In defense of J Street – Why Knowing the facts might change your mind

I write to address directly the constant sniping from pro-Israel right-wing rabbis and activists who repeatedly criticize J Street without knowledge of the facts of J Street’s record of statements and actions. These loud voices represent a minority in the American Jewish community. They serve to intimidate, drown out, and silence other voices willing to defend J Street’s position that a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the only path to sustain Israel’s democracy and Jewish character and to Palestinian national aspirations.

I have been a supporter of J Street since it was founded ten years ago, and it is frustrating to hear repeated day in and day out highly negative charges against J Street despite polling that shows that J Street’s views represent the overwhelming majority of Jews in the United States. These voices also unwittingly or deliberately distort J Street’s written record.

Among the constant refrains is that J Street only criticizes Israeli policies and never says a word about Palestinian terror and slander. That refrain is factually false. Over the past two years, J Street has issued 23 statements condemning Palestinian terror, calling out incitement and/or taking on Palestinians for their actions and words (see the list below with links). In the past month alone, there have been three such statements:

J STREET CONDEMNS ALARMING NEW SPATE OF TERROR ATTACKS AGAINST ISRAELIS IN WEST BANK, JERUSALEM, 12/13/2018 – https://bit.ly/2AllLDt

J STREET APPALLED BY TERROR ATTACK ON ISRAELIS NEAR WEST BANK SETTLEMENT OF OFRA, 12/10/2018 – https://bit.ly/2GGj59e

J STREET SUPPORTS IDF OPERATIONS TO DESTROY HEZBOLLAH TUNNELS ALONG NORTHERN BORDER, 12/4/2018 – https://bit.ly/2CDoiuh

My message to these critics is simple. The facts speak for themselves. J Street does make demands on the Palestinians to abandon their extremists, to oppose terrorism, to refrain from honoring and funding those who die in the process of murdering Israelis.

J Street compiled a list of its statements before 2016 but stopped doing so because it seemed to make little difference to the relentless right-wing critics whose minds were made up.

Critics of J Street like to point out that Palestinian education teaches children that “the highest goal is to be martyrs in the murder of Jews.” Of course there are some problems with Palestinian textbooks. J Street has spoken out on that too, but when the State Department funded a comprehensive and rigorous study (https://n.pr/2Spag55) of both Palestinian and Israeli textbooks, it found that both contain elements of racism and incitement that could be improved.

The right-wing narrative keeps hammering on the issue that Israel has no partner for peace among the Palestinians. While President Trump can’t make up his mind about two states or one, Israel has a Prime Minister who has vowed that there will not be a Palestinian state on his watch. The only one of the three key parties (US, Israel, and Palestinians) that continues to support a two-state solution unwaveringly is the Palestinians.

In February 2018, at the United Nations, President Abbas gave a speech (https://bit.ly/2EJ2nQS) reiterating his commitment to the two-state solution, to diplomacy and non-violence, to security for both Israel and Palestine, and to a mutually-acceptable resolution to the refugee issue. The speech is worth reading as it is the most reasonable and coherent statement to come from an Israeli, Palestinian, or American leader on these issues in the past two years.

It is necessary to condemn Palestinian terror, which J Street has done time and again. It is necessary to oppose Palestinian incitement, which J Street has done time and again. And it is vital to urge Palestinians to lay out their proposal for a two-state solution, which they have done.

Is it also not necessary to ask J Street’s critics why, if the Palestinian leadership is in fact ready to move forward toward a negotiated two-state solution that the Israeli government continues to build settlements outside the blocs and beyond the security fence? Why does the government of Israel issue demolition orders for long-standing Palestinian villages in areas which will one day be part of the State of Palestine?

Why are not more people asking that those who support the Israeli government’s policies won’t debate the issues on the merits but resort to name-calling and ad hominem attacks on those with whom they disagree as “anti-Israel,” “anti-Semitic,” and “self-hating Jews?”

It’s highly disturbing to me as a rabbi when my colleagues who are charged with instilling in our communities a sense of right and wrong – particularly to our children – refuse to entertain the notion that perhaps what is being done by the Israeli government in the name of the Jewish people to another people runs counter to core Jewish values and Israel’s own Declaration of Independence.

To those critics of J Street, I wish to point out that the path down which the government of the State of Israel is leading the country not only threatens Israel’s security and its future, but also American interests in the Middle East, and the ability of our children and grandchildren to believe that Jewish ethics have any meaning in the modern period when we Jews, for the first time in two millennia, have sovereignty and power.

