Later this month, I will attend my third annual J Street Conference here in Washington. I’m going back because J Street is exactly what they say it is: “The political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans.” That means J Street supports the existence of the state of Israel as a democracy and a national home for the Jewish people. And J Street believes that the best way to guarantee Israel’s future is through a two-state solution, allowing it to live in peace with its neighbors. If this position sounds familiar, that’s because it’s shared by a majority of American Jews, the United States government and millions of people around the world.
But given the current Israeli settlement policy, we are rapidly approaching the point where a two-state solution will no longer be feasible. Time is running out. The available time must now be measured in months, not years. There has never been a more important time for American leadership. And J Street is in the forefront of that initiative.
The election last November showed that most American Jews don’t look to Sheldon Adelson, William Kristol, and the “one-staters” for leadership. More and more, they are looking to organizations like J Street. So are their representatives. Incredibly, 70 out of 71 candidates endorsed by J Street won in November. Voters are realizing that a two-state solution is the key to Israel’s security. And J Street is showing that it really is “the future of pro-Israel.”
A two-state solution is the key to Israel’s survival as a beacon of democracy and social justice in the Middle East. It is also the key to Israel’s continuing status as a Jewish state. As Thomas Friedman has said, Israel has three options: (1) it can hold onto the West Bank; (2) it can remain a democracy; and (3) it can remain a Jewish state. But it can only exercise two of those options, not all three. As John Kerry put it in his recent speech to the American Jewish Committee, holding all the land means that “Israel will be left to choose between being a Jewish state or a democratic state, but it will not be able to fulfill the founders’ visions of being both.”
In peace negotiations, Israel’s security must be the first consideration. But J Street rejects the notion that Israel must choose between security and a two-state solution. Indeed, a two-state solution is the key to Israel’s security. Unless there is a Palestinian state, Israel will not achieve lasting peace with its neighbors and the greater Arab world. Much less will it be able to form alliances and economic ties in the region. But instead of heading in that direction, Israel is becoming even more isolated.
I recognize that Israel needs a strong defense. I was in the area during the Gaza conflict this past November. There were two rocket attacks on Tel Aviv while I was there. In one, as I stood on the sidewalk, I heard the explosion as Iron Dome shot down the incoming missile. For me, that was a good illustration of why we should support Israel’s right and ability to defend itself. At the same time, as Friedman has said, we can’t let the success of Iron Dome and the separation barrier make us complacent about the peace process. The price of neglecting that process is too high.
It’s also important to recognize that in Israel, American Jews matter. That was Roger Cohen’s message in a recent New York Times column. He suggested: “If major American Jewish organizations are among Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s most important constituencies, perhaps those same groups can exert leverage over Israeli policy toward the Palestinians.”
John Kerry is also listening to American Jews. Last month, at the White House, he met with American Jewish leaders, including J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami. As Mr. Kerry has said, “No one has a stronger voice in this than the American Jewish community.” We can all play a part in ensuring Israel’s long-term security. Indeed, we must. As President Obama said in Jerusalem, leaders will take bold steps only if their people push them.
There is no better time to make your voice heard. And there is no better way to do it than getting involved in J Street. The best way to start is by attending the J Street conference this month. And, as I did, you just might find your political home.
Paul M. Schneider is an attorney who lives in Bethesda.