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The Israeli government has a history of responding to concerted pressure by the American Jewish community. Usually, such pressure has focused on questions of religious pluralism within Israel. But if the most visible leaders of the American Jewish community made clear that we want settlement to stop, and real peace talks to begin, perhaps the Israel government would be moved to listen. As a community, we invest millions of dollars a year in Israeli society, and work hard to ensure bilateral support for a safe and secure Israel.
U.S. elected officials have demonstrated time and again their willingness to heed American Jewish leaders on matters relating to Israel. Today, Jewish leaders have the opportunity to tell our elected officials that we believe that the long-term safety and security of Israel as a Jewish state depends on maintaining a path to peace.
Within our own communities, Jewish leaders must do a better job of helping our constituents to understand the hard choices that will no doubt be required for a lasting peace.
This standoff takes place in the week that Jewish communities read the Torah portion that tells the story of the painful split between Joseph and his brothers. This is a story in which every character abdicates responsibility for his own contribution to the family rift. Jacob openly shows favoritism to his son Joseph. Joseph flaunts his role as favorite son. The brothers seize an opportunity to sell Joseph into slavery in Egypt.
But the story doesn’t end here. After Joseph achieves his position as second-in-command to Pharaoh, his brothers journey to Egypt in search of food to sustain them during a famine. Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, and they shudder with fear. They assume that their now-powerful brother will take revenge on them for their betrayal of years before. Instead, Joseph seizes the opportunity for leadership. He reconciles with his brothers, provides them with food, and finds them a safe place to live. By moving beyond blame, Joseph succeeds in achieving a lasting peace with his former adversaries.
Within the American Jewish community, we are good at pointing fingers to explain why we have not yet achieved peace between Israelis and Palestinians. We blame the Palestinian leadership for their internal fractures, for their failure to accept previous peace deals, for the unjustifiable terrorism that marked the Second Intifada, and for the approach to the U.N. There’s certainly reason to say that the Palestinians and their leadership have made mistakes. But pointing fingers gets us no closer to any resolution of conflict.
I am proud to call myself a Zionist. For me, Zionism means the right for Jews to live in a safe and secure state in the Land of Israel. It means that we have a refuge from oppression and a promise that the Holocaust cannot happen again. But Zionism also means taking hold of history. For thousands of years, history was something that happened to the Jewish people. Other nations invaded our land, expelled us, and massacred us. Zionism offers a new possibility, in which Jews make our own history. This new power demands that we refuse to stand back and simply blame others — even when others make mistakes. Instead, we should always be asking ourselves what we can do to create a better future for our own people and others.
Today, it is time for those of us who consider ourselves Jewish leaders to take leadership by demanding that Israel protect human rights and preserve the possibility of long-term peace.
Rabbi Jill Jacobs is the Executive Director of Rabbis for Human Rights-North America. Her most recent book is “Where Justice Dwells: A Hands-on Guide to Doing Social Justice in Your Jewish Community” (Jewish Lights, 2011).