As a proud supporter of Israel, I had the privilege of attending the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s policy conference earlier this month in Washington, D.C. My strong connection with Israel started at a young age, with 12 years of San Francisco Jewish day school education, participation in a Zio-nist youth movement and frequent visits to the country. How-ever, it was precisely this love for Israel that led me to find elements of AIPAC’s conference deeply troubling.
A key focus was highlighting the existential threats that face Israel. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) identified threats such as Iran’s nuclear program and international efforts to delegitimize Israel, such as the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. The plenary sessions featured chilling videos of Iranian crowds shouting “Death to America! Death to Israel!” and these issues were the subjects of many breakout sessions.
Yet for all the talk of existential threats facing Israel, mention of another, arguably more pressing existential threat was nearly absent at the AIPAC plenary sessions: the failure to achieve a lasting peace deal by means of a two-state solution with the Palestinians. The longer such an agreement is delayed, the closer Israel comes to having to make the impossible, existential choice of being a Jewish state or a democratic state.
AIPAC officially supports the two-state solution. Yet the tough compromises that are a prerequisite for such a solution received little mention at the conference other than in Secretary of State John Kerry’s address. The plenary session crowd received his speech tepidly, offering not one standing ovation for any of Kerry’s remarks on the details necessary for such a deal. In fact, earlier that day, Israeli entrepreneur Yossi Vardi directly addressed the crowd’s lack of enthusiasm over mentions of a peace deal and told delegates they should not be afraid to cheer for peace with the Palestinians.
Declaring bold support for the two-state solution adheres to the principles of AIPAC as a pro-Israel organization. To be pro-Israel means to be pro–Israel’s maintenance as a Jewish and democratic state. That means being pro–two states. And being a true supporter of the two-state solution means taking an active role in making it a reality, rather than supporting the idea of it in name only.
I heard three primary critiques of Kerry’s peace efforts from AIPAC delegates throughout the weekend. The first was that while Israel is ready for peace, the Palestinians are not. Israel needs a viable partner for peace. However, as Kerry, special envoy Martin Indyk, President Barack Obama and countless others involved in the intricacies of the negotiations have maintained, for all his flaws, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is a viable partner, and may be the last one in the foreseeable future. Given this reality, it is all the more important for AIPAC to lend its influential support to these negotiations.
The second criticism I heard was that Americans do not have the right to tell Israel what is in its interest. And yet, demanding American leadership in achieving a two-state solution is not telling Israel what is in its interest, because Israel already knows it is in its interest. Kerry’s initiative is merely an effort to achieve the only solution the vast majority of Israeli leaders recognize as necessary to Israel’s retaining its status as a Jewish democracy.
Lastly, many people voiced their concerns that withdrawal from the West Bank would lead to a Hamas-like takeover, compromising Israel’s security. However, not only have Israel’s leading defense experts maintained that such a withdrawal is in Israel’s security interest, but as Kerry noted, a West Bank withdrawal would be a staged, multilateral effort, unlike the sudden unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon and Gaza. Moreover, Kerry has not only pledged that any agreement will leave Israel more, not less secure, but he has put Centcom Commander Gen. John Allen in charge of stringent security arrangements that will ensure this is so.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boldly declared at the closing plenary session that he is ready to make a “historic peace with the Palestinians” in the name of the biblical teaching u’vacharta b’chaim, to “choose life.” Actively demonstrating support for Kerry’s initiative is choosing life over perpetual struggle. This is what it means to defend the country we love. This is what it means to be pro-Israel.
Elijah Jatovsky is an alumnus of the Jewish Community High School of the Bay and attends Georgetown University, where he is co-president of the J Street U chapter.