Amid an increasingly polarized political climate, nuance is being squeezed out of the conversation. Israel is no exception, and within our Jewish community people are staking out positions on the extremes rather than coming together in the middle around a sustainable two-state solution. It is either unwavering support for the Israeli government and its actions, or reflexive protest. I know that my peers and I lack the unifying impulse of the previous generation of Jewish community leaders. The fractures will continue to grow, the partisans will continue to gain steam, and the two-state cause will lose out unless something changes, and this is where Israel Policy Forum’s young professionals initiative, IPF Atid, fits in.
This summer, two small groups of Birthright participants left their trips to visit the West Bank city of Hebron with left-wing Israeli NGOs. Just a few months before, Natalie Portman declined to accept the Genesis Prize in Israel because of deep misgivings about the Netanyahu government. Perhaps Portman and the Birthright protesters felt cornered into picking a side. Either appear to lend legitimacy to a government you don’t support, or leave the framework altogether.
Growing up, I was lucky. I had opportunities to lobby, advocate, and build relationships with policymakers and leaders in the Jewish community. My peers and I critically engaged with the vision of Theodor Herzl, broke down the pragmatic ethos of David Ben-Gurion, and contemplated the legacy of Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister assassinated by an Israeli extremist for leading his people towards peace. Those experiences empowered me and gave me the confidence to begin a career in government relations in Washington, DC. Not everyone was fortunate enough to have a robust foundation in Israel education like I did. That knowledge deficit leaves me concerned about my community, especially as I return home to Los Angeles, the city I grew up in.
But it is not just about education. It is impossible to address intra-communal breakdown without addressing the elephant in the room: Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians. We are all familiar with the formula: Israel’s failure to reach a two-state solution will either come at the expense of its democracy or Jewish self-determination. On this issue, we must address Palestinian rejectionism, incitement, and intransigence, but our community must also speak up on the Israeli right’s drive to annex the West Bank. Given the stagnation of the negotiation process and the Trump administration’s regressive policy on Israeli-Palestinian, it is easy to throw up our hands, give up, or embrace radical alternatives.
So our work is cut out for us. Opening a critical conversation on Israel fills a desperately needed gap in the mainstream community. Mobilizing support for a two-state solution, the only sustainable outcome for the conflict, means that it will remain a priority for the community and policymakers. This will not be an easy task. The preeminence of “fake news,” social media echo chambers, and partisan talking points all drive people away from the center. But by convening meetings with policy experts, organizing incisive Shabbat dinner discussions, providing cutting-edge analysis to a rising generation of young professional leaders, IPF Atid can push back against these trends. Equipped with the strong base of knowledge and community support, new leaders in government and in the American Jewish community can right the course. Our fate is only inevitable if we are resigned to it.
Alexandra Stabler is the chair of the Los Angeles chapter of IPF Atid, Israel Policy Forum’s young professionals initiative. You can join her and other young professionals in LA on August 22 for an engaging discussion and reception featuring Dr. Shira Efron of the RAND Corporation and former Congressman Howard Berman. For more information and to register, click here.