Up early for Obama in Cairo

June 5, 2009

If you’re like me, you got up extra early to watch President Obama’s historic speech in Cairo yesterday – and you weren’t disappointed. For the first time in a long time, perhaps you were hopeful, even inspired.  I know I was.

And so was Elie Wiesel who said today as he stood with the President at the Buchenwald Concentration Camp, that his hope for the future is now based on the President’s vision for the future: “A sense of security for Israel, a sense of security for its neighbors, to bring peace in that place. The time must come. It’s enough — enough to go to cemeteries, enough to weep for oceans. It’s enough. There must come a moment — a moment of bringing people together.”

We stand today at a moment of historic importance.

Either – with President Obama’s leadership – Israel and the Arab nations conclude a peace deal in the coming couple of years, or we may well find that the dream of a democratic Israel that provides a home to the Jewish people will have irretrievably slipped away.

Some argue that Obama’s strong stance – for instance, calling for a complete settlement freeze now – asks Israel for too much.  They say it’s absurd to ask Jewish families not to grow, not to have children.  An Israeli government Minister even had the nerve to ask what we expect of a settler family whose children need their own apartment – are they supposed to move to Petach Tikva (an Israeli suburb of Tel Aviv)?

Well – actually – yes.

That’s the city my great-grandparents “settled” 127 years ago as they sought to create a Jewish homeland.  Today, Petach Tikva is in Israel – and, yes, that’s where Jewish Israelis should live and have children – not on the West Bank, where the settlement enterprise carves up a future Palestian state necessary for a democratic, Jewish homeland.

For two great rebuttals to pro-natural growth arguments, read Gershom Gorenberg’s latest in The American Prospect here.

The tide of history is running with those of us who believe that security and survival for Israel depend on a two-state solution.  86 Members of Congress signed a letter backing the President’s strong leadership – a letter that J Street, Brit Tzedek, Americans for Peace Now and others worked hard to support.

Now comes the hard part. The coming months will be critical. J Street will be in high gear – providing the political support that the President and Congress need to push forward on the hard road to peace and security.

The high point of this period will be our first National Conference in Washington DC in October.  The conference will be a unique opportunity to join with hundreds of pro-Israel, pro-peace, pro-democracy activists in demonstrating to Washington politicians and policy makers that there is real support for the Obama approach to the Middle East.