The “J Street Challenge” challenge

Last week, an “exposé” documentary on the American Jewish phenomenon of “J Street” made its way to the funky “Na L’Ga’at” Theater at the Jaffa Port, courtesy Tel Aviv International Salon, StandWithUs and CAMERA. J Street is a self-described “pro-Israel, pro-peace” American lobby. The J Street Challenge seeks to draw attention to the faulty theory, methods and claims of J Street as they attract a following among college students.

J Street, for example, always blames Israel, never praises it. Some of its donors back Israel’s enemies. Some J Streeters equate the IDF with terrorists and support the BDS movement. And yet, J Street argues, time and again, that its reason d’etre is to safeguard Israel and Zionism by pushing the Two-State “Solution.” They have rallied Jewish youth through clever marketing and PR, one of CEO Jeremy Ben Ami’s specialties. Ending the “Occupation” in Judea and Samaria is the ultimate Jewish value of tikkun olam, repairing the world.

The lobby’s major ideological opponents are the “settlements,” or yishuvim, the Jewish communities they believe must be evacuated to make room for a Palestinian state since, God forbid, Jews and Arabs should live together. Heads and darlings of mainstream pro-Israel organizations such as CAMERA, StandWithUs, and the Israel Project, were interviewed (most of whom I know personally). Not one “settler” was represented as far as I could tell. Caroline Glick was one of the few, if only, outspoken advocates of Judea & Samaria, as expressed in her latest book, The Israeli Solution.

How can you challenge J Street when you don’t embrace or give voice to the position and point-of-view (POV) of its arch-enemy — the “settler”? The filmmakers have gathered the pro-Israel “consensus” community to adequately expose the anti-Israel bent of J Street, but, ultimately, most of the experts are also Two-Staters who would not resist Jewish population transfer, at least publicly.

So what’s the gripe? It’s not a matter of J Street’s Two-State policy, but of the time, degree, and personnel involved in the policy’s implementation. It’s a matter of finding the right “partner” who stops incitement to violence and who accepts the Jewish state.

During the Q&A, a young olah from Canada announced that she was attracted to J Street on campus because the pro-Israel camp just didn’t have an attractive message. I understand. J Street is attractive because its message is consistent, clear, and resolute, however deceitful and morally problematic. They don’t simply serve as cheerleaders for Israel and the government. They have a POV. They’re perceived as anti-establishment, morally conscious, “cool.”

Mainstream Jewish and pro-Israel organizations, for fear of alienating the Left or Right, the Israeli government, and especially donors, usually remain pareve in their messaging, sticking to middle-of-the-road arguments that may ring disingenuous and dispassionate to the critical, idealistic, rebellious mind. Worse, these organizations shun those with incredible Zionist passion and a clear POV: the “settlers” and their supporters whose moral vision and love for Israel guides them in their critique of a government that would throw them out of their homes.

During the Q&A, the film’s producer/director, Avi Goldwasser, himself admitted that his own Boston synagogue has hosted J Street but never a “settler.” So here’s his challenge: convince the synagogue leadership to host a speaker from Judea and Samaria!

At the end of the screening, the head of StandWithUs’ Israel office boasted that SWU has invited Ethiopian Israelis, Arab Israelis, and IDF soldiers to speak during the Israel hate-fest, Apartheid Week, across college campuses. Why not invite the voice that will truly rile the Israel haters? The “settler”!

Another audience member praised AIPAC, J Street’s “rival.” However, the head of Americans for a Safe Israel (AFSI) related to me that, at the recent AIPAC Policy Conference, security forbade her from holding up a sign in support of Judea and Samaria. AIPAC rarely brings missions across the Green Line. They justify their silence on settlements by stating they lobby for the official position of the Israeli government. Memo to AIPAC: the current Israeli government supports settlement building!


AIPAC and J Street’s website on negotiations. What’s the difference?

Ironically, Ben Ami visited the yishuv of Shiloh last month with my colleague Marc Prowisor of the One Israel Fund. They had intellectual, open discussion and debate, but Prowisor made the following observation after attending the AIPAC Conference: “After meeting with both, it seems to me that both leaderships want me to vacate my home. Both are backing a Two-State ‘Solution.’”

At a recent debate at Yeshiva University between Ben Ami, Danny Ayalon (a sought-after speaker for pro-Israel organizations), and Yehuda Hakohen, Ben Ami expressed his glee to find out that he and Ayalon share the exact same reasoning for the Two-State “Solution”! Watch the excerpt.

The evening ended with a (rhetorical) question: Why not fight back with the simple argument that this is our land? Finally, applause. Simplicity is attractive. And J Street knows that.

So here’s my challenge to the “J Street Challenge”: Invite “settlers” to speak at your events, campuses, galas, and synagogues. Ensure all organizations represented in the film consistently take missions deep across the Green Line. Then so many more people will believe you when you say that you challenge J Street. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll win over the impressionable J Street youth seeking leaders with courage to defy convention.


About the Author
Orit Arfa is a journalist and author of "The Settler," a novel following the journey of a young woman into Tel Aviv nightlife following her eviction from her home in Gaza in 2005. Like her heroine, Orit is a good girl gone better.