THE BLOG

Dear Congress, Please #SkipTheSpeech

02/16/2015 05:45 pm ET | Updated Apr 18, 2015
MENAHEM KAHANA via Getty Images

In the last couple months, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has set off a series of controversies that have offended Jews around the world.

In January, following the horrific attacks at the magazine Charlie Hebdo and at a kosher supermarket in Paris, the Prime Minister told French Jews at the Grand Synagogue in Paris to emigrate to Israel (while his Housing Minister proposed adding more illegal settlements in the West Bank to accommodate them). To his surprise, he was greeted with a spontaneous patriotic rendition of "La Marsellaise", the French national anthem.

Immediately following the horrific attacks in Copenhagen this weekend, Netanyahu once again capitalized on a tragedy to issue a political call for Jews to emigrate to Israel, prompting condemnation from Denmark's chef rabbi and former Israeli President Shimon Peres, as well as Jews across the diaspora who believe they should have the right to live in safety wherever they are.

His upcoming speech to Congress within weeks of the Israeli election, arranged with House Republicans in defiance of White House protocol, has prompted an unprecedented backlash, even among normally staunch defenders of Israel. And now this week, Netanyahu sparked ire amongst American Jews when he asserted that he would come to speak in Congress, as he went to Paris, as the representative of the "entire Jewish people."

I am one of a growing number of American Jews who are appalled that the Prime Minister of Israel, who has consistently impeded progress towards peace, and now seeks to pull the U.S. into a possible war with Iran, would claim to represent me.

Under Netanyahu's leadership, the Israeli government has ramped up illegal settlement building, increasing the population of Jewish settlers by over 23 percent, made the biggest land grab in a generation, maintained its rule over millions of Palestinians under a violent and oppressive military occupation, killed thousands of civilians in the West Bank and Gaza, and done everything possible to maintain the status quo of Israeli domination.

It is absurd for anyone to claim to speak for the "entire Jewish people." The Jewish people are not a monolith, there is no one "Jewish opinion" on any subject, even on Israel (as the adage goes, "two Jews, three opinions").

Recent polls suggest there is a growing generational gap, with younger Jews far more likely to be critical of Israel's policies. New movements such as Open Hillel, #IfNotNow and the significant growth of Jewish Voice for Peace indicate that young Jews are flocking to communities who share their values and are alienated from the institutional Jewish community's uncritical support for increasingly oppressive Israeli actions.

The majority of American Jews believe that Netanyahu's government has not made a sincere effort to work towards a peace settlement with the Palestinians. The fact that Netanyahu's inappropriately planned speech is receiving pushback from Jewish Democrats and organizations normally very supportive of Israel, such as the ADL's Abe Foxman, the Union for Reform Judaism, and J Street, who have all called for the speech to be cancelled or rescheduled, is a sign of the significance of this shift.

Increasingly, American Jews are unable to ignore the fact that the realities of the State of Israel do not reflect our values, rooted in Jewish social justice traditions, of equality, dignity and freedom for all people. Neither Mr. Netanyahu, nor the government he presides over, share my values, and neither can claim to represent the "entire Jewish people."

When Netanyahu goes to Washington next month, he will be given a high-profile platform to undermine the ongoing diplomacy with Iran, using fear mongering and bullying to encourage policies that would lead us towards war with Iran. American Jews, who were the largest religious contingency to oppose going to war in Iraq, overwhelmingly support negotiations with Iran and are affronted by Netanyahu's proposed speech.

As Jews working for justice for all people in Israel and Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace strongly opposes Netanyahu's upcoming speech that will undermine diplomacy with Iran. Our campaign urging members of Congress to skip Netanyahu's speech (organized along with our partners at the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and Roots Action, and now also CodePink and American Muslims for Palestine) has been an important part of the unprecedented pushback against the speech. Over 100,000 letters have been sent to members of Congress through our campaign, and at least 22 members of Congress are now pledging they will skip the speech if it does take place (see the growing whip list on The Hill).

The unprecedented backlash against Netanyahu's upcoming speech demonstrates what may be a historic moment in the history of U.S./Israeli relations, threatening the bipartisan consensus that enables Israel to continue its violations of international law with impunity.

But this moment is also significant in that it demonstrates the growing rift between the American Jewish community and Israel, a rift that Netanyahu has helped to accelerate. By repeatedly snubbing American Jews and the US government, Mr. Netanyahu has revealed the deep divide between the practices of the Israeli government and our values of justice, freedom and equality for all people.