Guest Post by Dalia Wolfson, Do The Write Thing participant at 2010 New Orleans General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America
Last week, I attended the G.A. (rhymes with oy-vey!) in New Orleans, Louisiana. For a few sunny days in the beginning of November, the Big Easy overflowed with Jews worrying about assimilation, the economy and philanthropy but most importantly, focusing on Israel. As a participant in Hagshama’s Do The Write Thing program, I found myself especially attuned to the nature of Israel-related talks. I was hoping for some heavy-hitting material and serious debate at the G.A. Instead, I got a number of twitter-worthy quotes and quite a bit of rosy rhetoric.
Don’t get me wrong â€“ the problem with the G.A. was not its pro-Israel character. I am, of course, in full support of Israel. The core of the issue is that those two words, linked by an innocent little hyphen, have become increasingly hard to define. The term â€œpro-Israelâ€ can mean any number of things these days. As a pro-Israel activist, you can call the land controlled since 1967 â€œoccupied territoryâ€, â€œPalestineâ€ or â€œJudea and Samariaâ€. As a pro-Israel activist, you can call the outposts in that same swath of land â€œsettlementsâ€, â€œpermanent housingâ€ or â€œillegal constructionâ€. According to the G.A., a pro-Israel advocate supports Israel’s existence as Jewish, democratic state. As for the nitty-gritty of how that state works â€“ well, those details were largely overlooked during the conference.
Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke about his support for a two-state solution. Tzipi Livni, â€œThe Leader of the Oppositionâ€ (as she was dubbed by the program), expressed her backing of a two-state solution. So where, then, ladies and gentlemen, does the distinction enter?
The difference in policies and the border line between the political parties was never accurately defined at the G.A. There were no debates, no full-blown discussions of the exact visions of a two-state solution. Yes, there were speeches from the Ministry of Public Affairs, from Israeli journalists and political analysts â€“ all spoke about the importance of defending Israel. But no one ever tried defining Israel.
Do the Write Thing, a sister program at the G.A. devoted to pro-Israel advocacy through journalism, challenged its participants to strike a balance between reporting facts and providing contextual analysis. I found this purpose to be meaningful, but the General Assembly’s sessions did not provide much fodder for my mission.
The G.A. tried to unite Jews under an umbrella feeling of pro-Israel sentiment. It included a host of workshops on battling the 3D’s that threaten Israel, as formulated by Sharansky: demonization, double standard and delegitimization. But while these are all valid concerns, one of my main focuses as a journalist is to go to the core of the discord in the Jewish community â€“ the conflict that gives rise to J Street, or sprouts hecklers at Bibi’s speech â€“ and seek to explain it. The G.A. did not present a political spectrum, only a political two-word platform of â€œpro-Israelâ€.
Unity is important, but not if it comes in the form of homogeneity. Ignoring the finer points of an issue by latching onto one major agreement of pro-Israel weakens the community, especially in the wake of peace talks which will inevitably lead to a fragmentation over those small but significant conditions (settlements, East Jerusalem, Palestinian statehood, etc.). We need to review and resolve these conditions in the pro-Israel community instead of shying away from confrontation.
I’m disappointed in the lack of debate and frank discussion on the specifics of a two-state (if any)
solution at the G.A. But maybe a Jewish conference â€“ especially at a time when the Jewish community is so divided over Israelâ€“ ought to focus on a statement of unity? The answer remains elusive.
After this conference, I can be quite confident that I’m pro-Israel. So is much of the Jewish world. As for the finer details? The common saying is: two Jews, three opinions. In the end, limiting ourselves to just one pro-Israel opinion may ultimately cause all of us to plotz.
Dalia Wolfson is a 2010 DTWT Participant