Hannah feeds back on her speech at the 2012 J Street conference on ‘Making History’
‘Making History’ was the theme of the third J Street annual conference this year. Asked to address a plenary session at the conference, I outlined ‘the future of pro-Israel’ and how, viewed with a trans-Atlantic lens, it looks to J Street’s friends across the pond.
So in the seven minutes which I had to lay out a future of the term, I said the following: I told the audience – 2500 members of American Jewry – that the British Jewish community must become more confident in speaking up and expressing its opinions. That we must be unafraid to defend Israel in public when Israel needs defending (which incidentally I spend much of my time doing on panel debates at universities whilst others, from the comfort of their laptops, tell me I am in fact ‘anti’ not ‘pro’), and confident to also challenge policies which we believe harm Israel’s long term future and security as a Jewish and democratic state. I explained that a major difference between British and American Jewry is the amount of time we spend in Israel as a community, and that we must strive to give the next generation of Jewish leaders a more honest education when they visit Israel. I suggested that an Israel experience that does not offer a more real account of Jerusalem does not make a community more pro-Israel, nor that young person having the Israel experience for that matter. If anything, it sets up future disappointment and disenfranchisement when that young person discovers that reality is much more complicated than what they were once told.
There will be some in this community that disagree entirely with my definition. They are entitled to think differently. I do not believe anyone holds the monopoly on the term pro-Israel. I may disagree with the conclusions and methods of others but I do not believe they are anti-Israel. By the same token, the warm reception by which I was greeted by those 2500 J Street activists is an indication of a very real feeling by large numbers of supporters of Israel that things must be done differently. The growth of Yachad in such a short space of time into an organisation numbering thousands of supporters is the very proof of that here in the UK.
So by all means disagree with my definition, but do not dismiss it. Because to dismiss means to disregard the many thousands of supporters of Israel who very much want to be engaged in a conversation about Israel, and thanks to organisations such as Jstreet and Yachad, they have again found their voices. That surely is making history?