Getting Our Priorities In Order

Late last week, 15 Christian leaders from multiple denominations wrote to Congress urging measures that could potentially cut American military aid to Israel. J Street disagrees with the letter’s proposal that Congress reconsider aid, and takes issue with its lack of nuance. We also believe it raises important issues that deserve our community’s serious attention.

J Street opposes proposals to condition or cut security assistance to Israel. American assistance to Israel, including maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge, is important to efforts to achieve peace, providing Israel with the confidence and assurance to move toward a resolution of the conflict based on land for peace. J Street consistently advocates for robust US foreign aid to Israel, and J Street also strongly supports continued aid to the Palestinian Authority, which is essential to Israeli security.

As with so many efforts to address this complex situation, the letter fails to weigh criticism of Israel's behavior with appropriate criticism of, for instance, rocket fire from Gaza into Israeli civilian areas, and it fails to put the present situation into a historical or political context that might provide a fuller appreciation for the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over many decades. We also question the timing of the letter – coming as it does a few short weeks before Election Day, when this sensitive issue has already become too much of a political football.

That said, the letter from Christian leaders raises important issues that deserve attention from both the United States government and the American Jewish community. In particular, we share the leaders' concern that conditions in the region are deteriorating to the point where they “threaten to lead the region further away from the realization of a just peace, ” though we do not believe that cutting Israel’s military aid will help get us to such a resolution.

All those who hope to see a peaceful and just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – whatever their faith or nationality – should work in the days and months immediately following the U.S. election on forcefully urging both Congress and the next US administration to undertake a serious effort to resolve the conflict now, before it is too late.

To those who despair of bringing two recalcitrant and weary parties to a resolution of their conflict, we say that only a bold effort led by the United States and the international community can achieve a vision of two states for two peoples living side by side in peace and security. We need to work together – Christians, Jews, Muslims and others – to press Congress and the next president of the United States to work toward that goal – not through threats to cut aid and punitive measures, but through the kind of diplomacy that only a good friend can leverage.

To the organized American Jewish community, we say the time has come to put at least as much energy and effort into urging American and Israeli leaders to take the necessary steps to achieve a two-state solution now as our community puts into fighting efforts like this new letter.

The gravest threat to the long-term security and survival of a democratic and Jewish Israel comes not from a letter like this, but from the underlying situation that prompted it in the first place. There will be many more letters like these, and far more significant efforts to exert pressure on Israel, until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict reaches a just conclusion and the citizens of both Israel and a new state of Palestine are able to live in mutual respect, peace and security.