Out Loud

Rising to the Challenge

31 August 2017

For those still doubting that there is a through line between what is said about Israel, Palestine and peace by representatives of the current Administration in Washington and the acts and facts on the ground in the region, consider the events of the last week or so.

Last week, Presidential Middle East envoy/son-in-law Jared Kushner reportedly told Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, after Abbas asked him to reaffirm America’s commitment to a two-state solution, that the US would not do so. Breaking with decades of bipartisan precedent, Kushner said that the US now believes that it is “up to the two sides” – not the Americans – to figure out a way forward. In the Forward, Peter Beinart unpacks how this seemingly innocuous comment is, in fact, an epic screw up (either intentional or otherwise) with potentially tragic consequences. “When American officials say they don’t support any particular solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Beinart writes, “what they’re really saying is that they don’t particularly care whether Palestinians live as subjects or citizens so long as Donald Trump and Jared Kushner can claim credit for having brokered the “ultimate deal.””

We may already be witnessing the first disastrous ramifications of this new and extraordinarily irresponsible American position. On Monday, Prime Minister Netanyahu came right out and said what so many had long suspected (or indeed knew) he truly believed: Israel will never evacuate settlements in the occupied West Bank. “We are here to stay forever,” the Prime Minister declared. “There will be no more uprooting of settlements in the Land of Israel.” It is hard to read this as anything other than a declaration that, for the current Israeli government, the two-state solution is dead, or at least irrelevant. It is hard to imagine that the Prime Minister was not speaking out so clearly as a result of the bright green light he has received from Washington and Mr. Trump’s personal envoy. As Chemi Shalev writes here in Haaretz, this is nothing new, but its implications are deeply disturbing.

In other, equally dispiriting news, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked earlier this week attacked Israel’s High Court and judicial system, saying it places too much of an emphasis on individual rights, and gives insufficient consideration to Zionism and to maintaining Israel’s Jewish majority. And then there’s the news that Israeli authorities demolished three Palestinian schools in the West Bank, citing a lack of permits. This, after the Knesset earlier this year passed the so-called “Regulation Law” that can retroactively expropriate privately owned Palestinian land in the West Bank upon which settlements or outposts are built.

If this increasing drum-beat of bad news seems familiar to you, if this ever-accelerating daily “parade of horribles” with which we have to contend reminds you of something, well, welcome to Trump’s America and Netanyahu’s Israel, where there sometimes seems to be too many challenges to democracy and decency to contend with.

So what do we do? How do we retain our hope and indeed optimism during these dark times?

We do what we’ve always done when the chips were down and the odds stacked against us, when those in power are attempting to roll back and to unravel the advances that generations have worked to achieve: we roll up our sleeves and we fight.

I spent last week in Israel (no, I did not run into Mr. Kushner) working with our new Executive Director in Israel, Mickey Gitzin. Mickey is 36, the son of Russian immigrants, a leader in the movement to break the ultra-Orthodox religious monopoly on life in Israel, an activist in the LGBTQ community, a member of the Tel Aviv City Council and, most importantly, a pragmatic, strategic and cheerful optimist. He isn’t cowed by the lack of vision and terrible policies of the current leadership in Israel – or, for that matter, here in the US – and neither should we be. He remains utterly confident that, at the end of the day, NIF will help lead Israel back to the democratic and prophetic values upon which it was founded.

I think he is absolutely right. I left Israel feeling revitalized.

Mickey and his colleagues aren’t discouraged by the challenges they face, quite the opposite: they are getting to work to repair their country. And we must take inspiration from their example. Because what is true here in the US is true in Israel, too. Yes, an ugly, anti-democratic, tribalistic populism is ascendant in the halls of power in Washington and in Jerusalem. But that doesn’t mean that this is the way it has to be.

Just as so many of us here in the America are inspired and proud to stand by the guardians of democracy in our country – the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Bend the Arc, Planned Parenthood, Lambda Legal Defense and so many others – so too do we have the privilege and honor of standing with the guardians of democracy in Israel: the NIF community of organizations.

NIF exists for tough times like these. We must now, as we have in the past, rise to the challenge.