Last Friday, I celebrated a birthday. Not mine — J Street’s.
Eight years ago, we founded this organization to fill a desperate need. Hawkish voices dominated the Israel conversation in Washington and the Jewish community — while the pro-peace majority was too often ignored.
We built J Street to promote pragmatic, pro-Israel policies rooted in Jewish and democratic values and for eight years we’ve fought to fix the broken politics on our issue.
This week, we saw how far we’ve come.
We’re succeeding. The politics are changing. Our voice is getting through. And our nation’s leaders have taken notice.
On Friday, President Obama welcomed into the Oval Office board members of J Street U to discuss the issues we work on.
The fact that the President devoted time to get to know these future leaders of our community speaks volumes. It was a moment of deep pride and significance.
And that was just the beginning.
On Sunday, 250 J Street U leaders met with senior Jewish communal officials to discuss how we can work together for a two-state solution and against the dangerously deteriorating situation between Israelis and Palestinians.
On Monday, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry addressed our National Gala. Both thanked and praised J Street for defending and protecting the Iran nuclear deal and working for the two-state solution.
Secretary Kerry said: “You, the people here who are part of J Street, refuse to betray the hope –- the HaTikvah –- of a free nation living at peace with its neighbors, secure in the Jewish homeland, committed to the basic dignity of all of its citizens.” The Vice President said that “J Street’s existence proves there is no contradiction between being progressive and pro-Israel.”
While affirming unwavering support for Israel’s security, both stressed that only the two-state solution can guarantee its future as a secure, Jewish democracy — a future being placed at risk by continuing settlement expansion. As the Vice President said:
“We have an overwhelming obligation, notwithstanding our sometimes overwhelming frustration with the Israeli government, to push them as hard as we can toward what they know in their gut is the only ultimate solution, a two-state solution, while at the same time be an absolute guarantor of their security.”
We know many of our leaders have thought this for decades. But rarely would they speak such thoughts aloud. J Street has helped make it possible for them to do so.
This is a new politics — and a new era for pro-Israel Americans. Taken together, these events of the last week add up to our watershed moment.
But of course, we know that we still have much work to do.
Israelis continue to suffer from appalling acts of terror. Palestinians are further than ever away from achieving a state of their own. The situation is sliding toward a one-state nightmare.
At home, we must still contend with those who disparage diplomacy and believe any dissent from Prime Minister Netanyahu’s policies is out of bounds.
Yet as we head into Passover, we should reflect with real pride on how far we’ve come.
This week showed that we’ve transformed the status quo in Washington. And if we keep giving political support and encouragement to our leaders, we know that one day we can help transform the status quo for Israelis and Palestinians too.
Passover is all about freedom and justice — as well as the hope and belief that we can overcome overwhelming odds. Over the past eight years, J Street placed these values at the forefront of our work to help Israel create a safer, better future. And with your help, we’ve done just that.
To those who celebrate, I wish you a Happy Passover. And to all of you who have supported J Street and who continue to support us in whatever ways you can, I say thank you.
We could not have made it this far without you. And we won’t be able to get to where we still need to go without your support.
— Jeremy Ben-Ami