(January 30, 2020 / JNS) I sat in awe in the august East Room of the White House on Tuesday as President Donald Trump stood alongside Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and unveiled the “Peace to Prosperity” vision for Israel and its Palestinian neighbors. The plan is not a dictate, but rather a framework through which the United States hopes it can entice Israel and the Palestinian Authority to come together and negotiate a final-status agreement between them.
Israel immediately stated that “if [the Palestinians] agree to abide by all the conditions … in [the] plan, Israel will be there. Israel would be prepared to negotiate peace right away.” Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, on the other hand, rejected the plan before it was even announced. (However, the plan gives the P.A. a four-year window to change its mind.)
While the plan has some good points—applying Israeli law to Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria and the Jordan Valley, for example—it also has some that are not so good, such as giving the Palestinians the outlines, including a map, of a contiguous potential state with a capital in a part of eastern Jerusalem without even requiring them to take a seat at the negotiating table. But before we all dive into the details of the plan and debate whether we think it is a good step forward or not, it is absolutely imperative that we take a moment to recognize and absorb the enormity of the moment.
What happened inside the East Room on Tuesday was a recognition of how far we have come as Jews in America, and how the U.S.-Israel relationship has flourished during this president’s administration.
As I walked into the East Room, I was excited to see that it was filled with Jewish community leaders from across the nation, political leaders, including my governor, Ron DeSantis, U.S. senators, congressmen, state legislators and even leaders from the Christian community, including Pastor John Hagee. In fact, among the attendees were ambassadors from Bahrain, Oman and the UAE. Together, we welcomed President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu, who stood confidently at the podium, side by side, as President Trump made several statements of note.
“On my first trip overseas as president, I visited the Holy Land of Israel,” he said. “I was deeply moved and amazed by what this small country had achieved in the face of overwhelming odds and never-ending threats. The State of Israel comprises only a minuscule amount of land in the Middle East, and yet it has become a thriving center of democracy and of ancient culture and commerce. Israel is a light unto the world, the hearts and history of our people are woven together.”
The American Jewish community was welcomed into the White House with open arms and an unprecedented warmth—not just in word, but also in deed. And even if it leaves some difficult questions unanswered, the plan undoubtedly attempts to tackle, rather than ignore, the most significant issues of the region. It recognizes the reality that the Jewish people are not leaving the land of Israel, and that the State of Israel cannot be asked to make any concessions that would compromise its ability to defend itself.
Importantly, this proposal seeks to break the parties away from the failed Oslo Accords, and the limbo in which Israel and the Palestinians have been living ever since those agreements were signed. This is a new day, and a new path forward. Although the path is long, and there is no real hope that the Palestinians will negotiate on the basis of this (or any) deal, Israel and the Palestinian people now have a new road to walk down if they so choose—a realistic and safe road, which gives both peoples a new vision and a new direction.
Just this week, we commemorated International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The difference between the status of the American Jewish community today and 75 years ago cannot be overstated. Then, while Jews were being slaughtered in Europe, the American Jewish community made many well-documented attempts to seek the assistance of and intervention from the United States. In 1944, the United States rejected several appeals to bomb the railroads leading to Auschwitz. The State Department sat on its hands as Jewish refugees sought to come to the land of the free. President Roosevelt was even made aware of the systematic, mass murder of Jews taking place, and took no action for over one year. Of course, and thankfully, the United States later played a vital role in liberating concentration camps, including Buchenwald in Germany in April 1945.
The special relationship between the United States and the State of Israel began immediately after David Ben-Gurion declared its birth, when President Truman recognized the new Jewish state on that same date. The relationship has only expanded over the years. But it hasn’t been without its challenges. In 1982, for instance, the Reagan administration asked Congress to increase its already significant military aid to Israel and Egypt. Later that year, then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin visited Capitol Hill for hearings related to the proposed aid package and Israel’s policies.
The hearing was described, in a New York Times article by a U.S. senator, as follows: “I’ve never seen such an angry session with a foreign head of state.” And when then-Senator Joe Biden threatened Begin with cutting off U.S. aid to Israel, Begin responded forcefully: “Don’t threaten us with cutting off your aid. It will not work. I am not a Jew with trembling knees!” While Begin’s strong, poignant words remain a source of pride for Jews around the world, the exchange reflected the great tension between the nations at that time.
Today things are different. Whether you believe the Trump vision is a positive or not, we must recognize and celebrate how far we have come as a Jewish people, both in America and around the world. This, of course, is something we cannot take for granted. It is beyond dispute that there are certain members of the American political establishment that have taken an aggressive and hostile position vis-à-vis
And as we, American Jews, appropriately expend much of our energy in combating the meteoric rise of anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic attacks on our streets and in our synagogues, we must take a moment to recognize that we have made great strides in the United States; that we are welcomed with open arms in the halls of Congress and the White House alike; and that our eternal Jewish homeland, Israel, is respected by the leaders of the most powerful nation in the world.
The feeling in the White House was one of joy and pride about where we are as a Jewish people, and the status which Israel has earned in Washington, D.C. And while Trump’s plan was just unveiled, there is no question that the work has just begun. The Jewish people and Israel must continue to walk with pride and strength, because it is only with these characteristics that we can continue to flourish as a people.
Gabriel Groisman is the mayor of Bal Harbour, Fla., and an attorney at Meland Russin and Budwick, P.A., based in Miami. He has been a leader in combating anti-Semitism and the BDS movement, having written and passed the first municipal anti-BDS ordinance, and the first codification of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. He is also a co-founder of the Global Coalition of Mayors Against Hate and Discrimination.
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