By Donniel Hartman
Dear Mr. Prime Minister:
In a few days you will be sitting opposite President Obama. Jewish history seems always to be filled with seminal and critical moments, in which our future seems to hang in the balance. We have been through too much as a people and persevered through too many precarious moments to believe that any single moment is in fact "the" moment.
However, without overstating or over-exaggerating the significance of this meeting, we all know that Israel-American relations are at a decisive moment. What frightens so many of us Israelis and Jews is the unknown. Without weighing in on a debate as to whether President Obama is good or bad for Israel, a friend or a foe, what is clear is that he is not functioning on the basis of the traditional narrative defining Israeli-U.S. relations in place since President Clinton and possibly even the first President Bush.
Our relations with the United States need to be built on a new common narrative which goes beyond the traditional ones that spoke either of shared common values or as close allies in the battle against evil. The current administration does not define its foreign policy in terms of forces of evil and good. In addition, in its commitment to expand its influence and relations with the Muslim world, which is in our interest as well, postulating a unique cultural and moral affinity with Israel does not further U.S. interests.
Mr. Prime Minister, please remember that when President Obama wanted to address the future of the Middle East he did so from Cairo and not from Jerusalem. When he wanted to "meet" us, he went to Auschwitz. We all know and appreciate a core commitment to the Jewish people’s survival and to ensuring that anti-Semitism does not rear its ugly head again. There is no doubt that President Obama shares this commitment. Our future, however, is not dependent on a meeting of minds at the gates of Auschwitz but rather in Jerusalem.
As you travel to Washington, at this moment, the essence of your challenge is to build a new shared narrative which emanates out of Jerusalem and that will make engaging with Israel an integral and natural element of American policy and President Obama’s worldview.
President Obama is a man who ran a campaign on the themes of hope and change. Israel, either through its policies or through no fault of its own (there is debate on this, of course) has come to be perceived as the center of the Middle East’s status quo and the conveyor of the lessons of reality as distinct from the aspirations of hope. Your love for Israel and commitment to its security are unquestioned. I would posit to you, however, Mr. Prime Minister, that our deepest security needs today will not be found in reaching consensus with the U.S. administration around Iran, but in your ability to reinstate Jerusalem as the capital of change and hope.
In doing so, you do not have to adopt either the language or the policies of your political opponents, but rather of our tradition, to which you yourself have great affinity. Hope and a commitment to change define the essence of Jewish life. Our tradition is grounded on the belief that people and reality can change. And if our God never tires from this belief, neither ought we.
Jerusalem is not merely the geographic capital of Israel but a symbol around which the hopes and the aspirations of our people for a better world, a world where justice and peace are the inheritance of all, find inspiration.
Mr. Prime Minister, as a result of U.S. pressure and a fear of a collapse in our relations, you responded with courage and wisdom and instituted policies which many on the Left never had the courage to implement, including a freezing of settlement expansion, and even building in Jerusalem. Anyone familiar with the facts knows that you went far further than any of your predecessors. The problem, however, is not with your policies, but with the lack of hope that you often convey. The above-stated decisions were in fact undertaken only as a result of pressure. We need to reinstitute a partnership with America, one in which policies are shared, not on a foundation of adversarial demands but on a common vision.
Mr. Prime Minister, if you go to Washington as the leader of fractious government whose primary agenda is to sustain your coalition, you will not only continue to alienate President Obama, but miss your moment in history. If, however, you go as the leader of the Jewish State, whose commitment is to lead our people, you will neither argue about settlement freezes or the legitimacy of "natural growth." You will refrain from offering self-validating factual arguments which show that the "fault" for the current stagnation lies elsewhere. Instead, you will speak about a yearning to live at peace with our neighbors. You will speak about doing whatever we can without endangering our security in order to enable the growth of the Palestinian entity at our side. You will initiate and take the lead in presenting confidence building measures, even though you would be right to argue that it is time for the Palestinians to do the same. You will present yourself and Israel as responsible and sober yet at the same time visionary and courageous.
Mr. Prime Minister, stop trying to present arguments which prove that we are right and instead present ideas which prove that we are smart. It is in your power to return hope and vision to Israeli politics. I am not suggesting that you ignore our security needs, nor your political philosophy. I am suggesting that this is the time to put forth creative ideas and visionary policies which are consistent with your views. It is the time to reclaim our place as leaders in the solution, instead of letting others define us unjustifiably as the foundation of the problem.
As Jews we have nothing to fear from those who are committed to hope and change. This has been our path throughout our history and we sin to this path when we don’t allow it to define our present and our future. One of the key features of the new narrative which we must construct between Israel and the U.S. is found in the language we use. We are losing not because of poor public relations, but because of poor policies or poorly articulated ones.
As is traditional, let me bless you that you may go in peace and return in peace. Travel with the recognition that as our leader you must embody the essence of our Jewish identity, an identity founded on visionary ideas, sustained by these ideas, and committed to lead and shape our future and the world’s future on the basis of these ideas.
To receive updates from the "Engaging Israel" project, click here