J Street is committed to electing officials who are pro-Israel and pro-democracy
OpinionGuest columnist

J Street is committed to electing officials who are pro-Israel and pro-democracy

Israel maintains the right to respond to Hamas’ onslaught, but the price exacted on innocent Palestinian civilians is unconscionable .

(Photo in public domain, courtesy of Pixabay)
(Photo in public domain, courtesy of Pixabay)

Nearly six months after Hamas’ horrific Oct. 7 attack, the crisis in Israel continues to haunt us. Mothers, fathers and children slaughtered. More than 100 are still held in captivity under terrifying conditions. As people deeply grounded in our love for Israel, the pain of this moment is overwhelming and we’re desperately searching for a way out.

We are feeling the ripple effects reverberating in Pittsburgh and beyond. Vandalism, bomb threats and harassment toward the Jewish community — and Muslim, Palestinian and Arab communities for that matter — have threatened our safety, well-being and, certainly, our peace of mind.

Anyone can tell you that this moment demands immediate action. However, the type of action we take right now is consequential for determining the future — for Israelis and Palestinians abroad, and for countless people at home.

As a leader of J Street in Pittsburgh, I am proud to be a dedicated member of a movement committed to peace, equality and justice — values central to our Jewish community. On the international, national and local levels, our organization is meeting this moment of crisis with bold leadership and an urgent call to forge a more hopeful and peaceful future.

It has become increasingly clear that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is harming Israel’s own interests, the U.S.-Israel relationship
and exacerbating pain and suffering on the ground. And his popularity is dwindling among Israelis who by and large disapprove of his leadership since Hamas’ heinous Oct. 7 attack. Prominent Israeli security officials — and even former Israeli prime ministers Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak — agree.

The prime minister stands for everything we, the American Jewish community, stand against: settlement expansion, dictatorship, corruption and extremism. By welcoming right-wing zealots and leaders of the settler movement Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich into his coalition, Netanyahu has effectively sidelined American values, interests and long-standing U.S. policy. As Tom Friedman puts it, “I believe [Netanyahu] is not only the worst leader in Israel’s history. I believe he’s the worst leader in Jewish history.”

Like Israelis, Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank deserve leaders who will work for their needs and can deliver a future free of extremism and terror. Two million Palestinians are suffering at the hands of these terrorists and dictators who hide behind innocent civilians and their infrastructure.

Israel maintains the right to respond to Hamas’ onslaught, but the price exacted on innocent Palestinian civilians is unconscionable — more
than 32,600 killed, the majority of whom are women and children, according to the Hamas-run Gazan Health Ministry.

J Street believes that on the other side of destruction must lie peace. Our broader pro-Israel community must understand that providing Palestinians with safety and self-determination — basic rights that detract from terror and violence — is in Israel’s best interest and is the only solution to preserving the character of the Jewish homeland’s founding values.

Decades of unwilling Israeli and Palestinian leadership have only led to bloodshed on both sides. The status quo is too dangerous to continue and we must elect leaders who recognize this.

The fight for action is not limited to overseas. Ahead of the November election, there is much at stake for our pro-Israel movement. As other pro-Israel groups continue to engage with far-right insurrectionists, their leader, Donald Trump, continues to threaten our country’s democracy and our very safety. Just last month, he broadcast dangerous antisemitic conspiracies in a moment when the Jewish community is already in great danger.

While in office, Trump undermined our community’s top-line voting concerns not limited to reproductive freedom, gun violence and climate change. And if Trump’s return to office looks anything like his first term, the former president would further endanger Israelis and Palestinians.

Ahead of the 2024 race, J Street is committed to preventing another Trump presidency and electing champions of our pro-Israel, pro-peace, pro-democracy priorities to Congress. The change starts in our very communities. Here in Western Pennsylvania, this means working with candidates for Congress who align with our values and policy positions that ensure the safety, dignity and sovereignty of Israelis and Palestinians.

In Pennsylvania, and across both the House and Senate, we’re proud to endorse a majority of the Democratic caucus, including both of our Democratic Senators and seven Democratic House incumbents. It is of utmost importance that all our allies share the common bond of strong support for Israel’s security and the U.S.-Israel relationship while also upholding human rights, international law and a vision of
democracy, equality and peace in the region.

We recognize that members of Congress make decisions based on a number of concerns and considerations, acting in what they believe to be the best interests of their constituents.

J Street’s endorsement does not mean that all endorsees will always agree or see eye to eye with us on every issue, all of the time. That
is precisely why we maintain open lines of communication with our local endorsees to build constructive relationships with the candidate, member and staff at every step of the process.

This election season will decide whether our government is pro-democracy or pro-authoritarian, and whether Israelis and Palestinians can finally grasp the opportunity within reach to live in peace and security in the aftermath of war. Our pro-Israel movement won’t sacrifice our belief in
democracy and equality to achieve these goals, and we’re proud to live up to them. PJC

Mark Fichman is an associate professor emeritus at Carnegie Mellon University. He lives in Pittsburgh.

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