Author: Jeremy Burton

Layers and Narratives of Complexity

Last month I had the opportunity to spend four days traveling in Palestinian Authority controlled areas of the West Bank, and in Jerusalem neighborhoods with Palestinian majorities. This opportunity was provided by Encounter, which invites American Jewish leaders to engage with Palestinian experiences and perspectives.

I found some familiar experiences: meeting co-existence activists in Bethlehem (including one we meet with on our JCRC trips); touring Ramallah and hearing from a member of the Palestinian negotiation team. I also had new experiences: visiting a refugee community near Bethlehem that I have often viewed from afar; walking through a security checkpoint that six weeks earlier I had viewed from the Jerusalem side during a security barrier tour; visiting Battir – a Palestinian village with ancient Jewish significance - abutting the Green Line that divided the area for nineteen years, but where the Green Line remained open so that villagers could continue working their farms.

I’ve been thinking a lot about two particular encounters:

A small group of us had tea in Bethlehem with a Christian woman. She was animated, her emotions heightened as she relates her experience. She is adamant that she knows no one who has engaged in violent resistance, she rejects it, even abhors it. But she asks us why she must pay the price for the violence committed by others, and suffer the consequence of Israel’s response; why she must live with a security barrier limiting her passage to the Jerusalem she knew fondly, and complicating travel to other areas of the West Bank beyond the Bethlehem area.

During our conversation it becomes apparent that - despite having met with many American Jewish groups over the years - this woman’s perception of our identity is wildly inaccurate. She does not understand the distinction between “Jewish” and “Israeli” or seem to know that we visitors don’t have a vote in Israel, or that most of us never plan to move here. She is shocked by our articulation of this nuance. Then she is eager to move on rather than explore this new information. She has an urgent need to resume her narrative and have us hear more about her experience.

My second experience was a walking tour with a resident of Sheik Jarrah. The neighborhood is just north of Jerusalem’s Old City, over the Green Line and inside the present municipal boundaries of Jerusalem. Our host was an academic and a mother of four. She was born in the home she lives in today - when the area was under Jordanian control. Her parents were refugees from what became Israel and, after 1948, Jordan resettled them in this neighborhood.

As a resident of the neighborhood, she and her children carry blue identity cards. Blue cards are for non-Israeli citizen Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. Her husband carries the green card of a West Bank Palestinian. She is indignant that he is not permitted to live with her in Jerusalem, that she is forced to visit him at his home in Ramallah. She is passionately angry about the Jewish presence in the neighborhood and about the Jews that, she tells us, have “stolen” Palestinian homes. She is frustrated with the quality of her municipal services.

There is more to the story of this neighborhood that she does not tell us, and that she may not even know: before 1948 Sheik Jarrah was a mixed Arab and Jewish neighborhood with a second, Jewish, name: Shim'on HaTsadik. In 1948 the Jewish residents were forced to become refugees themselves and move to the western part of the city; many of the homes Jordan provided to the new Palestinian residents were on Jewish properties.

This omission from the narrative doesn’t diminish the importance of her experience. Why, we ask, does she stay here rather than live with her husband? “This is where I was born. This is my home.” Why doesn’t she exercise her right to vote in municipal elections and use the power she has? “Because not voting is part of our non-violent resistance.”

I’m comfortable with the intentionally unbalanced nature of these experiences. For me - steeped in Israel education, with years of living in Israel and traveling here– this is another slice, another aspect of a place I care so much about. And sometimes we need to do a little quieting of our own narrative so we can really hear the narrative of another. Too few of us get to travel here and converse with these people. This may be in part because we lack opportunities to do so, but often, we’re simply not interested in the whole picture.

This is a familiar challenge and frustration. So many of us are insistent on sharing our narratives, but we have little interest in hearing those of others. We become enamored of those facts that affirm our biases, and we claim them as our narratives, while ignoring that which challenges our world views or forces us to look beyond our own stories. Even during this encounter I wondered what our conversations with Palestinians would be like if they included participation by Israelis I know, with their own experience of suffering and helplessness in the face of the second Intifada’s attacks; violence that the security barrier almost completely halted. I wonder if those two narratives, side by side, could find some common narrative that could bridge the divide between them.

