Backing convergence – an American Jewish perspective

As Prime Minister Ehud Olmert makes his first state visit to the United States, it is time for Jews around the world to firmly support his efforts to set defensible borders for the State of Israel.

I recognize that the effort to preserve a Jewish majority for the Jewish state may run contrary to the thinking of many Americans. After all, America is the greatest melting pot in the world. But Israel must take these steps to protect and secure her future in the face of a terrorist government sworn to her destruction, and to ensure that Jews permanently remain a majority in the Israeli homeland.

For many years, Israelis and their leaders have worked unceasingly for peace, accepting the right of the Palestinian people to establish a permanent home. Yet great hopes for peace were thwarted just months ago when the Palestinian people chose Hamas – a known terrorist organization that has repeatedly and publicly called for the destruction of the Jewish state – to lead them.

So long as Hamas continues to condone terror and refuses to recognize the legitimacy of Israel, mutual conciliation and ethnic understanding will remain out of reach. As a result, Israel must take extraordinary steps to secure its border and solidify its future. The challenges are stark and must be addressed finally and decisively. Israel can no longer wait for reason and goodwill to suddenly prevail among the Palestinian people.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has publicly stated his plan for disengagement and “convergence” in Israel and the administered areas. Let’s be honest. Disengagement involves, at its most basic level, segregating Jewish and Palestinian communities so that each may govern itself and may exist peacefully but separately. Olmert correctly believes that this is necessary at the present time to safeguard Israel’s continued survival and to ensure that Jews remain the majority in the Jewish state.

AMERICAN JEWS do understand how changing demographics in Israel alter political realities. After all, demographic shifts in the United States have led to an ever-changing political landscape, requiring the US Jewish community to continually forge alliances with diverse ethnic groups. For example, the emergence of the Latino and African-American communities in the United States has heightened American Jewish sensitivity to the issue of demography.

Recently released US Census Bureau data report that 45 percent of Americans under the age of five are members of a minority racial or ethnic group, suggesting that broad changes to political and social agendas will occur in the United States over the next decade. This reality has altered Jewish communal policy and has intensified our efforts to forge greater outreach with the African American, Latino and Asian American communities.

In Europe, we have seen the effects of demographic population shifts as well. The strong emergence of ethnic groups that were not historically represented in Europe, including Muslim Arabs, has wielded a serious impact on European Jewry. Witnessing today’s European Jewish experience has once again heightened the sensitivity of American Jews to the importance of paying close attention to the impact of demography.

OLMERT’S EMBRACE of the concept of unilateralism may initially stir some discomfort among American Jews. The very concept of separating ethnic groups is, of course, anathema to the American ideal.

I have spent much of my adult life building bridges among racial and ethnic communities by promoting coexistence and tolerance. Yet, I have embraced the convergence policy of Kadima for two reasons: terrorism and the preservation of the Jewish majority in the Jewish state.

As long as there is terror, there can be no peace. The current situation in Israel demands physical separation. The Israeli people cannot feasibly entertain dreams of peace until they no longer face the daily realities of terror. Additionally, changing demographics in Israel require that we alter our landscape and withdraw from significant portions of the West Bank. While a painful sacrifice, this unilateral initiative is essential to preserving the Jewish majority in Israel. The preservation of a majority Jewish state is more important than the specific geographical boundaries of the country.

This policy of the Olmert government is not a fatalistic decision to accept a thusly redrawn Israel in perpetuity. The Prime Minister has clearly and repeatedly expressed his desire to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority to realize a peaceful and secure future for Arabs and Jews alike.

We hope that Hamas will sincerely denounce its terrorist proclivities and recognize the right of both Israel and Palestine to exist and flourish in the Middle East. Yet we must always retain a Jewish majority in the Jewish state. This is the promise left to us by our ancestors, and the legacy we in turn will leave for our children.

The writer is the President of Kadima USA. Schneier is also president and founder of The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, founding rabbi of The Hampton Synagogue and The New York Synagogue, and author of Shared Dreams: Martin Luther King, Jr. & The Jewish Community.