Guardian

Why I Oppose J Street


This is a guest post by AKUS

The J Street conference took place in Washington, DC, this week, and has had the effect, for better or worse, of bringing J Street out into the open and exposing the factionalism that characterizes so many marginal groups. We have seen attempts to present an acceptable, “friendly face” rather reminiscent of the US Republican Party’s “Big Tent” – there is room for everyone, no matter how much you all differ on the message or platform, as long as you vote with us against the other side.

And it is the message targeting “the other side”, the ideology of many of those supporting it, and the misleading polls it has presented with which I take issue.

First, the message.

J Street has tried, with some success unfortunately, to hijack the terms “pro-peace”, liberal”, “progressive”, “left wing” and all similar descriptions for itself. The “other side”, especially the great Satan, AIPAC, is therefore, by contrast, “anti-peace”, “reactionary”, “right-wing”, and so on.

I object strenuously to this hijacking. Like most Jews I know, I have consistently supported “pro-peace”, liberal”, “progressive”, “left wing” causes. I have done that in the many countries in which I have lived, including Israel, and I have lived a varied life in many parts of the world. Now living in America, like most Jews in here I vote Democrat, and while I would have preferred Hilary Clinton to Obama, I swallowed the necessary pill and voted for the Democrats in the last election.

But – I also support Israel whole heartedly and come from three generations of fervent Zionist families on both sides. I naively assumed after 1967 that the Arabs would agree to make peace in exchange for the return of most of the West Bank, Sinai and Gaza (I have never believed Israel should return the Golan Heights). For years I voted Meretz or its equivalents in the various permutations, following Yossi Sarid’s and Shulamit Aloni’s paths into the political abyss with my vote, and gradually realizing that until the Arabs accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, there is no political solution. That being said, I do not accept this attempt to paint my support for Israel and its fight against Arab terror, as reactionary or right wing, or worse. I will not accept that terrorists firing rockets at civilians, or sending suicide bombers to blow up people in pizza parlors, night clubs, buses, hotels, and the streets of Israel can be dressed up as Palestinian “resistance”. And I will not accept that those who risk their lives to defeat this evil are in any way equivalent to the perpetrators of these horrors.

If there had to be a J Street, there should first have been an A Street – a powerful, devoted Arab lobby dedicated to breaking down Arab hatred of Israel and working towards a peaceful end to the conflict. There is no such organization, and I doubt that there ever will be.

For the record, I am not a member of AIPAC, though J Street and the Guardian are pushing me closer and closer to joining.

Second, the ideology.

On ideology, the J Street big tent includes a swathe of anti-Israel warhorses, inveterate Israel-haters and “one-staters” (a position opposed to J Street’s two-state” platform and greatly supported by the Guardian). The latter include Richard Silverstein, frequent CiF contributor, who blocks comments on his blog that dispute his bizarre and generally ignorant commentary about Israel. He was apparently a moving spirit behind a “progressive bloggers” panel that J Street had a hard time either accepting or disavowing. This panel, which was apparently held in a room rented by J Street, with J Street advertising material (banners, posters and such) included such fine examples of Arab liberalism as “Gaza Mom” (Laila el Hadad), who invited all to come to Washington on her blog with a promise that among topics to be discussed would be some not exactly supportive of J Street’s avowed “pro-Israel” stance such as “[the] Goldstone Report, human rights & BDS”.

Let me just say that I am in the camp of those who believe that those calling for a “one state”, majority Moslem Palestine, are doing nothing other than calling for the destruction of the State of Israel, with the attendant massacre and expulsion of the Jews now living in Israel.

J Street’s platform makes it clear that its leading members wish to advance US interests, and not, or only peripherally, Israel’s interests, and clearly does not see them aligned except by chance (unlike AIPAC):

J Street advocates for American policies that, in our view, advance the national interests of the United States, as well as the long-term interests and security of the state of Israel.

Now, there is nothing wrong at all with an American group, Jewish or otherwise, advocating for American interests. On the contrary, I find it hard to believe that one could argue otherwise other than a few ultra-left-wing, Soviet era-throwback American Jews who.

