J Street: How the pro-Israel pro-peace lobby promotes war

Chase Madar writes:

J Street, America’s premier liberal pro-Israel lobbying group, has just wrapped up its third annual conference in Washington. There have been sessions and panels on “building peace from the ground up,” on “expanding the tent” and even some passionate condemnations of the Occupation. Amid so much good feeling it’s almost possible to lose sight of one of J Street’s fundamental missions: to promote and guarantee America’s lavish and unconditional military aid to Israel.

This may seem like a harsh assessment of the lobbying group. After all, isn’t J Street routinely attacked by neocon ultras and praised by American liberals? But hack through J Street’s verbiage about “dialogue” and “conversation” and one finds this blandly phrased position statement: “American assistance to Israel, including maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge, is an important anchor for a peace process based on providing Israel with the confidence and assurance to move forward on a solution based on land for peace. J Street consistently advocates for robust US foreign aid to Israel.” This last sentence is 99% of what one needs to know about J Street.

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Israel apologists and the Israeli national will

Depending on ones view of Israel, the deaths that occurred on the decks of the Mavi Marmara early today are either reprehensible, tragic, regrettable, or — a cause for celebration.

Someone just wrote to me: “Too bad you weren’t on that ship with the rest of the terror supporters. Anyone touching an IDF soldier deserves what they got.”

I know people in J Street who would find such sentiments deeply offensive; who would assure me that when they say they are pro-Israel it does not in any sense mean that they condone the actions of this Israeli government or the kind of red-blooded xenophobic Zionism that believes the IDF can do no wrong.

Yet the question I would pose to anyone who says they are pro-Israel is this: is the Israel you support the one that exists in 2010, or does it have a firmer foothold somewhere inside your imagination?

Which is the real Israel? The Israel cherished and trumpeted at an AIPAC convention? The Israel struggling to be defined at a J Street gathering? Or the Israel triumphantly being celebrated from the hilltops above Ashdod today?

This is how The Guardian describes the scene there and however representative these particular flag-clad Israelis might actually be, their claim to be pro-Israel has a distinction that many of their American counterparts lack: they are Israelis, they live in Israel and they are not on the political fringe.

If one was to describe a constellation that linked the IDF soldiers to either their flag-waving brethren or their more conflicted American cousins, the closest ties would surely coincide with geographical proximity.

[Above the Israeli port of Ashdod as the ships of the Freedom Flotilla were towed in] Jonah’s Hill itself was heaving. Shirtless Israeli men draped in their national flag waved placards declaring “Well done IDF” in both Hebrew and English, chanting, singing and applauding their support for the military operation.

Thick cables snaked across the ground from thrumming generators, delivering power to dozens of international TV crews, broadcasting across the globe against the backdrop of the shimmering Mediterranean.

Amid the crowd, a sophisticated public relations operation was underway. Spinners and spokesmen from the Israeli military and government departments politely answered questions and offered their own narrative of the day’s events. A barrage of emails and text message alerts firing into inboxes provided a background of electronic muzak.

Shahar Arieli, deputy spokesman for the ministry of foreign affairs, wearing a smart tie despite the heat, said two of the flotilla’s boats had been brought into port.

All activists would be offered the chance of immediate deportation at Israel’s expense “with their passports”, he said. “We want them to leave as soon as possible,” he added.

Those who declined would – “as long as they weren’t involved in attacks on our troops” – be processed through Israel’s justice system.

His patient courtesy was not matched by all those gathered on the hill. Chaim Cohen, a 52-year-old economic consultant from Givatayim, was dripping with both sweat and bile. “We have come to support our soldiers. It is obvious it [the Mavi Marmara] is a terrorist ship. We saw it on TV – they took out knives and put them in the stomachs of the IDF.”

There was nothing to challenge the Israeli version of events. Repeated attempts to reach the cell and satellite phones of activists on board the flotilla were rebuffed; it was unclear whether their phones had been confiscated, jammed or if they were simply out of range.

By late afternoon on Monday, activists with lesser injuries were being brought to hospitals in coastal towns and cities from the smaller passenger ships. At the Barzilai medical centre in Ashkelon, just north of the Gaza Strip, a Greek man in a neck brace told reporters: “They hit me.” Who? “Pirates,” he answered.

