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An Open Letter to the Prime Minister of Israel

During your visit to the United States you will, no doubt, insist that you will not negotiate under the threat of violence—but were you not once in the mid-1940s a young man who was willing to use violence to make the British negotiate an end to their Mandate in Palestine?

You will, no doubt, insist that the Palestinians should satisfy their national hopes in Jordan, or by living as a minority in the undivided Israel—but you once rejected the suggestion that the Jews should happily live everywhere as a minority; you insisted in the 1940s that Jews were entitled to their own national self-expression.

Mr. Prime Minister, can’t you see yourself in the young people who are now throwing stones on the streets of Gaza and the West Bank? Don’t you know better than anyone that an aggrieved national community cannot be repressed forever?

In fact, you proved a few years ago that you do understand the Palestinians. In 1979, you voted against the Camp David agreement, which your own leader, Menachem Begin, had negotiated, because, as you then insisted, even limited autonomy for the West Bank and Gaza would lead inevitably to a separate Palestinian political identify.

You were right then: that is the issue. All of the rhetoric, and delaying tactics, that you have employed since then have had, and continue to have, one purpose: to avoid any form of recognition of the Palestinians in the territories that might open the door to their national expression.

In 1947, the Jews who sought to establish a Jewish state refused to follow your view; they accepted instead the partition. Jews agreed in their overwhelming majority that a partitioned land was better than eternal tribal war between Arabs and Jews.

By our own choice, and by the world’s insistence, we Jews are one family. We therefore say to you, the most highplaced of our brothers, that your ideology about the “undivided land of Israel” is harmful to the Jewish people. It makes peace negotiations impossible. It casts the Jews in Israel, and those who care about them all over the world, in the impossible position that the Jewish state can live only by forever repressing the Palestinians.

Do not dismiss these views, Mr. Prime Minister, as those of a marginal minority. Many of the leaders of the diaspora have been silent in public, while protesting hard-line policies in private, for very nearly a decade. Every poll throughout the years has shown that the American Jewish community is consistent, at a ratio of nearly two to one, in preferring accommodation (the code word is “territories for peace”) to the ideology of “the undivided land of Israel,” with its inevitable results in riots and confrontations.

In your visit to Washington, we stand with you in supporting Israel’s security and economic and political strength. We stand with you, as do most Jews, as the Prime Minister of all Israel. It is our moral and Jewish duty to say, with equal passion, that we stand against you as the leader of the party in Israel that insists on holding on to the territories—all of them—and thus forecloses, on the Jewish side, the possibility of accommodation. True, to become partners in making peace, the Palestinians must abandon terrorism and give up their own maximalist vision of an undivided Palestine—but let no Jew take refuge from our own need for hard decisions by blaming the Palestinians for their misdeeds: that is their problem.

Our problem is the Jewish people. We are divided at this moment between the proponents of ideological intransigence and those who believe in moderation. The majority of Jews in the world belong to the moderate camp. May we respectfully remind you, Prime Minister Shamir, that you are coming to Washington these fateful days not as party ideologue but as the representative of the whole of the house of Israel.

Professor Kenneth J. Arrow

Stanford, California

Professor Nathan P. Glazer

Cambridge, Massachusetts

Professor Arthur Hertzberg

Hanover, New Hampshire

Rabbi Wolfe Kelman

New York City

Professor Seymour Martin Lipset

Stanford, California

Professor Sidney Morgenbesser

New York City

Menachem Rosensaft

New York City

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