Isi Leibler: Wrong on All Counts

by: David Robbins

May 20, 2016

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared on The Jerusalem Post Blog

Isi Leibler gets it wrong on almost all counts in his criticism of my appearance in April before J Street U, the student arm of J Street.

As I made clear publicly in accepting the invitation to speak, I did so both because of my conviction that it is vital to engage with all members of our community, even and especially those with whom we might disagree.

I used this stage to deliver a double message.  First, that ADL is committed to ensuring Israel remains a safe and secure, Jewish and democratic state; and second, that peace cannot be brought about by applying pressure only to one side of the conflict—Israel.  This in many ways is the crux of our disagreement with J Street—that further isolating Israel at a time of great tumult and regional volatility is bound to make peace less likely.

Therefore, Leibler’s accusation that I made a moral equivalence between Israel and the Palestinians when I called for acknowledgement of “responsibility of both parties” turned my point on its head. In speaking to a group that is often critical of Israel, I was making clear that “champions of Palestinian self-determination must hold the Palestinian leadership to task for its failures as well.” Leibler ignores—or worse—willfully distorts my message.

What is more outrageous is that any aspect of my remarks to these students could be misconstrued as “indirectly gave a seal of approval for the Obama administration to impose solutions on future borders that could dramatically compromise Israel’s security.”

Recognizing that there are steps Israel can take to ensure the viability of a two-state solution bears no resemblance to supporting an imposed solution. I delivered that message even while reiterating that a reasonable approach must have expectations of the Palestinians as well.

In talking about the need to recognize two narratives, I was, of course, not referring to the Palestinian rejection of Israel’s legitimacy, which ADL condemns over and over again, but that there is a Palestinian people and population whose future has to be dealt with in order to have peace and security for Israel.

And in calling out the need for Israel to protect the rights of all its citizens, I was not challenging the fact that Israel is one of the great democratic societies in the world. Instead, just as we do in that other great democracy, the United States, we urge ourselves to do better, to make sure that all segments of society are full participants in our democracy and entitled to the full benefits of rights—a noble ideal, but hardly a betrayal of Israel.

As to the criticism of my decision to speak to J Street U, I have no apologies. I do not know if Leibler ever bothered to attempt to meet these young people, but I was impressed: They are a group of deeply thoughtful college students whose commitment to Israel is genuine and whose passion on the issues is impressive. Whether Leibler likes it or not, these are future leaders in our community and in our country.

Again, while I may disagree with many of their parent organization’s positions and tactics—and ADL has expressed such sentiment publicly in the past—if we are going to maintain a true sense of community and inclusion, particularly among younger Jews, then we must engage those with whom we have disagreements and explain our positions. We certainly must be wary of those who castigate those who are willing to engage broadly.

Israel continues to face many threats from terrorists and extremists, as well as in the form of calls for boycotts, divestment and sanctions. We must stand against all. But there are also dangers to Israel from those who do not want a two-state solution, from those who do not worry about maintaining Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

And there are those within our own community who seem to forget that disagreement and dissent are not just Jewish ideas – they are Jewish ideals.

The challenge for all of us is how to be a strong advocate for Israel while respecting a broad range of views on how best to move forward.