As the 2nd J Street conference finishes in Washington – where, despite the group’s conservatism, they were at least willing to engage in debate over BDS – the American Zionist community seem confused that many Jews at the event wanted justice for the Palestinians. This doesn’t make you a Jew-hater, by the way. Sigh:
The detractors of J Street, the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobbying organization, like to portray the organization’s leader, Jeremy Ben-Ami, as so far to the left of mainstream American Jewish opinion as to be out of bounds.
If they think Ben-Ami is too much of a lefty on Israel, just wait till they meet J Street’s rank and file.
At the organization’s conference in Washington this week, which organizers say drew 2,400 people, the crowd was emphatic in its insistence on Palestinian rights, offered only weak, scattered applause for an Obama administration official’s line about America’s strong support for Israeli security, and complained that more Palestinians should have been featured on conference panels.
For Arnold Moses, an activist in his 70s who came to the conference from Reston, Va., J Street just wasn’t reflective of his politics. “They’re too kind to the Israelis,” he said of J Street. “Obama’s too soft on Israel. The Palestinians need to get out of the jail they’re in.”
Activists from the traditional pro-Israel camp have seized upon such sentiment as evidence that J Street is not pro-Israel but pro-Palestinian. They question the organization’s funding sources, its association with certain Arab and far-left organizations, and its advocacy of U.S. pressure on Israel.
But in J Street’s view, this misses the point. For Ben-Ami and J Street supporters, being pro-Palestinian is not incompatible with being pro-Israel. In their mind, standing up for Palestinian rights, criticizing Israel’s policies in the West Bank and advocating for more pressure on the Israeli government is a way of supporting Israel by helping, or forcing, Israel to become the kind of place they believe it ought to be.
“We don’t view this as a zero-sum conflict,” Ben-Ami said Monday in a question-and-answer session with reporters. “You can be pro-Israel and be an advocate for the rights of the Palestinian people.”
Akiva Eldar writes in Haaretz that mainstream Israeli politics is utterly devoid of perspective. Anybody who criticises occupation is an enemy?
What would happen if the Nobel Peace Prize Committee decided to award the prize this year to, for example, veteran peace activist Uri Avnery? (He deserves it! ) Judging by the boycott the Israeli Embassy in Washington has imposed on the J Street Conference, the chair intended for the Israeli ambassador at the ceremony in Oslo would remain empty.
From reading the cries of protest accompanying the Knesset members who accepted the invitation from J Street, we can conclude that Israel would not send an official representative to congratulate the Nobel laureate. How can one legitimize a Jew who is not ashamed to call for the delegitimization of the settlements?
Here, a boycott of a strictly kosher wine from the Mount Hebron wineries is illegitimate. But a boycott of someone who says a product made in occupied territory is blatantly nonkosher is strictly legitimate. The play “Gevalt, They’re Delegitimizing Us,” directed by settler-Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, assisted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is succeeding beyond all expectations.
Act I: Netanyahu delivers a “dramatic” speech in which he says he desires nothing more than to leave the territories and hand them over to a Palestinian state.
Act II: In a speech at the UN General Assembly, Lieberman announces that there is not the shadow of a chance for a diplomatic agreement in our generation, so we have to see to the (natural, of course ) increase of the settlers.
Act III: Throughout the world they blame Israel for causing the negotiations with the Palestinians to fail, and they condemn its refusal to freeze construction in the settlements. Also, left-wing groups and a handful of MKs join the protest, and the Arabs ask the United Nations to condemn Israel.
Act IV: Netanyahu makes a series of whining speeches about the delegitimization efforts against the Jewish state. Lieberman tells the Israeli ambassadors that henceforth any criticism of the government’s policy, the settlements or the occupation will be considered delegitimization of Israel in a time of war. If the criticism is voiced by a member of our people, he will be considered a “self-hating Jew” and a collaborator with Israel-haters during a delegitimization campaign. Lieberman appends a quotation from Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who is called “Yitzhak Rabin’s successor,” warning that this campaign is “no less serious than the danger from Hamas and Hezbollah.”
Act V: Jewish members of Congress break off relations with J Street and other organizations that dared to ask President Barack Obama to refrain from vetoing the Arab proposal for a resolution to condemn the settlements. MKs from Kadima – which for some reason is considered the leftist alternative to Likud – send their invitations to the conference back to J Street. Some of them join the spokespeople of the right and attack their colleagues – MKs Nachman Shai, Yoel Hasson and Shlomo Molla – who have agreed to be guests at the conference of an organization that upholds two states for two peoples.
Kadima MK Otniel Schneller declares: “Participation in the conference of a pro-Palestinian Jewish organization that undermines Israel’s interests is like an act of sabotage against the state.” Shai Hermesh, Kadima’s kibbutznik, fulminates against his colleagues who, he says, don’t understand the danger inherent in supporting an organization that acts against Israel. Kadima’s newest MK, Zeev Bielski, a former chairman of the Jewish Agency, tells reporters that his colleagues who have gone to Washington don’t understand what serious damage J Street is inflicting on Israel.
It’s no wonder Jewish peace organizations around the world have been reporting hesitation about joining protest activities against the settlements or even signing petitions supporting peace negotiations. In meetings with liberal Jews in London two weeks ago, I repeatedly heard variations of the sentence: “Every time we dare to criticize the government’s policy, not heaven forbid Israel, the embassy and the Jewish establishment and press accuse us of disloyalty or betrayal of our people.”
Many, if not all, of them are keeping their criticism to themselves, to the greater glory of the unity of Israel. The Chinese authorities protested against the Nobel committee for giving the prize to Liu Xiaobo, who is serving 11 years in prison for “subversion” – i.e., protesting against the suppression of civil rights. And in Israel, Jonathan Pollak, who demonstrated on his bicycle against the siege on Gaza, has been sent to prison for “interfering with traffic.” Peace activists who win respect and awards abroad are accused of subversion against the state.
This is the real face of Israel; lovers of colonisation.