Last spring, an event galvanized a segment of American Jews like no other. People knew it was going to change their lives and they wanted to stop it. There were weeks of Facebook comments decrying it. Petitions were launched. The Jewish community became galvanized.
You remember - the Trader Joe's supermarket chain announced that its chocolate chips would no longer be certified as kosher pareve (containing no dairy or meat products), and would instead be kosher dairy.
As much as this affected some people's lives (kosher dietary laws forbid consuming meat and dairy products at the same meal), how many became as indignant over the daily violations of Jewish law taking place in Israel and the West Bank? Imagine if the continued building of settlement outposts on Palestinian-owned land, the defacing of mosques by Jews, and attacks on IDF soldiers by settlers could cause as much buzz as little bits of chocolate!
Buzz can lead to action. That's "people power," --a real and effective tool in changing an unacceptable status quo. We at Americans for Peace Now (APN) harness people power in order to end Israel's rule over the Palestinians through a negotiated settlement leading to two states for two peoples. With APN's help, people are learning about the increasingly anti-democratic atmosphere in Israel that stems from its 45-year occupation of the Palestinians. It is impossible to avoid knowing that the occupation will eventually make Israel choose whether it wants to be a democracy or a Jewish state, because with a Palestinian population as large as the Jewish population, it can't be both. A recent poll by B'nai B'rith International found that most Israelis want their country to be Jewish and democratic. The radical right has no answer to that.
This trend scares our opponents. It undermines their attacks on the two-state solution. It exposes them as more concerned about retaining land and building settlements than about retaining Israel's democratic and Jewish character. And so they spend a lot of money to obscure these inconvenient truths with hasbara, spin.
The Talmud says that so great is human dignity that in order to preserve it, one can violate commandments found in the Torah. I called this to mind as I watched a video this summer of an Israeli border policeman violating this humane dictum by kicking a 9-year-old Palestinian boy. The seeds planted by the occupation have borne fruits of malice. We have seen how what started as a fear for survival has turned into fear of "the Other."
It isn't just the radical right, but too many Jews in general who hesitate to publically criticize Israel. Hasbara that shows the very real good side of Israel, but ignores what needs correcting, causes too many of us to forget not only our love for Israel, but our duty. That's not to say we should single out Israel by any means. We must understand Palestinian complicity and intransigence in the conflict, and accept that Israel has real enemies. Yes -- it takes two to tango (that's not from the Talmud) and the Jewish tradition understands that you can't blame someone else for events you have set in motion yourself. Yes --Israel can do more by doing less -- less settlement building, less occupation, and less control over another people. Less --leading, of course, to none-- the conditions Israel must deploy for a two-state solution.
It is my belief that Israel is not "a state like any other," but one which carries a deep moral purpose, which means that we cannot tolerate the depravity of, theft from, or violence and discrimination against, others. The land itself demands from each of us the greatest generosity toward one another and toward our neighbors.
That's why I invite you, at the beginning of this New Year, to join Americans for Peace Now. APN is the American voice for a negotiated two-state settlement with the Palestinians that would end Israel's 45-year occupation of another people and grant verifiable security to the Jewish State. APN will be your resource for up-to-the-minute information on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Encourage your friends, family and colleagues to take advantage of our extensive resources as well.
All of us are ready and willing to come to your community and speak the truth. We want to show you how a two-state solution really is possible. We want to show you why peace is the only real guarantor of Israel's security. And we want to give you the tools to help make it happen. One of these tools is our mobile app which shows you where settlements are being built. And our "They Say/We Say" brochure is a survival handbook for responding to critics and understanding the pro-peace point of view. Go to our website (www.peacenow.org) for these and other critical resources.
APN is the U.S. sister organization of Peace Now (Shalom Achshav) in Israel. APN provides nearly half of the funding for Israel"s Peace Now movement and helps make possible the actions, research and legal advocacy that assist our patriotic counterparts in Israel: to keep the hope alive for peace and a two-state solution. And if there is news about the settlements that the Israeli government does not want you to know about, it is likely to have emanated from Peace Now's Settlement Watch.
One may still disagree about many things in Jewish life and in Israel. But surely we must all agree that Jews spraying graffiti on mosques is wrong. That Jews attacking IDF soldiers is wrong. That soldiers kicking small children is wrong.
These are the "fruits" of the occupation.
We should neither be afraid of the truth nor allow it to be obscured. In my case, the truth has allowed me to honestly admit and accept the problems that Israel faces. And this has led me to discover an even more valuable truth: people really can unite, act, and ultimately change things for the better.
We have seen over and over again that when the American Jewish community speaks loudly and united in action, stuff happens. We need your help --Jewish or not-- to be heard. I close by writing that on Rosh Hashanah, we read the stories of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Hagar and Ishmael. They are stories of strife, pain and self-sacrifice. At the end, though, half-brothers Isaac and Ishmael come together to bury their father, and perhaps to bury the hatchet as well.
That choice is ours too. This year, for all the right reasons, with our rich Jewish traditions guiding us, let us make sure that our causes are larger and more vital than chocolate chips.