Friday, March 23, 2012

J Street's failure

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Ruthie Blum

J Street or Pal Street?
The phenomenon of professing support for Israel while simultaneously abetting its enemies seems to be the new fashion among Jews on the far Left. Rather than simply coming out in the open with their hostility, they have figured out a way to do more harm to their brethren by calling themselves “true-blue” Zionists who are merely concerned about Israel’s “declining and endangered” democracy.
This so-called concern extends to all facets of Israeli society and statehood. Whether they are “worrying” about the “religious-secular divide,” the “economic gap between rich and poor,” or the “plight of Israeli Arabs,” this group can always be counted on to have a dim view – and to express it at every opportunity.
But their absolute favorite point of “distress” is the one that gains them the most brownie points among those Israel-haters who came out of the closet as soon as the statute of limitations on anti-Semitism ran out after the Holocaust: the “Palestinian problem.” To be more precise, they are perturbed by the problem that Palestinians have with Israel. That the main problem Palestinians have with Israel is that it exists at all doesn’t feature in their discourse.
No Jewish organization is more troubled by the Palestinians’ predicament than J Street, the self-described pro-Israel, pro-peace organization that was established in 2008 to counter-balance AIPAC’s work on Capitol Hill, which has consisted of looking out for Israel’s interests by representing the position of any and every Israeli government.
J Street’s executive director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, wanted to change all that. His idea was to look out not for Israel’s interests, but rather for those of “peace in the Middle East” – a euphemism for Israeli concessions in exchange for nothing. Well, nothing other than terrorism, that is. But Ben-Ami and his ilk don’t see it that way. In their view, if it weren’t for Israeli settlements, the Palestinians would have no reason to commit acts of terror. Too bad the Palestinians don’t actually agree with that, as has been proven repeatedly with every Israeli withdrawal from anywhere.
But because Ben-Ami has impeccable Zionist credentials, his ability to garner support for a two-state solution that the Palestinians keep rejecting while undermining the Jewish state as a whole is quite an easy task.
His late father, Yitzhak, was among the leaders of the Irgun (the militantly anti-British Mandate underground) in pre-state Palestine. From Tel Aviv – a city his parents were instrumental in establishing -- Yitzhak Ben-Ami traveled to Europe right before the outbreak of World War II as an emissary for the illegal immigration of Jews. From there, he went to the U.S. to raise funds for the Irgun.
It was Yitzhak Ben-Ami who personally purchased the Altalena arms ship, and who was on it when it was attacked off the coast of Tel Aviv by the newly formed Israel Defense Forces, at the order of David Ben-Gurion, the head of the provisional government and subsequently Israel’s first prime minister. The clash, that has its repercussions between Left and Right in Israel to this day, caused him to emigrate to the U.S., asserting that he would not live in a country led by Ben-Gurion. It is thus that his son Jeremy, now 49, came to be born in New York.
That he grew up to be the kind of Jew whom his father would have considered a member of Ben-Gurion’s camp is fodder more for psychoanalysis than politics. One wonders what his father would have made of this week’s J Street conference in Washington, titled “Making History.”
Ben-Ami Jr. couldn’t have been too happy a camper at the event, which consisted of a lot of wailing on the part of “well-wishers” wishing Israel would stop being so intransigent – you know, like Peter Beinart (there to promote his book, “The Crisis of Zionism”) and Amos Oz (always on the lookout for junkets abroad to promote his entire body of work).
Not only did a mere 2,500 activists attend the conference, as compared with more than 13,000 at AIPAC’s gathering three weeks ago at the same venue. But its raison d’etre had long ago wilted. Grad missiles from Gaza, Fatah reconciliation with Hamas, and Iranian nukes tend to put a damper on concepts like “peace process.”
Still, Ben-Ami and his flock were not deterred from insisting that Congress not focus too much attention on Tehran, when there are Israeli settlements obstructing a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
U.N  Human Rights Council members in Geneva couldn’t have said it better themselves. In fact, they just passed a resolution to establish a “fact-finding mission on the influence of settlements on Palestinians,” a Palestinian-initiated maneuver that has caused Israel to suspend ties with the body and reprimand the Palestinian Authority for engaging in cynical political moves, rather than coming directly to the negotiating table. Yet they have no more intention of doing so than J Street has of persuading anyone other than its own “amen corner” that it is pro-Israel.
Ruthie Blum, a former senior editor at The Jerusalem Post, is the author of a book on the radicalization of the Middle East, to be released by RVP Press in the spring.

