Originally published in Tikkun Daily
Israel's Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has obliterated what it means to be 'pro-Israel,' setting Israel on a course towards national suicide which many mainstream American Jewish organizations seem intent on enabling.
However, I and many others refuse to stand idly by as Israel self-destructs, understanding that to truly be 'pro-Israel' now means to be 'pro-pressure' – to champion nonviolent measures capable of forcing Israel to change from without, including those initiated by the Obama administration.
The phrase 'pro-Israel' over the years has come to signify supporting Israel as a Jewish, democratic state. In other words, it has been synonymous with support for the two-state resolution for Israel/Palestine and opposition to a single-state outcome. It has been synonymous with championing self-determination for both Palestinians and Israeli Jews.
However, in a 24-hour period leading up to and during Israel's latest elections, Netanyahu concretized with his words what his actions already established: an Israel committed to perpetual occupation and discrimination. An Israel committed to a right-wing version of single statehood. An Israel committed to national destruction.
He did so by formally rejecting Palestinian statehood, embracing perpetual occupation and settlement expansion, and employing racists rants about Palestinian citizens "coming out in droves to the polls." By doing so, he was rewarded with a striking victory and mandate which will likely lead to the most right-wing Israeli government in its history. It's an outcome many in Israel's own security establishment feared as more dangerous than any enemy, an outcome some think will inevitably lead to full, national apartheid.
Many Americans and diaspora Jews are, for the first time, realizing this, thanks to Netanyahu's racist rhetoric and rejection of two states. Which is why 'pro-Israel' can no longer mean supporting Israel's government. Indeed, for many it now means strongly opposing it, with being 'pro-Israel' meaning to be 'pro-pressure,' to back measures which will force Israel to change from without before it destroys itself from within.
As an American Jew invested in Israel and Palestine's future, I now formally consider myself to be a 'pro-pressure' Jew. Allow me to explain:
As one invested in both a viable Israel and a viable Palestine, I have long understood that Israel is incapable of extricating itself from those policies destroying it, those policies which simultaneously have oppressed Palestinians and denied them basic rights for decades. My critiques of Israel have always stemmed from an effort to shift public opinion in the U.S. such that politicians might do what they know must be done: pressure Israel to disengage from its asymmetrical military occupation, remove settlements and truly establish a viable peace.
Now, with Netanyahu declaring his opposition to two states and Israel's voters embracing such opposition electorally, we have finally arrived at a point in which such pressure may be brought to bear upon Israel by the only entity truly capable of influencing its policy: the United States government. Indeed, the White House has indicated that it may now abandon Israel at the U.N., and that its support for Israel's position has been "eroded" by what has transpired recently. Why now, when Israel's actions have consistently worked to erode the possibility of two states? The answer reveals why words matter in politics, for Israel's policies have finally been articulated to be in opposition to official U.S. policy. Israel has elected a man who said, in no uncertain terms, that official U.S. policy and the desires of mainstream American Jewish organizations is in opposition to his plans for Israel: a single state with perpetual occupation.
As an American Jew, I fully support the Obama administration using any peaceful policy means necessary to force Israel to change the inevitable, self-destructive course it has chosen. And I support any nonviolent mode of pressure which might save the two-state ideal – an ideal which I believe to currently be dead, and which can only be revived by the cessation of Israel's occupation and removal of settlements, making way for states to be formed on 1967 borders.
Peter Beinart in Haaretz articulated his call for the "pressure process" to replace the now-impossible peace process:
Our principle should be this: Support any pressure that is nonviolent and consistent with Israel’s right to exist. That means backing Palestinian bids at the United Nations. It means labeling and boycotting settlement goods. It means joining and amplifying nonviolent Palestinian protest in the West Bank. It means denying visas to, and freezing the assets of, Naftali Bennett and other pro-settler leaders. It means pushing the Obama administration to present out its own peace plan, and to punish — yes, punish — the Israeli government for rejecting it. It means making sure that every time Benjamin Netanyahu and the members of his cabinet walk into a Jewish event outside Israel, they see Diaspora Jews protesting outside. It means loving Israel more than ever, and opposing its government more than ever. It means accepting that, for now at least, the peace process is over and the pressure process must begin.
Generating such pressure has always been an uphill battle, with major American Jewish organizations and lobbyist groups, such as AIPAC, shielding Israel from consequences related to its policies. Such organizations, which officially support two states, have been able to do so by pointing to the Palestinians and saying, There is no partner for peace
and prattling on about shared values
However, these organizations can no longer do so as American Jews seethe at Netanyahu's undemocratic, racist rants about Palestinians going to the polls and his rejection of two states. Indeed, such organizations were met with incredulity and anger after congratulating Netanyahu on his "vibrant" victory and diluting his election proclamations as mere campaign rhetoric.
In a significant moment revealing the fracturing already taking place within the American Jewish community, the Conservative Movement's Rabbinical Assembly broke Jewish organizations' silence on Netanyahu by forcefully rejecting his racism and calling upon Jews to take action:
Against this backdrop of the otherwise complacent Jewish community stood the Conservative Movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, which is hardly known as a liberal marker of the Jewish community. In a harshly worded statement, the group’s president Rabbi William Gershon and its executive vice president Rabbi Julie Schonfeld issued a call to the Jewish community to take action:
“We must condemn the Prime Minister’s statement, singling out Arab citizens for exercising their legitimate right to vote,” they wrote. “It is incumbent upon Jews around the world to denounce the Prime Minister’s divisive and undemocratic statement and we do so here.”
Schonfeld told the Forward she was “extremely concerned” by the lack of rage within the Jewish community. “Each one of us rushes to the ramparts with any suggestion that we would be singled out as Jews,” she said, stressing that Netanyahu’s comment singled out Israeli Arabs.
This is the new 'pro-Israel,' to take action in the face of Israel's march toward national suicide, to speak up against the occupation, to support pressuring Israel to disengage from Netanyahu's single-state march toward inequality, discrimination and perpetual oppression.
This is what it means to be 'pro-pressure.'
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, recently published by Oneworld Publications.
At this weekend's J Street conference in Washington, D.C., many speakers have confronted Netanyahu's racism and the rejection of two states, including Palestinians invited to address attendees – with all receiving warm ovations.