What I told AIPAC: Pro-Israel doesn’t mean pro-settlement

I came here from my beloved country, Israel, a country we all love greatly. A country that much like America, is under a sharp and unprecedented political dispute. A country that is on the brink of an historic decision.

This year we’re marking 50 years to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian people and land, and one thing is clear: the decision is between to continue this violent conflict, to sink deeper into war, hatred and the loss of hope: or choose a new path – even if it’s a long one – for peace that is based on two states for two people.

We cannot pretend this reality is temporary. Anybody who wants a sane and viable future for the Jewish State must take a stand now.

This organization, AIPAC, has always made it a point to be pro-Israel. Now more than ever before, we cannot escape the honest discussion – what does it mean to be “Pro-Israel”?

There are two important things that I want to bring into this room today. One – pro-Israel does not mean pro-settlement and does not necessarily mean pro-Netanyahu, the same way pro American does not equal pro-Trump. Two – it’s all of our responsibility, not only right but duty, to support Israel making the right choice.

The political division in Israel is as fundamental as the question on the table. More than ever, My right-wing colleagues are at a loss. For the first time in the history of Israel, annexation of the West Bank is an option and the nightmarish scenario of One State between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is part of the conversation. One that would effectively be an undemocratic regime in which different rights are given depending on ethnicity. This is not a “solution”, that would mean the end of the Zionism Israel’s founding fathers and mothers dreamed of.

This is not the Israel of our dreams – not yours and not mine.

My right-wing colleagues are banking on the notion that for the first time in decades, the US government now under President Trump, will walk away from its support for the Two State solution. Look at how they cheered when the president implied we could choose between “one state, two states, whatever”. But, surprise! (and with Trump everything is a surprise): even he is talking about putting a stop to expanding of new settlements. Because there truly is no other way. But neither Trump nor Obama live in Israel or in the Middle East, and they will not be the ones to suffer the destructive consequences of the continuing occupation and settlements – most of you will not be the ones either. But I will be – which is why I am here to tell you: the biggest obstacle for peace are the settlements and the political lobby that supports settlements. It represents a minority of only 4% of Israelis and yet holds great power in the government and here in the United States.

This pro-settlement lobby has been trying to change the rules of the game for its own advantage, against the interest and opinion of the majority of Israelis and the majority of American Jews. Recently the government passed a bill that bans from Israel anyone who opposes the settlements. In defiance any legal authority’s opinion, they passed another bill that retroactively legalizes outposts built on private Palestinian property in the West Bank. They are frantically passing bills aimed at limiting the space for NGOs to operate, restricting the funding of Human Rights organizations and pumping resources into delegitimizing groups like New Israel Fund – who work day in day out to make Israel a better place.

So my message to you is: To be pro-Israel does not mean to be pro-occupation and it does not mean defending the settlements at all costs. To be pro-Israel means wanting a safe future, a future of prosperity and peace for all Israelis and Palestinians. That is pro-Israel. This is not a zero sum game and peace is a reality both Israelis and Palestinians will benefit from, like in the quote from Pirkei Avot: One party gains and the other does not lose. זה נהנה וזה אינו חסר

That is also the position of the majority of American Jews, who are not willing not leave their liberal democratic values at the door while discussing Israel. Quite the opposite: they understand that applying these values is the key for a safe future for Israel.

AIPAC has always been — and still is — about unconditional support for Israel without taking a stand. That’s understandable. You should know that in the current reality in both countries, not taking a stand is an illusion. Here in America there already is massive action supporting the occupation and settlements. So much money gets funneled into pro-settlement organizations like El Ad, working to create fact on the ground to make the two state solution impossible. They intervene every day, and not for the better. Just this week the new US ambassador to Israel was confirmed, a man who ran fundraisers for Beit El – a radical settlement. You all have to know that this is a marginal political position that is not supported by the majority of Israelis. It harms most Israelis. This appointment breaks the long tradition of appointing ambassadors who represent a wide consensus and the common interests of both our nations.

For this reason, don’t say: the occupation is an internal issue. Know The majority of Israelis want – and the majority of Israelis need – to set ourselves free of the occupation. Taking a stand on the number one watershed line does not make anyone anti-Israel. On the contrary – there is no greater deed of patriotism than opposing the occupation and saving the Zionist vision of a national homeland for the Jewish People in the land of Israel.

One last thing, about Iran: I know that many of you will go as part of this conference to Congress, where you will meet your representatives and lobby them to support Israel. Some of you might ask them to repeal the Iran deal, thinking that this will serve Israel the most. Let me ask you: think again! The Iran deal has turned into a major political dispute between President Trump and President Obama, and I have no intention of getting involved with internal US politics, as shouldn’t you. Do not make the same mistake in turning Israel’s security a partisan dispute. Nevertheless, as far as Israel’s security is concerned, you should know that the overwhelming majority of Israel’s army and security authorities and officials, past and present, think that even if not ideal, the Iran deal is better for Israel’s security than any other feasible option. That repealing the deal will harm Israel more than any other alternative.

Lastly, AIPAC has always been Israel’s voice in the United States. Do not turn into the voice of the Israeli Right. Now more than ever, it’s clear that it is Israel’s interest to end the occupation in a two state solution. Netanyahu’s right wing government is stepping further and further away from those interests. Do not make the same mistake.

About the Author
Tamar Zandberg is a member of Knesset in the Meretz party.
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