Are We Supporting Israel, or the Occupation?

By Ron Skolnick on
photo of protestor holding sign saying Another Zionist Against the Occupation

When we, who love Israel, give our support to "pro-Israel" organizations, is our generosity inadvertently supporting the Occupation instead?

Each year, millions of American Jews donate billions of dollars to hundreds of Jewish organizations that deal, in whole or in part, with Israel.  These include lobbies, federations, synagogues, educational organizations, ‘Friends of’ groups and so-called ‘national defense agencies’. But once our check is in the mail, our credit card payment processed, our membership recorded, how sure are we that these organizations will promote policies that are consistent with our values and beliefs?

The vast majority of American Jews share a vision of a democratic, Jewish-majority Israel, that will be secured through a two-state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And we also believe in a pluralistic Israel, in which the equal rights of all groups will be upheld, and the equal standing of all streams of Judaism guaranteed.  

But are the organizations requesting our support equally committed to these ideals?  Do they use our support to promote our vision?  Or is our support liable to be exploited by those who would lead Israel in other directions?

The urgency of this question has risen sharply of late.  For decades, American Jews have taken comfort in the understanding that Israel always strives for peace.  But the uncomfortable truth that a growing number are recognizing is this: The government of Binyamin Netanyahu – its protestations notwithstanding – is not pursuing a two-state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

Some Israel advocates do insist, of course, that Netanyahu supports two states, and they point to his ‘Bar-Ilan speech’ of June 2009, and his government’s short-lived slowdown of West Bank settlement later that year. But the three-year record of his government – building thousands of housing units in West Bank settlements, allying with the most extreme elements in Israeli society who are dead-set against diplomacy, supporting the heart-wrenching, unjust, and unwise evictions of Palestinians from their homes, and deliberately concocting preconditions to impede negotiations – belies this intention.

Recently, the Netanyahu government deliberately sidestepped another opportunity for meaningful negotiation in Amman, Jordan, refusing to submit detailed proposals on territory and security as requested by the diplomatic Quartet.  Mr. Netanyahu once again revealed his preference for a ‘manageable Occupation’, alongside a continuing effort to deepen Israel’s footprint on the West Bank.

Israel cannot make peace on its own, of course, and some forces in the Arab and Moslem world are still not ready to accept the legitimate existence of a Jewish-majority state.  We are not naïve and do not claim that the Netanyahu government is the only recalcitrant actor in the region, or that Israel no longer faces genuine external threats. 

But we do believe that the Israeli government is obliged always to do whatever it can to promote a two-state peace, and certainly nothing that undermines it.  American Jews – the vast majority of whom support a two-state solution – have a right to expect that they can honestly vouch for the government of Israel in this regard.  But, should they find that the actions of the Israeli government contradict this goal, they must make sure that their welcome desire to support Israel is not being misdirected to reinforce the Occupation.

We suggest that American Jews begin to carefully consider these questions and take action when appropriate:

  • Does my Jewish organization stifle or encourage open conversation about Israeli government policy?  Does my synagogue make sure to include a spectrum of voices in its Israel education programming? Does it give a platform to pro-settlement or pro-annexation speakers under the banner of ‘pro-Israel’, or – worse – does it allow this point of view to monopolize the ‘pro-Israel’ title?
  • Does my Jewish organization support or oppose the expansion of settlements?  Does any part of my charitable giving reach organizations in Israel that promote settlements?
  • Does my Jewish organization provide political support for policies that stand in the way of meaningful negotiations for a two-state solution? 
  • Does the Hebrew school to which I send my children display maps showing the Green Line?  Or do my children see only the ‘Greater Land of Israel’, where the Jewish people will be a minority in a few years’ time?
  • Do I use my consumer dollars to buy from Israel within the Green Line?  Or do I spend my money on products from settlements, which are misleadingly promoted as part of ‘Buy Israel’ campaigns?
  • When I visit Israel, does the organization running my trip expose participants to a variety of perspectives? Do I participate in events in Israel or am I hosted by groups there that are billed as ‘pro-Israel’, but in reality are designed to undermine the spirit of reconciliation and negate the possibility of Israeli-Palestinian compromise?

In the year ahead, Partners for Progressive Israel will be leading the effort to help the Jewish community raise the questions and dig up the answers, so that together we can promote a vision of Israel that we share – one based on peace, freedom, democracy, justice and political and social equality, as promised by the Israeli Declaration of Independence.

Partners for Progressive Israel (formerly Meretz USA), a longstanding affiliate of the American Zionist Movement, is dedicated to the achievement of a durable and just peace between Israel and all its neighbors, especially the Palestinian people, based on a negotiated two-state solution, and to the realization of full human and civil rights, equality and social justice for all of Israel's inhabitants regardless of ethnic/religious identity, national origin, gender, or sexual orientation.

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