J street (do not publish again).
(photo credit: Avi Katz)
I CERTAINLY DON’T AGREE WITH everything that I heard and read at J Street’s
second conference, held in Washington DC in late February. But contrary to J
Street’s fervent detractors, I also certainly didn’t see or hear anything that
would bring me to doubt the loyalty of the organization, or most of its members,
to the State of Israel.
Since its inception almost three years ago, J
Street has made more than its share of mistakes – strategic, tactical, and,
perhaps most worryingly, ethical. J Street’s appeal to the US administration to
avoid vetoing the UN resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity (even
though such a veto would have been consistent with American’s long-standing
opposition to settlements) was politically, morally, and strategically misguided
and cost the organization the support of Democratic Congressman Gary Ackerman.
At times, J Street’s confusion over whether they are, or should be, primarily a
congressional lobby or a grass-roots peace organization has caused them to
alienate the centrist, pro-Israel members of Congress and the mainstream of
American and Israeli Jewish community that they so desperately need.At
the conference, some of the analyses were simplistic or naïve, and ignored the
economics that help to keep Israel’s foreign policy in place. While
romanticizing and overstating the significance of the Sheikh Jarrah protests
against the eviction of Palestinian residents of this East Jerusalem
neighborhood by Jewish settlers, they paid scant attention to the increasing
class and social consciousness in Israel. Some of the more vocal participants
seemed annoyingly incapable of understanding the political dread that has held
Israelis in its grip since the waves of terror during the intifada or why some
Israelis are hesitant to blithely embrace the “Arab Spring” shaking the Mideast
(even if they want to be hopeful). The conference was too aggressively secular,
ignoring the religious community and the role that religion could play in
solving the conflict.
Yet meeting with more than 2,000 Jews who were
unapologetically and proudly convening in support of the State of Israel was
energizing and challenging.
This was a crowd that is fundamentally
committed to the existence of the State of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish
Like a majority of Israelis, they are angry that the peace
process is dead and they feel betrayed by the policies of the current Israeli
government. They reject the claim, which too many Israelis accept as a given,
that being pro-Palestinian is inconsistent with being pro-Israeli and they
refuse to think in zerosum terms. And they are demanding that we, the Israelis,
recognize the political price that they, as Jews living in the US, have paid for
those policies. And yes, there was a session devoted to the Boycott-Divestment-
Sanctions (BDS) movement, the newest sina qua non of disloyalty to the Jewish
people. J Street has repeatedly and consistently rejected BDS as a strategy for
advancing the peace process and the session was structured by the J Street
organizers to convince the audience of the moral, political and practical folly
of the movement.
But even this well-planned panel, based on the
tried-and-true hypothesis that objectionable positions and misguided opinions
won’t go away just because you ignore them, was enough to charge the batteries
of the anti- J Street crowd – as if providing a podium is an endorsement of each
and every position that any speaker on the podium makes. The anti-J Street crowd
is at least as energized as the J Street crowd itself, bursting into overdrive
with publications that purport to reveal J Street’s “real” or “unadorned” agenda
and making sure to put J Street’s own description of its agenda – such as
pro-Israel and propeace – in dismissive quotation marks.
critics are, of course, fully entitled to their criticism. I share some of it.
But it’s the tone of the critique that troubles me.
The commentary is so
virulent and the criticism is so gleeful that I dare say it reveals more about
the quality of debate in the American Jewish and Israeli communities and about
the critics themselves than it does about J Street.
J Street is not the
only organization under attack. A concerted effort is underway by those with a
vested interest in the status quo to portray all dissent as treason and all
difference of opinion as treachery. And anyone who disagrees is immediately
labeled with that penultimate epitaph against which there is no defense:
“self-hating Jew.” The selfappointed group of loyalty assessors not only
contends that there is only one way to be pro- Israel – now they contend that
there is only one way to even think about being pro-Israel.
to understand that for many, in the Diaspora and in Israel, supporting a
twostate solution to the conflict and strengthening democracy, equality and
tolerance in Israel is the height of pro-Israeliness. They demand sole control
over definitions such as pro-Israel, Zionist, and pro-peace.
attempts at censorship within the community show a lack of confidence on the
part of the critics – maybe because they know that much of the world, including
much of the Jewish world, disagrees with them. Maybe it is that lack of
confidence that explains the sense of glee at every mistake or misstep, real,
imagined or fabricated, that J Street has, or has not, made.
is almost palpable in their writings – as if J Street and like-minded
organizations provide a vindication of the entrenched belief that the world is
against us, that we can’t even count on our own, that there’s no point in even
trying. And since that is so, with a gleeful sigh of relief, we can continue on
our merry intransigent way, never stopping once to examine our assumptions or
challenge our positions.
We – the State of Israel and the Jewish people –
deserve better. There really is a movement out there that is trying to
delegitimize the very existence of the State of Israel. We need to contend with
our real enemies, rather than engage in our own delegitimization of every
opinion or position that deviates from the Israeli government’s official
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