Here is a list of statements made by J Street (the list is not exhaustive):

J STREET HORRIFIED BY KILLING OF TWO ISRAELIS IN WEST BANK TERROR ATTACK, 10/7/2018 – https://bit.ly/2TjXrsT

J STREET HORRIFIED BY KILLING OF AMERICAN-ISRAELI ACTIVIST ARI FULD IN WEST BANK ATTACK, 11/16/2018 – https://bit.ly/2EPDN4N

J STREET MOURNS ISRAELI SOLDIER KILLED BY SNIPER FIRE FROM GAZA, 7/20/2018 – https://bit.ly/2QVS46k

J STREET STRONGLY CONDEMNS INCENDIARY, OFFENSIVE REMARKS BY PRESIDENT ABBAS, 5/1/2018 – https://bit.ly/2QRdT70

J STREET MOURNS VICTIM OF JERUSALEM STABBING ATTACK, 3/19/2018 – https://bit.ly/2AjtTo1

J STREET MOURNS VICTIMS OF WEST BANK ATTACK, 3/16/2018 – https://bit.ly/2VbsqZD

J STREET SUPPORTS ISRAEL’S DEFENSE OF NORTHERN BORDER; US MUST WORK WITH ISRAEL TO ADDRESS THREATS, 2/11/2018 – https://bit.ly/2BHosz6

PALESTINIANS MUST RESPECT AND PROTECT SAFETY OF US DIPLOMATS IN WEST BANK, 1/30/2018 – https://bit.ly/2BI3RL4

ABBAS’ UNACCEPTABLE SPEECH RESULTS DIRECTLY FROM DISASTROUS TRUMP POLICIES, 1/15/2018 – https://bit.ly/2EOUGLW

J STREET HORRIFIED BY DEADLY TERROR ATTACK IN WEST BANK, 1/10/2018 – https://bit.ly/2QacZgQ

J STREET RESPONDS TO ABBAS SPEECH IN THE WAKE OF TRUMP’S JERUSALEM ANNOUNCEMENT, 12/14/2017 – https://bit.ly/2GGl5yg

J STREET CONDEMNS DEADLY ATTACK ON ISRAELI SECURITY PERSONNEL AT HAR ADAR, 9/26/2017 – https://bit.ly/2EPMISP

J STREET WELCOMES EU RULING RETURNING HAMAS TO TERRORISM BLACKLIST, 7/27/2017 – https://bit.ly/2GIXVqK

J STREET APPALLED BY WEST BANK STABBING ATTACK AND JERUSALEM VIOLENCE ; URGES IMMEDIATE US ENGAGEMENT TO DE-ESCALATE SITUATION , 7/21/2017 – https://bit.ly/2Rl0TGb

J STREET CONDEMNS HORRIFIC TERROR ATTACK AT TEMPLE MOUNT, 7/14/2017 – https://bit.ly/2Ah9UXa

J STREET WELCOMES NEW WEST BANK ELECTRICITY AGREEMENT BETWEEN PA AND ISRAEL, 7/11/2017 – https://bit.ly/2GKCINa

J STREET CONDEMNS TERROR ATTACK TODAY IN JERUSALEM, 6/16/2017 – https://bit.ly/2LB2bYk

J STREET CONDEMNS HAMAS TUNNEL RUNNING UNDER SCHOOL, 6/9/2017 – https://bit.ly/2LCbJCp

J STREET CONDEMNS TERROR AGAINST ISRAELIS, AFFIRMS IMPORTANCE OF IRON DOME, 2/9/2017 – https://bit.ly/2ERXhF5

J STREET CONDEMNS JERUSALEM TRUCK ATTACK, MOURNS THE VICTIMS, 1/8/2017 – https://bit.ly/2BLAXJS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the Author
A native of Los Angeles, Rabbi John L. Rosove assumed the position of Senior Rabbi of Temple Israel of Hollywood in 1988 and will become Emeritus Rabbi in July, 2019. Before coming to Temple Israel he served large congregations in San Francisco (1979-86) and Washington, D.C. (1986-88). He is the immediate past National Chair of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA) and served on the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), the Vaad HaPoel of the World Zionist Organization, and the Executive Committee of ARZENU (the International Reform Zionist movement). He is a national co-Chair of the Rabbinic and Cantorial Cabinet of J Street. John is the author of "Why Judaism Matters – Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to his Children and the Millennial Generation with an Afterword by Daniel and David Rosove" (Nashville: Jewish Lights, 2017) and his forth-coming book "Why Israel and its Future Matter - Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to his Children and the Millennial Generation" (Ben Yehuda Press, New Jersey. Spring 2020). John is married to Barbara and is the father of two sons and the grandfather of one.
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