J Street confab sparks schism in Kadima

"This organization is doing tremendous damage to Israel," MK Ze’ev Bielski says.

nachman shai 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
nachman shai 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Four Kadima MKs who accepted an invitation to speak at this weekend’s J Street conference in Washington faced criticism on Wednesday from colleagues in their faction who said they should not be supporting the left-wing American lobby.
MKs Nachman Shai, Yoel Hasson, Shlomo Molla and Orit Zuaretz of Kadima will address the conference, along with Labor MKs Amir Peretz and Daniel Ben-Simon. J Street tried unsuccessfully to get more senior Israeli politicians to come, including the most dovish minister in the cabinet, Intelligence Services Minister Dan Meridor (Likud).
J Street angered MKs across the political spectrum when it refused to oppose the UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements, a position that precipitated the Israeli Embassy’s decision not to participate in the conference. Though J Street had hoped the resolution wouldn’t come to a vote and that some of the language would be altered, it objected to the US vetoing a resolution in line with long-standing American policy against settlement construction.
Kadima MKs said they were also upset with J Street for undermining the international effort to prevent the nuclearization of Iran, criticizing the IDF’s handling of the Gaza flotilla and Israel’s Gaza policy, and helping facilitate a visit to Capitol Hill by Judge Richard Goldstone, whose UN-sponsored report accused Israel of committing war crimes during Operation Cast Lead.
“I have my own criticism of the current government, but there have to be limits, and this organization is doing tremendous damage to Israel,” said Kadima MK Ze’ev Bielski, a former Jewish Agency chairman.
“J Street may have good intentions and think they want what is best for Israel, but when they oppose an American president vetoing an anti-Israel resolution at the Security Council and take a hostile position against our naval commandos who were trying to save their lives from goons who wanted to kill them on the flotilla, they cross red lines,” he declared.
MK Shai Hermesh added that he could do his job of trying to topple the government while in Israel, but when he went abroad, he wouldn’t cooperate with any organization that worked against the Israeli government.
“It is too bad that some of my colleagues do not understand the danger of supporting an organization that is working against Israel,” Hermesh said.
Coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) also lashed out at the Kadima MKs attending the conference. In a speech in the Knesset plenum, he said Kadima proved that it was a leftwing extremist party by sending lawmakers to the J Street conference.
Shai defended his decision to attend the conference, but did not defend J Street. He distanced himself from J Street executive director Jeremy Ben-Ami’s assertion that his organization’s stance was like that of Kadima.
“He can say that J Street is Kadima, but Kadima is not J Street,” Shai said. “I am not a supporter of J Street, but I support Jews helping Israel, each in their own way. There are young people who have questions, and if we don’t answer them, we may lose them. We are too small a people to throw anyone away.”
Shai said he would focus his remarks at the conference on the legitimacy of Israel. He said he would defend building in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem and settlement blocs outside the capital.
Hasson said he had decided to attend the conference even though he disagreed with many J Street policies. He said that in his speech there, he would criticize J Street for opposing the American veto at the Security Council.
“I don’t see J Street as extreme Left,” he said. “I see it as a legitimate organization that wants to help Israel. I would cooperate with any Jewish organization in the US.”
J Street announced on Wednesday that it was expecting more than 2,000 activists, religious leaders and students to attend its second annual conference.
Hilary Leila Krieger contributed to this report.