J Street has gone over to the dark side. It claims to be “a pro-Israel, pro peace lobby.” It has now become neither. Its Executive Director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, has joined the off key chorus of those who falsely claim that Israel, by refusing to make peace with the Palestinians, is placing the lives of American soldiers at risk.
This claim was first attributed to Vice President Joe Biden and to General David Petraeus. It was quickly denied by them but continued to have a life of its own in the anti-Israel media. It was picked up by Steven Walt and John Mearsheimer, Pat Buchanan and others on the hard right and hard left who share a common disdain for the Jewish state. It is the most dangerous argument ever put forward by Israel bashers. It is also totally false.
It is dangerous for two reasons. First, it seeks to reduce support for Israel among Americans who, quite understandably and correctly, care deeply about American soldiers being killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Israel has always understood this and that’s why it is one of the few American allies who has never asked the United States to put its troops in harm’s way in defense of Israeli citizens. If Americans were to believe the falsehood that Israel were to blame for American deaths caused by Islamic extremists in Iraq and Afghanistan, support for the Jewish state would suffer considerably.
It is also dangerous because its implication is that Israel must cease to exist: the basic complaint that Muslim extremists have against Israel is not what the Jewish state does, but what it is: a secular, non-Muslim, democracy that promotes equal rights for women, gays, Christians and others. Regardless of what Israel does or doesn’t do, its very existence will be anathema to Muslim extremists. So if Israel’s actions were in fact a cause of American deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan–which they are not–then the only logical solution would be Israel’s disappearance. This might be acceptable to the Walts, Mearsheimers and Buchanans of the world, but it is surely not acceptable to Israel or anyone who claims to be pro-Israel.
Finally, the argument is totally false as a matter of fact. At the same time that Israel was seeking to make peace in 2000-2001 by creating a Palestinian state on the West Bank and in Gaza with a capital in East Jerusalem, Al Qaeda was planning the 9/11 attack. So Israel’s “good” actions did nothing to make America safe from Islamic terrorism. On the other hand, when Israel took tough action against Gaza last year in Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s “bad” actions did not increase American casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, there is absolutely no relationship between Israel’s actions and the extent of American casualties. It is a totally phony argument based on equal parts of surmise and bigotry.
Yet this dangerous and false argument, which is being hotly debated within the Obama Administration, has now received the imprimatur of J Street. In the letter to the New York Times on April 21, 2010, Jeremy Ben-Ami, speaking on behalf of J Street, included the following paragraph:
“An analysis of the Obama administration’s calculus on Middle East policy should reflect that many in the Jewish community recognize that resolving the conflict is not only necessary to secure Israel’s future, but also critical to regional stability and American strategic interests.”
Although Ben-Ami doesn’t explicitly make a direct connection between Israeli actions and American casualties, his use of the phrase “critical to…American strategic interests,” is a well-known code word, especially these days, for the argument that there is a connection between Israeli actions and American casualties.
In lending support to that dangerous and false argument, J Street has disqualified itself from being considered “pro-Israel.” The argument is also anything but “pro peace,” since it will actually encourage Islamic extremists to target American interests in the hope that American casualties will be blamed on Israel. It will also encourage the Palestinian leadership to harden its position, in the expectation that lack of progress toward peace will result in Israel being blamed for American casualties.
Truth in advertising requires that at the very least J Street stop proclaiming itself as pro-Israel. As long as it was limiting its lobbying activities to ending the settlements, dividing Jerusalem and pressing for negotiations, it could plausibly claim the mantle of pro-Israel, despite the reality that many of its members, supporters, speakers and invited guests are virulently anti-Israel. But now that it has crossed the line into legitimating the most dangerous and false argument ever made against Israel’s security, it must stop calling itself pro-Israel. Some of its college affiliate groups have already done that. They now describe themselves as pro peace because they don’t want to burden themselves with the pro Israel label. J Street should follow their lead and end its false advertising. Or else it should abandon its anti-Israel claim that Israel is damaging American strategic interests.