What does it mean to be pro-Israel? It depends on who you ask.
As the 2012 primary season heats up, Republican presidential hopefuls are competing for the most staunchly pro-Israel image among primary voters. But here’s the rub: the policies touted by primary candidates run counter to the majority opinions of the American Jewish community regarding the United States’ role in ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
While sustaining Israel’s qualitative military edge and deepening the US-Israel alliance have broad bipartisan consensus, opposition to the two-state solution is a radical departure from decades of bipartisan US-Israel policy. It also contradicts the aspirations and official policies of Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The best way to understand this corrosive dissonance is through the lens of domestic American politics.
Jim Gerstein of the firm GBA Strategies lays out the data:
“When presented with a comprehensive peace agreement that follows the parameters reported from talks during the Barak and Olmert Administrations, Jews support the agreement by a 57 to 43 percent margin. The result is noteworthy given the specific mention of language that recently raised an uproar among many Jewish organizational leaders – that is, establishing borders based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed upon land swaps – and other controversial elements such as Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees.”
67 Percent of American Jews want the United States to play an active role in helping the parties resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, even if that means the U.S. publicly disagreeing with both Israelis and Palestinians.
If two thirds of American Jews want active American leadership to resolve the conflict, why are Republicans fighting this effort so hard? Because their playbook is drastically out of date; and as a result, their talking points are increasingly disconnected from the facts on the ground and the will of American Jews. They are disconnected from the will of Israeli Jews and, most importantly, Israel’s long-term strategic interests.
A generation ago, Israel was David in a neighborhood of Goliaths, and American Israel advocacy rightly reacted to the existential threats to the Jewish state. Thanks to the critical work of traditional Israel advocates, Israel today is stronger than ever before and its bond with the US is indeed unshakable.
Today Israel’s existential concerns are territorial and demographic. A Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza is the only way to ensure Israel’s future as the Jewish, democratic state.
To guarantee our future as a free people in our own land, more forceful American diplomatic leadership is required. In 2011, a politician is sufficiently pro-Israel to the degree that they advocate for aggressive diplomatic leadership to resolve the conflict.
J Street is rewriting the chapter of the political playbook on Israel advocacy. By representing the majority view of American Jews, J Street has grown rapidly as the home for Jews and other Americans who love Israel but feel betrayed by a pro-Israel establishment that silences dissent and vilifies moderates.
In the past, absolute and uncritical support of the Israeli government was the American litmus test for a politician to be “pro-Israel.” Precisely because of our love and support for Israel, J Street and millions of Americans are compelled to advocate for a two-state solution, which is the only way to protect both Israel’s Jewish and democratic future. Understanding and acknowledging the urgent necessity of a two-state solution is today’s test of whether a politician is truly pro-Israel.
Politicians of all stripes would do well to wake up and listen to the moderate majority and adopt the right policy for Israel, a genuine representation of American Jewish opinion.