JStreet : Steven Krubiner speech to JCall, June 2011

par Steven Krubiner

 

How amazing is it to join you in this crowded room filled with passionate activists for Israel and for peace !

What a statement it makes about the emergence of a progressive European voice on Israel.

It is honor to be here with you today to learn both with you and from you as we mark J Call’s first European conference.

While we are not part of the same organization, we share the same commitment and concern for the state of Israel and its people and for our own Jewish communities and the way they engage with and discuss Israel.

I’d like to share with you a bit about what is happening with J Street on the American front of the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement.

Launched just over 3 years ago, J Street’s goals remain the same, even as events around the world are rapidly changing :

Firstly, We seek to create the political space for US leadership in helping to drive forward a regional comprehensive peace in the Middle East based on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ;

Additionally, we aim to open and broaden the conversation on Israel in the American Jewish community.

J Street was formed to provide a political voice and home that reflects the values and politics of the large segment of American Jews who care deeply about Israel, are concerned about the path it’s on, and are turned off by traditional Israel-right-or-wrong advocacy. We seek to redefine what it means to be pro-Israel in the 21st century and to continue filling a gaping vacuum in the American Jewish community and in American politics on the issue of Israel and the Middle East.

In just three short years, J Street supporters number over 175,000 supporters.

We have a vibrant grassroots-field presence in nearly 40 communities through J Street Local chapters, who organize events, discussions, and lobbying efforts in Jewish communities around the United States.

Thousands of students are engaged in J Street U on over 50 campuses and universities, changing the polarized, black-and-white, Israel-right or -wrong, climate that has turned students off to Israel. Finally students are allowed to engage with and support Israel without checking their values at Zionisms door - to quote Peter Beinart.

Over 600 rabbis have joined our rabbinic cabinet, lending their credibility and in some cases their pulpits to promoting the pro-Israel, pro-peace cause.

We have a team of 60 staff working in 8 offices around the United States.

At a time when the US economy has taken a major toll on the fundraising efforts of most organizations, including in the American Jewish community, our budget has increased nearly 5-fold since our first year to 7 million dollars today. This is not simply because of the skill of my colleagues who focus on development ; but rather, it reflects the hunger for a vehicle in the American Jewish community that supports a two state solution and has the potential to change the political calculus on the issue in Washington.

I first started at J Street as a lobbyist. I can’t tell you how many times I met with Members of Congress who support US leadership in driving a two state solution but have been politically afraid to say so outside the confines of their office. Who can blame them ? While for years they have heard voices from such groups as Americans for Peace Now and the Israel Policy Forum advocating many of the same policies that we all stand for, candidates for congress have been made to feel that the majority of American Jews only want the US to support a right wing Israel agenda.

JStreetPAC is the first political action committee to endorse and raise money for candidates running for US Congress based on their support for Israel and for American policy in the Middle East that promotes security through peace, a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and active diplomacy to address regional conflict.

In 2008, JStreetPAC emerged as the single-largest pro-Israel PAC in the country. JStreetPAC made history in 2010 by distributing over $1.5 million to 61 endorsed candidates, 2.5 times more than 2008 and the largest ever by any Pro-Israel PAC. This financial support came from an expansive fundraising network including thousands of online donors, a dozen PAC events held in cities across the country, and from our growing National Finance Committee. The PAC has demonstrated that candidates are politically and financially safe vocalizing their pro-Israel, pro-peace positions.

Meanwhile, J Street has built up a lobbying team of 6 full-time lobbyists in Washington who have built relationships with nearly every congressional office. They work daily with Members of Congress and their staff to build support for helpful legislation on our issue and to reduce the support for the one-sided, harmful legislation that had become commonplace on our issue. This is crucial for providing the White House with the political space to lead on this issue. While it remains an uphill battle, we have made multiple inroads in a short time.

The statement we’re making is being heard. Our voices are being heard.

Like you and J Call, We came to J Street because we felt such urgency over the need for a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

We know in our hearts that it’s not just the status quo in the Arab world that is bound to change, it is the status quo between Israel and the Palestinian people that has to change as well.

And the events of recent months only convince us more deeply that the time is now for a serious and sustained effort to secure an agreement that provides for a democratic homeland for the Jewish people living side by side in peace and security with a democratic homeland for the Palestinian people.

J Street aims to keep our eyes fixed on the fundamental principles that guide and shape our work :

First, we affirm our commitment to and support for the people and the state of Israel

We believe that the Jewish people - like all other people in the world - have the right to a national home of their own, and we celebrate its re-birth after thousands of years.

We marvel at Israel’s accomplishments and its position at the forefront of global innovation, technology, medicine, and so many other fields.

We value and share the democratic principles on which Israel was founded and that have guided the country for six decades - even as we acknowledge the threats to that democracy that seem to grow almost daily.

We understand that Israel has real enemies, and we defend its right to live in security and peace, within recognized boundaries and with international acceptance.

In times of true need, against those who mean it harm or aim for its destruction, make no mistake where those in this movement stand.

We are passionately and unapologetically pro-Israel.

That is our first principle : We stand proudly with and for the people and the state of Israel.

Second, we believe that the future of Israel depends on achieving a two-state resolution to the conflict with the Palestinian people.

