The start of a New Year always offers an opportunity to reflect on the events of the past year and to contemplate what lies ahead for the Jewish people and the state of Israel. It has been a year of momentous change both at home and abroad. While the news has not always been good, we are hopeful that the challenges we face are not insurmountable, and that we can work together to overcome them.
In the past year we have witnessed an Arab upheaval that is still in the process of redefining the Middle East landscape for better or worse. And in the year to come we surely will see more dramatic evidence of the sea changes taking shape in the Arab world as Libya, Egypt, Iraq and Afghanistan shed the shackles of dictatorship and conflict and continue on the long and potentially perilous road either toward democracy and peace, or to other forms of authoritarian rule.
There is the ever-present threat of a nuclear Iran, the growing belligerence of the Iranian regime in the face of international sanctions, the outright anti-Semitism expressed by Iranian leaders, and the possibility that Israel may be forced to strike first to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
Reports of Iranian involvement in several attempted terrorist attacks against Israelis abroad, as well as the deadly July 18 bus bombing of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria, which Israel and the U.S. strongly suspect was carried out by Hezbollah terrorists acting on orders from Iran, added a troubling urgency to the question of whether Iran was engaged in shadow warfare against the United States and what it terms the “Zionist regime.”
There is the ongoing civil war in Syria, with growing civilian casualties and no end or clear solution in sight. There are many lingering questions about what will happen if Bashar al-Assad is ultimately deposed. What will happen to Syria’s chemical and biological weapons? Who will fill the leadership void? And what will the conflict mean for Israel, the United States and key allies such as Jordan and Turkey, already faced with a stream of refugees flowing out of the conflict areas?
The U.S.-Israel strategic relationship remains strong, but challenges loom on the horizon that will put the relationship to the test once again. Earlier this year, the Palestinians pressed for unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations and in other international forums. The Israeli government apparently still has no real partner for peace in the West Bank or in Gaza, where the terrorist group Hamas continues its maximalist calls for the destruction of Israel. The Palestinians continue to reject Israel’s overtures to return to negotiations without preconditions.
While we can be proud of the achievements we have seen in making America a more diverse and inclusive country, we continue to struggle with the anti-Semitism and bigotry that lingers on the far fringes of society.
In August, we were reminded of the very real threat of racist violence with the tragic shooting spree at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin by an avowed white supremacist and member of a white power music band. For nearly a decade, the shooter, Wade Michael Page, had played in a number of white power bands. His decision to target Sikh worshippers on their way to services once again highlighted the threat of extremism and the racist and potentially violent racist skinhead subculture.
At home we are entering another election season, with control of the White House, Senate and House up for grabs. The issues and the discussion could redefine policymaking for years to come. Regrettably, the tenor of the debate so far has been rancorous, and even though there are fundamentally important issues at stake, the lack of civility in our political conversation continues to play a role in creating divisive partisanship and, at times, political deadlock.
We will continue to call on our elected officials and candidates for office to refrain from the kind of mudslinging and name-calling that debases the electoral process, and certainly to avoid the outrageous comparisons to Nazis and the Holocaust that continue to crop up on the campaign trail -- no matter how many times we remind public officials that those kinds of comparisons have no place in American politics.
We have made progress on a number of fronts in making and keeping America a more inclusive society. In June, President Obama issued a directive to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that said it should no longer seek to deport immigrants under the age of 30 living in the United States, provided that they came to the U.S. under the age of 16, have no criminal history, and have lived in the U.S. for at least five years. This was a responsible and important step in the right direction toward comprehensive immigration reform. We continue to believe that immigration reform should be a priority for our nation, including securing our borders.
Our courts have handed down decisive victories in a number of important civil rights cases that will help to shape our nation’s public policy toward minorities, including gays, African-Americans and immigrants, for years to come.
In June, the Supreme Court struck down some critical portions of Arizona’s harsh immigration law, including the statute’s most restrictive provisions, sending a message to other states that they should exercise caution in attempting to legislate new restrictions on how undocumented immigrants are treated in this country. And in August, a federal circuit court invalidated the Texas Voter ID law, which would require photos for voters at the polls. The judges found that the law would place “strict unforgiving burdens” on the poor and, by extension, Latinos and racial minorities.
As Jews living in the greatest democracy in history, we are blessed to be part of this great country and to play a role in its governance and to have a voice in its future. We look forward to the coming year with optimism and hope – hope that we can bridge the issues that divide us and find a way to make America a more perfect society based on the ideals and principles that have guided the Jewish people for generations.
May 5773 be a year in which the Jewish people continue to thrive, the United States remains strong and prosperous, the state of Israel finds lasting peace and security, a year in which the forces of anti-Semitism, religious bigotry and extremism are fully marginalized, and the forces democracy and pluralism flourish.