The Conference of Presidents’s rejection of J Street’s membership application was the right decision. During the nearly yearlong after J Street applied for membership in the Conference, there was no change in J Street’s outspoken criticism of Israel. Clearly acceptance of membership would have led to a legitimization of J Street’s positions and actions, and in our view to significant long-term damage to the pro-Israel movement in America.
Even many of the Conference members that supported J Street’s membership application openly stated that they disagreed with many of J Street’s statements and actions. Their arguments in favor came down to the fact that J Street has many members, including young members, and that the Conference should have a “big tent.” In our view, membership numbers have little relevance. If the Neturei Karta had many members, including young members, should it be considered for membership? I think not. As it relates to a big-tent approach, where is the line drawn? Can anyone with many members join the tent? All the critics can cite is J Street’s support for a two-state solution.
However, their rejection had nothing to do with J Street’s apparent support for a two-state solution, and everything to do with its statements and actions on the issues of the day.
Alan Dershowitz is an ardent supporter of a two-state solution and yet he wrote that he could not find anything pro-Israel in the statements and actions of J Street. J Street initiated one major Congressional letter and it was a letter only critical of Israel and its actions in Gaza. When the Goldstone Report was published and Israel and the US Jewish community were outraged at the falsehoods and slander of the report, J Street was attempting to get former South Africa judge Richard Goldstone, who headed the UN’s fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict, appointments with members of Congress. Eventually Goldstone himself disavowed his own report, and yet J Street stood by it. If J Street had been a member of the Conference at that time its actions would have caused significant damage.
J Street vocally called on the US administration not to veto a UN Security Council resolution critical of Israel. The Conference of Presidents supported a veto and fortunately the Obama administration did not listen to J Street and vetoed the resolution.
Just a few days before the Conference of President’s vote on J Street, it became public that US Secretary of State John Kerry had been quoted as saying Israel could become an apartheid country, and that J Street defended Kerry’s remark. Abe Foxman of the ADL, who supported J Street membership, condemned Kerry’s remark and observed that even Secretary Kerry himself later expressed regret for the use of the term apartheid – but not J Street.
One of the most critical issues today is preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Alan Dershowitz points out that J Street has opposed strengthening sanctions, and even opposes a US military strike if the Obama administration feels it is the only way to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. J Street called for Israel to end its military incursion into Gaza, when Israel could find no other way to protect its citizens from missiles. The Obama administration stood with Israel and supported it when the IDF went into Gaza – but not J Street.
The importance of the vote by the Conference of Presidents is it avoided a situation in which AIPAC would be lobbying Congress to support issues that would be beneficial of Israel and J Street would lobby in the opposite direction. Such a situation would confuse members of the House and Senate as to the position of the Jewish community. If J Street would have been invited to join the Conference of Presidents, it would give the impression that it is an accepted voice within the national leadership of the Jewish community. I believe that this would, over time, be devastating to Congressional support for Israel and ultimately the security of Israel.
We decided to be outspoken in our position because of what we saw as the critical nature of the vote. J Street has, in essence, attempted to destroy the ideal of what it means to be pro-Israel.
Pro-Israel means standing up for and with Israel on the most critical issues facing its survival and security.
J Street has failed that test. The vote of the Conference of Presidents was a resounding affirmation that J Street’s actions should not be legitimized by membership. The Conference decided correctly.
The author, an attorney, is president of the National Council of Young Israel, which is a member of the Conference of Presidents.