We believe that the Palestinians too must have a national home of their own, living side by side with Israel in peace and security. As a pro-Israel movement, we believe this is in Israel’s interests. As American’s, we believe it is in America’s interests. It is right and it is just.

The time has come for Israel to choose among three things : being a Jewish homeland, remaining democratic and maintaining control over all the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean.

Israel can have only two of the three. It can only be both Jewish and democratic by giving up the land on which a Palestinian state can be built in exchange for peace. As we see it, the cause of the Palestinian people - the creation of an independent state of their own - is essential to our cause as well.

For too long, pro-Israel advocacy has defined this conflict in zero-sum terms, as “us versus them,” a conflict in which there can be only one winner.

Our second principle is that being pro-Israel doesn’t require an “anti.” Israel’s long-term security actually depends on fulfilling the aspirations of the Palestinian people through a two-state solution.

Third, Israel’s supporters have not only the right but the obligation to speak out when we think the policies or actions of the Israeli government are hurting Israel or harming the long-term interests of the Jewish people.

We do not revel in criticizing Israel. We do it with a heavy heart.

However, we believe it is possible - even easy - to distinguish between criticizing the policies of the government of Israel and questioning the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own.

Those who seek to silence criticism of Israeli governmental policy in the name of fighting de-legitimization of Israel are making an enormous mistake.

Of course, we will fight anti-Semitism and to oppose those who deny Israel’s right to exist.

But we absolutely will not stand by quietly as the present Israeli government charts a course that erodes its Jewish character, undermines its democratic principles and leads to international isolation.

It is not criticism of Israeli policy that threatens the health of the state of Israel, but the policies being implemented by this particular government and the silence or indulgence that too many in the American Jewish establishment choose when vigorous protest of those policies is called for.

As a fourth core principle, we believe that vibrant but respectful debate over Israel benefits the American Jewish community.

The debate over Israel in our community stirs deep emotions and passionate argument. But this is nothing we cannot handle.

Strong and vibrant debate have characterized the Jewish people for millennia.

Those who believe there is only one acceptable view on Israel - theirs - should not be allowed to impose constraints on what constitutes acceptable speech in the Jewish community. To the extent that the doors of the Jewish community are barred to those who question conventional wisdom on Israel, the Jewish establishment is putting the future of the community at risk.

The attacks on those who hold non-conforming views partially explain why the younger generation is distancing itself not simply from Israel but from traditional institutions in the community.

There is a comparably dangerous effort to shut down debate and dissent taking place today in Israel. Anti-democratic legislation poses major challenges to the very fiber of what the state was founded on and seeks to limit who is Jew, who is a loyal Israeli, as well as who is pro-Israel. That’s why we are especially supportive of the Israeli voices of the political and civil society leadership who demonstrate true political courage by standing up for our shared principles and our common interest in a two-state solution.

Our community values open discussion and hearing perspectives that challenge conventional wisdom in a civil and respectful manner. It is part of our Jewish identity.

The fifth principle underlying our movement is to ground our work in the values on which we were raised.

Peter Beinart has challenged American Jews to decide whether it is possible both to engage in a warm relationship with Israel and to remain true to the values we hold most dear as Jews and as Americans.

J Street exists because so many of us believe that not only is this possible, it is essential.

The values on which we were raised are central to who we are as a people : the principle that you don’t treat someone the way you wouldn’t want to be treated yourself, basic notions of justice and freedom, the pursuit of peace, and tikkun olam - seeking to make the world a better place.

These values are central to our identity. They make us proud of our heritage and faith. And we will, as a movement, give voice to them when it comes to Israel.

It is our values and our principles that ensure that our feet stay firmly planted in the center of the Jewish community. And from that center we will lead.

In the past month alone, we have brought J Street’s leadership, members of congress, and J Street U students to Israel, the Palestinian Territory, and Egypt to give them a better sense of the urgency on the ground.

This summer, with rapid changes sweeping through the Middle East, a potential UN vote on Palestinian statehood, and right wing activists holding provocative rallies in Jerusalem to oppose any serious peace effort, J Street has launched a campaign called : The Two State Summer.

Whether by hosting house meetings in communities around the US, spreading the word to friends or signing a postcard to respective Members of Congress, we are rallying support throughout the United States for a two-state solution and a democratic, secure, Jewish Israel.

We are bringing authoritative Israeli voices to Washington and around the country to highlight to US officials and the American Jewish community that there are credible, sensible, and deeply Zionistic voices who are desperate for a two state solution not as a favor to the Palestinians, not because the US President wants one, but because it is an existential, urgent Israeli interest. Through speaking tours, conference calls, and multimedia videos, we will make sure that these Israeli voices are heard and supported loudly and clearly.

As students on campus, as rabbis from the pulpit, as voters and citizens in our communities - J Street attempts to lead in the United States.

We will lead toward a two-state solution because we care deeply about Israel and about the Palestinian people.

We will lead toward greater freedom in American politics to talk about Israel and the Middle East because we care about the interests of the United States.

We will lead toward a more open conversation and vigorous debate about Israel because we care about the long-term health of the Jewish community.

This is our mission. This is our calling. And it is the reason for the tremendous growth of our movement. We are delighted by the emergence of J Call and look forward to working in our respective contexts and at times together for the future of a secure and democratic Israel, with defined borders as the homeland of the Jewish people. Thank you.