments expressed in the resolution which House Democratic leadership plans to introduce this week in opposition to anti-Semitism. We support members voting for this resolution to show their agreement with these sentiments. At the same time, we are concerned that the timing of this resolution will be seen as singling out and focusing special condemnation on a Muslim woman of color – as if her views and insensitive comments pose a greater threat than the torrent of hatred that the white nationalist right continues to level against Jews, Muslims, people of color and other vulnerable minority groups in our country.
By narrowly focusing on progressive critics of Israeli policy and the politics surrounding Israel-related issues, much of our current debate bears little relation to the reality of anti-Semitism in the United States today. This plays directly into the hands of the president and his allies, who act in bad faith to weaponize the debate for political gain.
To make clear their commitment to standing against all forms of hatred plaguing our nation, we urge congressional leaders to also urgently pass legislation expressing clear opposition to Islamophobia, anti-immigrant xenophobia and all forms of racism.
Recognizing the charged atmosphere around these issues, J Street urges those looking to criticize Israeli policy and actions to do all they can to keep the debate focused on the merits of the issues by (1) acknowledging and committing to fight the very real scourge of anti-Semitism and other forms of racism and prejudice; (2) explicitly clarifying that their critique is of Israeli government policy, not of the Jewish people or of the right of the state of Israel to exist; and (3) focusing as much as possible on how American policy can help substantively to end the occupation, resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and address the legitimate needs of both peoples.
The United States, the Jewish community and Israel will only benefit from an ever more robust debate over time regarding US policy in the Middle East. Attacks on those members of Congress who criticize Israel’s policies should not be allowed to limit debate on the merits of the issues they are raising.
The US-Israel relationship is supposed to be based – as political figures consistently reinforce – on the interests and values that the two countries share. The primary challenge to that relationship right now is that the current government of Israel is regularly taking actions that run counter to American interests and implementing policies that call into question its commitment to core shared values.
For the sake of the US-Israel relationship and for the long-term benefit of Americans, Israelis and Palestinians alike, we urge Congress to do more to help bring a peaceful end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and take care not to contribute to a climate in which inexact or insensitive phrasing is quickly weaponized to limit the space for discussion on these issues.