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A message from a staunch Zionist to the Israeli people

The current negotiations may be the last clear chance to preserve the country as the Jewish, democratic state

I began my commitment to Zionism before most of you reading this were born. So I send you this message as a long-standing friend of Israel who has supported its creation and growth, who has invested heavily in its industries – time, effort and money – and its institutions. For over 25 years, I have been actively pursuing the position that Israel must separate itself from the Palestinians, ultimately by resolving the issues between them through establishing two separate states.

As I got older I began to fully appreciate the reasons for the great drive by the Jewish people for a homeland of their own. I learned how my father’s family fled Russia to avoid growing anti-Semitism and pogroms and I studied the history of how Jews were mistreated throughout history and cast out of country after country – Spain, England, France, Austria, various Arab lands – even as they thought they were becoming accepted. I witnessed anti-Semitism in the America of my youth, in quotas for Ivy League colleges and medical schools and ugly words about Jews even in the daily newspapers. But most of all, I watched what was happening to the Jews in Germany and countries conquered by the Germans, when no nation, not even my own, was willing to offer sanctuary to significant numbers of those Jews, even to the point that in 1939 Hitler used that reluctance in a speech to attempt to legitimize the Nazi program of expulsion.

You can imagine how excited and proud we American Jews were in 1947 when the UN, with American backing, voted for partition. Finally, after thousands of years of being treated like underclass members of various nations, we Jews had a state of our own – a safe haven for the Jewish people the world over. A haven that was proven effective as Israel, living up to our dream, accepted and integrated refugees from Arab states and over a million refugees from the former Soviet Union and from other countries.

Oh, how proud we were when Israel defeated the combined Arab forces in 1967 and held them off again in 1973. And how proud we have been to watch Israel develop into a major economic engine, demonstrating the ability of Jews not only to govern themselves, but to build a highly successful nation and culture that is the envy of nations.

I am writing to you now because I am afraid once more for the future of the Jewish people. I am afraid that, if Israel chooses the wrong course, that choice will endanger all that you have succeeded in building and all that you and we dreamed of and worked for. After the 1967 victory, a pattern of ambitious nationalism has emerged in Israel, for some inspired by messianic belief that seeks to encompass the territories inhabited by Palestinians. Such a wrong course based on religious nationalism puts Israel in danger of losing its singular Jewish character and starting down the path toward a bi-national state.

And do not be fooled. Israel will not be able to continue as a Jewish state if it encompasses the Palestinian land and people. Announcing that Israel is a Jewish state, even pressuring the Palestinian leaders to say that it is a Jewish state, will not assure that it actually continues as a Jewish state if a large part of the population is Palestinian. That growing population will not forever be denied voting rights. The history of South Africa has demonstrated how the nations of the world can force a country accused of apartheid to change its behavior and grant voting power to a large disenfranchised population. And if that point is ever reached, Israel will pay a very heavy price. One is the alliance between Israel and the United States that is built on strongly shared democratic values. If Americans see those values eroding on the Israeli side, that alliance will weaken. Despite all their wishes, pro-Israel American Jews will no longer be able to defend Israel.

The current negotiations may be the last clear chance to save a two-state solution. Israeli people should encourage the Prime Minister and the parties in power to make every effort to separate Israel from the Palestinians and their land, and to avoid being ensnared in a bi-national state or other form that involves annexation or incorporation of the Palestinians in the land of Israel.

Many leading American Jews representing a broad spectrum of political and denominational affiliations are publicly declaring their support for your government’s decision to enter the peace process negotiations. We are greatly concerned about Israel’s future and will do all that we can so that Israel remains a Jewish, democratic state, a haven for Jews everywhere and an example to the world of what a great nation a Jewish state can be. In the final analysis, of course, it is up to you as citizens of Israel to decide on your nation’s course of action.

About the Author
Robert K. Lifton, a board member of the Israel Policy Forum, was president of the American Jewish Congress, a founder and president of Israel Policy Forum, and co-chair of the Middle East Project of the Council on Foreign Relations. His memoirs, titled “An Entrepreneur’s Journey: Stories From A Life In Business And Personal Diplomacy,” have been published by AuthorHouse.
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