Berman Jewish Policy Archive @ NYU Wagner
October 2014
Guest Introduction: Naomi Chazan  
Dean, School of Government and Society at the Academic College of Tel-Aviv-Yaffo
Director, Center for the Advancement of Women in the Public Sphere, Van Leer Institute

Former MK and Deputy Speaker of Knesset
Former President and current Board Member, New Israel Fund 

     The quest for peace has been the most important human objective in the Jewish tradition throughout the ages; it has also proven to be the most elusive. The centrality of peace is an integral part of every Jewish ritual, as embodied in the ultimate incantation of the Kaddish: "May the One who makes peace in the heavens bring peace to us and to all of Israel." Its attainment, however, despite the injunction to constantly "seek peace and pursue it," has been far more difficult to come by. This duality is especially pronounced in the contemporary era.  



     At the beginning of the twentieth century, with Jews dispersed throughout the globe, peace remained an unfulfilled aspiration which the Jewish people, as a collective, could contribute to spiritually, but hardly in reality. Jews became active players in the search for a workable peace for the first time in over two centuries after the creation of the State of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people. Since 1948, an alluring discourse of peace has developed, alongside a skepticism that has contributed substantially to its absence. The growing attachment to the idea of peace in the abstract has come together with an equally strong disbelief in the prospects for its realization. The yearning that peace evokes both in Israel and in Jewish communities throughout the world has not been translated into a greater willingness to actively bring it about.


     The combination of hope and fear evoked by the concept of peace first became apparent following Israel's war of independence; it has become more pronounced since the Six Day War of 1967. American Jews, just like their Israeli counterparts, greeted the prospects of an Egyptian-Israeli accord with a bewildering mixture of anticipation and suspicion. When serious negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians began in the early 1990s-first in Madrid and later in what has come to be known as the Oslo process-the purveyors of a permanent settlement and its doubters coalesced into two opposing blocks on both sides of the ocean. The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 proved a watershed: after the signing of the Israeli-Jordanian pact a year earlier, no further progress has been made on the peace front. Since then, on the American side, the majority of Jews came to embrace the peace process and the two-state solution at its core; on the Israeli side, although lip-service was paid to the Oslo trajectory, the bulk of the population came to reject the process.


     The brief years since the beginning of the twenty-first century have underscored the gap between the desire for a peaceful solution to the Arab-Israel conflict and the belief that it can happen. Peace may still be viewed as the overriding goal of all Jews; few think it will occur during their lifetime. The renewed passivity towards peace initiatives is reminiscent of the pre-state era. Despite Israel's ability to defend itself militarily, it has not been able to produce a leader with the courage needed to secure its survival in the increasingly volatile Middle East. Thus, as the American Jewish community becomes more dovish, Israeli society has grown increasingly hawkish. Ironically, it is precisely the issue of peace which continues to unite Jews throughout the globe culturally and divide them in reality.


     The articles collected by the Berman Jewish Policy Archive trace and elaborate upon these trends. Drawing together documents produced by major Jewish organizations, survey materials, key articles by leading American Jewish intellectuals and community leaders, this fascinating compilation shows how, over the years, Jews in the United States have shared their hopes for peace with their sisters and brothers in Israel, while gradually diverging from them in their assessment not only of the price that it requires, but also of its necessity.


     The story of American Jewry and peace is best articulated in the articles written over the past forty years by the late Leibel Fein, an astute student of Israel and a champion of both the concept and practice of peace. It his vision-one which intertwines the value of peace with the pragmatism needed for its realization-which stands as a beacon for all those who are dedicated to the Jewish notion of peace and its fulfillment today.


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