On Tuesday night, President Obama declared that “we have cleared the rubble of crisis,” and “the state of our union is stronger.” He mentioned gun violence, the minimum wage, climate change and even 3D printers in Youngstown, Ohio. He mentioned the tumult in Egypt, the nuclear crisis in Iran and the civil war in Syria.
But when it came to our best friend, Israel — the nation we shower with billions of dollars in aid as it silently occupies the homes of millions of people — the president had little to offer: “And we will stand steadfast with Israel in pursuit of security and a lasting peace.”
“Steadfast” is a good word to describe the attitude U.S. leaders take when talking about Israel. The New Oxford American Dictionary defines it as “resolutely or dutifully firm and unwavering.” In other words, Israel can occupy land for an eternity, deny self-determination to millions of innocent people, and we’ll still support them.
As dangerous and shallow as this policy position may seem, it isn’t hard to see how it developed. Organizations such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which claim to represent America’s Jewish population, have made unyielding support of Israel a mainstream policy position.
It makes sense, then, that when Obama nominated someone like Chuck Hagel — a Republican who hinted at the idea that Israel has committed war crimes — there was a national outcry to remove his name from consideration. It also makes sense that when Obama suggested that the pre-1967 borders should be a baseline for negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, he was immediately labeled anti-Israel.
In reality, American Jews are not in line with Obama’s idea of steadfast support of Israel. Polls show that nearly 70 percent of American Jews support the U.S. engaging with the Palestinian government to achieve a peace agreement with Israel, and 60 percent oppose the expansion of settlements in the West Bank.
Fortunately, this coalition of Jews now has a place to turn. J Street U, a new student organization emerging on campuses all across the country, is committed to pursuing “American leadership in facilitating a negotiated, two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” In the past few weeks, Binghamton University has started a chapter of its own.
Jews are just as politically diverse as any group of Americans and it is not fair or acceptable for radical groups to claim a monopoly on an entire constituency.
Pro-peace Americans devoted to rational, open discussion regarding one the lengthiest conflicts in history deserve more than a narrow discussion that considers any dissenting views to be extreme and unacceptable. It’s time for Congress, and our president, to embrace the candid discussion that Americans demand and deserve.