On the face of it, J-Street appears to be a success story.
In a little over three years, the lobby has either supplanted or co-opted Americans for Peace Now, Israel Policy Forum, New Israel Fund and other likeminded outfits to emerge as the preeminent Jewish force committed to pushing Israel back to the 1949 Armistice Lines irrespective of what the Palestinians do. This remarkable achievement by executive director Jeremy Ben-Ami is attributable to the branding of J Street as "passionately and unapologetically pro-Israel.”
A neophyte to the American Jewish political scene could be forgiven for taking him at his word. After all, J Street's just concluded policy conference drew 1,500 "pro-peace, pro-Israel" conventioneers, 500 animated college students, junketeering opposition Knesset members, progressive rabbis, advocacy journalists and even a welcoming letter from Kadima party head Tzipi Livni.
Without doubt, most of the attendees came in good faith convinced that they were bolstering the two-state solution. Had they appreciated J-Street's disingenuously cloaked agenda, utterly reckless policy prescriptions and deeply troubling ethical lapses, many would, presumably, have stayed home. That they did not is a tribute to artful political manipulation practiced by J Street's strategists.
J-Street has capitalized on the "fatigue" many liberal Jewish Americans feel in having to defend unpopular Israeli positions on campus, in the media, and around the office water cooler. J Street promotes the fanciful notion that public criticism of Israel has been inhibited by a monolithic Jewish "establishment" (headed by AIPAC) and that its "dissent" is somehow gutsy.
In truth, discomfiture with this or that Israeli policy has been a factor in the Israel-Diaspora relationship dating back to Nahum Goldmann's break with David Ben-Gurion in the 1950s and was reaffirmed by the precipitate flirtation by Breira and the New Jewish Agenda with the pre-Oslo PLO in the 1970s and 80s. What's more, with the 1977 election of Menachem Begin, Israel's first nationalist prime minister, major American Jewish leaders have routinely lambasted Israel's West Bank settlement policies.
J-Street's more savvy defenders claim its saving grace is that it offers ashamed liberal Jewish undergraduates besieged by virulent campus anti-Zionism (of the Tony Judt strain) with a way of joining the bandwagon of criticism while remaining "pro-Israel."
Regrettably, J-Street does more than criticize Israel; it actively lobbies the U.S. Congress to take steps that would undermine Israeli security and it serves as an enabler to an unsympathetic Obama administration whose misguided policies have impeded the peace process and hardened the already intransigent positions of the Palestinian Authority.
In fact, J Street relishes the role of providing domestic political cover for White House pressure on Israel. J Street stands apart from other Jewish critics of Israel for its ability to legally raise money and give it away to candidates who share its redefinition of pro-Israelism.
Making no substantive demands on the Arabs, J-Street blames Israel solely for the breakdown in negotiations. It claims to support Israel's right to self-defense; yet since its founding J Street has opposed every measure Israel has taken to defend its citizens. It is against the security barrier which has kept suicide bombers at bay.
It opposed military action to stop Hamas's bombardment of the Negev. It abandoned Israel in the face of the Turkish flotilla hullabaloo. And it had to be dragged kicking and screaming to embrace even mild sanctions against Iran.
J-Street professes to oppose the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel. In practice, it has partnered with BDS proponents and some of its supporters believe in selective sanctions. It has shown no scruples about aligning with the vociferously anti-Zionist U.S. Council of Churches. Rather than discrediting Judge Richard Goldstone's lawfare campaign to enfeeble Israel's right to self-defense, J-Street staffers actually promoted his appearances in Congress. J Street has even provided cover for the crusade to delegitimize Israel by the U.N.'s so-called "Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People."
In fact, one is hard put to discern any policy differences between the Palestinian Authority's stated positions and those of J-Street. This explains why the PLO ambassador in Washington was glad to address J Street's 2011 policy conference while Israel's ambassador stayed away.
Both J Street and the PLO oppose any and all Jewish presence over the Green Line, metropolitan Jerusalem included. Both oppose Palestinian recognition of Israel as a “Jewish State.” Both back efforts to turn the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood into sovereign Palestine thus endangering access to the nearby Hebrew University campus on Mt Scopus. The PLO and J-Street's partners, the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement, want to see the Jewish Agency, Jewish National Fund and the Israeli Land Authority abolished because, in the words of Sara Benninga, a Sheikh Jarrah activist and J-Street honoree, ending the "occupation" is not enough.
Both J-Street and the PLO support the Trojan horse Arab Peace Initiative which Ehud Olmert, Shimon Peres and Tzipi Livni, not to mention Benjamin Netanyahu, have all sensibly rebuffed. Like the PLO, J Street brazenly – albeit unsuccessfully – prodded the administration not to veto the recent UN Security Council resolution terming any Jewish presence over the Green Line as "illegal."
What, unadorned, does J-Street advocate?
In face-to-face negotiations, the Palestinians would be expected to compromise on boundaries, refugees and security. Consequently, J-Street advocates that the U.S. impose a solution. But what motivates such behavior? One clue comes from J Street co-founder Daniel Levy who has said that Israel's creation was "wrong." That is in line with the Arab view that Israel's "original sin" was to have been born; it furthermore illuminates why elements in J Street's base favor a one state solution.
This year's policy conference may be J Street's last hurrah.
Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), a leading Congressional dove has acrimoniously broken with the group prompting Ben-Ami to ruefully acknowledge that he had overplayed his hand. Taglit-Birthright has rebuffed J Street's cheeky request to co-sponsor a trip to Israel. But it is the momentous upheaval in the Arab world, along with Iran's newly revealed ramped-up quest for the atom bomb that may prove to be J Street's ultimate undoing.
No amount of wordplay will convince the Diaspora's mainstream that J-Street's scapegoating of Netanyahu and its drive to push Israel back to indefensible borders now is even remotely "pro-Israel."
-- Monday, Feb. 28, 2011