Micah Segelman

J Street Doesn’t Speak for Me

The timing was perfect. On the eve of J Street’s annual conference, a golden opportunity to showcase their “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace” stance presented itself. Capitalizing on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s rhetoric about a Palestinian State and about Arab Israeli voters, J Street took the opportunity to both condemn Netanyahu and to embrace President Obama’s “get tough” approach with Israel.

Many in the pro-Israel community, including many Netanyahu fans, are upset with Netanyahu’s pre-election tactics. But there is a chasm between rejecting his remarks and rejecting his leadership and Israel’s democratically elected government. This is what J Street is doing by declaring that “We are very glad to hear that the Obama administration is reconsidering its approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” It is a gigantic step to go from disappointment with what Netanyahu said to advocating for the US and the UN to force terms upon the parties, albeit with J Street’s caveat that any resolution “is fair, balanced and in accord with US policy.”

Who decides what is fair and balanced? Were the previous offers that Israel made to the Palestinians fair and balanced? Israel thought so. President Clinton, in the case of Camp David/Taba thought so too. But to J Street, “fair” means that construction, even in the major settlement blocks which will remain part of Israel and even in the Jewish parts of Jerusalem that are over the Green Line, should be deemed illegal, until final borders are agreed upon. I’m not sure too many other supporters of Israel agree.

But even if a truly “fair and balanced” solution could be formulated, there is a much more basic problem with J Street’s desire to impose a solution. I have no doubt that the UN has both the will and power to force Israel to accept its dictates as it has shown itself quite capable of isolating and castigating Israel over many decades.

But vis a vis the Palestinians? How will the UN force the Palestinians to abandon their rejection of Israel (within any borders) and their struggle against her? Who seriously thinks the UN has the will or capability to do that? The Palestinians need to accept Israel’s right to peacefully exist and to end all claims against her – UN resolutions are no substitute for this. Furthermore, how will the UN prevent a Hamas takeover of the West Bank? The same way it prevented Hezbollah from rearming in Lebanon?

The bottom line is that Netanyahu’s remarks do not change the situation one iota. The obstacles to peace from the Palestinian side that existed 2 weeks ago exist now as well. Netanyahu’s remarks deserve criticism (and have received plenty) but do not change the fact that Israel has consistently been ready to relinquish territory and to work seriously towards peace while the Palestinians have not been able to “get to yes” since 1947 and even before.

I recognize J Street’s correct stance against BDS (although their recent call to withhold support from institutions over the Green Line, including in Jerusalem, is a form of boycott) and against unilateral Palestinian actions such as joining the International Criminal Court. But while their intentions may be good, good intentions are not enough. J Street is wrong and in the current climate of unprecedented bitterness between an American Administration and Israel, terribly wrong. J Street is using Netanyahu’s mistake (which he has tried to rectify) to divide American Jewry and to create distance between America from Israel. J Street speaks for itself, but not for me, and I suspect, not for the vast majority of the American Jewish community.

About the Author
Rabbi Micah Segelman writes both scholarly and popular articles on Jewish topics. He is a health policy researcher and completed his PhD in health services research and policy at the University of Rochester.