I really have to take a vacation from J Street, the “pro-Israel” lobby that takes money from Iranian and Saudi sources. But I can’t stop feeling that I need to understand them.
Recently, the Israeli embassy in the US criticized J Street for “advocating policies that could impair Israel’s interests”. Today its director, Jeremy Ben Ami, published a letter to Israel’s Ambassador to the US, Michael Oren:
In just two weeks, over 1,000 people – most of them American Jews – will gather in Washington to give voice to a burgeoning movement that loves Israel, cares about its future, and believes only peaceful and immediate resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can secure Israel’s future as the democratic home of the Jewish people.
I hope that he and the other 999 people will think twice about this, because a “peaceful and immediate resolution” of the conflict will not happen, not in this world, not when the Palestinian leadership consists of the PLO and Hamas. Anyone who knows anything about the Mideast understands this.
But I don’t think this is the important argument. The real thrust of the letter is to play to the insecurities of some American Jews, not to relate to the objective situation in the Mideast:
We will come together as pro-Israel activists to discuss the best path forward for Israel and the United States in troubling circumstances, balancing a desire for security and for peace and a commitment to the values we bring to the table as Jews and as Americans.
Ben Ami is suggesting that there is a conflict between Israel’s security and our values as Jews and Americans. In this he outdoes Mearsheimer and Walt, who don’t mention Jewish values, but simply suggest that the conflict is between American and Israeli interests. It’s a very strange conception of “Jewish values” that doesn’t support a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, but of course Ben Ami claims that he does. Here’s more in this direction:
The excitement that J Street has generated and its rapid early growth indicates that there is a thirst in the progressive Jewish community – and among young liberal Jews – to find a way to relate to, to talk about and, yes, to advocate for Israel that is consistent with progressive Jewish values. We are only one facet of a new and growing movement in American Jewry that is attracting hundreds of thousands of progressive Jews into study, communal service and non-traditional observance.
Judging by the policies advocated by J Street, one can assume that this progressive Jewish way to relate to Israel includes denying it the right to self-defense — J Street called for an immediate cease-fire on the first day of the Gaza war — and opposing sanctions on Iran. Try as I might, I can’t find the Jewish value in Iranian atomic bombs.
But of course what he really means is to find a way to oppose Zionism, like most of today’s ‘progressives’, without having to admit that one wants to see the Jewish state disappear.
Some have suggested that maybe J Street, as an American organization, should not assume that it knows better how to assure the survival of Israel than the government democratically elected by the people that live there, the people who will have to live with the outcome; and that even though it might disagree with some of the actions of that government, as a ‘pro-Israel’ group it should at least support the broad outlines of Israeli policy — such as strong diplomatic action to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. But Ben-Ami sets them straight in no uncertain terms:
Public comments by your spokesman last week indicate that you have “concerns over certain policies [of J Street's] that could impair Israel’s interests.” I’m sure you also have concerns and disagreements over policies advocated by certain political parties and their leaders in Israel. That’s democracy – and it is fitting that there would be deep disagreements at moments of important communal decision.
We too have our own serious concerns over the policies of the present Israeli government and its impact not just on Israel’s interests but on our interests as Americans and as American Jews. As Jews who care about Israel, we fear that, on Israel’s present path, we will see our shared dream of a Jewish, democratic home in the state of Israel slip through our fingers.
As Americans, we worry about the impact of Israeli policies on vital US interests in the Middle East and around the world.
Finally, as American Jews, we worry that the health and vitality of our community will be deeply affected by what happens in the region, how the world perceives Israel and by how our community here at home deals with increasingly complex conversations around Israel.
This is incredible.
First of all, it’s not a question of ‘democracy’. J Streeters in the US do not have to worry about Hamas and Hezbollah rockets, or sending their sons and daughters to fight wars, or — at least for a while — getting vaporized by Iranian nukes. Does he seriously suggest that taking decisions about dealing with these threats is ‘communal’ and should include J Street?
Second, this is at least the third time Ben Ami plays the ‘American interests’ card. What interests in particular is he talking about? Cheap oil? Or is he just trying to raise the spectre of ‘dual loyalty’ accusations against Jews?
And third… this is the best one. What are the “increasingly complex conversations” that he refers to?
Are they the conversations that ‘progressive’ Jews have with their ‘progressive’ friends when Israel keeps embarrassing them by not committing suicide? The Left’s adoption of Zionophobia as an integral part of its world view is a long-established fact, and this may give rise to a feeling of being left out for Jews who haven’t yet purged themselves of their ‘bourgeois Zionism’. Is Ben Ami suggesting that the lack of courage to hold an unpopular position is a virtue?
Or maybe I misunderstood. Maybe he means that the US Jewish community better be careful, because they don’t want to become associated with those hated Israelis, lest it give rise to a new wave of antisemitism in the US. So when they come to beat you up or worse, you can tell them that you are a real American, not one of those Zionists.
You know what? It’s just too hard to answer all of these questions. Is J Street’s ‘progressive’ Jewish sensibility a manifestation of the old ghetto self-protection instinct to not stand out, not make waves? Or is Jeremy Ben Ami just another guy paid to screw Israel, like Jimmy Carter or Chas Freeman?