As if Richard Goldstone wasn’t enough, the community of loyal Jews also has to cope—increasingly—with J Street.
J Street is holding a conference in Washington later this month, and it’s trying to get the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, to come to it. Oren has yet to accept.
Granted, the dimensions of the conference don’t look too imposing: over a thousand people including 250 college students, a predictable rostrum of lefty organizations like the New Israel Fund, the Israel Policy Forum, and Americans for Peace Now. Of more concern is that over 160 members of Congress are on the host committee for the Gala Dinner that’s part of the conference.
In other words, with this sort of AIPAC-aping, J Street wants to wield influence on the Hill and challenge the traditional lobby’s power. J Street very much wants Oren—even though he holds, and would express, non-J Street views—to show up and bestow Israeli-government legitimacy on the proceedings. The difference, though, between AIPAC and J Street is that while the former is deferential to Israeli democracy as embodied by elected Israeli governments, J Street knows no such humility.
Indeed, the Israeli embassy in Washington has reportedly “informed J Street of its concern that the new lobbying group advocates policies that could ‘impair Israel’s interests.’” Those include not only backing President Obama’s—recently softened—demand for a complete “settlement” freeze even in sovereign Jerusalem but also opposing sanctions on Iran. Or as J Street’s website puts it:
J Street believes that the immediate imposition of harsher sanctions on Iran would be counterproductive.… We do not rule out the option of deeper and more targeted sanctions in the future.… But at this time we urge Congress and the President to exercise strategic patience. We ask Congress not to move forward at this time with further sanctions….
J Street, that is, has a patience—even regarding sanctions—that is not shared by Israelis in Shihab-range amid continuing reports of Iran’s rapid progress toward the bomb.
J Street, however, keeps going after Oren and now its director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, has published an open letter to him “to reiterate an invitation to you to address” the upcoming conference.
Ben-Ami, who has a persistent “protesting too much” tendency when avowing his devotion to Israel, apprises Oren that J Street is “a burgeoning movement that loves Israel, cares about its future, and believes only peaceful and immediate resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can secure Israel’s future as the democratic home of the Jewish people.”
He goes on:
You seem well aware…that the connection to Israel for a large number of Jewish Americans has become strained over time…. There is a generational dimension to these trends as well…. Young, liberal Jews have even less connection to Israel than their parents and grandparents, and they talk more openly about the challenges and difficulties facing Israel and about its responses.
But Ben-Ami assures Oren that help is on the way:
There is good news, however. The excitement that J Street has generated and its rapid early growth indicates that there is a thirst in the progressive Jewish community—and among young liberal Jews—to find a way to relate to, to talk about and, yes, to advocate for Israel that is consistent with progressive Jewish values…. Public comments by your spokesman last week indicate that you have “concerns over certain policies [of J Street’s] that could impair Israel’s interests.” I’m sure you also have concerns and disagreements over policies advocated by certain political parties and their leaders in Israel. That’s democracy….
Yes, and that’s what Ben-Ami doesn’t get—or more accurately, doesn’t care about: the Israeli parties and leaders Oren may disagree with are currently not in power because they did badly in the last Israeli elections. J Street is not Israeli and not part of Israeli democracy. That American Jews are, like everyone else, free to disagree with and criticize policies of democratically elected Israeli governments is obvious. Ben-Ami claims quite a different prerogative: to exploit his Jewish background in order to override Israeli policy, by getting the U.S. government to foist policies on Israel that Israel doesn’t want.
If that isn’t clear enough, Ben-Ami goes on to make it so by assuming toward Oren—that is, Israel—what can only be called a threatening posture:
We too have our own serious concerns over the policies of the present Israeli government and its impact not just on Israel’s interests but on our interests as Americans and as American Jews. As Jews who care about Israel [there it is again—protesting too much], we fear that, on Israel’s present path, we will see our shared dream of a Jewish, democratic home in the state of Israel slip through our fingers.
As Americans, we worry about the impact of Israeli policies on vital US interests in the Middle East and around the world.
Finally, as American Jews, we worry that the health and vitality of our community will be deeply affected by what happens in the region, how the world perceives Israel and by how our community here at home deals with increasingly complex conversations around Israel.
That gets closer to the real J Street message to Israel, which is: “We want peace over there in Israel and Palestine, and we want it now. (As for the Israeli reasons for skepticism about such peace—Hamas, rockets, Palestinian Authority rejection of all peace offers, Fatah belligerency, incitement, no Israel on Palestinian Authority maps, etc.—don’t bore us with facts.) You ruffian Israelis are embarrassing us progressive American Jews and if you don’t stop, we can get you to stop. Your calls for sanctions on Iran are more of the same pugnacious behavior that’s discomfiting us over here, and you’d be well advised to desist from it.”
Considering its well-documented Saudi ties, still-darker motives can of course be attributed to J Street. “Love” for Israel would somehow have to be mixed with respect. Genuine friends of Israel, outside and inside of government, Jewish and non-Jewish—who need not agree with all of its policies but respect its autonomy and democracy—should beware of what J Street really is and the threat it poses.
Leave a Reply