By Sam Asher, Zara Bohan, Alexandra Chen, Melanie Harris, Paul Katz, Daniel May, Oded Na'aman, Adam Shinar, Tidhar Wald
As members of J Street U Harvard, we were dismayed to read Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz's recent attack on J Street (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alan-dershowitz/j-street-can-no-longer-cl_b_546841.html). His ire was sparked, astonishingly, by the moderate words of J Street's executive director Jeremy Ben-Ami who, in a letter to the New York Times, wrote that peace between Israelis and Palestinians is "not only necessary to secure Israel's future, but also critical to regional stability and American strategic interests." Such is the culture of irrationality surrounding this issue that uttering these words was enough to inspire Professor Dershowitz to declare that J Street has "gone over to the dark side," and that it cannot call itself pro-Israel any longer.
Dershowitz's language should concern all who are committed to a peaceful resolution to a conflict that has cost so many lives. For, in effect, he is arguing that that those who believe that the United States has an interest in ending the 43 year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza are, de-facto, anti-Israel. This kind of rhetoric, hardly new, is intended to perpetuate a simplistic politics of "us" versus "them." Such polarization obscures difficult realities and serves only to undermine the mutual interests of the United States, the Palestinian people, and Israel. It also alienates many students from the pro-Israel community who deeply care about Israel and are committed to a more just and sustainable future.
Despite the claims of some on the political right, ending the occupation is in the urgent interest of Israel. As numerous prominent Israeli politicians have noted, the window of opportunity for a feasible two state solution is closing fast. With the continued settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, a peaceful separation of Israel and the future state of Palestine is rapidly becoming unattainable.There are some - namely ideological settlers that have a tight grip on Israeli politics - who would readily sacrifice peace and stability for total control over the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan. Those who believe that the US has no business urging Israel to cease actions clearly intended to undermine negotiations side with such extremists against those who believe that the Jewish state should be a democratic one.
As every American president since Carter has recognized, a negotiated peace is also in the interest of the US. Dershowitz notes that many terrorist organizations hate Israel simply for its Jewish character. He is right; that is not controversial. But the reality of an occupation - the daily humiliations of life under occupation in the West Bank, a siege on Gaza that prevents all but the most basic supplies in and prevents all movement out, a policy in East Jerusalem that evicts families from homes they have lived in for generations - provides these terrorists a tool for recruitment and radicalization. While the creation of a Palestinian state is no panacea, the continued occupation serves the interests of violent extremists throughout the region. Such a view should not be controversial.
Last but certainly not least, a resolution to the conflict is crucial for the simple, obvious, and undeniable fact that the Palestinian people have been subject to Israeli military rule for far too long. Like the United States, Israel was founded on the premise that all people deserve self-determination. Both nations should do all in their power to guarantee that Palestinians may exercise this right.
In light of these shared goals, labeling those who link US interests to a peaceful resolution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict as "anti-Israel" is both intellectually dishonest and politically destructive. It is, in a word, cynical, and it is such cynicism that makes it so difficult and yet so necessary to affirm that one can be Pro-Israel without being Pro-denial, without being Pro-occupation, without being Pro-eviction. In urging that the United States use its influence to bring the parties together, J Street recognizes that the future of all three peoples -- Americans, Israelis, and Palestinians -- are inextricably tied. Recognizing this reality is in the urgent interest of all parties involved; denying it serves none.