Some Thoughts on Israel's Independence Day

Tonight, Israel will begin to celebrate the 67th anniversary of its modern rebirth as an independent state on its Independence Day.

Founded in the face of enormous challenges and in the shadow of the Holocaust, Israel has much to celebrate over the course of its tumultuous history. Its Declaration of Independence lays out a solemn promise that the "State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations."

But for a people who have always attached great symbolic significance to numbers, the figure 67 has other connotations. Of course, the Six-Day War of 1967 was a moment of tremendous triumph and relief as Israel defeated Arab armies that massed against it. But it was also the starting point for an occupation that has now extended for 48 years, with no end in sight. This was the moment Israel began controlling the lives of millions of Palestinians against their will. As such, it reminds us that Israel's promise will not be redeemed until it finds a way of making peace with the Palestinians.

Sadly, that dream seems further away now than it has for some time. Just about this time last year, the peace initiative launched by Secretary of State John Kerry collapsed, and since then there has been little desire on either side to resume negotiations. Last summer, we witnessed a tragic war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, with an awful death toll that achieved and resolved nothing apart. And last month, Prime Minister Netanyahu used racist fear mongering as part of his reelection campaign.

Now Netanyahu is busy constructing what will be the most right-wing coalition in Israel's history. The Prime Minister has shown that he is not serious about a two-state solution and has no intention of negotiating in good faith with the Palestinians. Bolstered by a coalition that will be a partnership of ultra-nationalists and the ultra-orthodox, his policies will likely deepen Israel's international isolation and quickly lead to further clashes with the Obama administration.

With the U.S.-Israel relationship under growing strain, someone has to step forward to act as its guardian. American Jews have a crucial role in that. We need to begin by laying out the contours of a normal, healthy relationship between Israel and the United States. At the centerpiece must be those same shared democratic values laid out so eloquently in the Israeli Declaration of Independence 67 years ago. We must rally in their defense and vigorously oppose any attempt to erode them.

Secondly, both sides should recommit to a two-state solution, not just as a vague aspiration to be realized at some undetermined time in the distant future but as an active strategic and policy priority now. Taking steps away from that outcome endangers not only Israel's Jewish and democratic nature but its relationship with the U.S. as well.

Third, both sides should refrain from meddling -- or even the perception of meddling -- in the other's domestic politics. One of the most damaging developments of recent years has been the way that some wealthy, right-wing donors have worked to turn Israel into a partisan wedge issue in the United States. That short-sighted policy will ultimately be strategically disastrous for Israel.

Clearly, the health of the relationship can no longer be left solely in the hands of politicians in either country. The last few years have demonstrated that all too often we cannot trust them to resist the temptation to try to reap a short-term political gain at the expense of the long-term health of the relationship itself. We must hold them to account when they put narrow partisan interests above the long-term health of the relationship.

Ultimately this relationship does not belong to Netanyahu or President Obama; it does not belong to House Speaker John Boehner or any other politician. It does not belong to Sheldon Adelson, despite his billions. It belongs to us, and we must fight for it.