Cheltenham, PA - Tonight I heard a full throated debate between Jonathan Tobin, Executive Editor of Commentary Magazine and Steve Masters, Chair of the National Advisory Board of J Street Local at the Melrose B'nai Israel Emanu-El Synagogue in Cheltenham, suburban Philadelphia. The program was moderated by Burt Siegal, former Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council and self described friend of both speakers.
After brief introductions, Mr. Siegal laid out the ground rules which involved six, actually seven minute statements by each followed by discussion between the speakers and then a series of questions including cards collected from the audience of about a hundred brave and crazy souls. Mr. Tobin began with a joke/analogy about a goat. The punch line was that even though the goat eventually died from the Rabbi's suggestions, the Rabbi was sorry because he had more advice:
"The allusion that any of us here are going to come up with a solution that the Israelis haven't tried is absurd." "Even people on the right believe the land will be divided," he said. He then went on to state that; "What's under debate now, what's at stake is the legitimacy of Israel and Zionism itself. The enemy of Israel is the deligitimization of Israel itself. There's a threat from Iran and a threat from anti-Zionism, "Tobin said.
Mr. Masters began by laying out four things; "About myself," (to identify his own credibility), "what motivates J Street, consensus and where the mainstream is." He spoke about his involvement in Zionist youth camps, activity as an AIPAC Rep at Yale and his "life changing year in Israel," that focused him on "guaranteeing Israel's survival."
He spoke about "the fierce urgency of now!" He went on to sketch out the demographic argument with Israel losing its slim majority by 2020 if it didn't divide the pie effectively creating a two-state solution. He also noted that the two-state solution has been "American policy for four administrations."
Masters then reiterated components of the Clinton/Taba parameters; "A demilitarized Palestine, a multilayered military, Palestinian refugees returning to Palestine and Jerusalem as the capital for both." He then said; "82% of Jews in the United States support the US playing an active role. He said the even more important figure was "that 73% support an active role even if the US disagrees with Israel and Palestine,"
Tobin brushed it aside saying; "J Street is a partisan supporter for Obama." He said; "I agree Israel needs a two-state solution. The problem is to create a Middle East peace process beyond Jews on the left and the right is that the people on the other side have to agree." The audience full of partisans in their own right began to make some comments and respond vocally to the speakers. It wasn't many, but you could hear a growing din.
Tobin reviewed the history of Yasser Arafat at Camp David and his resultant "no," followed by the Second Intifada. He added Ehud Olmert's even more generous offer to Mahmoud Abbas after Annapolis and the Abbass answer; "No." He then went on to say an interesting thing: "I've met Palestinians who long for peace, but Palestinian nationalism has grown in response to Zionism."