Published On: Sun, Mar 20th, 2016

Tear Up the Rulebook of American Politics

Jeremy Ben-AmiOver the coming days, most of the leading candidates for president will speak at AIPAC’s annual policy conference.

Despite the critical challenges facing Israel and US-Israel relations, the media’s focus will undoubtedly be, as it has been throughout this political cycle, on one man, what he says and how the crowd and the inevitable protestors react.

J Street has made its view on Trump clear. He is unfit to be President of the United States and the nation’s diplomat-in-chief due to the toxic brew he is mixing of racist rhetoric, ethnic prejudice and incitement to violence.

It’s a shame that the Trump Show will suck up all the attention this week, since it’s not every day that presidential candidates address audiences concerned about Israel, and it’s important to hear what they would do at such a difficult moment.

In the two years since Secretary Kerry’s peace initiative ended, the situation on the ground for Israelis and Palestinians has gone from bad to worse.

Violence is up with horrific terror attacks across Israel and the West Bank. Palestinians are engaging in suicidal acts of terror and Israelis are dying in the streets.

Settlement growth continues at an unprecedented pace. Even I found it hard to believe that 25 percent more Jewish Israelis now live in the West Bank than just seven years ago when Netanyahu took office.

That’s not “natural growth” in population, it’s a natural outgrowth of right-wing settlers’ determination to establish one state from the Jordan to the Sea.

Polls show despair, mistrust and hatred rising on both sides as Israel’s government continues to move rightward and moderate Palestinian leadership ages and loses credibility.

This isn’t a status quo — it’s a critically deteriorating situation that could explode at any moment.

There’s something else that isn’t static and that’s the political atmosphere in the US surrounding issues related to Israel.

Once, the rulebook of American politics was read to say that you can’t win a policy fight taking on AIPAC, Israel’s political leadership and Republican hawks. Yet, in reaching and implementing the Iran nuclear accord, President Obama did just that.

The rulebook was also thought to say there’s only one way to get political support in the pro-Israel community if you’re running for office and that’s to stake out hawkish Israel right-or-wrong positions.

But that illusion has been shattered too, as proven by JStreetPAC’s 100+ endorsees and its fundraising success for candidates who want two states, oppose settlement expansion and urge even stronger American efforts to resolve the conflict.

All of which brings me to AIPAC this week.

I, for one, will be just as interested in whether the candidates have a plan for helping Israel preserve its Jewish and democratic future as I am in whether protests break out inside or outside the convention center over Trump’s appearance.

I would like to see those seeking the support of pro-Israel Americans get beyond tired rhetoric and talking points, and past pointing fingers and assigning blame. I want to hear what they think it will take to end this conflict.

No, candidates aren’t going to have a magic formula for bringing about two states tomorrow. Thoughtful analysts recognize now isn’t the moment for a new peace initiative bringing the parties to the table.

But I’d like to hear candidates tell the pro-Israel community that the current situation is killing the very thing they fervently hope to save: a democratic national home for the Jewish people. They need to make clear that something needs to change.

I’d like to hear, for instance, a vision for a regional and comprehensive approach to the Middle East that includes ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict while building regional bridges to address shared strategic threats and economic challenges.

It’s our job at J Street to tell the candidates it’s safe to tear up the old rulebook and speak their minds. That’s why we created this political movement: to have their back.

So I — like you — will be watching what happens at AIPAC this week closely, but maybe looking less at the antics surrounding Donald Trump and looking more for a candidate with the courage to articulate a meaningful vision and plan for the future of Israel and the Middle East.

Thanks for all you do,

Jeremy Ben-Ami

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