Too often, whenever the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is discussed, crucial issues remain hidden behind rehearsed rhetoric. This leaves little room for an effective, open dialogue. It’s tempting to make such black and white arguments. But these aren’t the strategies that will achieve a lasting peace, and they don’t reflect the complications and nuances of the conflict. Nor do they allow us to recognize the reality in which people in the region live — or the often-unproductive context in which the conversation unfolds here in the United States.

Daniel Luks’s article (In defense of Israel,1/24/2011) exemplifies this tendency to substitute analysis for rhetoric. While he may feel that Palestinians are implicated in Egypt’s discrimination against Sudanese refugees, solely for sharing a race and ethnicity, J Street UMich doesn’t agree with such broad, sweeping statements. Similarly, while he may feel that Israel’s support for its gay community justifies its continued discrimination against Palestinians inside and outside of the West Bank and Gaza, we don’t subscribe to such simplistic arguments.

Campus conversations using these simplistic arguments have long been dominated by those who are pro-Israel or those who are pro-Palestine. Each discussion turned into an argument. Each fact met with a counter fact. Voices were raised and emotions ran high. People left these exchanges angrier rather than more understanding. We at J Street UMich recognize that this campus atmosphere must change and nuance must be realized.

J Street UMich is, first and foremost, a pro-Israel group. We believe that Israel has a rightful and important place in the family of nations. The concept of a homeland in Israel for us will always be treasured and supported. Our love for Israel is like love for family, constant and enduring. However, just like any close-knit family, we are not uninvolved and uncritical in each other’s affairs — we observe, we advise and, when necessary, we nag because we want the best for our family, and we want our family to be its best.

This definition of pro-Israel doesn’t match up with that of many who claim the term. We do not seek to support each and every Israeli policy, nor do we think such a defense serves Israel nor our own community. To subscribe to such a version of support would be to deny the very democratic values we hold true both as Americans and as supporters of Israel’s democracy. In addition, it perpetuates a status quo in the Middle East, which is unsustainable for Israelis and Palestinians.

For J Street, to be pro-Israel is to wrestle in deep affection and agreement and deep disagreement with many of Israel’s policies, chief among them an occupation that now stretches into its fifth decade. To be pro-Israel for us is to recognize that such an occupation betrays our values and threatens to undermine the very possibility of Israel’s democratic future. To be pro-Israel is to therefore support a future state of Palestine and to do all we can to bring it about. This is the only way that we believe one can be pro-Israel and pro-Peace.

A two-state solution, with Israelis and Palestinians living side-by-side in peace and security, is the only answer to this conflict that will allow an expedient end to the occupation and the possibility of democratic self-determination for both peoples. This requires intelligent, critical and reasoned dialogue, not empty rhetoric. It requires a drastic change in how these types of conversations are had. And it requires a range of viewpoints that reflects the nuanced opinions of the Jewish community.

There will always be those who wish to reduce the discussion to a series of black and white talking points. But it’s in the best interest of our community and Israel for us to come together and create one community committed to Israel. J Street U National and J Street represent thousands of American Jews who live firmly in the world of nuance — who love Israel, actively work for peace and believe that relationship requires tough conversations and a real commitment to Jewish and democratic values. On campus we must elevate the level of conversation by avoiding broad sweeping generalizations and recognizing hard truths and difficult complexities to find common ground that will set the stage for inclusion and progress.

This piece was written on behalf of J Street UMich by Eitan Neumark, LSA freshman, and Mandy Kain, Biomedical Sciences Graduate Student.

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