J Street has joined the latest anti-Israel pile-on: encouraging the Obama Administration to support this month’s anti-Israel UN initiative in the Security Council, instead of vetoing it.J Street supports the resolution because it condemns the settlements. Yet urging the Obama Administration to sic the UN on Israel with yet another biased resolution makes as much sense as turning to Ehud Olmert to teach political ethics or asking Hamas to run a seminar on peaceful conflict resolution. Once again, J Street’s missteps have undermined its claim to be the “political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans.”
Those of us championing Big Tent Zionism take no joy when J Street stumbles. J Street speaks to American Jews seeking a revitalized liberal Zionism which is pro-Israel, anti-settlement. The numbers of dovish American Jews have been exaggerated. There are many ways to reconcile liberalism and Zionism. Nevertheless, we should welcome all those who love Israel but criticize Israeli policies.
In 1950s America, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Adlai Stevenson and others forged a muscular, post-Stalinist, liberalism: tough and realistic enough to be anti-Communist; humane and patriotic enough to be effective. Similarly, Zionism in Israel and the Diaspora today needs a revitalized, post-Oslo left that is tough and realistic enough to be anti-terrorism and anti-delegitimization; compromising and patriotic enough to be transformational, not just effective. Is J Street up to that challenge?In 2010, J Street seemed to find a more mature, constructive, footing, despite lying about its financial reliance on the anti-Zionist George Soros and other mysterious funders. Whereas originally, J Street so opposed the Jewish establishment it could not even ally with mainstream Jewish organizations when they were right about Hamas or Iran, this teenage rebellion phase seemingly faded. Most notably, J Street denounced the global BDS Movement – the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement.
In repudiating the Boycotters’ “punitive approach towards Israel” and their “failure to focus on the responsibilities of all parties to help end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” J Street saw through the human rights masquerade of so many anti-Israeli forces, especially on campus. J Street’s website condemned the Palestinian BDS National Committee for failing “explicitly to recognize Israel’s right to exist” and “ignor[ing] or reject[ing] Israel’s role as a national home for the Jewish people.” On campus, J Street commendably endorsed investing in peace projects not divesting from Israel.
Here, J Street drew what I and others call “red lines” not to cross when criticizing Israel while respecting “blue and white lines” – affirming why Zionism remains a legitimate form of nationalism, like so many others. These lines – and the unreason of Israel’s enemies – created a big broad tent in opposing Israel’s delegitimization. Of course, we can criticize Israel – dissent is democracy’s lifeblood and the Jewish national pastime, in Israel and the Diaspora. Of course, we can disagree about just what formula might solve this Palestinian-Israeli conflict – it is a complicated mess vexing many smart, moral people. And, of course, we should unite in delegitimizing the delegitimizers – trying to demonize Israel with human rights talk serves as a smokescreen obscuring hatred while undermining any peace process; compromise is difficult when you ostracize or are ostracized.
All this makes J Street’s recent turn to the UN so foolish and self-defeating. The UN, aka the Third World Dictators’ Debating Society, is the international headquarters of modern anti-Zionism, the delegitimizers’ main legitimizer. Since the General Assembly condemned Zionism as racism in 1975, the UN has targeted Israel repeatedly, spearheading the worldwide attempt to gussy up the toxic combination of traditional anti-Semitism and modern Arab anti-Zionism in idealistic human rights language. In so doing, the UN has sacrificed its own credibility and reduced human rights talk to a partisan battering ram rather than a universal standard.
This New Big Lie that Zionism is racism festers, although it reeks of Soviet Communism’s rotting corpse. The Soviet Union, which choreographed the resolution to embarrass America’s democratic allies, collapsed. The General Assembly repealed the resolution in 1991. Alas, this toxin, injected into the international political bloodstream, enjoyed renewed potency after the infamous Durban conference in 2001, and gains strength each time the UN demonizes Israel disproportionately.
True, the Security Council is not as bad as the UN Human Rights Council. But that is grading with a depressingly low standard.
Assuming good will, trusting that secret Saudi funders are not manipulating J Street into ignoring all this, one explanation emerges. J Street has again succumbed to that contemporary political malady, the Occupation Preoccupation, wherein opposition to Israeli settlements blots out all other aspects of the narrative, undermining all reason. This UN resolution – and implicitly J Street – overlooks the Palestinian culture of hatred and terrorism, which remains the major obstacle to peace. This resolution -- and implicitly J Street – overlooks the continuing challenge Hamas and other Palestinian rejectionists pose. It ignores the latest Palestinian anger that Mahmoud Abbas considered compromising on Jerusalem. This resolution – and implicitly J Street – overlooks Obama’s settlement freeze fiasco, which gave the Palestinians a new precondition without even getting them to negotiate for most of the time Israel stopped settlement construction.
Ironically, in planning to veto the resolution, the Obama Administration reveals that it may be cured of the Occupation Preoccupation – which J Street, among others, championed.
In fighting US plans to veto this latest UN outrage, J Street is failing to “Give Voice to Our Values” – the slogan of its upcoming conference. J Street is failing to be either pro-peace or pro-Israel because biased UN resolutions undermine trust rather than building confidence. And J Street is forgetting its own repudiation of the Boycotters, because this resolution, like the BDS movement, once again takes a “punitive approach towards Israel” and fails once again “to focus on the responsibilities of all parties to help end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. The author of “Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today,” his next book will look at the UN’s 1975 Zionism is Racism resolution. firstname.lastname@example.org.