I have watched the J Street phenomenon from afar for a while now. I was impressed when it seemed to have become a force in the US Jewish community almost overnight. The lobby has attracted both US and Israeli politicians to its conferences and made a real impact on the voice coming to Israel from the United States.
But when I look at their opening preamble it appears that J Street are attempting to force the US government to do something they already do anyway:
J Street is the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans fighting for the future of Israel as the democratic homeland of the Jewish people. We believe that Israel’s Jewish and democratic character depend on a two-state solution, resulting in a Palestinian state living alongside Israel in peace and security.
Both the White House and Capitol Hill are already pro-Israel, pro-peace and have been for decades. Especially since AIPAC came along and lobbied for the pro-Israel part. So the question that one really has to ask is what exactly it is that they are lobbying the US government for? A look at the J Street website sees article after article on their blog “welcoming” and “applauding” various pieces of legislation.
So where’s the lobbying?
Perhaps lobbying isn’t all there is to J Street. What they have done very well is provide a voice to those US Jews who disagree with providing unqualified support to Israel. J Street are the US Jews standing up and saying “not in my name”. They’re saying it to the traditional Jewish community, they’re saying it to AIPAC, they’re saying it to Israel and they’re saying it to the White House and they’ve done an extremely effective job at making themselves heard.
A good example of the kind of confusion that exists between these two parts of J Street is in their blog post entitled “J Street calls for a stronger American response to Israeli settlement Expansion”. In the post J Street don’t actually elaborate on what response it is that they want to see. But their opposition to settlement has once again been made. It makes me wonder what their conversations with elected US officials actually consist of.
The reason that AIPAC is such an effective lobbying group is their message is a clear one. Israel = good. Regardless of who’s in government in Israel AIPAC are backing the country. Whatever the government does AIPAC are backing the country. Whatever the IDF does, AIPAC are backing the country.
But where’s J Street?
J Street are walking a very different, far more complex path. On the one hand claiming to be pro Israel, on the other getting as directly involved in Israeli policy making as they can. It just doesn’t work. Frankly living here in Israel, paying my taxes, voting in the elections, serving in the country I feel I have every right to tell my government what to do. On the other hand I resent American Jews in an American lobby group attempting to impose policy upon my country.
This is why I, an Israeli who is adamantly against the occupation and against settlement take issue with J Street. I don’t think they’re helping Israel and I don’t think that they can. Ending the occupation, ending settlements is our fight and making peace with the Palestinians is something that Israel needs to do. Preferrably with the Americans in our corner, but It’s a domestic fight we in Israel must have. The fight J Street seems to need is the one where they decide whether they are a lobby group or a political voice for a certain portion of US Jewry.
To be honest when I see J Street “demanding a stern US response” from the White House when it comes to Israeli settlement I can’t help but ask myself; with friends like these, who needs friends?