University campuses are about engagement in open dialogue, discourse and debate. They’re about the importance of conversation and education in challenging and inspiring students. This holds particularly true and necessary when discussing Israel. Students have wide-ranging political convictions when it comes to Israel, and several Jewish and Israeli students’ groups were created in reflection of the varied ideology. The dialogue created can create friction and conflict within the Jewish community, but it is both fruitful and necessary because of how it contributes to Israel’s democracy and Jewish voices internationally.
However, what is necessary is constructive debate not annihilation of thought. This is, unfortunately, where JStreet comes in. A self-proclaimed non-profit liberal organisation, JStreet proudly presents itself as pro-peace and pro-two state. While it theoretically presents itself in this manner, the reality of its policies and actions are different and contradictory.
The substance of issue with JStreet is that its official mission and principles do not match the reality of its activism. Though, they claim to support Jewish self-determination in the state of Israel, their ideology does not appear to be embedded in a typical pro-two state approach but instead comes off more as a new generation of anti-Zionism.With this thought-process, JStreet presents itself as a factual counterpoint where in fact it reduces and undermines the ability of students to counter-argue and have critical thinking. This is concerning because it contributes to a global problem of understanding what constitutes legitimate versus anti-Semitic criticism of Israel.
JStreet often protests and condemns Israeli actions and policies which unfortunately includes wide-ranged slander against Israel and biased reporting. Rather than engage in news that can provide a thorough account of the conflict on the ground, it provides one-sided critiques of Israel with limited information accuracy. For example, the Gaza protests in Pesach 2018 until July, JStreet failed to mention once the Hamas attacks against Israel with fiery kites and explosive balloons. Instead of explaining what could constitute an Israeli proportionate response for self-defence under international law, it immediately condemned Israel for its military response.
In a multifaceted conflict an evaluation and criticism is needed. JStreet often discounts ‘Israeli aggression’ without sufficiently explaining or addressing circumstantial issues, military concerns and what proportionate means. Surely, providing a solution for a two-state must first seek to understand both sides and reconciliate differences rather than create more. This is most evident by JStreet’s statement of not differentiating or condemning Hamas for its terrorist actions and for suggesting that calling for Israel’s destruction is ‘not always anti-Semitic’.JStreet further tip-toes back and forth on whether it supports BDS, a one-sided movement originated by the Arab League for the purposes of Israel’s destruction. Instead of creating conflict engagement and or policy solutions, JStreet finds its support in extremist anti-Israel views.
It is unfortunate that J Street, as a Jewish-left voice, is not sufficiently acknowledging its role and influence with liberal supporters to address the issues of rising anti-Semitism. Concerningly, anti-Semitic voices such as Linda Sarsour have become popularised by self-declared progressives. Instead of acknowledging the impact JStreet can have in changing the narrative of anti-Semitism, it vocally has defended Sarsour. The possibility of engaging, educating and having an dialogue was lost and instead marginalised Jewish students. Any opposing side, according to JStreet, was condemned as ignorance.
One needs to look no further than JStreet’s funding to determine where its policies exist. Pro-Iranian elements constitute 10% of its funding and new reports showcase self-declared anti-Zionist George Soros as a major funder. Perhaps this is why JStreet continuous to support controversial figures such as Keith Ellison, who still has strong ties to Louis Farrakhan, leader of Nation of Islam who has consistently promoted anti-Semitic rhetoric
Ultimately, JStreet’s failure is its inability to accept that being actively pro-two state includes being pro-Israel as well as pro-Palestinian. To question JStreet’s ideology, morality and understanding of Israel is necessary for intellectual honesty, coherent activism and a fair and nuanced discussion on Israel.