A potentially explosive new campaign by Meretz USA has just been launched. It calls upon American Jews to urge Israel’s Housing Minister to stop building settlements, and says they have the right and the obligation to do so because they are AMERICAN CITIZENS, as well as Jews with ties to Israel. It’s the part about the American citizens that is new and different. They are saying, in their e-mail alerts: “Tell Israel’s Housing Minister: the settlements are our business, too!”
The digital campaign asks people to add their names to a letter to Ze’ev Boim, the Housing Minister who has recently announced new construction plans for three settlements beyond the Green Line in the outskirts of Jerusalem: Har Homa, Pisgat Zeev and Ramat Shlomo. Protesting settlement construction is no big deal; but these people want to develop an entirely new paradigm for the American Jewish-Israel relationship.
If you are not Jewish or haven’t been listening to the internal, communal conversation, a new paradigm might not mean much to you. But the old one has prevented too many American Jews who are appalled by continuing settlement expansion from speaking out, loudly and clearly. Trust me, the conventional Israel lobby won’t like this approach one bit. Neither, I presume, will those who resent the fact that Israel is an integral part of the identity of many American Jews, and essentially want us to stop caring about its safety and its future.
Note, especially, #2:
Declaration of Principles
It’s time to tell Israel what we think.
The old rules of Diaspora-Israel relations are no longer acceptable to us.
For decades, American Jews have been told that because we don’t vote in Israel, because we don’t fight in Israel’s wars, we have no right to criticize the Jewish state in public, we should mutely accept policies that disturb us.
The old paradigms no longer apply to us.
As American Jews who care about the safety of both Israel and the U.S., we at Meretz USA believe it is time to rethink our relationship with Israel. That doesn’t mean turning our backs on it. On the contrary, it means engaging with Israel. It means talking directly to Israeli decision makers and letting them know when we strongly disagree with their policies.
We believe that what Israel does in the occupied territories is our business, too. Here is why:
1.It is our business because we are friends of Israel and are deeply worried about its survival as a democratic Jewish state. Sometimes, the best thing one can do for friends is to speak candidly, and tell them when they are engaging in self-destructive behavior…like building new settlements in disputed West Bank territory.
2. It is our business because we are Americans, and Israeli policies directly affect our own country’s interests. In the post 9/11 world; what happens in Ramallah or Gaza City reverberates beyond the region’s borders.
The continuing occupation makes it easier for terrorists to mobilize and recruit people who would just as soon blow up Tallahassee as Tel Aviv, who want to attack American soldiers in Iraq as well as Israelis in Sderot and Ashkelon. It fans the fires of hatred against America. So any Israel policy or behavior that perpetuates the occupation makes our loved ones, friends and neighbors less safe.
3. It is our business because we share the age-old Jewish commitment to tikkun olam, to repairing the world wherever and whenever it is broken. If we see injustice, oppression and inequality anywhere in this global village, it is our duty to fight against it, whether in Darfur or the inner cities of the United States.
So it is inconceivable that Israel, the homeland of the Jewish people, will be the one place where we force ourselves to turn a blind eye to injustice, oppression and inequality. If we encounter it there, we are obligated, as Jews, to speak out.
4. It is our business because we defend Israel in the court of public opinion against those who falsely blame it for every imaginable sin, who ignore the responsibilities of Palestinians and other Arabs for ongoing regional violence and tension. But we cannot and will not defend the indefensible.
5. It is our business because Israelis who share our values –such as our partners in the Meretz party– have asked for our help, as they try to build a Jewish state that fulfills its promise to be a “light unto the nations.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.