Jews lobby non-Jews to browbeat Jews – what do you call that?

If Sanders and J Street were “pro-Israel,” they would echo the Israeli Left, which remains patriotic and fights Palestinian terrorism while fighting for peace with the Palestinians.

J Street chief Jeremy Ben-Ami (photo credit: COURTESY J STREET)
J Street chief Jeremy Ben-Ami
(photo credit: COURTESY J STREET)
Thank you, Jeremy Ben-Ami, Bernie Sanders and J Street’s conventioneers. At J Street’s recent conference, they ended their charade. J Street is not the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” movement it long pretended to be; it’s the anti-occupation lobby, lacking nuance, balance and any ability to criticize Palestinians.
Sanders’ words brought a different clarity: Any Jew who donates to this bash-Israel-firster has no heart; any American who donates to this socialist-for-thee-but-not-for-me has no brain.
I’m responding to Sanders “as a Jew,” because he tried insulating himself from criticism by playing what the British novelist Howard Jacobson calls the “asaJew” card. “It’s going to be very hard for anybody to call me – whose father’s family was wiped out by Hitler, who spent time in Israel – an antisemite,” Sanders said. Don’t call him an antisemite, just a disloyal fool. He thrills antisemites like Ilhan Omar, who endorsed him, while emboldening murderous anti-Zionists leading Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.
This American Jewish Corbynite is spearheading J Street’s campaign to browbeat Democratic candidates, demanding they use American aid to Israel as a battering ram, blackmailing Israel into making policy moves most Israelis have learned would harm them, their country and their region.
That follows the policy Ben-Ami championed at the conference: bullying candidates to buy into J Street’s occupation preoccupation of bullying Israel. Reducing the complicated, multidimensional Israel-Palestinian conflict to this simplistic “end the occupation” slogan makes as much sense as Republicans yelling “cut taxes” as an economic and social cure-all. Life is messier.
I know that doubting someone’s loyalty risks discouraging debate, but what else do you call it? Isn’t it disloyal for a Jew to emphasize his Jewishness as he urges non-Jews to blackmail the Jewish state to do things that would embolden Jew-haters and get many Jews killed?
Sanders sounded silly saying “some of the $3.8 billion should go right now to humanitarian aid in Gaza.” Everyone knows how quickly “humanitarian aid” in Gaza becomes bullets and bombs targeting Israel. Anyone proposing that before Hamas’ violent takeover of Gaza in 2007 could have pleaded naivety; today, such calls are stupid or spiteful. How many thousands of Qassam rockets must be launched, how many millions of cries of “Death to the Jews” – not just Israel – must be shouted and how many humanitarian initiatives must be hijacked, before such calls are called out for their criminal negligence – ignoring the obvious?
AS J STREETERS cheered such calls from Sanders and others, they exposed J Street’s double standard. At the conference, J Street’s rules were clear: hail bash-Israel-firsters, dis truly pro-Israel politicians and statements. When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recalled that her father, congressman Thomas D’Alesandro Jr., urged president Franklin Roosevelt “to more quickly recognize that there should be a Jewish state in Palestine,” The Washington Post reported: “Applause was sparse.” Pelosi – perhaps the Democrats’ brightest pop star today – was celebrating the essence of Zionism, the right of a Jewish state to exist.
J Street’s press release boasted about “confront[ing] the threats of ongoing occupation, settlement expansion and potential annexation.” What about the true threats to peace – Palestinian terrorism and incitement? The press release ignored them – as did Sanders and Ben-Ami.
That’s why J Street’s American leverage campaign is anti-Israel, anti-peace and anti-Zionist. Zionism is about Jewish self-determination, meaning Jews controlling their own destiny. Jews lobbying non-Jews to browbeat Jews is anti-Zionist in intent, just as the encouragement such moves give to Jew-killers makes it antisemitic in effect.
If Sanders and J Street were “pro-Israel,” they would echo the Israeli Left, which remains patriotic and fights Palestinian terrorism while fighting for peace with the Palestinians. If Sanders and J Street were “pro-peace,” they would think about “the day after” and work to ensure that an Israeli withdrawal doesn’t recreate the Gaza debacle by creating a new failed Arab state. And if Sanders and J Street were constructively “anti-occupation” they would start by freeing the Palestinians from their true occupiers – the dictator-terrorists who rule most of them, crushing their dissidents, stealing their taxes, squelching their freedom – not just in Gaza’s Hamasistan, but in the PLO’s West Bank kleptocracy, too.
Mouthing empty slogans while ignoring Oslo’s failures, the Gaza disengagement misfire and the ongoing death cult dominating Palestinian society is irresponsible at best, evil at worst. Its more benign parallel has Sanders screeching in his cartoonish rasp for “socialism” and denouncing the “greed” of the “1%” while traipsing around in $700 sports jackets in his $600,000 beach house. I don’t begrudge Sanders his comforts, his trappings of success. That’s the American way. I resent his demonization of others who do the same and his calls for pie-in-the-sky policies that would prevent others from enjoying the rags-to-riches trajectory he and his wife enjoyed.
Proverbs 21:21 teaches: “Those who pursue righteousness and loyalty, find life, righteousness and honor.” I appreciate that some American Jews believe Israel’s approach to the Palestinians is wrong. But the text warns: righteousness without loyalty becomes self-righteousness – even moral exhibitionism. You trigger constructive change only by being loyal to your people, to the truth, acknowledging a situation’s complexity, not bashing sanctimoniously.
Israelis and Palestinians deserve life, righteousness and honor. These come from confronting sinners on both sides, with Jews helping from within, not clobbering from without.
J Street often wavers between being a constructive inside critic and a destructive faithless foe. This convention allowed its occupation preoccupation to override the good sense and intelligent strategy required to make real progress.
The writer is the author of The Zionist Ideas, an update and expansion of Arthur Hertzberg’s classic anthology, The Zionist Idea. A distinguished scholar of North American history at McGill University, he is the author of 10 books on American history, including The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s.