The fulfillment of the Zionist dream of a Jewish homeland and democratic state may rest on the actions taken by the American pro-Israel community over the coming weeks.
The question is whether the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the rest of the pro-Israel community will express vocal support for Secretary of State John Kerry as he helps the parties commit to necessary compromises? Or will its silence – or outright opposition – jeopardize a golden opportunity at achieving peace?
It was encouraging to see that, just hours into the recent AIPAC Policy Conference, incoming AIPAC President Robert Cohen expressed strong support for Secretary Kerry and the peace process: “As pro-Israel Americans, we thank [Secretary Kerry] for his personal investment of time, energy, and leadership to find a path towards peace between Israel and the Palestinians.” AIPAC’s close friends and allies, such as former Senator Joe Lieberman, delivered similar messages.
But how did the rank and file react? Their response was not encouraging.
While they roared in support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s denunciations of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, conference delegates were almost silent when he laid out the immense benefits of peace. When Bibi talked about the work ahead necessary “to forge a durable peace,” he chastised the crowd. “You can clap,” he said. And just a few hours earlier, legendary Israeli entrepreneur Yossi Vardi scolded the audience: “You can have a little more applause for the work Kerry is doing.”
Later that day, AIPAC activists took to the Hill with Secretary Kerry’s work on Israeli-Palestinian peace as a core part of their prescribed lobbying agenda. But in the several lobby meetings that I attended, the peace process went almost unmentioned.
We’ve seen these dynamics before. While many pro-Israel organizations were publicly supportive of the Oslo Accords in the 1990s, then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was so frustrated with the lack of real support from the American pro-Israel community that he rebuked them publicly. What Rabin needed was a pro-Israel lobby that would help build support in Congress for Israeli leaders as they make difficult choices in the name of peace, but the pro-Israel community did not deliver.
Hoping that this time would be different, Secretary Kerry called on the American pro-Israel community to join the “Great Constituency for Peace.” But despite the exhortations of their leaders and allies, it seems that AIPAC’s supporters have yet to answer Secretary Kerry’s call.
In his speech to AIPAC, Secretary Kerry hinted at some of the compromises that his soon-to-be released framework agreement will entail, including “a resolution that finally allows Jerusalem to live up to its name as the City of Peace.” When it becomes clear that the United States is supporting difficult but necessary compromises, that moment will test the pro-Israel community like never before.
Segments of the pro-Israel community will seek to tank negotiations. They will claim that Jerusalem can never be divided or that the pre-1967 borders are indefensible.
As pro-Israel activists, we must work to build support for those compromises so that our voices are the ones heard by Members of Congress and the Obama Administration.
The relevant question for our community is no longer whether we support a two-state solution; rather, we now have to ask ourselves whether we support the compromises necessary to make two-states a reality. J Street and J Street U activists are coming by the thousands to Town Halls across the country to voice their support for the tough compromises necessary for a politically viable two-state agreement. If the rest of the pro-Israel community is serious about two states, then we should expect similar expressions of support from them.
So, what message will Policy Conference delegates deliver to their communities? Will they voice strong support for these negotiations in their synagogues, Hillels and AIPAC chapters, or will they tacitly aid in their failure through silence? With Israel’s Jewish and democratic future on the line, the answers to these questions could not be more important.
Asher Mayerson has served as President of Dartmouth College Hillel and is the Northeast Representative on the J Street U National Student Board.