Encountering Palestinians doesn’t undermine my core commitment to achieving peace through a negotiated two-state agreement. Rather, it affirms it. This experience deepens my understanding of the complex challenges in achieving peace for both Israelis and Palestinians. And, it widens my appreciation for those innocents, both Israeli and Palestinian, who live daily with realities that come from the absence of peace; and who express an experience of having no personal agency in solving this.

A month later I am continuing to sit with the challenge and the frustration, but also with a hope: that by investing in coexistence and peace-building between Israelis and Palestinians, in time it may be possible to build at least one shared narrative in this place; of two people sharing peace.

And I am grateful to have had this opportunity.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Embracing Optimism: Peres’ Message of Constructive Engagement

This blog was originally posted on JewishBoston.com.

At last week’s kickoff event for the CommUNITY Israel Dialogue, we honored the life and legacy of Shimon Peres. Israel’s former Consul General to New England Nadav Tamir began by sharing one of Peres’ guiding principles: unfettered optimism.

Peres chose to be an optimist despite facing various levels of opposition during his decades of public service in Israel. Peres, Nadav recalled, figured that since optimists and pessimists “all die the same way,” he would take the “glass half full” approach.

In these unpredictable and difficult times, we are embarking on a year-long effort to plot a course toward healthier conversations with each other about the ways in which we all connect with Israel. As we set forward on this path, one intention we can set for ourselves is to hear Shimon Peres’ wisdom in embracing constructive optimism.

Nadav articulated a few of the things that he learned from Peres that help him maintain an optimistic outlook for Israel and world Jewry.

First, he spoke about looking for win-win scenarios; seeking opportunities to learn and converse about significant issues together, particularly when we find ourselves in situations that appear to be adversarial in nature.

Second, he listened. Peres achieved his greatest successes when he was listening empathically, not when he was delivering a monologue based on scripted talking points.

Third, he didn’t dwell on past failures. Perhaps the ultimate key to Peres’ success was his ability to put the past aside to secure the future he hoped to create. He was not deterred by setbacks and failed negotiations. He insisted on pushing forward, armed with the belief that change would come, and that he could be a key instrument in bringing peace to Israelis and Palestinians.

Regardless of our personal politics, I believe we can wholeheartedly embrace this principle of constructive optimism.

If we are to create a more productive community engagement with each other about Israel, we will need to put aside external factors and past experiences that lead us to feel pessimistic, apathetic, and despairing when we talk to one another about Israel. We have the ability to move forward as a community with productive conversations about the Jewish state and its central role in the Jewish future.

This is a difficult task, one which involves individuals letting go of pre-conceived notions that are often deeply rooted in historical narrative and personal experience, stopping to truly hear each other’s perspectives when we would rather not, and shutting out the voices that say having a conversation about Israel is so difficult it isn’t worth our time.

For us to succeed, we will need to acknowledge that the significance of this challenge attests to the importance of the task at hand. We can help provide answers for those who are stuck wondering how to move forward. We can be models of civic discourse, unity, and optimism in a time when these qualities are in too short supply. We need only to take responsibility for our community here in Boston.

After hearing Nadav, I was left with the following thought: we cannot afford to wait for “things to get better” before we become optimists. The burden is on us to bring optimism into the world and that starts within our own community.

It is important to understand that Peres saw this as a choice that we make — between optimism and pessimism.

Some people today are experiencing that same choice, while others are more personally attuned to the tension between optimism and apathy, or between optimism and despair. Sitting in the audience I found myself inspired by the emphasis on optimism. If we as a community embrace the principles Shimon Peres espoused and that Nadav Tamir shared with us last week, then we have reason to be optimistic about our communal conversations about Israel.

Watch Nadav’s keynote here.

Watch CJP executive director Gil Preuss introduce the CommUNITY Israel Dialogue here.

Read more about the CommUNITY Israel Dialogue, including a list of our 60 partner organizations and upcoming events.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

How We Remember: April 23 is Our Community Holocaust Commemoration of Yom HaShoah

Last year I wrote about Dr. Robert Berger z’l, a Brookline Holocaust survivor, who had an immeasurable impact on our community and beyond. We were privileged to have him participate in our Yom HaShoah Committee, where he advocated passionately not only for the accurate portrayal of the horrific ordeal endured by Holocaust survivors, but also for teaching about the extraordinary ways in which they successfully rebuilt their lives and contributed so richly to our community .

