“To say that you have to love Israel or be pro-Israel to be part of J Street is a terrible mistake.”
Thus Judith Baker of the fringe-left Brit Tzedek v’Shalom (its English moniker is Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace), recently incorporated into J Street, told a reporter at the J Street conference on Tuesday. Indeed, “peace or Israel” seems to be the question. It’s also reported that “J Street’s university arm has dropped the ‘pro-Israel’ part of the left-wing US lobby’s ‘pro-Israel, pro-peace’ slogan to avoid alienating students.”
As a student involved with J Street explains, “We don’t want to isolate people because they don’t feel quite so comfortable with ‘pro-Israel,’ so we say ‘pro-peace,’ but behind that is ‘pro-Israel.’”
Or as J Street’s ever-smooth-talking director Jeremy Ben-Ami further expounds, “If the way to engage the young part of our community is to give them space to work through their relationship with Israel, then we’re going to do that. We’re not going to shut them out, because the only way to keep them in the community is to give them the space to work that out.”
It’s just what we need here in Israel, and it warms our hearts: distant psychobabble by “progressives” at a Washington conference. Israel, too, has its peacenik Left—but it’s become electorally diminutive and it also doesn’t engage in “space to work out your feelings”-type talk; in Israel even the peaceniks are a little too reality-scarred for that.
And speaking of corruptions of language, even J Street’s rapidly proliferating critics have been letting it get away with the “pro-peace” label, which means—what? That AIPAC and the other mainstream American Jewish organizations, or the right-leaning Israeli electorate, are anti-peace? Clearly many of the J Streeters think exactly that—apostles of peace in a desert of militants—or they wouldn’t have such trouble putting “pro-Israel” and “pro-peace” together.
Though one might be tempted to think, or hope, that it’s all an unimportant sideshow, the Obama administration’s decision to send National Security Adviser James Jones—no less—to address the peacenik convocation suggests otherwise. Michael Goldfarb reports that when “Jones offered several strong statements of support for Israel,” the J Street crowd responded with no more than “polite applause…. It’s possible that most of the participants…just didn’t know they were supposed to get up and cheer at the pro-Israel lines…but more likely they just weren’t moved to do so.”
Goldfarb notes, however, that Jones took positions on two issues—the Goldstone Report and Iranian sanctions—that are far to the right of J Street’s stances. This could mean, Goldfarb speculates, that “the administration wanted to distance itself from J Street on some of the major issues”—one can only hope so.
Whatever the actual importance of this conference, Israeli eyes were more likely to be cast toward another part of the world. On the same day, Tuesday, that the peace-fest was in full swing, Israel’s deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon found himself in peril during a state visit to the UK when what are described as “pro-Palestinian activists” tried to get him arrested under the UK’s universal-jurisdiction law.
Although similar attempts have been made during visits to the UK by Israeli military figures—up to and including, last month, Defense Minister Ehud Barak—this marks the first such attempt against a non-military Israeli official. The “activists” may, however, have seen a flier identifying Ayalon as “a former captain in the Israeli army.” By such criteria, a very large number of Israelis would be liable.
Palestinians and those allied with them have indeed, particularly since last winter’s Gaza war, been mounting a massive effort to get Israeli officials indicted and tried, whether in the International Criminal Court at The Hague or in Britain and other European countries that have universal-jurisdiction laws.
Closer to home, when recently the Obama administration got Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas to refrain from seeking an anti-Israeli resolution at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the outrage among West Bank and Gaza Palestinians was so great that Abbas reversed his decision—and still finds himself, at present, a figure so despised and ostracized that his political career is hanging by a thread.
In other words, among the reasons the peace ideology, unlike with the J Streeters, has dwindled among Israelis is that our ostensible peace partners, the Palestinians, would rather see our leaders jailed than sitting across a negotiating table.
But such nuances don’t register among the busy progressives across the pond. Between them and Israel lies an “unplumb’d, salt, estranging sea” that is much more than physical. The J Streeters would be the last people who would try to bridge it, or even understand that it exists.