Friday, May 16, 2008

J Street: Is It Either Sensible Or Mainstream?

"It is time for the broad, sensible mainstream of pro-Israel American Jews and their allies to challenge those on the extreme right who claim to speak for all American Jews in the national debate about Israel and the Middle East--and who, through the use of fear and intimidation, have cut off reasonable debate on the topic"
J Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami
So J Street is going to represent the "sensible mainstream of pro-Israel American Jews"?
Well, who are the members and supporters of J Street who are going to do that? James Kirchick writes in The New Republic that a look at the supporters of J Street turns up a number of people who are decidedly not members of the 'sensible mainstream':
A perusal of J Street's list of supporters further undermines its pretensions to mainstream credibility. One of the most prominent Israelis involved with the group is Avrum Burg, former speaker of the Knesset. A member of a distinguished Israeli political family, he set off a political scandal last year when, in an interview with Ha'aretz, he claimed that "to define the State of Israel as a Jewish state is the key to its end"; he has also compared contemporary Israel to pre-Nazi Germany. Naomi Chazan is a former Knesset member from the left-wing Meretz Party, which has just five seats (out of 120) in the Knesset. Henry Siegman, a former Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, has compared Israel to apartheid South Africa, accused Israeli leaders of having the U.S. government "in their pockets," and claimed (absurdly) that the 2000 intifada "was not planned by Arafat, but a spontaneous eruption of Palestinian anger."
For that matter, despite J Street's description of AIPAC to the contrary, AIPAC is not really outside the mainstream at all:
Moreover, J Street's depiction of the pro-Israel establishment--read, AIPAC-- as wildly hawkish is more than a bit of a stretch. I called Steve Grossman, AIPAC's president from 1992 to 1996, to ask him what he thought of this line of attack. After stepping down from his AIPAC post, Grossman became national chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and he later served as chairman of Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign. Unsurprisingly, the notion that AIPAC is a right-wing organization strikes him as ridiculous. "There are lots of people who are involved with AIPAC, including me, who have always believed that the two-state solution is essential and the deep involvement of the United States to find a solution, however intractable the problems may be, is absolutely axiomatic," he says. He points to AIPAC's early support for the negotiations that led to the 1993 Oslo accords--staunchly opposed by hawks in both Israel and the United States--as but one example where aipac angered many of its conservative supporters. "There were people in AIPAC who felt Oslo was a bad idea, but I'm still proud of the fact that the first American Jewish organization to support Rabin and Peres and the Oslo accords was AIPAC," he told me.
By all means--let J Street go ahead and do its thing, but let them also be honest about who they are and where they really stand on Israel. I mentioned in a previous post that J Street has been reticent in making known who is behind the group.

It is becoming increasingly clear why.

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