This week, Dr. Berger’s life and legacy were featured on WBUR’s The Remembrance Project. His wife Pat spoke of his career as a pioneering cardiothoracic surgeon, whose lifetime of work included exposing the junk science and bogus results of the medical experiments performed by Nazis on Jewish concentration camp victims. His response to the death and destruction he witnessed was to dedicate his life to saving others, through his long and remarkable medical career.

This year, once again, we will feature the stories of local Holocaust survivors, as attendees at our annual Holocaust Commemoration hear firsthand survivor testimony. We are honored to feature Rabbi Joseph Polak, a cherished leader of Boston’s Jewish community, as the survivor speaker for the 2017 Commemoration.

Rabbi Polak was just an infant in 1945 when the Allied forces began to move across Europe. Before his first birthday, he was taken along with his family, first to one concentration camp, then another. He was nearly three years old when he and his family were liberated from Bergen-Belsen. Despite the unimaginable trauma he suffered in his early years, his story, along with those of other child survivors, went largely unacknowledged by the larger community. In his book, “After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring”, he writes poignantly about the pain that he and other child survivors experienced at the additional trauma of having their story of survival ignored and invalidated.

Rabbi Polak is the Emeritus Rabbi of the Florence & Chafetz Hillel House at Boston University, and the Chief Justice of the Rabbinical Court of Massachusetts.

I hope you will join us on Sunday, April 23rd to hear his story, honor the local survivors in our community, and pay tribute to the six million Jews who perished during the Holocaust.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Resilient Living

Jewish fears were front and center this week as the tide of bomb threats against JCCs and other institutions continued to roll across the country, disrupting communities, and sowing seeds of dread and anxiety. The desecration of hallowed Jewish ground at a cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri traumatized us as well. As buildings were evacuated, as members of our community reeled in horror at the violation of loved ones’ final resting places, many of us struggled to make sense of this new reality where Jews living in the United States in 2017 experience personal threat and fear; and it’s one that we are still trying to wrap our minds around.

On a larger scale, fears of various kinds have become the predominant experience for too many in our society. To some, this will be read as a partisan political statement. It is not. The fears are multiple and widespread, and are experienced across the diverse landscape of our nation.

The slow economic growth in recent decades (compared to the more dynamic U.S. economy in the latter half of the 20th century) has led many to fear for their security in our economy and for the prospects for their children’s futures. There are fears for personal safety in a world where violence of various kinds seems ascendant. There are fears of losing civil rights that we - incorrectly –assumed, once expanded, would not be reversed. There are fears that come from the experience of hatred and bigotry of all kinds.

But amidst the fear, we’re witnessing signs of hope as communities band together in solidarity. There was power in Vice President Pence’s surprise visit to Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery on Wednesday where he joined in the cleanup alongside Muslim activists who had pitched in to quickly raise the funds needed for repairs, while offering messages of condemnation and solidarity. And there is power in the many expressions of care and concern we receive daily from our Christian and Muslim partners here in Boston.

We know we’re being targeted in this moment – but we’re far from alone. One need only talk to members of other communities –Muslims, immigrants, LGBTQ, among others – to understand the very real fears gripping them as well. We’re all grappling with the same dilemmas: How to resist giving in to the fear. How to keep getting up every day and going about our lives. How to make our communal spaces  safe enough to invite people in, while not allowing them to become fortresses that deepen anxiety and alienate people who would otherwise seek community.

And in appreciating the power that came from acts and expressions of solidarity directed toward the Jewish community locally and nationally this week, we recognize the power of our acts of solidarity with others; the folks who rushed to airports a few weeks ago; the Bostonians who reacted to the assault on a Quebec mosque by forming a “chain of peace” outside a local mosque.

The choice we have is between living in fear or embracing a more hopeful way forward; succumbing to victimhood or acting powerfully with the agency to not only take care of ourselves, but to join with others in repairing what has gone so wrong with society. We can live in despair or we can choose to act with resiliency. Resiliency requires solidarity - coming together in a powerful, shared endeavor. Resiliency includes rejecting the false choice between standing  up for ourselves or  standing up for others, because by doing both together we create a greater force to do all of the necessary and urgent work of repair that is so desperately needed right now.

