I spent the day in DC--on Capitol Hill and in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building--with J Street, a pro-Israel and pro-peace group that is new to the DC scene. J Street founder Jeremy Ben Ami and his incredible staff put together a great day which began with a briefing from J Street's pollster Jim Gerstein, who shared his findings which indicate that the American Jewish community strongly supports a two-state settlement between Israelis and Palestinians as well as strongly supports an even-handed approach to both sides in the conflict, recognizing that terror and settlement expansion BOTH need to be curtailed.
With these polling numbers we visited several Congressional offices and I'd have to say found a surprising degree of welcome and relief from Members of Congress who were very heartened to hear that a large segment of the American Jewish community supports these views.
For lunch we were briefed by members of the Obama Administration on their own plans for moving ahead, most fundamentally with the appointment of Senator George Mitchell and an able team of State Department veterans dedicated to seeking a diplomatic solution region-wide.
Besides being impressed by J Street's organization and professionalism, I was also struck by the tone coming from members of the Obama Administration, who, when referencing diplomatic efforts used sentences like, "We plan to try to normalize the mechanics of these relationships" and "we are committed to frequent, meaningful, deep engagement and dialogue."
Heck, I'm for that in our synagogue!
But seriously, the sense of relief that from the President on down there is a distinct effort to set a new tone, to try a new path, and to do so while remaining firmly committed to Israel's strength and security--understanding fundamentally that Israel's Jewish and democratic character is preserved and strengthened by the two-state solution--was a powerful testimony to the new mood in our nation's capital.
Around the room today were rabbis, activists, diplomats and other interested parties--all convinced that dialogue is the way. "Frequent, meaningful, deep engagement and dialogue." We were asked to give Senator Mitchell a vote of confidence, a chance to tour the region, to listen, and to prod all the parties toward peace. What we heard, remarkably, yet not surprising, is that Arabs and Israelis would very much like to travel down that road. Our job, it seems to me, is to encourage and support those risks for peace.
There seems to be a deep fear and concern on all sides that this window of opportunity is closing and with further radicalization, we risk a remade map of the Middle East that could endanger Israel even further.
And so to quote an early sage, Hillel, known as a lover of peace:
If not now, when?
If not frequent, meaningful, deep engagement and dialogue now, when?