But J Street hides its concerns about American interests behind a smokescreen. It tries to show that by advancing American interests it supports Israel, even though it seems primarily to favor the fallacious proposition that support for Israel damages America’s interests and America’s opposition to Israeli policy would improve its standing in the Middle East:

J Street believes the policies it endorses improve the chances that America can promote a more stable and secure Middle East, an outcome that would serve the U.S. national interest, as well as Israel’s.

Again, I have nothing against that statement if taken at face value – however, what J Street repeatedly tries to do is show that Israeli government policies, and AIPAC’s lobbying efforts that have the sole purpose of supporting Israel, damage American interests. That is a claim I dispute for many reasons, not least that American intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other areas had nothing to do with Israeli interests at all, even if, in fact, by chance they happened to serve those interests.

The following comment made by J Street’s university representative to support dropping the “pro-Israel” tag from J Street’s banner that was reported in the Jerusalem Post in its column J Street’s campus branch drops pro-Israel slogan showed the reality behind the mask. One should not be too harsh on a young college student who seems to have a short circuit between her brain and her mouth, but this showed the way some – and I believe many – J Street supporters and members think:

We don’t want to isolate people because they don’t feel quite so comfortable with ‘pro-Israel,’ so we say ‘pro-peace,'” said American University junior Lauren Barr of the “J Street U” slogan, “but behind that is ‘pro-Israel.'”

Barr, secretary of the J Street U student board that decided the slogan’s terminology, explained that on campus, “people feel alienated when the conversation revolves around a connection to Israel only, because people feel connected to Palestine, people feel connected to social justice, people feel connected to the Middle East.

“Pro-Israel”, to AU Junior Lauren Barr, secretary of the J Street U student board, means to be against peace, and “alienates people” – the people who feel “connected to Palestine” – the ones who feel more connected to Palestine, representing “social justice” apparently, than Israel, representing the opposite.

Lest you think this is the only representative of one student’s views, J Street U Director Tammy Shapiro had this to say in her official capacity:

As this conference has made clear, we believe that support for the creation of a Palestinian State alongside Israel is a core pro-Israel position, and that we need to reclaim the meaning of pro-Israel so that it never implies we are anti-others ….with only one constraint: that the work be done in a context that always embraces the right of a state for Jewish people in the land of Israel to exist beside a state for Palestinian people in the land of Palestine.

So J Street’s student representatives have reached the topsy turvey world where instead of the view now accepted by most US Jews and Israelis:

“the right of a state for the Palestinian people to exist beside a state for Jewish people in the land of Israel”

these J Street “liberal, progressive, left wing” representatives have actually accepted

“the right of Israel to exist alongside a Palestinian state”!!!

Third, the poll:

On “Comment is Free” I once took apart the methodology and results of the March 2009 J Street poll conducted by Gerstein | Agne Strategic Communications after Silverstein parroted some of its suspect conclusions. They repeated a 2008 poll using “a questionnaire for this survey of 800 self-identified adult American Jews, conducted February 28-March 8, 2009”. For brevity I will not repeat my comments, which you can read at the end of that thread.

Gerstein | Agne themselves admit: “Conducting reliable and affordable surveys of American Jews is a challenging task due to the small number of Jews as a proportion of the overall United States population.” Indeed, I wondered what sample bias this methodology introduces – self-selection, e-mail contact, web-based polling, regional effects, etc.

They identified the margin of error as “+/- 3.5 percent; the margin of error in the split samples is +/- 4.9 percent”. I estimated the margin of error as probably in excess of +/- 5% on two or three of the critical questions (Nos. 32 – 36) since those questions were not answered by all respondents, using a “split“ subset of 354 respondents.

Rather than repeating my lengthy analysis on the Silverstein thread at CiF, I will simply provide this “snapshot” of a key result from the report that forms the basis, in large part, for J Street’s claim that it has wide support from American Jews. There are still unanswered questions (how did they get to 400 respondents in split B from 354 who answered each question, why not 800, etc.), basically asking how the respondents felt about US activity and pressure (the “US ROLE, USROLEB1, AND USROLEC1” terminology refers to the questions on Pages 5 – 6 of the survey):

Q. 32/34/36 COMBINED SCALE

SPLIT B [400 Respondents]

FIRM SUPPORT – 48

(SUPPORT US ROLE, USROLEB1, AND USROLEC1)

CONDITIONAL SUPPORT- 40

(SUPPORT USROLE, OPPOSE USROLEB1 OR USROLEC1)

FIRM OPPOSE – 12

(OPPOSE USROLE)

Note that in reality, there is no more “Firm Support” than the combination of “Conditional Support” and “Firm Oppos[ition]” when combining a set of questions asking how strongly respondents felt about the US playing a role in the peace process, from “helping” through “even-handed” to “pressure on Israel”. Q[uestion]. 36, which was the most pointed, asked how strongly the respondents would support the US playing an active role in the peace process if it meant putting pressure on Israel, and received only a 27% “strong support” response.