I keep stepping out with my kippah proudly on. Every day, all across this country, parents continue to take their kids to JCCs, where we celebrate our heritage and explore our rich Jewish culture. We leave the mezuzot on our doors for all the world to see that we are here, living proud and joyful Jewish lives. We do so in the confidence that in moments like this week, when it really mattered, we stood up for ourselves and our neighbors stood up for us. And, we are reaffirming that, when our neighbors need us, as they do right now, we stand up for them too.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

A Visit with the People’s Lawyer

When I was just starting on my own path to becoming a Jewish communal professional, a JCRC director (from another city) patiently explained to me why the national Jewish community relations field organized our policy and advocacy work with one bucket being defined as “Jewish Security and the Bill of Rights.” It wasn’t that we, the organized Jewish community, only care about the Constitution as it applies to ourselves. It was that, simply put, we understand that our ability to thrive and prosper as a minority in this country is due in no small part to the civil liberties that our nation promises to all people, and thus, that we must fight to fulfill the promise of those freedoms for all.

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This has been a tumultuous week on the national scene, to say the least. So it could have not been more timely that we sat down with Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey this past Tuesday, along with representatives from JCRC’s network of agencies. Our focus was on the Attorney General’s priorities, our community’s concerns and the role we can play in shaping local and national policy in this uncertain and fraught time.

We’ve worked with her team in the past, to advance transgender public accommodations and equal pay for women, to enforce our Commonwealth’s strong gun violence prevention laws and to protect immigrants and the poor from consumer fraud at the hands of predatory lenders – to name but a few examples. But it was clear at the table this week that the work required of all of us in the face of new threats and challenges must be bolder and more ambitious.

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Attorney General Healey talked about her role, as our - the people’s – lawyer to enforce not only state laws, but also to address federal laws when the federal government falls short. It was a lawsuit filed by our AG’s office that led to the striking down of DOMA. Now, her office is part of a suit to force Exxon Mobil to disclose their research on climate change.

Healey reaffirmed her team’s commitment to civil rights, combating hate and racism, protecting the hard fought rights of the LGBTQ community, and ensuring that Massachusetts remain a welcoming community for immigrants and refugees. We discussed ways that her office can work with local police departments and with the ADL, as partners, to deal with rising anti-Semitism and hate crimes right here in Massachusetts.

And, she told us how we can amplify our impact by working together with other communities – not just here but around the country - to develop a critical mass of people who encourage other state AGs to follow suit.

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Seven decades after JCRC was founded to provide our community with a collective voice to protect Jewish interests along with the values for our nation, and as we rise once again to confront hate and bigotry, to champion civil rights, and to fight for our own safety in an insecure world, I can’t think of a time – since those early years - when the mission of community relations felt more urgent than it does today. At its root, our work animates a simple but profound truth; that our security and self-interests are deeply intertwined with the protection of the constitutional rights and civil liberties of all of our neighbors.

We are called, once again, to recommit ourselves to these values - but now with the urgency to maintain protections hard won in decades past. As Healey urged us, now "we must do everything we can to fight the normalization of marginalization."

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

A Prayer for Our Nation

Last July, Rabbi Haskel Lookstein of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in New York accepted an invitation to deliver the invocation at the Republican National Convention. Under pressure from some members of the Jewish community, he withdrew from the event. We share with you the invocation that Rabbi Lookstein had planned to deliver last summer, and we invite you to join us today in reflection on his words, their meaning, and the call therein to us and our nation.

 

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Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Our Tradition of Dissent

Dissent: The act of expressing opinions at odds with those officially held.

In the Jewish tradition, even God handles dissent with grace.

When God tells Abraham about the plan to obliterate Sodom, Abraham objects. He bargains. God listens and negotiates, but ultimately stays the course. The city is destroyed, but the relationship between God and Abraham endures and God fulfills the promise to establish Abraham as the father of a great nation.

In the wilderness of Sinai, the daughters of Zelophehad – Mahlah, Noa, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah – come before Moses to object to God’s already announced plan for the allocation of the land of Israel. God tells Moses that “the plea is just,” and these women are given their share.

The rabbis of the Talmud also embraced debate and dissent. The houses of Hillel and Shamai vigorously argued the law. Almost always, the majority sided with Hillel. But the dissent was heard, honored, and recorded for posterity. And then the two houses would break bread together and marry their children to each other.

The examples of dissent as a valued and embraced Jewish tradition go on and on.

This weekend we celebrate the life and legacy of another great dissenter, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. King’ leadership in the civil rights movement challenged America and all Americans to aspire to live to our potential and enact our expressed values. He taught - or more accurately reminded - us, that active dissent against an unjust law was an act of moral responsibility.