A dazed man with a striking black eye was unloaded from an ambulance. There had been “some brutality” on board, he said, but the activists were non-violent. “We are all Palestinian now,” he said as the doors of the ER closed behind him.

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Is J Street, AIPAC’s Trojan horse for disarming the American Jewish left?

After meeting last week with J Street‘s executive director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, the Jerusalem Post‘s Shmuel Rosner mused that J Street may have a complimentary role to the one performed by AIPAC.

Maybe as a separate organization with more credibility on the left J Street can help Israel more by way of helping curb the wacky initiatives of the far left (like divestment in Berkeley).

Richard Silverstein responds to that suggestion by saying:

I’d never quite thought of the fact that J Street either intentionally or unintentionally may serve to co-opt the political energy of the American Jewish peace movement. Progressives funnel their energy into the organization which transmutes it in turn into faintly liberal pro-Israel substance that bears only a slight resemblance to the actual political values of many of those progressives. In this way, J Street contributes to the dumbing down of progressive Jewish politics.

“Dumbing down” might be a charitable way of characterizing what J Street is doing. What J Street itself might claim to be a moderating influence in its efforts to occupy the supposedly all-powerful political center, can also be seen as classic Israeli divide-and-rule politics.

Where does Israel face some of its most serious political challenges coming from? The Goldstone Report, the embryonic but significant BDS movement, and the broad political trend that with increasing vigor and fearlessness is questioning Israel’s legitimacy. On all counts, J Street stands resolutely on Israel’s side. Yet even as it does so, it attempts to appeal to American Jews who already have a critical view of the Jewish state. It says, we hear you, we embrace you, and now you can quiet down.

To call J Street, AIPAC’s Trojan horse does not have to imply some kind of nefarious conspiracy behind the scenes but simply suggests that J Street by design or accident is on the way to becoming an integral part of the Israel lobby.

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The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is working

Mohammad Othman’s administrative detention is a sign BDS is working

Mohammad Othman, the BDS campaigner who was detained by Israel upon returning from a speaking tour in Norway, was given three months administrative detention yesterday in an Israeli military court. Othman had been held 63 days without charge before the court agreed to the prosecution’s request for administrative dentention. Othman has been under nearly constant interrogation during this time. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — The ongoing debate about the BDS movement seems like it could be a waste of energy. If BDS gathers enough momentum then it will become a politically self-justifying exercise simply by virtue of the attention it receives. If it doesn’t acquire critical mass, then its merits or flaws will be moot.

And momentum itself is to a significant degree a self-fulfilling expectation. As an Indian master once said: “faith is the willingness to try.” That willingness is increasingly evident.

The fact that J Street is alarmed by a movement that is “spreading like wild fire” across American college campuses is a strong sign that what might have once looked like a form of fringe activism is already heading on a trajectory towards the mainstream — a domain that the “pro-Israel pro-peace” lobby can probably only dream of dominating.

Is Israel threatened by the BDS movement?

For nearly six weeks now Mohammed Othman, a prominent Palestinian activist and an outspoken advocate of the nonviolent boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, has been held in an Israeli military prison without charges.

On 22 September 2009 Othman, 34, was detained at the Allenby Crossing as he attempted to return home to the occupied West Bank from Jordan. He was returning from a trip to Norway, where he met with that country’s Finance Minister Kristin Halvorsen, amongst other officials.

At the beginning of September, Finance Minister Halvorsen announced Norway’s divestment from the Israeli company Elbit due to “ethical concerns.” Elbit provides security systems for Israel’s separation wall in the West Bank, for illegal settlements as well as unmanned aerial vehicles (commonly known as drones) and other technology for the Israeli military. According to many Middle East analysts and human rights groups, Othman played a pivotal role in Norway’s decision to disassociate from Elbit. [continued…]

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J Street seeks to undermine BDS

J Street seeks to undermine BDS

We’ve been following J Street’s attempts to counteract the growing BDS movement. First there was its aborted release of a public letter criticizing the Toronto Declaration. Then there was the workshop at its student conference called “Reckoning with the Radical Left on Campus: Alternatives to Boycotts and Divestments.” The workshop didn’t go quite as planned either as many students who attended actually offered their support for divestment campaigns targeting the Israeli occupation. You would think these two initial missteps would lead J Street to reconsider which way the wind is blowing. Nope.