Yet this report has been trumpeted by J Street, especially based on these questions, as showing major support for US pressure on Israel, hinting at a majority view – for Israel’s own good, of course!

In summary, J Street sails close to the edge with its assertions of broad Jewish support. It essentially maligns the long history of American Jewish activism in liberal and left wing causes by claiming to occupy that space to the detriment of those who lobby for Israel rather than the opposite. It is supported by some gullible people like those university students, and manipulated by some less gullible for their own purposes. It uses a set of cooked statistics to try to prove it has broad support for pressuring Israel when that is in fact a minority view. If the Obama administration actually believes that, they will have a rude shock at the next election.

Finally, it was a shame that Kadima and various Israelis saw fit to support this conference, thus undermining Israel with the administration and to a lesser degree Congress for reasons more closely aligned with internal Israeli politics than any genuine belief that J Street represents them. I think Kadima will pay a heavy price electorally for raising J Street’s profile in Israel, and that is a shame as I would have liked them to have formed the current government, and certainly the next one.

That’s because I really am a liberal, progressive, left wing, one-time kibbutznik Israeli-American, or American-Israeli, who really would like to get free of the Palestinian tar-baby, not a J Street sham reluctantly agreeing that Israel could exist alongside a Palestinian state.

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18 replies »

  1. A thoughtful and interesting article, as always AKUS. (Why on earth did CiF ban you from commenting? Do you know?).

  2. Finally, it was a shame that Kadima and various Israelis saw fit to support this conference, thus undermining Israel with the administration and to a lesser degree Congress for reasons more closely aligned with internal Israeli politics than any genuine belief that J Street represents them. I think Kadima will pay a heavy price electorally for raising J Street’s profile in Israel, and that is a shame as I would have liked them to have formed the current government, and certainly the next one.

    I too think that Kadima will pay a heavy price for condoning JStreet.

    They have not examined the history of many who support JStreet.

    They should also have considered that The Guardian is obviously promoting JStreet along with certain monies from Iran and Saudia. That is a mix that simply cannot be good for Israel.

  3. Great post AKUS.
    I too am a left-of-centre kibbutznik who has always voted Mapam, Ratz and later Meretz and supported Oslo, the Lebanon and Gaza withdrawals at the time. Sadly, our attempts at extending a hand in peace have only lead to more violence and death. That doesn’t mean we should give up, but we certainly need to get smarter about how we do it, and the voluntary collective suicide which the one-staters would have us commit is definitely not the answer. Understanding that does not make people like you and me rabidly right-wing, no matter how much bodies such as JStreet would like to paint us as such.
    Somebody raised the issue the other day of organisations outside of Israel applying pressure and lobbying being essentially a form of by-passing the democratic processes which take place inside Israel. I think that is a very valid and relevant point which requires further discussion.

  4. J-Street is an abomnation because it is anti-democratic.

    AIPAC has never, in principle, announced a deliberate objective of encourging the US government to force the Israeli government to do what the US and JStreet want rather than what the Israeli electrae wants.

    J-Street began life by explicitly declaring such intent.

    It is an abomination Its member should be shunned by the Jewish community.

    THe US has statutes ruling it illegal for private citizens to usurp democratic government’s place in negitaing with a foreign country. Israel should appl the same princile, which would make illegal Israeli citizens’ participaion in J-Street.

  5. Somebody raised the issue the other day of organisations outside of Israel applying pressure and lobbying being essentially a form of by-passing the democratic processes which take place inside Israel.

    THans – it is a point I’ve emphasized. J-Street is an abomnation because it is anti-democratic.

    AIPAC has never, in principle, announced a deliberate objective of encoura-ging the US government to force the Israeli government to do what the US and J-Street want rather than what the Israeli electorate wants.

