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Game-Changer? American Jews Reaching a Tipping Point on Israel

Those who want peace in the Middle East must find the right words to help move American Jews towards a more balanced view of the conflict.

The rules of the game played by the U.S. and Israel may very well be changing. Over the past four decades, those rules have been simple: The U.S. nudged Israel occasionally, the latter did pretty much whatever it liked anyway, and the Palestinians got the shaft.

Now there’s a chance that the U.S. will actually begin to take on the role of evenhanded broker that it has always claimed to play. That’s why so many are watching President Barack Obama so eagerly, to see which way he will go.

But Obama, as admirable as he is, remains a politician, ever sensitive to the winds of public opinion. Though many individuals and groups propel those winds, none are as crucial as America’s Jewish community.

If the fiction of a monolithic "pro-Israel" Jewish community is dispelled -- for it is indeed a fiction -- and the group begins to move publicly toward a more balanced view of the conflict, the Obama administration will be far freer to find and maintain a truly evenhanded position. All that could happen if Jews publicly express the wide diversity of views they do in fact hold about Israel and Palestine.

And it could happen surprisingly soon. The American Jewish community is rapidly moving toward a tipping point. Discussion of the issue among Jews is far more open and diverse than anyone in the tiny American Jewish peace movement of 10 or 20 years ago would have predicted.

Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, the pro-Israel, pro-peace group, has over 40 chapters across the country and support from nearly a thousand rabbis. The J Street lobby, supporting much the same program, is growing faster than its hawkish rival AIPAC.

The change is reflected in the media, too. A recent New York Times Web article told the truth about the so-called generous offer the Israelis made at Camp David in 2000 and have been making ever since: The Palestinians could only take an archipelago of disconnected bits of land and call it their state -- a state with no economic viability or real sovereignty.

That’s a truth the Times, like all the other American mass media outlets, has been ignoring for nearly nine years. Now it’s getting out. And just two days earlier, the Times published an interview with Hamas leader Khalid Meshal, letting him speak in his own words. Obviously, something is changing.

Of course it’s not yet enough. The narrative of an innocent Israel mortally threatened by the Palestinian monster still dominates our public discourse. As long as it does, the president and his administration are politically bound to act as if it were true.

But once the Jewish community begins to debate the issue openly, for all the world to see, that narrative can no longer be taken for granted as the only possible view. That’s when the tipping point comes.

How soon it is reached depends on how soon a critical mass of American Jews can break out of the "Israel is always right" mind-set and speak out publicly for peace. That, in turn, depends largely on what Jews hear from their family and friends. The most potent factor in changing anyone’s political view is conversation with people they care for and respect. So the administration’s policy will change when enough Jews are encouraged -- in living rooms and break rooms and chat rooms across the country -- to take a more realistic view of the Middle East conflict and voice that view publicly.

All Americans have a stake in Middle East peace; our national security depends on it. That’s why all, whether Jewish or not, have a right -- perhaps even a duty -- to get involved in those conversations, help nudge the Jewish community toward its tipping point and thus help change U.S. policy.

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