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J Street’s reaction to Lapid as prime minister: Crickets

Israel finally has a moderate centrist at the helm who supports the two-state solution. Why isn't the progressive US Jewish organization applauding?
Israel's caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid speaks during a joint press conference with US president Joe Biden, in Jerusalem, July 14, 2022. (Mandel Ngan / AFP)
Israel's caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid speaks during a joint press conference with US president Joe Biden, in Jerusalem, July 14, 2022. (Mandel Ngan / AFP)

J Street was founded in 2008 as a progressive American Jewish organization opposed to the policies of then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. For the next 14 years, J Street harshly criticized both Netanyahu and his right-wing successor Naftali Bennett, especially regarding West Bank settlements, relations with the Palestinian Authority, and the Iran nuclear deal.

But now, for the first time in J Street’s history, Israel has a moderate, centrist prime minister, Yair Lapid. Lapid supports the two-state solution. He has reached out to the PA. He even hosted J Street CEO Jeremy Ben-Ami and a visiting congressional delegation last November in Jerusalem while serving as Foreign Minister.

Lapid favors rebuilding ties with the Democratic Party, ties that Netanyahu jeopardized with his contempt for President Obama and his embrace of President Trump. Lapid also maintains strong relations with many Arab leaders and other important members of Arab civil society, including West Bank Palestinians.

One would think all this would lead J Street to applaud the new winds of change from Jerusalem, and to express support for Prime Minister Lapid. After all, J Street claims to be a “pro-Israel” organization, and this seems an ideal opportunity for J Street to show it truly is pro-Israel.

Unfortunately, however, this has not been the case. J Street, which issued a multitude of press releases over the years attacking Prime Ministers Netanyahu and Bennett, failed to issue a single press release congratulating Lapid on his ascension to the prime ministership earlier this month, even as it churned out a number of other, unrelated press releases in late June and early July.

J Street has also been active of late on other fronts, urging Members of Congress to sign a series of recent letters to President Biden challenging various aspects of Israeli policy. (J Street may be the only major Jewish organization in the world that actively lobbies its own government to oppose the Israeli government on various issues.) Mr. Ben-Ami also published an op-ed in the July 11 edition of the Washington Post largely blaming Israel for the failed peace process and for Palestinian violence.

And J Street continues to pound the drums for the revival of the Iran nuclear deal, even though most of Israel’s military and security establishment (albeit with some notable exceptions) opposed the original 2015 deal, and remain opposed to this day.

So what is J Street’s agenda, now that Israel is led by a centrist prime minister? Is J Street as adamantly opposed to Prime Minister Lapid’s policies as it was to those of Prime Ministers Netanyahu and Bennett? Is there any politician or political party in Israel whom J Street would be willing to support as the head of government? These are fair questions for J Street’s donors to ask of an organization they helped grow into one of the two most influential American Jewish groups operating in Washington, DC.

This should be a time of reflection for J Street. Netanyahu and Bennett are gone, at least for now. Why not give Lapid a chance?

About the Author
Steven E. Zipperstein is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the UCLA Center for Middle East Development. He teaches at UCLA and UC Santa Barbara, and is a Visiting Professor at Tel Aviv University. He is the author of Zionism, Palestinian Nationalism and the Law: 1939-1948 (Routledge, 2021) and Law and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: The Trials of Palestine (Routledge, 2020).

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