J Street needs a directional finder

J Street needs a directional finder

There’s an old joke about Jews being at the forefront of every “ism” movement created – but the consequences have never been funny.

Perhaps because of a tradition steeped in justice and fairness, these Jews, for the most part well meaning, have been governed by a utopian ideal that never quite reckons with reality.

As I read his op-ed in the Jewish Standard (“Staying in love with Israel,” February 8), Alan Elsner’s recurring theme – the love he’d always felt for an Israel that probably never existed – seemed to fit that mold and inadvertently revealed some of the more troubling aspects of his organization.

J Street, the advocacy group for which Elsner is vice president of communications, is a progressive organization billing itself as pro-Israel, pro-peace. It wants so badly to do what it perceives as right. In its half decade of existence, this newest “ism” is already cause for concern for those who wish a continued close U.S./Israel alliance. The expectations it places on Israel, given the neighborhood in which it lives, are wholly unrealistic.

When the Goldstone Report accused Israel of deliberately targeting civilians in the Gaza conflict several years ago, J Street initially tried to arrange meetings between Richard Goldstone and congressional staffers, to ensure that our government was well informed of the war crimes Israel might have committed. While other pro-Israel groups sought reassurance that the United States would veto the anti-settlement Security Council resolution of 2011 – which it did – J Street urged our government to vote against the Jewish state. While President Obama has said that every option, including a military one, should be on the table regarding Iran, J Street has lobbied for the language and option to be totally stricken.

Over the years, members of Congress have heard, understood, respected, and appreciated the consistent message from various groups that support Israel – shared values, shared interests, shared intelligence. Suddenly a new messenger appears, Jewish at that, and more often than not, expresses starkly different views. The likely result is an erosion of support as members of Congress become confused by the mixed signals. Since its inception, J Street, whether deliberately or not, has been undermining the monumentally important U.S./Israel relationship, in effect acting as a fifth column.

Alan Elsner charges in his op-ed that Israel is “… hostile to women, skeptical about democratic rights, and downright racist toward Arabs.” Sure, there’s some truth in what he says, but the utopian in him is again revealed. Never mind the degrading and often violent way women are treated in Arab society, nor the fate that awaits Jews who inadvertently make a wrong turn into a Palestinian town, it is Israel that draws the wrath of J Street for not meeting its lofty standards. The logic is akin to that of a cop who witnesses both a murder and a shoplifting incident and angrily pursues the shoplifter – who also happens to be his brother. As for being racist, isn’t an organization that judges peoples by such markedly different standards itself possibly racist? In effect, it is saying that Palestinians don’t know any better or aren’t responsible enough to control what they do?

To its credit, J Street lobbies hard for a lasting two-state solution. But for the solution to have legs, two states must be willing to compromise and two states must be willing to say so publicly to their people. The reality is that Palestinians are so immersed in hatred of Israel, it would be suicidal for a leader of theirs even to hint at compromise, no matter how high the dividends.

From the time Palestinian children reach the age of 7 or 8, they have been thoroughly exposed to what can be called the five pillars of hate. The message has been passed down from their older relatives, learned from their teachers and textbooks, viewed in their media, heard from their leaders, and reinforced in their mosques. Given the relentless demonization, it’s no wonder that videos emerge showing Palestinian children dressed as suicide bombers, proudly announcing their aspiration to kill Jews. If J Street wants to be a serious player in lobbying for peace, it needs to loudly voice its concerns about this culture of hate, and seek intermediaries to chip away at it, rather than reflexively pointing fingers at Israel.

At the 2012 J Street Conference in Washington, Barukh Binah, deputy chief of mission at the Israeli embassy in Washington, was an invited speaker. Among other remarks, he implored J Street’s leadership for balance. “You may be critical of settlements, but if you choose to show the most extreme, it behooves you to present the greater mass of moderates as well,” he said. “If you show them [the politicians J Street brings to Israel] negative aspects of checkpoints, please show as well the catastrophe and grief of terror victims. If you show them Israel’s failings, show them also our triumphs…. I urge you to strive for balance so that these lawmakers may become friends of Israel who might be critical, and not critics of Israel who are not friends.”

That a representative of Israel feels a need to plead with a “pro-Israel” group in this manner is astounding, and should cause any rational friend of Israel to consider what J Street truly represents.

Alan Elsner may wax poetic about his love of Israel, but the actions of his organization tell a very different story.