J Street Failure Reflected at Conference

Omri Ceren | @cerenomri 03.23.2012 - 8:00 AM

J Street is holding their annual policy conference this weekend, and the group duly requested speakers from the White House and the Israeli embassy in Washington DC. The results are unspinnable. The Israelis let J Street cool its heels until this week before dispatching deputy chief of mission Barukh Binah. Binah recently concluded a stint in Jerusalem as a Foreign Ministry deputy director-general, in which capacity he publicly castigated J Street for dishonestly manufacturing an anti-Israel publicity stunt, then building an entire media campaign around the stunt, then fabricating an Israeli apology related to the stunt. Sending him to be the embassy’s speaker was not the world’s most subtle move. The White House’s announcement of its surrogate, the vice president’s national security adviser Tony Blinken, left Ben-Ami bitterly complaining that the choice was a snub. He’s right. Blinken, for all that he is an experienced hand, is several rungs below U.S. National Security Adviser Jim Jones, who appeared at the first J Street conference and left J Street boosters musing about the group’s potential power.
J Street has gone from fantasies of being the anti-AIPAC to complaining publicly about its diminished influence. The spiral was a function of many things, but mostly of the group aggressively pushing counterproductive, failed, and toxic policies in Israel, in Congress, and in the media.
Israelis were always skeptical of J Street, even as the group was embraced by the Obama White House as the President’s anti-Israel enabler. Israeli embassy officials declared that J Street was damaging Israel, was “a unique problem,” and was “fooling around” with Israeli lives. When J Street’s founder and president Jeremy Ben-Ami publicly insisted upon Ambassador Oren’s presence at the group’s first conference he was rebuffed, leading Ben-Ami’s White House allies to attack Israel over the snub in Israeli media outlets (reports from the conference justified Israeli skepticism). Last year Israel’s minister for public diplomacy and Diaspora affairs flatly called J Street anti-Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu won’t take meetings with the group’s delegations.
In the meantime J Street’s public campaigns – many implemented with tone-deafness and some with frankly shocking incompetence – eroded its Congressional support.
Its embrace of Richard Goldstone was followed by a fumbled cover-up. Its support of anti-Israel U.N. campaigns triggered a fistfight with Congressional allies. Itsdefense of anti-Semitic rhetoric is seeping in this weekend’s conference. Its coordination with pro-Iran lobbies has been unreal.
Its stance on Cast Lead angered Israeli victims’ organizations..
J Street officials got caught misleading reporters on overseas Arab and Muslim funding and then launched a clumsy spin campaign. Then they got caught misleading other reporters about Soros funding and launched another clumsy spin campaign. When the group did its fundraising in public it was for yet another effort to pressure Obama into pressuring Israel.
On a smaller scale J Street launched campaigns to defend anti-Israel media campaigns and anti-Israel art and anti-Israel artists. Its PR flak defended Mary Robinson. Itbrought into the fold an apologist for the Muslim students who went after Ambassador Oren at UC Irvine. A J Street delegation held meetings with Palestinian diplomats in Ramallah on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day over Israeli objections and then Ben-Ami bragged about the trip in the Jerusalem Post. One of their board members met with Hamas.
Unsurprisingly the group has become toxic in Congress. Associating with J Street costs votes and chills relationships.
As a small example: last year some House Republicans threatened to defund the Palestinian Authority. The move was opposed with various degrees of publicity by Democrats, the White House, and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. J Street ostentatiously launched a three-month public campaign to push back, which culminated in44 Democratic signatures on a letter. 44 is 10 fewer Democrats than J Street secured for far more controversial 2010 letter calling on Obama to pressure Israel on the Gaza siege, which J Street had to lobby for by proxy.
This time J Street was too weak to directly push on an open door in Congress. The White House and its political liaisons undoubtedly noted as much.
J Street and other anti-Israel Jewish groups will never totally collapse. They will always have a constituency, and that constituency will always pretend that they’re on the cusp of influencing the policy discussion. But everyone else seems to be tired of pretending that J Street is anything but a particularly elegant case study of how fringe progressive collapses under its own weight.

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