As a rabbi, a progressive Reform Zionist, and a pro-Israel, pro-peace American, I believe that the emerging political discussion over the proper use of US security aid to Israel is important and necessary especially because President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu have turned the US-Israel relationship into a vehicle to advance their far-right ideological agendas and partisan political interests.
I am alarmed because I believe that Trump and Netanyahu have acted against the long-term security interests of Israel. The United States has given a “green light” to Israeli right-wing extremist settlement expansion and creeping West Bank annexation. Trump’s and Bibi’s actions and policies undermine hope for a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and imperil Israel’s future as a democratic homeland for the Jewish people.
We need the next US President to take strong proactive steps to reverse the damage caused by the current American and Israeli administrations. To restore American credibility in the Middle East, our next President will need to help bring Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiation table to work towards a two-state resolution of their conflict. The next President will also need a strong US-Israeli partnership to advance our shared security interests and democratic values.
To meet this monumental challenge, we American Jews need to be able to have a responsible, honest, and civil conversation about what the vital relationship between the US and Israel should be – including a discussion of how our US security aid is used.
The $3.8 billion dollars that the US provides annually to Israel helps to defend Israel against the real and urgent threats it faces and advances American interests in the region. That is why the overwhelming majority of presidential candidates and lawmakers, along with pro-Israel advocacy groups like J Street, have made clear that Israel should continue to receive the full $3.8 billion annual aid package and that it should be used exclusively for Israel’s security.
The United States has the right and responsibility to examine the specific uses to which this aid is applied. Our tax dollars should not be used to fund or support policies that undermine Israel’s security and American interests, such as settlement expansion beyond the security fence or the demolition of Palestinian homes and communities in the occupied West Bank.
If Prime Minister Netanyahu or another right-wing Israeli leader were to formally annex parts of the West Bank as Netanyahu threatened in his campaign for Prime Minister, American aid should not foot the bill. Annexation tragically would strike a blow to Israeli democracy and would signal Israel’s refusal to negotiate a two-state solution with the Palestinians. A one-state bi-national solution is unsustainable, a recipe for ongoing violence, and would mark the end of the greatest accomplishment of the Jewish people in two millennia, the establishment and flourishing of the State of Israel.
Given the often contentious nature of our American Jewish communal conversation about Israel, some have portrayed calls for transparency and responsibility as “anti-Israel,” and misrepresented these as calls to cut or reduce aid to Israel. These same right-wing voices deny even that there is an occupation and that the Israeli government bears some responsibility for the ongoing conflict and deteriorating status quo. It is vital to remember that right-wing critics represent a loud but small minority of the American Jewish community.
The vast majority of American Jews are sharply opposed to Trump’s and Netanyahu’s agenda and are worried about how their agenda damages Israel’s democracy, harms Israel’s security, and endangers Israel’s future and international standing. The majority of American Jews want our nation’s leaders to guide Israel down a better path, to oppose the occupation, and to take bold steps towards a negotiated two-state solution that preserves Israel’s Jewish and democratic character while enabling the Palestinians to fulfill their national aspirations to a state of their own alongside Israel.
It’s my strong hope that candidates for President and all our American elected officials will continue to heed the concerns, hopes, and goals of the liberal majority of American Jews that support a two-state solution. I hope they will continue as well to engage in public discussion about what our government must do to promote a better future for Israelis and Palestinians. And I hope that the Jewish people in Israel and Diaspora communities can work together as ohavei m’dinat Yisrael (lovers of the State of Israel) and rodfei shalom (pursuers of peace).