J Street, a positive perspective

The upcoming J Street conference in Washington DC (which I’ll be attending) will be a fascinating bringing together of Middle East realists, two-staters, one-staters, bloggers, activists and God knows who else.

Bernard Avishai is optimistic about its chances:

The key to AIPAC’s emergence was a Manichean view from America; the fight against the Evil Empire, or since 9/11, the clash of civilizations. In this drama, Israel became cast as America’s biggest regional aircraft carrier. AIPAC has succeeded by staying close to American hardliners, arguing against pressuring Israel (to give up territory, to stop settlements, etc.) for the same reason a basketball coach will not foolishly demoralize his slightly brazen power-forward. At the center of the argument was a way of thinking about American hegemony in a dangerous world.

Indeed, what J Street really represents–what progressives argue for–is not just support for Israel as such, but for a globalist strategy in which Middle East peace is a key pillar; a strategy of collective security agreements, regional alliances, and international peace-keeping; of patient engagement over the unilateral use of force; of recognition that offering access to economic development and cultural freedom over time is hard power (I hate the term “soft power”); indeed, of the power to attract, not only the power to deter. It means diplomatic containment, not foreign invasion and counter-insurgency. It means what, say, Chuck Hagel calls “realism.”