J Street’s risky move on Jerusalem

J Street wants clarification of what, exactly, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations meant in its “My Jerusalem” advertisements this week, published in the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal.

What J Street wants to know – laid out in a letter to Conference chair Alan Solow – is whether, by quoting the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the Conference believes Rabin opposed any compromise in Jerusalem, and whether the umbrella organization supports a two-state solution, as articulated by past U.S. and Israeli governments – a solution that from the beginning has included some kind of compromise on Jerusalem.

In his letter, J Street founder and president Jeremy Ben-Ami asked if the Conference “would accept that – as part of a two-state solution – Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem should be not only part of a new Palestinian state but its capital.”

What bothers J street: the Presidents Conference ad seems to be a nod to those who say that the most expansive definition of Jerusalem is holy, and therefore not to be negotiated – ever.

Buried in the heartstrings-tugging verbiage are signals that the umbrella organization agrees with those who want to take Jerusalem off the final-status table. Why else say “There are not two Jerusalems. There is only one Jerusalem. For us, Jerusalem is not subject to compromise​?”

That’s the argument right-of-center groups have increasingly used to tilt the whole peace process discussion; by focusing on Jerusalem, and its deep  meaning to so many Jews, they try to pull the discussion away from past peace process paradigms, which have assumed some kind of compromise over Jerusalem without altering its status as Israel’s eternal capital – a compromise probably involving East Jerusalem neighborhoods and neighborhoods added after 1967.

Using Jerusalem in this way is rigging the game.

Reasonable questions, but this is risky territory for J Street.

As a lobby and political action committee, the group’s real constituency are members of Congress and congressional hopefuls, and in particular those who support an active peace process, but may be intimidated by AIPAC and the network of pro-Israel campaign givers who read from the same page when it comes to making funding decisions.

This is a group that may willingly sign letters and support resolutions calling for more active U.S. involvement in the peace process, or maybe even for a U.S. peace plan.

You can bet they’re going to run for cover the moment the word “Jerusalem” is uttered.

J Street, it seems to me, may be correct in seeing the Presidents Conference ad as another step toward redefining the peace process to exclude any compromise on Jerusalem. But politically, it looks like a risky move that is likely to make the people it needs to win over – centrist members of Congress – even more nervous.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.