Monday, December 15, 2014

Thoughts as I stand for re-election

The ballot for the J Street board position is now open. I feel very honored to be part of this organization and to stand for re-election. I’d like to wish Talia, Edward, Virginia, Phyllis, and Howard the best of luck. I know whoever among us sits on the board will serve J Street well.

I am incredibly proud of having served on the board at a time of tremendous growth and success. In the last three years, our influence in Congress has greatly increased, as has our strength in local chapters and on university campuses. We have also had impressive political victories, including winning robust American engagement in the peace process, which alas was unsuccessful, and beating back an effort to ratchet up Iran sanctions in the midst of negotiations. I point this out not to take credit - it surely isn’t mine - but to suggest a path forward.

There is somewhat of a paradox at play. Whenever someone asks me how J Street is doing I can tick off the number of endorsed candidates, 95, the number of J Street U chapters, 62, or the $2.4 million raised in the last election cycle. In just about every metric we are succeeding. Yet, when it comes to moving the dial on the two-state solution, things in Israel seem to be backsliding. And that’s the paradox. The more extreme the politics in Israel become, the more obvious it is here in our community that J Street is a voice of reason.

This past summer I was privileged to lead J Street's solidarity mission to Israel during the Gaza war. The horror and futility of the war was apparent from the outset. Yet, as dire as things were, being on the ground once again confirmed what I feel every time I'm in Israel. While I’m there, it's easy to see why many Israelis believe, or at least convince themselves, that the vibrancy of Israeli life can endure in the face of the occupation. Because for many, especially those in the position to influence opinion, life is that vibrant.
But continents away, we have the benefit of perspective that distance provides, and that Israelis either lack or choose to ignore. Israelis know the arguments about the moral decay of the occupation. Likewise, Israelis know the demographic and security arguments. These arguments are made by their fellow Israelis with greater credibility, at least in their eyes, than us. But what we have unique to offer is perspective.
Communicating that perspective may be J Street's greatest opportunity and challenge in the short term, certainly ahead of the Israeli elections in March. We need to find a way to express to our brothers and sisters in Israel that the situation will not hold and in a way that they will be open to. Doing so will not be easy. We must not shrink from expressing our concern over an increasingly intolerant society, growing extremism, and a deepening of the occupation that we can see everyday. We must state that the Palestinian people are entitled to self-determination, just as the Jewish people are, and that their non-violent resistance to the occupation is legitimate. Israelis are fond of a saying I heard first from Ariel Sharon explaining what some saw as his new found flexibility upon becoming prime minister: “You see things from here that you don’t see from there.” We now have an opportunity to explain what we see from New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, and everywhere in between, that they aren’t seeing in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.
I know many people are despairing of the situation, especially with the breakdown of negotiations, the war this summer, and an intifada looking like it will explode at any moment. Pessimists have been cashing bets for a long time. But we have to be right just once and last. And we still have that chance.
I ask for your vote and your support for my re-election to the board.

Thank you,
Richard Goldwasser