How Radically Things Have Changed; How Much More Needs to Be Done

4 April 2024
Daniel Sokatch FB social share

Two recent speeches about Israel by democrats in Congress should make all of us who care about the future of that country sit up and pay attention. 

The first was on March 15th by Senate Majority Leader and long-time, mainstream Democrat from New York Chuck Schumer. Schumer called for new elections in Israel, saying that “The Netanyahu coalition no longer fits the needs of Israel after October 7. The world has changed—radically—since then, and the Israeli people are being stifled right now by a governing vision that is stuck in the past.” He listed Netanyahu, along with Hamas, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and the radical Jewish supremacists currently sitting in Israel’s government as the top “obstacles to peace.” The speech was, to put it mildly, unprecedented. New York Times columnist Tom Friedman wrote that watching it was like watching an “elephant fly” and that it indicated a “profound shift in U.S. politics and geopolitics when it comes to the Middle East—a shift that the Gaza war exposed, and a shift that has made Netanyahu’s refusal to articulate any vision for Israeli-Palestinian relations based on two states for two people a threat to both Biden’s foreign policy goals and re-election chances.” 

The second speech was by the progressive New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (AOC). She called what is happening in Gaza “an unfolding genocide.” AOC quoted Biden who once said that “preventing genocide is an achievable goal,” and asked him to have that goal now. “If you want to know what an unfolding genocide looks like,” she said, “open your eyes.”

The two speeches represent, as the political analyst Matt Duss pointed out, the range of views in today’s Democratic Party as well as the extent to which the conversation about Israel has shifted. The statistics on American and American Jewish public opinion bear this out: A recent Pew poll found that a majority (roughly six-in-ten) Americans believe that Israel’s reasons for fighting Hamas are valid; among American Jews that number is closer to 90 percent. But both Americans overall and American Jews in particular feel uncertain and uncomfortable with the way Israel is waging this war. Only 38 percent of Americans believe that Israel’s conduct has been “acceptable.” Among American Jews, that number is higher, but still less than what one might have expected: 62 percent. (Importantly, 73 percent of Americans describe the way Hamas carried out its Oct. 7 attack on Israel as either somewhat or completely unacceptable while only 5% believe it was acceptable.) 

What these statistics show, I think, is that many American Jews, including Schumer, feel—pretty strongly—that this war is being managed and conducted badly by an untrustworthy Israeli leader. As José Andrés, the founder of World Central Kitchen, a world-renowned aid organization whose aid workers—seven of them—were killed  on Monday in IDF airstrikes, put it in yesterday’s New York Times: “Israel is better than the way this war is being waged. It is better than blocking food and medicine to civilians. It is better than killing aid workers who had coordinated their movements with the Israel Defense Forces.” 

For those of us who know the many Israelis who do not feel represented by this government, who take to the streets to protest, who go to the Supreme Court, who demand life not death, and who try to help feed innocent people in Gaza, we must stand up and stand together.

At NIF, we call for an immediate and lasting ceasefire, the release of all hostages, and a credible, political path forward towards resolution of this conflict. And of course, we also work, on the ground, and with our grantees, every single day to get there.

In terms of a hostage deal, we want one now. There will be no “absolute victory,” despite what some say. The hostages, now in Hamas captivity for 180 days—a full six months—have no more time to spare. NIF has supported the Hostage Families Forum since it was founded in the wake of October 7. Now, six months later, the Forum is leading mass demonstrations in Israel’s streets, calling for exactly this: an immediate hostage deal–and, in some cases, for new elections. This last weekend, thousands came out to the streets in Tel Aviv. The next day, a four-day mass protest began in Jerusalem, bringing masses of Israelis back to the streets for the first time since this war began. The goal? To channel public anger, according to Haaretz, mainly around the lack of a hostage deal.

We have joined dozens of our grantees in calling for a ceasefire to prevent more civilian death in the immediate term, and enable aid organizations to safely enter Gaza and scale up their work to meet the massive need for food and all kinds of other humanitarian supplies (imagine the need for things like diapers, or shoes). Two weeks ago, five Israeli human rights organizations and grantees of NIF (Gisha, HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual, Physicians for Human Rights Israel, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and Adalah) filed a petition with Israel’s Supreme Court demanding Israel take immediate and effective steps to increase the flow of aid; they argue that Israel is not complying with international law, and is instead “employing collective punishment to a point that may amount to starvation as a weapon of war.” 

Finally, we’ve been developing a plan—for months now—with the goal of helping peace-seeking Israelis (and the international community that supports them) envision a political path forward. Working closely with our partners at the think-do tanks that we support—the Berl Katznelson Foundation, which invests in people and ideas, and Mitvim Institute, which works primarily on foreign policy initiatives—we’ve developed something that we’re calling “The Israeli Initiative.” It is a working model for a future peace agreement with the Palestinian people, and it premiered as an insert in Haaretz’s daily print newspaper two weeks ago. It is a blueprint, a positive framework that puts Israel and the Palestinians back on the path to peace.

We know that the war in Gaza will come to an end, just as we know that one day the occupation will end, and that one day the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be known only through the history books. But that day can seem endlessly far off. It is our job, and NIF’s mission, to roll up our sleeves, no matter how dark the day and how deep the despair, to figure out how to make that new dawn a reality.