Dr. King affirmed his faith’s teachings on dissent through acts of love. He taught us to embrace and explore our capacity for empathy for the other in service to bringing about a more compassionate and just world.

A half-century later, we’re still learning to embrace that vision and message.

At a time when hate is ascendant in our discourse, when journalists are bullied for questioning those with power, and when the fractures that divide our communities seem almost unbridgeable, we are called to remember our Jewish tradition’s deeply held appreciation for the expression of dissent.

Dissent with love: work for greater empathy in ourselves and others; Listen to, honor and record for posterity the voice of the dissenter; Be open to change – as even God is. And then, when the debate is done for the day, invite each other to break bread.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

We’re Proud to Celebrate: #GBJCL20

Reading and education are essential to Jewish identity and to our perseverance as a people; they are the vehicles for transmitting our tradition and living a Jewish life. As Jews of the Diaspora, we understand that the gifts of education, knowledge and reasoning were - and still are - key to our survival. For centuries, we faced discrimination and worse. Shut out of many schools and locked out of educational opportunities, we built our own. Within our own communities, often segregated from the rest of society, we educated ourselves and our children. Now, generations later, we continue to value knowledge as power, and as a means to ensuring the vibrancy and future of our people.

Recognizing that education provides access to opportunity, President Clinton embarked on an initiative over two decades ago, called America Reads. He outlined a simple but audacious plan, issuing the call to recruit one million volunteer tutors from across the country to help students learn to read by the end of third grade. Legendary social justice pioneer Leonard (Leibel) Fein, z”l jumped at the opportunity to engage the Jewish community. The intellectual architect of liberal Jewish engagement over the past many decades, Fein was a prolific writer and thought leader for the burgeoning Jewish social justice movement. His writings appeared regularly in The Forward and Moment Magazine, which he co-founded. But Fein’s work transcended the theoretical; his passion demanded that Jews act on our values in the world. He founded Mazon, a non-profit that has raised millions of dollars from the Jewish community to combat hunger.

Fein seized on Clinton’s initiative as an opportunity to mobilize the Jewish community in acting on our most cherished value; igniting the love of reading and learning. With no plan, and not a single volunteer on board, he impulsively promised to deliver the first 10,000 tutors from the Jewish community. In 1997 he approached my predecessor, Nancy Kaufman, with a bold proposal; for JCRC to be the pilot for a new National Jewish Coalition for Literacy, recruiting Boston’s primarily suburban Jews in tutoring weekly in high need urban elementary schools. Nancy sprang into action and the Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy (GBJCL) was born. Our program grew quickly, as JCRC identified leaders at area synagogues to recruit teams of volunteers within their community to work with young students throughout Greater Boston. Twenty years later, we are honored to carry on the legacy of these Jewish social justice giants and to fulfill our commitment to education as we enrich the lives of our Commonwealth’s children.

Today GBJCL continues to be a powerful vehicle; providing needed services to students and meaningful experiences to our community members, as we serve some 500 students each week of the school year, in 24 schools throughout Greater Boston. The service of our 322 volunteers extends way beyond their required weekly sessions with their assigned students. Our tutors support the whole school community in multiple ways including helping with science and book fairs, doing “read-alouds” and organizing book drives.

As we reach GBJCL’s 20th birthday, I am excited to let you know about JCRC’s year-long celebration to mark the program’s achievements and ensure its robust future. In the coming months, we will be sharing stories of the volunteers and students whose lives have been transformed through this remarkable program. We will also be hosting opportunities throughout the school year to recognize our partnerships, honor our volunteers and thank our supporters. And, we will celebrate GBJCL20 at JCRC Celebrates this spring (save the date for May 24th!)

And, if you want to experience GBJCL firsthand, visit our website for information about volunteering or setting up a team at your synagogue or company.

Wishing you a 2017 filled with the joy of reading!

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Times of Israel: After the speech: investing in peacemaking

This article was originally published on the Times of Israel Blogs.

Since the U.S. abstention at the UN Security Council and the speech by Secretary of State John Kerry, much has been said about the prospects for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. I am among those who take issue with the U.S. approach this past week. Nonetheless, for those of us who share the belief that the only way to secure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state is through the establishment of two states, one Jewish and one Palestinian, we must ask ourselves: What are we able to do today, tomorrow, and in the near term to promote and expand the potential for this outcome?

