A growing divide is emerging within the Jewish-American community. This divide largely stems from the increasing exposure and acceptance of the Israel advocacy and lobbying group, J Street. A self-declared “pro-Israel” and “pro-peace group”, J Street often finds itself embroiled in controversy when it comes to issues concerning the Jewish State.
While J Street claims to be a pro-Israel, Zionist organization, many of its actions and statements have raised concerns among American Jews. These include recent instances of J Street members wearing T-shirts justifying Palestinian terrorism, and J Street’s comfort working alongside Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), which is one of America’s main sources for disinformation and anti-Israel activity such as BDS. Some in the American-Jewish community may remember hearing the sounds of J Street’s member’s applause at the 2013 J Street conference when Fatah’s Husam Zomlot advocated for the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees. It goes without saying the Right of Return is an idea the majority of Israelis reject. If that was not enough, J Street continuously takes the side of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas as divisions grow between the Israelis and Palestinians in the American led peace talks.
J Street’s executive director Jeremy Ben-Ami recently rejected Benjamin Netanyahu’s insistence on the Palestinians recognizing Israel as a Jewish State. This seems strange because Ben-Ami seems to be disagreeing with his own ideals and definition of Zionism. In a debate last month, Mr. Ben Ami stated that he himself would tell the Palestinians and those advocating for their national rights that he
will not recognize your rights, and work with you to fulfill them, unless you recognize my rights.
Now that Mr. Ben Ami chooses to back the absolute Palestinian rejection of recognizing Israel as the Jewish State, one must wonder how this can be considered mutual recognition of national rights. He has no problem encouraging Israel to compromise on issues even he himself says he wouldn’t. It is important to mention that Netanyahu’s demand for the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish State is supported by about 77% of Israelis.
Regardless of these incidents, my major disagreement with J Street stems not from their political opinions but on how far they are willing to push them. Will J Street endorse and fundraise for American politicians who share their beliefs, who will in turn, apply pressure on Israel to conform to them? According to a statement on their website, J Street
advocate(s) for a strong US role in helping to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because we believe that Israel’s survival depends on it.
In fact, it lobbies for such support. Both historical and current events have proven that active US involvement in peace talks have lead to pressure being mounted on the Israeli government to conform to American viewpoints. One such example is the current pressure put on the Israeli government into releasing convicted terrorists; an idea rejected by the majority of Israelis. As pro-Israel activists, I do not believe it is our place to lobby for America to undermine Israel’s elected representatives. J Street believes a Two-State Solution based on the 67 armistice lines with land swaps and a shared Jerusalem is in the best interests of Israel. But what if Israelis think otherwise? Can a “pro-Israel” group lobby the American government to contest the democratically elected government of the Jewish State without truly claiming they know what’s better for the state than those living in it?
Undoubtedly all people have an inalienable right to express reservations, concerns and/or opinions about Israel. However, do Jews or pro-Israel groups in the Diaspora have a right to try and influence Israel from outside the country? Does Mr. Ami, who does not live in Israel, have the right to lobby for more American involvement that may undermine Israel’s democratically elected government while still claiming his actions as pro-Israel? This question is especially critical when talking about issues J Street may support, which the majority of Israelis do not; for instance, dividing Jerusalem.
It is my firm belief that it is the job of all Jews to care for the security of the Jewish State, but we must admit this burden is not shared equally. We do not serve in the Israeli army, we do not suffer from the high cost of living that Israelis do, and most importantly we are not in constant danger from our neighbors. I am both bewildered and uncomfortable by pro-Israel third parties who think it appropriate to try and change Israel’s policies by lobbying the American government. Jews seeking to change Israel’s policies should do it only from within the State of Israel; as full and equal citizens who share in Israel’s daily realities.
Israel is a democracy, and therefore its government has the legitimacy of representing the will of Israel’s majority. Israelis are more than capable to formulate and enact their own opinions and polices regarding their security; and anyone who would claim otherwise doesn’t seem so “pro-Israel” to me.