The Jewish world is abuzz with news of J Street‘s first national conference in two weeks in Washington, D.C., entitled “Driving Change, Securing Peace.” J-Street is seen by some as the new “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobby and brands itself as “the new address for Middle East peace and security.”
Others call J Street’s “pro-Israel” label a sham, given that the organization’s “political action committee has received tens of thousands of dollars in donations from dozens of Arab and Muslim Americans, as well as from several individuals connected to organizations doing Palestinian and Iranian issues advocacy,” according to the Jerusalem Post’s investigation of the matter.
Furthermore, J Street’s policies on the Arab-Israeli conflict (including a freeze on settlement-building, and a two state solution based on Israel’s 1967 borders) have led some, from the Israeli Embassy to the campus organization Stand With Us, to express concern that J Street advocates for policies that could “impair Israel’s interests.”
In any case, more than 150 congressmen and women are buying into J Street’s new “pro-Israel” message (tainted or not), and will be turning out in style at the end of the month at J Street’s D.C. policy conference. The conference, and J Street’s style of “pro-Israel” advocacy, are a direct challenge to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)‘s role as the sole entity representing the interests of pro-Israel American Jews before Congress.
That perceived threat was directly expressed by Chuck Freilich, a former Israeli deputy national security advisor, in his Jerusalem Post op-ed Monday entitled “AIPAC, J Street or J-Date.” Freilich asserts that J Street’s conference and efforts to lobby congress on Israel is “dangerously misguided” and “weakens” the U.S. Israel relationship.
Freilich agrees on some points of policy with AIPAC, and on some with J Street. What he challenges in his op-ed – and I want to hear your opinions on this in the comments – is the idea that there can or should be be two pro-Israel voices in Congress. Freilich writes:
To date, despite the plethora of Jewish organizations in all other areas, the US-Israeli relationship has largely had one voice in Washington. This is as it must be. AIPAC has a devoted, sophisticated, often brilliant professional staff and lay leadership. It simply does not get better.
IT IS presumptuous of our brethren in the US, and frankly offensive, for them to believe that they “know better” what is right for Israel. The Jewish state is a vibrant, pluralistic democracy. Only Israel’s citizens, who endure the consequences, bear the responsibility for its policies. The place to change Israel’s policies is in Israel, not Washington. A corollary of sovereignty is the right to err. We waited for that right for 2,000 years.
AIPAC understands that balance, says Freilich, and assumes the role of “promot[ing] the US-Israel relationship regardless of who is in office in either country . . . [and] do[ing] its utmost at all times to strengthen the relationship.”
The role of Pro-Israel American Jews is to “express their views,” for sure, says Freilich, but to “express their criticism within the Jewish community, the public at large, pretty much anywhere – except before the administration and Congress. There, we have to present one voice – not “pro” every Israeli policy, but united, unswerving support for Israel and a strong US-Israel relationship.” (emphasis added).
What do you think? Is there a problem with having J Street and AIPAC both lobbying congressmen and women on behalf of pro-Israel American Jewry? And if so, is the problem that there should not be multiple voices advocating different policies (as Freilich asserts) or rather that one of these voices in this case may be too tainted with anti-Israel money or too focused on pushing an agenda that is not in Israel’s interests for the organization to call itself “pro-Israel?” Discuss.
I think multiple voices on any given issue are fine, but it’s important to remember that the administration (i.e., President) is more likely to listen to the lobbyists that conform to his point of view and/or agenda. I am having trouble trusting an organization that receives huge contributions from groups that want to seek Israel’s destruction.
All of the Israel lobby groups receive huge contributions from groups that seek Israel’s destruction, one way or another.
Considering J-Street “tainted” for receiving money from Muslims, while not calling AIPAC “tainted” for receiving money from Evangelicals, is bigoted. Not all Muslim-Americans seek Israel’s destruction and not all Evangelicals have the Jews and Israelis best interests in mind.
I am weary of -anyone- who attempts to speak for the Jewish people, when they are really just speaking for their particular membership.
Come on ML! You’re going to have to be more specific than that! Jerusalem Post’s article “J Street donors include Arabs, State Department Officials” states that:
“Mainstream groups ranging from the American Jewish Committee to the United Jewish Communities 150-plus federations rarely if ever get such donations [from Palestinians or Muslim Americans]; PACs from the National Jewish Democratic Council’s to the Republican Jewish Coalition’s don’t list such contributors among their public filings.
What evidence do you have otherwise? I don’t know of any pro-Israel organization that receives funding from groups that seek Israel’s destruction. But I’d be fascinated to see the tax forms you’d find to prove me wrong.
I spent about three years editing news about the Middle East for an international newspaper. Here’s the distilled truth I acquired over that period of time: “Pro-Israel” is not always the same as “pro-war” or “anti-Palestinian” or “pro-hardliner.” The amount of damage done to Israel’s diplomatic standing locally in the Middle East and globally over the past decade is incalculable. Much of it was done under the following premise: Whatever is most militarily aggressive and/or violent is, by extension, the best thing for Israel. Whatever government is most hardline in its views is, by extension, the “toughest” and the best at keeping Israelis safe. This misses the long-term point: Peace cannot be won over the long term with barbed wire and missiles. And many of those who seek better conditions for Palestinians and a less militant Israel feel that way because they love Israel — and hope to see it survive for a long time.
Okay, admittedly, the use of huge was an overstatement. But we might agree on what constitutes “seeking Israel’s destruction.”
I’m not speaking about J Street specifically. But as a dedicated liberal, I think most of the concerns raised about Israel’s internal policies are either sham or distorted by our politics, not Israel’s. No other country would be questioned about building a security fence to prevent terrorist murder of people in buses and stores. That liberal cause celebre from just a few years ago has markedly reduced the number of terrorist deaths in Israel. No other country would be expected to respond passively if a hostile neighbor committed to its destruction was shooting missiles at civilians, as the folks in Gaza did with impunity before a brief and limited military action by Israel. And I am so tired of the carping about Jewish “settlements” as some sort of aggressive assault. Arabs live in Israel and in the United States, for that matter. If a future Palestinian State were to be dedicated to the well-being, education and commerce of Arabs instead of to destroying the State of Israel, Jewish people living in that Palestinian State would be a non-issue. They would pay taxes, send their kids to schools, shop, vote and live just like the Arabs in countries all over the world. Does that sound like a right-wing concept to you? To me, it sounds like peace.
Mr. Freilich writes: “It is presumptuous of our brethren in the US, and frankly offensive, for them to believe that they ‘know better’ what is right for Israel.” He doesn’t seek one voice; he seeks one voice that agrees with every Israeli policy.
Furthermore, the security of Jews in the Diaspora may well depend on the security of Israel. So maybe those who lobby, but are not 100% in concert with whatever the current Israeli government policy is, are in fact pursuing their own interest, and not acting out of a belief “that they ‘know better’ what is right for Israel.”