It was a whirlwind weekend in Washington. At the annual meeting of the pro-Israel lobbying and advocacy group AIPAC, which took place in the nation's capital, President Obama took the podium last Sunday morning to clarify key points of his policy on Israel. The crowd of 10,000 AIPAC delegates included both grassroots pro-Israel activists and high-level public officials and decision makers.
On Monday night, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who was in town to meet with the president, also visited AIPAC to deliver a much-anticipated speech. It was a strong and inspiring message, and very well received, but only a prelude to Tuesday morning, when the Prime Minister spoke before a joint session of Congress.
On Tuesday, the Prime Minister dug deeper into the details of his vision for a peaceful and secure Israel living side-by-side with a Palestinian state as a neighbor. At the outset, he was firm about one thing: The fundamental problem between Israel and the Palestinians is not the fact that there is no Palestinian state it is the continued rejection by Palestinians of a Jewish state. He addressed Palestinian president Abbas personally: "It's time for President Abbas to stand before his people and say, 'I will accept a Jewish state.' Those six words will change history…. And those six words will convince the people of Israel that they have a true partner for peace."
Mr. Netanyahu also clarified to the world Israel's positions on key issues. Jerusalem, he said, "must never again be divided. Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel." Israel will not compromise on key security issues, insisting that any future Palestinian state must be fully demilitarized, and that Israel will maintain a military presence in key areas, including along the Jordan River. He insisted, as he had Monday night at AIPAC, that "Israel will not return to the indefensible boundaries of 1967." And he was unequivocal in his rejection of Hamas: "Israel is prepared to sit down today and negotiate peace with the Palestinian Authority…. But Israel will not negotiate with a Palestinian government backed by the Palestinian version of al Qaida."
It was a historic speech. But one of the most striking moments was unplanned. At the very beginning, the PM was interrupted by the shouts of an anti-Israel protester who had made her way into the gallery. Unflappable, he paused and took a sip of water as the heckler was removed. Finally, when the incident died down, he told members of Congress, "You know, I take it as a badge of honor, and so should you, that in our free societies you can have protests. You can't have these protests in the farcical parliaments in Tehran or in Tripoli. This is real democracy."
Prime Minister Netanyahu knows what democracy looks like. And, in both his public appearances in Washington, the prime minister also showed us what real leadership looks like, both by his willingness to compromise to make peace with his neighbors and his ability to stand firm on matters deeply rooted in principle. His speech brought to mind the words of the United States' third president, Thomas Jefferson: "In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock." I am grateful to have a leader in the Holy Land who stands so strongly for Israel. May we all follow his lead.
I strongly urge you to read the text of the Prime Minister's speech to congress, or, even better, watch it online — and see what real leadership looks like.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein