J Street's Last Hurrah?
In a little over three years, a liberal lobby calling itself "passionately and unapologetically pro-Israel" appears to have either supplanted or co-opted other likeminded groups on the Jewish Left—among them, Americans for Peace Now, the Israel Policy Forum, and the New Israel Fund. By any measure, this is a remarkable achievement, seemingly confirmed by the organization's just-concluded policy conference in Washington, D.C. The event drew 1,500 "pro-peace, pro-Israel" conventioneers, 500 animated college students, progressive rabbis, advocacy journalists, junketeering opposition Knesset members from Israel, and even a welcoming letter from Tzipi Livni, head of the Kadima party.
One need not question the good faith of the attendees, most of whom may well have been unaware of J Street's real agenda and policy prescriptions, let alone its multiple ethical lapses. If they came convinced that they were bolstering a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, that, too, is a tribute to the artful political manipulation practiced by J Street's strategists, who have capitalized on the "fatigue" felt by many liberal Jewish Americans in having to defend unpopular Israeli positions to their social peers, on campus, or in the media.
But what, unadorned, is J Street and what does it advocate? In reality, it is the preeminent Jewish force committed to pushing Israel back to the 1949 armistice lines, no matter what the Palestinians do or do not do. As a registered lobby, moreover, J Street stands apart from other Jewish groups critical of Israel in its ability to raise money and give it away to political candidates who share its peculiar definition of "pro-Israel."
Making no substantive demands on the Arabs, J Street blames Israel alone for the breakdown in negotiations between Jerusalem and the Palestinian Authority. Claiming to support Israel's right to self-defense, J Street since its founding has opposed every measure Israel has taken to defend its citizens. It is against the security barrier that 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 frenzy. And it had to be dragged kicking and screaming to embrace even mild congressional sanctions against Iran.
J Street professes to oppose the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. In practice, it has partnered with BDS proponents and shown no scruples about aligning itself with the vociferously anti-Zionist U.S. Council of Churches. Far from repudiating Judge Richard Goldstone's lawfare campaign to enfeeble Israel's right to self-defense, J Street staffers actively promoted Goldstone's appearances in Congress. The organization has even provided cover for the crusade to delegitimize Israel by the UN'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 whatsoever between the stated positions of J Street and the Palestinian Authority or the PLO. Both J Street and the PLO oppose any and all Jewish presence beyond the pre-June 1967 borders; like the PLO, moreover, J Street brazenly prodded the Obama administration not to veto the recent UN Security Council resolution branding as illegal any Jewish presence whatsoever over the Green Line—metropolitan Jerusalem included. Both the PLO and J Street (through its partner, the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement) want to abolish the Jewish Agency and the Jewish National Fund. Both oppose Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.
These positions—they are only a representative sample—may help explain why J Street advocates that the U.S. impose a solution in the Middle East. How else, after all, are the demands of the PLO concerning boundaries and the return of all Palestinian refugees to be met? The same positions may also explain why the PLO ambassador in Washington was glad to address J Street's just-concluded conference while Israel's ambassador declined.
J Street has openly relished the role of domestic enabler to the Obama administration in the latter's pursuit of policies whose net effect has been to harden the already intransigent positions of the Palestinian Authority. But circumstances have changed, and there is reason to think that this year's conference may be the group's last hurrah. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), a leading congressional dove, has acrimoniously broken with J Street, and he is not alone among his disillusioned peers; Taglit-Birthright, which brings young Jewish Americans to experience the state of Israel first-hand, has rebuffed the lobby's request to co-sponsor a trip; and even journalists sympathetic to its professed aims have registered discomfiture at what they witnessed at the recent conference.
But it is the momentous upheaval in the Arab world, along with Iran's ramped-up quest for the atom bomb, that may prove to be J Street's ultimate undoing. To anyone with eyes to see, no amount of wordplay may suffice any longer to make the case that pushing the Jewish state back to indefensible borders is the "pro-Israel" thing to do.
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