As the new CEO of the 100-year-old Jewish social action organization Ameinu, New Jerseyan Gideon Aronoff said he “pleads guilty to idealism.”
Since the start of July, he has been working to balance the pro-Israel politics of labor Zionism and what he considers “very clear differences with the Israeli government” on peace and social justice issues.
In a drive to straddle the Left and Right on negotiation issues between Israel and the Palestinians, Aronoff has proposed what he calls “the Third Narrative.”
“One narrative says Israel right or wrong and makes no recognition of the many claims the Palestinians have, including the West Bank occupation, the settlements, and discrimination against Israeli Arabs,” he said.
A second narrative argues “that every part of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is due to the existence of Israel and that the behavior of Israel is both morally wrong and practically wrong.”
To Aronoff, “the pro-Israel people who take the ‘Israel right or wrong’ position are leading Israel down the road to ruin, and people on the far left who blame Israel for everything are doing nothing to bring about a Palestinian state.”
What’s more, he said, “the stakes now for both Israelis and Palestinians are so high that we have to break through these entrenched narratives, and go in a different direction toward peace.”
While ideas at both ends of the spectrum appear to keep hardening, he believes Ameinu — which, said Aronoff, is “unapologetically progressive, and unapologetically Zionist” — “has the best chance of being able to really connect with well-meaning people on the left to create progressive support for Israel and to counter those who are seeking to demonize Israel.”
Aronoff, who lives in South Orange, was an organizer in the movement to free Soviet Jewry before joining the Washington, DC, office of HIAS — the American-Jewish community’s international refugee aid agency — in 2000. He served as CEO for a little over six years before leaving last year.
Ameinu (“our people”) has chapters in nine U.S. cities and two in Canada and has a seat at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Inside Israel, Ameinu fights discrimination against Bedouins, argues for religious pluralism and egalitarianism, and opposes attempts to expel asylum-seekers from Africa.
“There is a whole agenda that will make Israel a more compassionate, just, and democratic state,” he said. “It is a partner to the work we’re doing on the Israeli-Palestinian front because, without a two-state solution, Israel as a Jewish-Democratic state is imperiled.”
At Ameinu, said Aronoff, “we have an opportunity to speak within our community with a credibility that’s based on the more than 100 years of activity in the Zionist movement. I think that we are well received as an organization, but many people have yet to come to agree with our policy goals. That’s our challenge.”