Those who watch Israel have seen an interesting scenario unfold over the past few weeks.
Last Sunday Israel formally announced an eased blockade of Gaza that could significantly expand the flow of goods overland into the impoverished coastal Palestinian enclave, isolated by the Israelis for the last three years. The policy shift reflects what many of that country’s supporters have been saying for some time: The blockade of Gaza as originally conceived has proven ineffective, served only to strengthen Hamas, and actually undercut Israeli security.
For many in the pro-Israel community the policy changes have been welcome, but they have led to a curious disconnect between Israeli itself and a small, but vocal and well organized minority of Americans (Jewish or otherwise) who remain wholly opposed to compromise on the road to Israeli-Palestinian peace and wholly invested in a policy, which the Israeli government has itself has seen fit to liberalize—all under the self-proclaimed banner of being “pro-Israel.”
Many of the latter have expressed outrage that supporters of Israel would question Israel’s Gaza policy, outrage at their own President for doing likewise, outrage at members of Congress, such as New Jersey Rep. Rush Holt (12th District), who have suggested that a destitute Gaza is no source of security for a democratic, Jewish homeland.
The escalation of this outrage comes, in part, in response to a growing realization that this minority’s fundamental opposition to a two-state solution and to an active American role in achieving it is being threatened by an evolving and expanding notion of what it means to be pro-Israel in this country. Recently polling has shown that 82 percent of American Jews wants to see active US mediation of a peaceful solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict – three-quarters say they would still support such a role even if the US government openly disagrees with Israeli positions.
Indeed, even as tempers recently flared regarding building in Jerusalem, an American Jewish Committee poll found that a solid 55 percent of Jews approved of President Obama’s handling of US-Israeli relations. Perhaps even more interesting, a poll just released by B’nai B’rith reveals that about half of all Israeli Jews would welcome the Administration’s hands-on approach to the peace process, saying that it is “essential that the European Union, along with the United States, put pressure on both parties and help them achieve a reasonable and rapid solution to the Israeli-Palestine conflict.”
So today Israel is revising its years’ old Gaza blockade after countless appeals to do so from international sources, American and Israeli Jews, members of the US Congress, and the American President himself – using, moreover, the same reasoning: In Prime Minister Netanyahu’s words, easing the Gaza blockade “allows [Israel] and our international allies to face our real concerns in the realm of security.”
Just this past January, Rep. Holt, along with 53 other members of Congress, wrote to President Obama to urge him to dedicate himself “to addressing the legitimate security needs of the State of Israel and to ensuring that the legitimate needs of the Palestinian population are met,” with the understanding that “fulfilling the needs of civilians in Israel and Gaza are mutually reinforcing goals.”
What would Israel’s international standing be today if the voices of Rep. Holt and the other brave members of Congress who dared to buck narrow political orthodoxy surrounding Israel had been heeded? What would its relationship with Turkey look like? How much attention might Israel be able to turn to Palestinian weapons smuggling, if it weren’t busy saying yes to rice, but no to pasta, yes to cinnamon, but no to nutmeg? Does it not matter that under the blockade Hamas has gotten better armed, and its stock has risen in the Palestinian community?
The question of what constitutes “pro-Israel” behavior is one that is often debated in American political circles, in the pages of our press, and in the halls of power. For a growing number of American citizens and politicians, it’s become increasingly clear that to be pro-Israel, one need not provide unthinking support for any and all Israeli policies, but rather work to achieve Israel’s long-term peace and security interests. It’s become increasingly clear that only a negotiated, two-state solution to the conflict will serve to protect Israel’s democratic, Jewish nature.
Forward thinking political leaders who are willing to question long-held conventional wisdom – and those advocates inside and out of Washington who encourage them to do so – are leading the way to smarter, more effective policies that are concerned not with political points but with measureable results, for Israel and the US alike.
Israeli politician Tzipi Livni, former Foreign Minister and currently head of the parliamentary opposition, recently put it very plainly when she said that “the price of no [peace] agreement is greater than the price of an agreement” – the risks of on-going conflict are greater than the risks of peace.
Rep. Holt and others who are willing to champion Israel’s long-term security interests are, without a doubt, acting in Israel’s best interests.
New Jersey resident Deborah Sagner is the President of the J Street Education Fund and the vice president of The Sagner Companies, Inc.