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A ‘no’ vote on Israel’s 75th

Congressman Jared Huffman, a Democrat from California, was one of 19 members of Congress who voted against the just-adopted Congressional resolution recognizing the 75th anniversary of Israel’s independence. Since I’ve known the Congressman for a good number of years, and since we’ve exchanged views on Israel over the years, I wrote him to express my feelings. Here is the letter:

Hi, Jared.  I hope you are doing well.

As you know from reading my blog, I am highly critical of the current Israeli government’s assault on Israel’s exemplary and independent judiciary and its democracy. While you and I may disagree on some details, approaches, and who is at fault at times, I am also a strong supporter of a separation between Israel and the Palestinians and recognition of a Palestinian state, although I have no doubt that it will not be democratic and it very likely will bring us more violence, not peace.  I simply do not want to be responsible for another people. I want them to achieve their own aspirations and be responsible for themselves.

Having said all that, here I am today on Israel’s 75th anniversary preparing to welcome friends for a celebratory barbeque. Millions of my fellow Israelis will be doing the same. There is a simple reason for that: regardless of our many challenges and our shortcomings, there is so much to celebrate here.

After two thousand years of being the doormat of the peoples of the world, persecuted, tortured, dehumanized, and denied sanctuary by virtually every nation where we tried to live, culminating in the nearly successful and intentional murder of our entire people, we have reconstituted a free, Jewish, democratic, flourishing nation in our ancestral homeland.

We restored our language. We defend ourselves in a very precarious neighborhood.  We’ve pioneered a new, unique and fascinating culture. We make untold contributions to the world in literature, culture, science, music, and on and on. In short, we punch way above our weight. We’ve ingathered and provided a safe and prosperous home to millions of Jews from Africa, the Arab world, Europe, and the former Soviet Union.

Despite extraordinary challenges, we are home to about two million Israeli Arab citizens. They live with equal rights and in peace and security. They are not without legitimate complaints which many Israelis, Arab and Jews, strive to ameliorate. I and millions of other Israeli Jews interact with them peacefully and civilly on almost a daily basis.

Although we sometimes fall short, we strive to make peace with our neighbors. And we have been successful with a good number. We have not yet come to a resolution with our Palestinian neighbors, but many of us still aspire to do so.

In short, Israel is undoubtedly a resounding success! It is a miracle, albeit one borne of ashes, unbridled determination, and the goodwill and support of many around the world, most of all Americans and the United States of America.

With that perspective, and knowing you personally for a good number of years now, I cannot tell you how much it pained me to see your “No” vote on the bi-partisan resolution recognizing the 75th anniversary of the birth of the reconstituted Israeli nation, my people’s nation.

I know the resolution did not have everything you and I would have liked in it, i.e. reference to peace with the Palestinians and a two-state solution. How many times did you vote for legislation in the California Assembly and the US Congress that did not have everything you wanted in it?

I also know that the resolution is only “symbolic.” But, that’s the point. The resolution has no practical impact with or without the references you and I would have liked included. Yet, you felt you could not overlook this one shortcoming to join in honoring and celebrating the most significant achievement and joy, the guarantor of every Jew’s safety after 2,000 years of having no such guarantor, the reconstituting of the nation of the Jewish people and the creation of a place where we can live safely, charting our own destiny, creating the future we want for our children?

Despite my worries about Israel’s future, and despite the fact that I will be back out demonstrating in support of our democracy within a few hours or days, today I will be celebrating an unbelievable achievement: the 75th anniversary of a free, democratic, miraculous Jewish nation. I want you to know what a painful disappointment it is that you did not see fit to join with me and my people in this celebration.

Best regards,

Alan

Congressman Huffman kindly responded promptly to my letter. Below is what he said, and below that is my response:

‘Here is the statement I put out on the vote, which may provide some missing context:

“For many years, I have consistently supported resolutions, bills and foreign aid commitments that affirm the close relationship and strategic alliance the United States has always had with the state of Israel.  I was prepared to support H.Res. 311, as well, until I discovered two significant problems.  First, unlike previous resolutions, H.Res 311 conspicuously omits any reference to supporting a two-state solution.  And second, instead of acknowledging what is currently happening to democracy and the rule of law in Israel, the resolution praises the Israeli government’s commitment to our “shared values” and “democracy.”  Even though I am a longstanding supporter of the US-Israel relationship, I cannot in good conscience support a resolution that is so tone deaf regarding the actual state of “democracy” and our “shared values,” which are under assault by the current rightwing government in Israel.  Pretending that everything is just fine with democracy and the rule of law in Israel is an insult to the hundreds of thousands of brave Israeli citizens who have taken to the streets in protest because they know their democracy and our “shared values” are in jeopardy.  I stand in solidarity with those protestors, and believe Congress should follow the lead of President Biden and other world leaders who are conveying grave concerns about the Netanyahu government’s radical agenda, not gaslighting and pretending everything is fine.”’

My response to the Congressman’s response:

“Thanks for your quick response. I appreciate it, but I am still very disappointed.

 I am one of those “hundreds of thousands of brave Israeli citizens who have taken to the streets in protest because they know their democracy and our “shared values” are in jeopardy.”  I do not feel, and I know that my friends who are also protesting do not feel that you “stand in solidarity” with us by voting against this resolution marking our independence.  It makes me and them fear that you and the others who voted against the resolution are abandoning us, not supporting us.”

Yes, our democracy is under attack (as it is in many countries, including the U.S.—will you not be celebrating the Fourth of July?  Did you not celebrate it during the Trump Administration) but there are hundreds of thousands if not millions of Israelis fighting to preserve it, and it is still very much alive and vibrant today.  We stopped the passage of the legislation prior to the Passover break, and we are going out to demonstrate at the President’s Residence tonight!  You could have just as easily signed on to the resolution that marked this wonderous occasion and that showed U.S. solidarity with Israel, and then issued a statement expressing your concerns about the attack on the judiciary and your solidarity with those of us who are fighting to defend our democracy.  I am sorry you did not see your way to doing that.

About the Author
Alan Edelstein made Aliyah in 2011 and lives in Jerusalem. He was the founding partner of a well-respected California government affairs firm and was involved in California government and politics as a lobbyist and consultant for 30 years. He blogs at www.edelsteinrandomthoughts.com. He can be reached at [email protected]