J Street is now working to undermine the National Campus Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Conference that will be held this weekend at Hampshire College. The conference is being called to build “a coordinated national BDS campaign,” and J Street seems to feel threatened by this. Yesterday the organization sent the following email out to its student wing: [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — Strip a J Street statement of all its marketing filler and its use of slogans as a substitute for argumentation and you end up with nothing much at all.

In this case though, there is one important piece of news: “[The] Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel movement… is spreading like wild fire on campuses across the country…”

This is a major grassroots movement but J Street has the hubris and naivety to imagine it can co-opt and steer in the “right” direction. In the process J Street is increasingly coming to look like nothing more than the liberal wing of the Israel lobby.

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Two-State Solution: The Broadway Musical

Two-State Solution: The Broadway Musical

Remember a mere five months ago when Hillary Clinton, with all the toughness she had displayed during her primary campaign, said bluntly: “[Obama] wants to see a stop to settlements — not some settlements, not outposts, not ‘natural growth’ exceptions”?

The whole administration — presumably with expert coaching by Rahm Emanuel — was sending a strong message to Israel: We know your games and we’re not going to take any crap.

Freezing settlements — this was the litmus test for Benjamin Netanyahu to demonstrate his ability to engage in the so-called peace process.

Within a few weeks the administration’s Iran policy was in disarray — in the aftermath of the disputed presidential election — and terrified of the charge that he was being tough on Israel while soft on Iran, Obama’s resolve withered. Netanyahu bounced back and he has been riding high ever since.

Back in June, Netanyahu was admonished for not doing his homework. Now he’s thrown it in the trash and gets praise for offering “restraint on the policy of settlements” — even as Israel demolishes Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem and Palestinian citizens of Israel protest against the ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, as Netanyahu mocks the idea that Washington has the capacity or will to apply pressure on an Israeli government, J Street, “the political arm of the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement,” after launching itself onto the stage of mainstream American politics through its first national conference last week, must somehow strive to keep the two-state-solution dream alive.

The two-state solution is indeed the stuff of dreams — at least the dreams of Zionists who find the idea of equality between Jews and non-Jews abhorrent, or as J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami puts it, “a nightmare for the Jewish people.”

Perhaps Washington is not the best place for dream believers. Maybe it’s time for a glitzy Two-State Solution on Broadway.

Oh look!

Bibi and Hillary are already auditioning.

J Street: Do we really need another Jewish-only road?

If you’re Palestinian, you know about checkpoints. There are over 600 checkpoints in the West Bank alone. They block, obstruct, frustrate and kill. Women die in childbirth at checkpoints, students are kept from attending school, parents from visiting their children, laborers from going to work. No one can swim in the sea. Israeli Jews are waved through checkpoints. They can swim in the sea. No problem. Jews travel freely on a complex system of Jewish-only roads and live on the Jewish side of the Separation Barriers along hundreds of miles of walls and fortified fences that keep Palestinians out. Palestinians live in an open air prison. Sometimes there is a moment of spring and the guards open the gates. But spring never lasts long. Blockades, nightly incursions, full-scale invasions, imprisonment, collective punishment, land theft, water theft, denial of education, health care, an economic future, frequent beatings and no freedom of movement is the daily bread of Palestinians. You can’t travel more than three miles without encountering a check point. Talk about stress.

J Street was a place where Jews talked to Jews about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Few Palestinians were present. Apparently they didn’t make it through the checkpoint. The narrative of J Street, like most Jewish narratives about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, reflects the nature of the conflict as seen through a Jewish lens: Palestinians are physically absent. A Jew who seeks to express her activism in solidarity with Palestinians is in danger of loosing her ‘I love Israel’ card at a mainstream Jewish checkpoint. There were checkpoints at J Street. Some people were allowed in but not officially asked to participate, some were dis-invited, and some were not considered to be part of the conversation in the first place. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — As Ahmed Moor eloquently puts it:

A purely Jewish focus on a more-than-Jewish problem causes many leftist Jews to take a paternalistic view of Palestinians. Rather than equals whose inalienable rights form the crux of the case against Zionism, the Palestinians are the clay of Jewish humanism, waiting to be fully actualized by thoughtful and reflective Jewish hands.

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