This week J-Street, the self-proclaimed “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobby, will host its first ever policy conference in Washington, D.C.
J-Street, which is just over a year old, was essentially founded to be a more “progressive” version of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), one of the most effective lobbies in Washington. But J-Street is built on a body of lies. Indeed, one can decipher at least three fallacies upon which J-Street is founded. Let’s examine them.
Fallacy #1: AIPAC is a “right-wing” organization.
“What we’re responding to is that for too long there’s been an alliance between the neo-cons, the radical right of the Christian Zionist movement and the far-right portions of the Jewish community that has really locked up what it means to be pro-Israel,” J-Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami has written. While Ben-Ami sometimes makes a point of suggesting that his organization is not meant to be the “anti-AIPAC,” it is quite obvious that this is exactly what J-Street is trying to be. J-Street and its supporters clearly see AIPAC as the epicenter of this supposedly right-wing pro-Israel alliance.
But AIPAC is hardly the extreme right-wing group that J-Street makes it out to be. During the 1990s, AIPAC supported the Oslo Accords. In 2005, AIPAC backed Israel’s disengagement from Gaza, which led to protests from the right outside its 2005 Policy Conference. These are not radically right-wing stances.
The fact is that liberal and conservative American supporters of Israel have found a home in AIPAC – that is why AIPAC is so successful.
For further evidence that AIPAC is no right-wing front, just take a glance at AIPAC’s Board of Directors (past and present). There’s Nancy Pelosi’s good friend Amy Friedken (who not too long ago served as AIPAC President); mega Democratic donor and Slim Fast founder S. Daniel Abraham; and former DNC Chairman Steve Grossman (also a former AIPAC President), just to name a few.
Now, there are also Republicans on AIPAC’s board. But it is demonstrably untrue to claim, as J-Street does, that AIPAC speaks only for the radically right-wing. AIPAC is a mainstream, bi-partisan organization, which is why it has been so effective.
Fallacy #2: J-Street represents mainstream Jewish opinion on Israel.
Despite J-Street’s repeated insistence that they represent mainstream American Jewish opinion, the record doesn’t seem to support that claim. Look no further than mainstream liberal Rabbi Eric Yoffie’s rebuke of them during the Israel-Gaza war last December. Yoffie is the president of the Union for Reform Judaism and has been described as the America’s leading liberal Rabbi. One would imagine he fits exactly the demographic that J-Street claims to represent.
Yet Yoffie strongly condemned J-Street’s response to the Gaza War. J-Street’s statements about the war, according to Rabbi Yoffie, were “morally deficient, profoundly out of touch with Jewish sentiment and also appallingly naïve.”
Yoffie was responding to a J-Street blog post stating that
“While there is nothing ‘right’ in raining rockets on Israeli families or dispatching suicide bombers, there is nothing ‘right’ in punishing a million and a half already-suffering Gazans for the actions of the extremists among them.”
In essence, J-Street was arguing that Israeli actions fighting back against Hamas terrorists were the moral equivalent of Hamas and its strategy of deliberately targeting Israeli civilians. This is hardly mainstream thought among American Jews. And, remember, this was a liberal Rabbi speaking—one that J-Street respects and has invited to be a marquis speaker at their policy conference.
Fallacy #3: There is a dire need for a more “evenhanded” approach in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and it is necessary for the American president to engage the conflict continuously at a high level.
Underpinning everything J-Street stands for is the idea that, if only previous American presidents, especially George W. Bush, were more engaged in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process from the very beginning of their terms, and were more “evenhanded,” everything would somehow be so different in the Middle East.
This idea is also shared by wide swaths of the liberal foreign policy establishment and was recently clearly expressed by former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk in a long article on J-Street in the New York Times Magazine. Indyk, who is not affiliated with J-Street, explained J-Street’s emergence by commentating,
“In the Bush years, when Israel enjoyed a blank check, increasing numbers of people in the Jewish and pro-Israel community began to wonder, if this was the best president Israel ever had, how come Israel’s circumstances seemed to be deteriorating so rapidly?”
This premise is J-Street’s reason for being. In essence, it holds that a more engaged, more evenhanded American president is better suited to creating peace in the Middle East. But you can’t create peace where you don’t have a leadership that earnestly seeks peace and is willing to take the compromises necessary to achieve peace, as has long been the case on the Palestinian side.
Bush did seek to negotiate some type of peace settlement during his first years in office and he became the first president to openly call for the creation of a Palestinian state while in office. But Bush quickly came to the determination that Yasser Arafat was not willing to make peace and therefore came to the correct conclusion that you can not magically create peace in the Middle East when only one side is genuinely committed to peace.
Not long after Arafat’s death, Hamas took control of Gaza. How do you create peace with a terrorist organization that not only calls for the destruction of Israel, but calls for the killing of Jews generally? American presidents are powerful, but they aren’t miracle workers.
Ultimately, J-Street seems more interested in criticizing supporters of Israel in America than the countries that threaten Israel. It is an organization built on fallacies and its claims to mainstream respectability should be dismissed as just another of the group’s many delusions.