This is certainly my week for admitting mea culpa. In my last Newsweek column I expressed regret that my life inside the “Tel Aviv bubble” had contributed to my inability to see the Netanyahu tsunami coming. Now I turn the other way … I have been a critic of J Street since its establishment. The ideological basis of my criticism for J Street goes all the way back to the early 1970s, when I opposed Breira, (an organization that protested against the positions of the Israeli government on the Palestinian question). Back then, as I have – until just now – I turned the famous statement on its head: “I oppose everything you say, but will fight for your right to say it.” As someone with left-of-center Israeli views, I agreed with most of what they said, but opposed their right to say it in the United States.
Until now, I believed it was the Israeli people who had to make decisions regarding their security, and that it was not the place of diaspora Jewry to publicly state any position that was not aligned with the position of the duly elected Israeli government. So why have I changed my views? I am sure that people who will disagree with this article will say I have changed my long held belief because the side that I voted for did not win this past election. It is possible that subconsciously they might be right.
However, I believe my change of heart is a result of several recent events. The first trigger was Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, which he coordinated solely with the Republicans, against the express wishes of the Democrats in Congress and the Democratic President. Netanyahu’s action insinuated himself into partisan politics in the United States and caused terrible harm to our country by hurting the bi-partisan support we received and suddenly making partisan attacks on Israeli politicians fair game. By stating he was speaking on behalf of the whole Jewish people when he spoke, Netanyahu certainly made it fair game for Jews throughout the world to opt out.
The second and third incidents took place last night, initially in comments on my Facebook feed and then in the form of a statement from AIPAC. I was dismayed to see the comments on my Facebook page responding to the link I posted to Thomas Friedman’s latest article. These comments defended Netanyahu’s remarks on election day (claiming that Netanyahu’s warning that the Arabs coming out to vote en masse, and, that that rush to the polls was funded by foreign NGO’s, was just “politics as usual”.) Even some of my Likud acquaintances have publicly called the remarks unfortunate. However, amongst some American Jews our Prime Minister can do no wrong.
The final episode that caused me to reassess my view was the statement issued overnight by AIPAC. It stated: “Today, Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu strongly and clearly reaffirmed his commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In addition, he sought to reassure that his government will be dedicated to serving and representing all the people of Israel- both Jewish and non-Jewish citizens. Unfortunately, an administration spokesman rebuffed the Prime Minister’s efforts to improve the understanding between Israel and the U.S.”
It seems to me the spokesman for AIPAC lives in an alternative universe from those of us living in Israel; since those of us living here certainly came away from the campaign believing that Netanyahu had closed the door on a two-state solution – for at least “as long as he remains Prime Minister”. It was also crystal clear that Netanyahu’s veer rightward is what gained him this victory.
I was always taught that words have consequences. Moreover, we have always claimed that the Palestinians were the ones who were guilty of saying one thing in Arabic to their home audience, and something different on the international stage. Now that our Prime Minister has been caught brazenly doing the same thing (all to achieve an election victory), it seems problematic to me to sit by and watch AIPAC whitewash Netanyahu’s actions.
So where does that leave me? I am still not a great fan of J Street. I would certainly be happier if an invigorated left-wing Zionist movement were to develop in the United States instead of a growing left-wing lobbying group. It is unclear to me that J Street’s positions are not sometimes counterproductive to the views of the left here in Israel (fueling the fires of fear for those who are certain the entire world is against us). Furthermore, I remain unconvinced that many of the supporters of J Street are Zionists. J Street’s lukewarm support for me and other Israelis this past summer, as our homes were under missile attack was particularly disturbing.
Despite my misgivings regarding the actions of my Prime Minister, a man I did not vote for, he has legitimized a more active debate on the policies of Israel in the United States. While I still believe that is ultimately up to us; those who have served and whose children serve and will serve to defend this country to determine our future, once an Israeli Prime Minister has actively engaged in partisan politics in the U.S. to further his own future position here, active dissent has been legitimized and I can no longer condemn J Street for engaging in it.