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
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.