J Street is coming to town.
A senior official of the “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace” organization will be speaking Sunday at Temple Sinai in Tenafly.
Alan Elsner, J Street’s vice president of communications, said he plans on discussing the state of the U.S.-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian permanent status peace negotiations and Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent trip to Israel.
“And I will be outlining what J Street is doing in our Two Campaign, which aims to educate people about Kerry’s initiative and get people to support it,” he said.
In asking Jewish Americans to support the American official’s diplomatic efforts, J Street is finding itself opposing the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which twice has in the past week found itself at odds with the United States. First came a dispute over whether Israeli announcements about new apartments in the west bank were a stumbling block in the negotiations. Then came Netanyahu’s harsh, if premature, condemnation of a reported agreement between Iran and the United States (and five other countries) over Iran’s nuclear efforts. (In the end, no agreement was reached.)
Mr. Elsner’s presentation is part of a series of speakers on American Jews and Zionism organized by the synagogue’s brotherhood, according to its president, David Klein. “We’re trying to get differing views presented to our congregation,” Mr. Klein said. “My understanding is that J Street is the potentially more liberal view; we might have somebody from AIPAC present a more conservative view.”
The congregation’s Rabbi Jordan Millstein said that the program is “part of what we’re trying to do to build a deeper relationship with Israel among our members.
“The issue for us in the American Jewish community is that there is fortunately a very broad support for Israel, but at the same time there are many people who don’t agree – of course, we’re Jews, we’re not going to agree – with policies that are taken by a given Israeli government,” Rabbi Millstein said. “Debate is important. People in our community have to recognize that diverse views are held and that those views – as long as they are in support of Israel – are legitimate.”
Mr. Elsner came to J Street a year ago from the Israel Project, a pro-Israel advocacy group; before entering Zionist organizational life, he had been a reporter for Reuters and wrote two books of nonfiction and two novels. Born in England, he moved to Israel in 1977.
“I have an Israeli passport,” he said. “I’m a citizen of Israel. I served in the IDF. My wife and I met there; we lived there together for eight years.
“J Street really reflects what I believe and have always believed: That the only way to end the conflict is through the establishment of a Palestinian state, and to end the occupation, which is having a corrupting effect on Israel,” he said.
Last week, Mr. Kerry traveled to the Middle East, meeting with Prime Minisgter Netanyahu and with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas
Following the meeting with Abbas, Mr. Kerry reiterated U.S. opposition to Jewish settlements.
“We consider now and have always considered the settlements to be illegitimate,” Mr. Kerry said when he was in Bethlehem. “And I want to make it extremely clear that at no time did the Palestinians in any way agree, as a matter of going back to the talks, that they somehow condone or accept the settlements.”
“That’s a restating of long-standing American policy,” Mr. Elsner said.
“I think there is a limited tolerance on the Palestinian side for constant announcements of new settlement apartments. It seems every project gets announced five or six times. The latest ones were the same ones announced previously.
“I understand Netanyahu may have domestic reasons to make announcements in terms of calming down elements of his coalition, but this needs to be weighed against the international diplomatic consequences every time he makes one of these announcements.”
Mr. Elsner said it was “bizarre” that Mr. Netanyahu would have chosen to free Palestinian prisoners as a goodwill gesture, rather than acceded to a settlement freeze.
“The release of convicted murderers sparked a wave of revulsion in Israel that cut across party lines and united the nation,” he said. “It weakened support for negotiations, since it associates negotiations with the release of murderers.
“I can’t really understand why he would prefer to free murderers than to freeze settlements.”
Mr. Elsner said he doesn’t expect the negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians to collapse, “but I do think that some time in the new year, the U.S. will have a to take a new role, in terms of putting a new detailed framework on the table.”