I often find myself flummoxed and frustrated by Israel’s situation. Certain questions keep entering my mind: Will lasting security ever be achieved in the Holy Land? Will Israel’s government ever take the difficult but necessary steps to achieve peace and two states? Will there be a Jewish state in 10, 20, or 50 years?
Being on the center-left, I’ve watched with trepidation as more Israelis inch to the right, letting fear, distrust, and rhetoric influence their waning hope, and the voices of those doing all they can to fight for peace and understanding are increasingly drowned out and hidden from view.
When I heard about HaaretzQ, a conference about peace and civil rights in Israel and the territories, I was immediately excited. Haaretz and the New Israel Fund held this first symposium of its kind in NYC on Dec. 13. Amongst the 1,000 people in attendance were Reuven Rivlin (Israel’s president), Samantha Power (US Ambassador to the UN), Tzipi Livni (head of Knesset opposition), and other writers, politicians, and activists from Israel, Palestinian territories, and the United States.
Even though I did not agree with all opinions put forth at this conference, some important questions were addressed: Are Arabs and Palestinians living in Israel actually Israeli? Is it fair to expect them to embrace the Jewish narrative? What are the consequences of not establishing two states within the next decade? Ought foreign nations intervene, and which measures would be effective or not? Where are Palestinians and Israelis erring, both in- ternally and in relationship with each other?
One panel on the future of Israeli-American relations post-Iran deal included Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney from New York City, a Democrat who opposed the Iran deal, and Knesset Member Omer BarLev, one of the few Israeli politicians in favor of the deal. Another, called “Droves of Arab Voters: Is the struggle of Israel’s Arab citizens for equality the new focal point of the conflict?” included Sayed Kashua, an Arab citizen of Israel who created and writes hit TV show Arab Labor, Emilie Moatti, a Jew from Tzfat working for the Arab Knesset Party Joint List, and Amal Elsana Alh’jooj, a Bedouin Nobel Peace Prize nominee.
Most poignant for me was the closing conversation between writers Ari Shavit (Israeli) and Peter Beinart (American). Shavit criticized those at the conference for being too unanimous in statements against the Israeli right. While he agreed with much of what was discussed throughout the day, he posed the question, if the Israeli left’s peace efforts have not worked after more than 20 years, why might that be? Rather than constantly repeating that others are wrong, what might leftists need to change in their own approach? And Beinart, an expert on young progressive American Jews, reminded us that those who are more progressive in Israeli politics and Jewish religion fail to bring the more right into the conversation. He asked when those who argue for giving over the territories last had a conversation with Orthodox friends, for example? It’s important to understand that to them, the land has significance. Many of the sacred places mentioned in the Torah, like Ḥebron, Sheḥem and Beit Leḥem, are in the West Bank and so giving up this land for the sake of peace is a major sacrifice. Beinart argued that if we’re ever all going to get on board with a two-state solution, we need to get all stake-holders involved and ensure that all feel their needs have been understood.
Beinart and Shavit both argued for the same thing that we at Temple Emanu-El discussed a few weeks ago in connection with the Syrian refugee crisis: that for a working solution to be conceived and followed, all sides need to talk with each other. They need to turn their maḥloket (disagreement) into a maḥloket b’shem shamayim (a sacred disagreement). The only way we will all come together to take the necessary steps for peace is if we actually speak with each other, understand each other, and demonstrate that we care for each other.
I pray with all of my being for a safe and secure Jewish state in the land of Israel for decades and centuries to come. I believe that we will only be safe with a two-state solution, and I believe that the window of time for achieving this two-state solution is closing quickly. It is so important that we, the Jewish community, engage in honest introspection and serious debate, with folks from all sides, to figure out how we—a people, a religion and a nation—can thrive for years to come.