Responding to a talk on the Israeli-Palestinian situation by the PLO representative to the U.S., Maen Rashid Areikat, in New York the other day, an Israeli professor at NYU commented publicly how ironic it was that the PLO ambassador sounded more reasonable than Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman.
Areikat smiled broadly and many in the audience, a group of several dozen Jewish leaders and graduate students, nodded approvingly.
Sign of the times?
It seems so. Areikat spoke at a luncheon and program sponsored by the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at NYU Wagner and the Taub Center for Israel Studies at NYU. His remarks were greeted warmly as he called on American Jews to help convince Israel to end the negotiating stalemate, and the occupation of the West Bank, and make peace with the Palestinians.
“Don’t use [the excuse of] security to prolong my suffering,” Areikat said, adding that resentment toward Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, though not at evident during the recent Egyptian revolution, will become more of a factor in the region soon.
There was little pushback from the audience to Areikat’s views, and Steven M. Cohen, the director of the Berman Center who served as host and moderator, praised the talk as “enlightening and inspiring.”
The mood at the event was one of many growing indications to me that the current Israeli government has become a source of embarrassment to many liberal American Jews.
Prime Minister Netanyahu better not wait until late May to come to the U.S. and present a new proposal for advancing the stalled peace talks. With the situation deteriorating on the hasbara front, something must be done a lot sooner than Netanyahu’s scheduled appearance at the annual AIPAC conference, which begins May 22, and it better be more substantive than past efforts.
Most American Jews want to feel proud of the Jewish State, not frustrated or ashamed. It doesn’t help when they read of continued settlement growth, the flotilla debacle, Foreign Minister Lieberman’s hard-line comments about Israeli Arabs and other issues, or that the Knesset conducted inquiries into the funding sources of NGOs, or that the Chief Rabbinate is increasingly rigid on matters of marriage, divorce and conversion.
Never mind the complex challenges Israel faces in a hostile neighborhood, where compromise is seen as weakness. Many Jews just don’t want to read and see stories that portray Israel as the source of Mideast problems, whether or not the analysis is accurate.
Federation fundraisers say that even big givers worry aloud about Israeli policies and the negative impact such policies are having on their children, a generation that does not remember Israeli feats like Entebbe, much less the Six-Day War.
My gut tells me that the status quo is not good for Israel, and more creative ways must be found to convince the world, starting with American Jews, that Jerusalem really wants a two-state solution before the option becomes moot.