    J-Street began life by explicitly declaring such intent. It is an abomination. Its members should be shunned by the Jewish community.

    THe US has statutes ruling it illegal for private citizens to usurp democratic government’s place in negotiating with a foreign country. Israel should apply the same princile, which would make illegal Israeli citizens’ participaion in J-Street.

  6. Well written as ever, AKUS.

    …. I naively assumed after 1967 that the Arabs would agree to make peace in exchange for the return of most of the West Bank, Sinai and Gaza….. “

    That has been the problem, AKUS, with successive Israeli governments who have persisted in approaching Arab intransigence and belligerence from a Western standpoint, which (a) tends to put the welfare of ordinary people first, and (b) is pragmatic.

    Islamists do and are neither. They use their people as means to an end and, as we have seen, are very ready to exacerbate their suffering if they think it will help their cause.

  7. Yohoho. They use their people as means to an end and, as we have seen, are very ready to exacerbate their suffering if they think it will help their cause.

    Only when they are in conflict with a western orientated foe.

    If the foe is Islamic, they have a completely separate set of rules.

    They are using the very high moral standards of the West’s military forces to try to defeat them in the ‘court of world opinion’, some one sixth of which, is Muslim.

    If Muslims are in a theater of war where only Muslims are involved, (yes. It does happen), then slaughter seems to come very naturally to them. Take Bagdad and Darfur. Tens of thousands of Muslims slaughtered yet the Muslim world stays silent.

    Only when a Muslim is killed by a non Muslim for whatever reason, does outrage by Muslims manifest itself.

    Yet Europe was outraged by the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. Christians killing Muslims.

  8. John – this is OT – but in repsonse to your question:

    One never receives any information from the Guardian about the reason for “banning” (always reminds me of how the the South African government “banned” people to stifle dissidents).

    My posting privileges were withdrawn for some unknown reason after I vigorously protested the verbal lynch-mob attack on Rivka Carmi when she wrote a response

    (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/sep/02/israel-boycott-wrong )

    to Neve Gordon’s article encouraging boycotts of Israel (but not, of course, himself – he still wants to earn a few shekels publishing overseas).

    I don’t have the exact record, since I was at work at the time, but finally I wrote something in disgust like “this verbal pogrom, reminiscent of the Cossacks or of the mob howling around the guillotine and baying for Rivka’s head”

    and the rest was silence.

    Off with my head!!

    If you go to that thread, you will find that every single comment I posted was deleted, though some snippets live on in the cries for blood among the usual suspects. Moreover, you’ll find that very few comments supportive of Carmi were left there, while those opposing her (at least the more moderate ones) were.

    Anyway, hopefully their loss is another’s gain – I prefer writing here than on a board run by the combination Stalinist and Apartheid-style goons. And showing the world the real face of the Guardian’s editorial team, rather than skirting the issue for fear of being deleted or banned, is a lot more fun.

    It seems to me that CW’s call to boycott the I/P threads has made them a lot less interesting to the gang od Israel bashers that show up there day after day to get their anti-Smeitic fix – I wish a few more would take the hint. Let Moeron and paplagi post their endless repetitions and be done with it.

    For heavens sake – even one of their moderators, BellaM, acknowledged CW when she intervened thusly yesterday!!!!

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2009/oct/28/j-street-conference-liberals

    BellaM
    28 Oct 09, 2:54pm (3 minutes ago)

    Staff
    At the risk of becoming a Cifwatch favourite, could you please stick to the subject that the article addresses, instead of going over old I/P ground.

  9. JerusalemMite: Their prophet enjoined them to be loyal only to each other and that the kufar would betray them.

    They therefore must have to play massive headgames with themselves in order to justify killing their Muslim brothers

  10. Yohoho, you are right:

    Shortly after the invasion of Iraq, jihadis became distressed at their inability to kill large numbers of Americans and, under Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s leadership quickly turned to attacking Shi’ites in suicide operations. Shi’a are considered infidels by Suni, but that did not stop the Suni from retaliating.

    There is Koranic precedent for it; jihadis excuse themselves from guilt and blame by counting the muslim civilians they kill as human shields held and used by an enemy, and whose deaths in a counter attack are considered holy, which means that they will go to paradise (and therefore they are assisting in this process)

    These mental gymnastics are based on two arguments – the so-called tartarus argument (which comes from turs or shield) and from where mohammud tells his wife Umm Salama that the innocent people killed with an evil army that is utterly destroyed will be resurrected on judgment day and judged according to their good intentions. Jihadis call this the “resurrected according to their intentions” argument.