As we begin 2017 – the year marking the 70th anniversary of the UN partition that envisioned two states for two people, and the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War that reunited Jerusalem and brought the West Bank under Israel’s control – the path to peace is long and difficult. While Secretary Kerry did not offer a meaningful way forward in this moment to help make a two-state solution achievable, there is in fact plenty of activity going on in here in Boston and in Israel that needs our support if coexistence and cooperation are to thrive in a manner that expands the potential for peace:

  • The Middle East Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow (MEET), created at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, set out to answer the question: “What if the next generation of Israeli and Palestinian leaders had a history of working together, using innovative problem solving to make positive change in the Middle East?” They bring together young Israeli and Palestinian entrepreneurs for education and empowerment. MEET is incubating and investing in a bi-national cohort of innovators to lead social change.
  • The Yad B’Yad (Hand in Hand) schools are serving thousands of Jewish and Palestinian students in six Israeli cities, offering an alternative to the separate public school systems, thereby building a generation of students and parents who are committed to an environment of co-existence. Their work, including bilingual co-teaching from the earliest years, is paving the way toward a shared society for kids who are “learning together, living together.”
  • Our Generation Speaks (OGS), at Brandeis University, recognizes the deep frustration of both Israelis and Palestinians as extreme voices and opinions dominate public discourse. OGS is identifying change agents amongst youth who have not lost hope, and who want to build shared prosperity. Their high impact ventures are intended to inject optimism back into the public discourse and promote a more productive conversation regarding Israeli-Palestinian affairs.
  • Shorashim (Roots) is a grassroots joint movement in the West Bank focused on building trust and empathy between two peoples – Jews and Palestinians -currently living in that region. In just their first two years they’ve reached 13,000 people as they “endeavor to lay the groundwork for a reality in which future agreements between our governments can be built.”
  • The Peres Center For Peace, founded by Israel’s former President, of blessed memory, seeks to realize Shimon Peres’ vision for a prosperous Israel at peace with its neighbors. The Center builds economic partnerships to deepen mutual interests while encouraging cross border partnerships and interactions including agricultural projects, regional water initiatives, and technological entrepreneurship.

These examples are just a few of the many initiatives I have had the privilege to witness and experience at home in Boston or during my travels to Israel and Palestinian areas in recent years. There are many more efforts like these, each with a different focus, but a common purpose connecting them: The recognition that interaction, mutual understanding, and interdependence will support and strengthen peace when it comes, and that the potential for peace must be fostered by changing the lives of people today.

As concerned and engaged citizens we can, right now, build the foundation for a future of peace by expanding the social capital, the institutional strength, and the political space for these groups and others like them. Instead of demanding that the current political leadership negotiate in the absence of trust, we can support those who are making a difference today by building lasting relationships for accomplishing bigger dreams tomorrow.

We cannot afford to lose the hope and the possibility of a two-state solution. By supporting the vision of groups like these, we can become partners in fostering an atmosphere that will expand the potential for peace. There is no alternative.

May we bring peace in our time.

Times of Israel: Misguided Inaction Makes Peacemaking Even Harder

This article was originally published on the Times of Israel Blogs

There is one question I’ve been asked consistently this weekend: Why – given my own firm commitment to a two-state solution and my publicly expressed concerns about the coming administration’s views on this – would I so strongly reject and abhor the U.S. abstention this past Friday on UN Security Council Resolution 2334?

My disagreement with our government’s action, or lack thereof, on Friday rests in matters of policy, politics, and practical outcomes.

As a matter of policy it is true that the Obama administration’s opposition to Israel’s expansion of settlements is broadly consistent with US policy across administrations of both parties going back four decades. But this administration has pressed that opposition with a particular fervor that has been ill-placed. In 2009 the then-young administration sought and received from the Netanyahu government a ten-month freeze on construction, which the Prime Minister described as “a painful step that will encourage the peace process.” Then the Palestinian leadership once again failed their people through objections and foot-dragging (even approaching the Arab League to encourage a new invasion of Israel in 2010) thereby closing yet another window for negotiations. But still, our administration remained focused on settlements as a singular obstacle to resolving the conflict.

