By Ari Witkin
Israel’s history is one of hope in dark times. From a Zionist dream in the depths of Europe, independence won in 1948 and the military feat in ’67, hope’s triumph bore and defended a Jewish state against all odds. Singing “Hatikva” as a child, my own relationship to Israel was built upon hope.
For decades, the hope for Israel, for its progressive supporters, has also been a hope for an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The belief in a two-state solution has been our hope’s ner tamid, an inextinguishable beacon of light for what Israel could be. The warmth of this hope’s glow has been soothing in the times of greatest unrest. It is what has allowed me to continue grappling with what it means to support the right for a Jewish state to exist even as I have come to understand the vastness of the oppression of Palestinians through which Israel’s prosperity is maintained.
Over the course of the last year, a string of major political shifts has nearly smothered that flame of hope.
It began with the Republican Party’s removal of the two-state solution from its platform. It continued with the American “pro-Israel” camp embracing then-candidate Donald Trump at AIPAC’s Policy Conference and the organization’s removal of the two-state solution from its educational talking points. It was further dimmed with the Knesset’s passage of the Regularization Bill, retroactively legalizing more than 4,000 illegal homes in the West Bank, as well as with Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s public abandonment of a two-state solution at their joint press conference in Washington, D.C. in February.
It all but completely diminished with Israel’s ban on those whose non-violent political beliefs do not fit within the state’s definition of democracy. Today, it seems as though the possibility of a two-state solution has all but vanished.
The settlements are at the very heart of this diminishing viability. With the construction of each new home in the West Bank, Israel takes one more step from occupation toward annexation. Though this construction is nothing new, liberal American Jews have been unwilling to see it as the end to the possibility for peace. Doing so means that we would have to abandon our hope.
What is our relationship to Israel without hope? Absent of the possibility of two states, progressive Jews feel forced to accept either the end of Jewish Israel or the reality of an apartheid — neither of which is acceptable to us.
Many in the communities I am a part of have held fast to the hope that a two-state solution will save us from this zero-sum choice. Nevertheless, I fear that same hope has also muted the intensity with which we have been willing to respond to the abuse that Palestinians suffer every day.
We worry we will be ostracized or called anti-Israel if we speak out. The hope for a resolution to the conflict has muffled our outcry over the human rights abuses that have accompanied 50 years of occupation. This disposition has moved us further from the very solution for which we yearn.
In the shadow of hope’s persistence, the Israeli right has been able to expand settlement construction beyond the point of no return. Meanwhile, we the hopeful have, by and large, refrained from fully denouncing the reality on the ground for Palestinians, all the while believing that the Israel we longed for was on the horizon.
Today, however, the current state of affairs is unsustainable. Reality and hope have come to an impasse. We must acknowledge that, for now, the absence of political will has left us without a viable two-state option.
When the object of our hope seems beyond our grasp, there is no room for complacency. Those of us who maintain that a two-state solution is critical must be steadfast in our resistance to the political shifts that threaten it. We must speak out actively about the effects of occupation on Palestinians and Israelis. We must openly acknowledge the realities that settlement construction and annexation cause, and we must do so unafraid of being called anti-Israel or worse.
Our ner tamid is flickering. It needs fuel to burn, and that fuel has to be our action.
Ari Witkin is a rabbinical student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.