    Hamas and others make comparisons when quoting these to justify their attacks on Muslims in Gaza and elsewhere.

    For example, they argue that their own civilians are being used as human shields by them will go straight to paradise.

    In other words, Hamas and other jihadis in Afghanistan and elsewhere argue that there is religious sanction for the killing of Muslim civilians and other innocent victims and neither the victims nor the bombers are doomed to suffer in hell for this. Jihadis tend to be obsessed with questions of salvation and choose tactics and views which they can interpret to coincide with an understanding of God’s will. This helps them achieve a degree of cognitive consonance in their murderous work.

  11. Bavli, thanks for that – it’s very interesting.

    For me it ties in with the loopy rationale I remember hearing at the “press conference” held by Islamic Jihad (and I’ll bet that al-Grauniad was there in spirit if not in actuality) after the suicide bombing in the bakery in Eilat in 2007. The poor fool who perpetrated it had been recently bereaved of his daughter to illness and was therefore fair game, in his grief, for these barbarians.

    I saw the press conference on TV and it featured all the man’s family, including his elderly mother who looked stunned and had to be shoved into holding up a photograph of her son and saying, in a flat monotone that she was proud of him.

    Islamic Jihad’s rationale for depriving children of their father, a wife of her husband and a mother of her son, was that this was a reminder for all Palestinians to unite against their common enemy, Israel, instead of fighting among themselves.

    Worse than despicable. I shall never forget the look on the poor mother’s face.

  12. AKUS

    Excellent job of breaking down the J-Street conference and their agenda.

    There are multiple fronts in the war against Israel by the left. J-Street is an attempt to loosen US support for Israel. J-Street wants to appear mainstream, yet as you point out, they’re not. They are composed of many of the same Israel bashers that typically write in the Guardian and other left wing publications. In fact, they most certainly would support US using foreign aid as a hammer against Israeli policies – like settlements. Many support the Goldstone report which, in effect, calls the IDF “terrorist”.

    Of course, they always talk about “tough love” i.e., saving the Israeli Jews from themselves (God, didn’t we hear this all from Neve?). Additionally, I’m sick of hearing the Israel is a “Jewish” state dilemma for the left like in Michelle Goldberg’s column in support of J-Street – “Liberalism may sit uneasily with Zionism [a Jewish state], but it’s the only thing that can save it”.

    It should also be noted the strong support of Israel from within the Republican Party.

  13. Well done AKUS. I enjoyed your comments on CIF and I enjoy them even more here where even if I come late to the thread I can still read what you have written.

    I believe that the political journey you describe is true of many of us, as it it s true of me: a natural left winger, embracing Oslo, Meretz and now tending what is described as rightwards because the bleeding hearts wish to deprive us of our country. Obama wishes to win Israeli approval, hurt that we don’t love him, his wonderful smile and his naive belief that saying we can all be friends cancels out the bitter past. J Street does not have the magic formula that will accomplish this for him, even if Tsippi Livni sends them a bouquet of flowers from a safe distance.

  14. If all people on the Left in Israel and abroad were like you, peace would be much closer today. The tendency on the Left is to delude themselves about Palestinian extremism and misrepresent what they say. Barry Rubin calls it “lying for peace.” Few Israelis are now against a two- state solution. The problem is the Palestinians don’t want one and they reject Israel’s right to exist. I don’t see peace happening in the Middle East for a long time to come.

  15. AKUS

    By the way, Hillary probably would have been a better President than Obama in my opinion – and certainly a much more traditional supporter of Israel. Time will tell with President Obama. His first major test is already unfolding since Iran rejected the conditions of the security council to transport enriched uranium out of Iran.

  16. TomWonacott

    Hilary had the balls today to tell the Pakistanis that she does not believe that after 7 years they don’t know where the Al Queda leaders are, something Obama has not yet had the guts to say.

    She would have been a very good President, and I’m afraid that we have a very likable but very ineffective substitute.

    Anyway, he was supposed to send a message to the rabin memorial saying that the binds between Israel and the US are unbreakable, but rain stopped play, so to speak.