Many in our community have been broadly supportive of the Obama administration’s agenda in other areas. Still — even as U.S.-Israel security cooperation and aide are, today, at an all time high — I was hopeful that the next administration, of either party, would be more evenhanded in articulating the obstacles to peace. I hoped that the U.S. would vigorously address not only the actions of Israel’s government, but the failures of the Palestinian leadership: The incitement to violence and rewarding of ‘martyrs’ families; The continuous rejection in international venues of any Jewish legitimacy in our attachment to our ancient homeland; The rampant corruption and postponement of elections as the Palestinian Authority has failed at even the effort to develop a civil society in service to their people in areas under their own control.

Even in the focus on settlements the Obama administration and its allies have painted a too-broad and unproductive brush. Yes, some settlements threaten the contiguity of an envisioned Palestinian state. And every family that would need to be evacuated for peace is another traumatic and expensive task – as seen in Sinai and Gaza when Israel evacuated Israelis from those post-’67 areas in pursuit of peace. But not all areas over the Green Line are the same and the continued characterization in American and international rhetoric of them as being equal is unproductive. The Jewish Quarter of the Old City, Gilo, Gush Etzion, Ariel and Amona are very different places, with differing meaning for the Jewish people and differing impact on a future peace. The failure to address this complexity with nuance and differentiation makes the entire anti-settlement policy too readily dismissible, a caricature of oversimplification in one of the most complicated regions on earth (And the same ought be said for Israel’s government and those of us who are resolute in our commitment to this nation – we do a disservice by characterizing and defending all settlement expansion as equally valid and valuable for Israel’s future).

Politically, Friday’s action was a failure of leadership by the Obama administration, and a betrayal of its own legacy. For nearly eight years, this administration has vetoed biased and one-sided resolutions, including some very similar to this one. The 180 degree turnaround in policy – itself a rejection of a broad bipartisan consensus on the role of U.S. leadership in UN bodies – in a lame duck period, without any public advance communication of the intent, strikes many of us as motivated by something far lesser than strategic imperatives.

To judge by Ambassador Power’s own remarks after the vote, the administration knows that this resolution is unfair – thus the abstention. It comes in a body that has excelled only in its demonization of Israel above all other matters, thus making this action the fruit of a poisoned tree. That this action was ‘led’ by such exemplars of international human rights as Egypt and Venezuela only underscores the farce therein.

I appreciate that President Obama is deeply committed to advancing peace. But the way in which he has chosen to do so does no favors to the Israelis or Palestinians. The United Nations, with its biases and obsessions regarding Israel, is not the venue for advancing a solution. The failure to recognize Israel’s security concerns and legitimate connection to the land means that the resolution should not have passed. The failure to hold the Palestinian leadership explicitly and directly accountable for its role supporting terrorism will only encourage them to continue incitement and unilateral tactics.

The practical outcome of this action is that we are farther from achieving peace than we were on Friday morning. Palestinian leaders are talking of this as a launching pad for further international action against Israel, wrongly fueled by their sense that rejection and foot-dragging might actually serve their cause. Hamas is openly celebrating. Fatah is using bloody and violent imagery to thank the fourteen nations that voted for this. And in Israel, an enraged right is talking openly of annexation and pressing to take further actions to strengthen and expand settlements. Friday’s action has done nothing to move the parties closer and everything to exacerbate the conditions the next administration will face come January.

So where do we go from here?

For one thing, while we should not under-react, we don’t want to over-react either. Thoughtful analysts say that the resolution, of itself, doesn’t really change much, not least because it has no binding legal status in international law.

Further, much as I am dismayed, and even as I take note that President-elect Trump made clear his opposition to this action, we only have one government at a time and a lot can still happen in the next three weeks. Further, there have been many political leaders on both sides of the U.S. partisan divide who spoke out last week before and after the vote – and we need all of these people to stay with us in a bipartisan coalition of support for Israel’s future. Jewish activists wrongly calling President Obama an anti-Semite, or rapid and robust countermeasures by Israel, could very well have unintended consequences at a precarious moment. What is needed now is a calm and thoughtful approach; There will be time enough for reflection and lessons learned.

The path to peace seems longer and more difficult than it did just a week ago. Instead of fear and frustration, accusations and anger, the onus is on us to confront tirelessly the obstacles to peace. That UNSC Resolution 2334 is now yet another one of the obstacles to peace is itself a tarnish on the Obama legacy.

We must insist that the international community normalize relations with Israel and treat it with balance and respect. We must ensure that the strength of the U.S.-Israel bond remains a bipartisan commitment in this country. And we must never stop working, nor lose sight, or hope, for the realization of a two-state solution. The alternative is unacceptable.