By Ira Chernus
Originally posted 11/20/12 at Religion Dispatches
The Crisis of Zionism
by Peter Beinart
Times Books (March 27, 2012)
Embracing Israel/Palestine: A Strategy to Heal and Transform the Middle East
by Michael Lerner
North Atlantic Books (November 22, 2011)
It’s a great time to be an Jewish American activist working for Middle East peace.
I know that sounds strange. Israel is once again devastating Gaza. The Palestinian death toll is rising steadily. Even the more liberal Jewish-American groups like the Reform movement and J Street were at least initially sympathetic to Israel’s attack on Gaza, despite the fact that the attack (no doubt intentionally) destroyed a real chance for peace with Hamas.
Despite talk of a truce, on every front the Israel-Palestine peace process seems dead in the water. There is no indication that the Obama administration, preoccupied with so many other things, will spend precious political capital to try to revive it. Israel’s right-wing leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, seems set to win another term as prime minister and continue blocking the path to peace.
Well over 70% of American Jews want a two-state solution. Those I talk to generally want Israel to make significant concessions toward a just peace, but all the depressing facts on the ground leave them feeling frustrated, disheartened, and often tempted to give up. They can find nothing to be optimistic about.
That’s usually a function of their time frame. Most arrived at their current position only some time in the 21st century—many in the last four or five years. Before their change of heart, most weren’t even aware of the decades-old Jewish-American peace movement, so they can only compare the situation now with what it was a few years ago when they joined the effort for peace with such high hopes. Naturally they are disheartened.
But for those of us who have been involved in this work for decades, the huge increase in our numbers in recent years is sufficient cause for optimism—not necessarily about Middle East peace, since we know our efforts may come to naught, but about the Jewish American community itself. We spent many years as marginalized voices in the wilderness. Some felt lucky to be merely ignored and not actively vilified. Others preferred to be vilified, because that meant at least someone was paying attention to our (at the time) heretical views.
Now the heresy—Israel should end the occupation and actively pursue a just peace—has entered the mainstream of Jewish life as a common, though still highly debated, view. The mere fact that it is debated in nearly every institutional Jewish setting is an enormous transformation of Jewish life. That’s why I feel so optimistic.
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