On March 1st, I participated in the JCPA annual plenum in Washington, DC in a debate/dialogue with Ken Jacobson of the Anti-Defamation League and Jeremy Ben -Ami of J Street entitled “How Big a Tent for Pro-Israel Advocacy?”
Jeremy Ben Ami of J Street would like very much to consider himself a “pro- Israel advocate.” J Street is a new lobby in Washington made up, primarily of left wing Jews who are of supporters of “American Friends for Peace Now”, “Israel Policy Forum” and “New Israel Fund”, and the like. On their web site, they dub themselves as “pro-Israel”, yet by their words and by their deeds that would stretch the definition of pro-Israel to include the most egregious critics of Israel’s existence.
Take, for example, Ben-Ami’s April, 2008 statement in favor of negotiations with Hamas as noted by The New Republic’s James Kirchick. To be in favor of negotiations with an organization whose charter contains the words, “O Muslims, O Abdullah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him,” and still be considered pro-Israel requires a degree of mental acrobatics which is difficult to fathom. Add to that J Street’s narrative of “right-wing” Jewish organizations, “who, through fear and intimidation, have cut off reasonable debate on the topic [of Middle East policy].”
If claims of a “Rightist” Jewish cabal who dominate policy discussions on the Middle East is a “pro-Israel” position, than Norman Finkelstein, “The Israel Lobby” authors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer and Saudi spokesman Chas Freeman all need to be added to the list of pro-Israel advocates too.
Or, consider for a moment, J Street’s victorious crowing after successfully exorcised Republican VP nominee Sarah Palin from the list of speakers at a rally in opposition to Iran madman Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a man who had personally called for the elimination of the state of Israel. If an organization is truly “pro-Israel” wouldn’t it welcome vocal opposition to such monstrous statements from politicians from all sides of the spectrum, both right and left?
Perhaps most egregious is J Street’s endorsement of blatant moral equivalency during the most recent round of fighting between Hamas and Israel which forced Rabbi Eric Yoffie of the Union of Reform Judaism (no Likudnik by any stretch of the imagination) to denounce them,
“[J Street] could find no moral difference between the actions of Hamas and other Palestinian militants, who have launched more than 5,000 rockets and mortar shells at Israeli civilians in the past three years, and the long-delayed response of Israel, which finally lost patience and responded to the pleas of its battered citizens in the south… These words are deeply distressing because they are morally deficient, profoundly out of touch with Jewish sentiment and also appallingly naïve.”
J Street argues, correctly, that there are left-wing Israeli “post-Zionists” and organizations, but they can hardly be considered representative of the majority opinion of the “Israeli” Street, as the most recent Knesset elections show, where right wing parties definitely swept the slate. And as Rabbi Yoffie’s article in the Forward pointed out, even among the left in Israel, support for Operation Cast Lead was high, the need for it, obvious.
Indeed as far as I can ascertain there is no issue on which J Street has supported Israeli policy. Not on the threat from Iran, where it lobbied against tighter U.S sanctions under the ludicrous assertion that it would constitute “a naval blockade”, not on the threat from Hamas, or on the Anti-Semitic character of Durban II (It applauded the Obama Administration’s initial announcement that it would send representatives to the Durban II preparatory meetings).
Now it is fair to argue that one can be supportive of a country, while questioning the wisdom of some of its policies, but when looking at the totality of J Street’s positions, it’s clear that they would have us believe that to be a friend to Israel means to stand on the edge of a precipice with that friend, and urge him to jump.
As I had brought out during the discussion, Israel is a healthy democracy, like the United States, and all healthy democracies welcome debate and dissent. However, in order to be considered a part of the pro-Israel fold, there is a boundary beyond which one should definitely not be allowed to cross.
In Washington, pro-Israel advocates are confronted with the huge and well funded Saudi lobby. as well as with the new, highly funded Iranian lobby, NIAC, (National Iranian-American Council). They certainly do enough damage, by themselves without the succor and support of our co-religionists. It is certainly interesting that J Street finds itself on the same side of the issues as these avowedly anti-Israel lobbies.
When Israel is under attack and members of the IDF are putting their lives on the line to defend the Jewish state, it is simply beyond the pale to be parading the halls of Congress petitioning members to impose a premature ceasefire, and simultaneously taut oneself as being pro-Israel. That would be akin to the classic story of a child killing his parents, and then appealing to the judge for leniency because he is an orphan.
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