J Street’s hypocrisy must be exposed
J Street’s 'Big Tent’ is open only to one side - the anti-Israel and BDS-supporting hard left of its own position; pro-Israel centrists are censored.
By Alan M. Dershowitz | Mar. 27, 2014 | 10:44 PM
J Street, the American organization that calls itself pro-Israel and pro peace but that always seems to be taking positions that are anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian, is asking America’s Jewish leadership to have a big tent and to open its doors to J Street. While I generally support that position, it is imperative that J Street’s hypocrisy be exposed. J Street insists that all major pro-Israel organizations be open to speakers who favor opposing views—such as supporters of the BDS movements, supporters of the single secular binational state approach, and those who oppose Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
In the abstract, this open tent policy seems commendable. We should be committed to the open marketplace of ideas in which views prevail on their merits not on the basis of exclusion.
Now let’s see how J Street itself fares with regard to an open tent policy. It has categorically refused to allow speakers like me, who oppose J Street’s policies on Iran and other security matters, to speak to its members at its conventions. I have repeatedly and persistently sought an opportunity to present my perspective—which is shared by many American supporters of Israel—at the J Street convention, or at other events officially sponsored by J Street. When J Street invites BDS supporters and those oppose Israel’s right to exist as the nation-state of the Jewish people to speak at its events, it claims that it does not necessarily support these positions, but it believes in encouraging its members to hear views that are different from its official positions. That is total nonsense. J Street only wants people to hear views to the anti-Israel hard left of its position. It categorically refuses to allow its members to hear views that are more centrist and more pro-Israel, such as my own.
And there is a good reason why they have placed this cone of silence over its critics. J Street survives, and even expands, largely as the result of speaking out of two sides of its mouth. It seeks to attract centrist members by advocating the two-state solution, an aggressive stance towards peace negotiations and criticisms of Israel’s settlement policies. These are positions I fully support, and if they were J Street’s only positions, I would have joined that organization many years ago. But in an effort to expand leftward, particularly hard leftward, it has taken positions that undercut Israel’s security and that virtually no Israeli center-leftists support. It placed its imprimatur behind the despicable and mendacious Goldstone Report by bringing Richard Goldstone to Capitol Hill and introducing him to members of Congress. In doing so it undercuts the efforts of the Obama Administration, which was supportive of Israel’s self-defense efforts in Gaza and not supportive of the Goldstone Report.
J Street has also spoken out of both sides of its mouth on the issue of whether the Palestinian leadership should recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. While first appearing to oppose such recognition, it now seems to be saying that this issue should be left to final stage negotiations, but it leaves open the possibility that it will continue to oppose such recognition if and when such negotiations are reached.
Moreover, J Street has accepted funding from sources—such as George Soros—who are openly anti-Israel, and have kept this fact secret so as not to alienate its centrist supporters.
It is easy to understand therefore why J Street doesn’t want me, or others who hold positions like mine, to enter into its tent. It does not want its own members to be confronted with the reality of J Street’s double talk. If I speak at its convention, I will be speaking at the same time to those centrists it seeks to attract and to those hard leftists it wants within its tent. Both sides will be shocked by J Street’s duplicity in telling each what they want to hear.
So here is my challenge: at the next J Street convention, show the film The J Street Challenge: The Seductive Allure of Peace in Our Time to all of its members, invite me to speak to them, allow me to distribute its conflicting position papers and positions and let the marketplace of ideas remain open to its members. Only when J Street opens up its tent to views critical of its own should it be demanding that pro-Israel groups open its tent to them.
Now look at Ben-Ami's "response" where he doesn't respond at all:
...Instead of organizing to meet this existential threat, some on the far right of the American Jewish community are focusing their effort and their fire in a different direction – on members of their own community. In particular, there is a new well-funded and energetic campaign to defame and delegitimize J Street, centered on an hour-long attack-umentary called the “J Street Challenge.”
Sadly even a couple of mainstream, established Jewish organizations and figures are associating themselves with it - contrary to our community's firm commitment to civil debate on issues of legitimate disagreement.
Those who've made the film and are hawking it are, however, missing the real challenges that J Street is posing to the Jewish community. Here are a few of them:
• With the world losing patience with Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians, will we rally to urge the national homeland of our people to change course before it loses its democracy or its Jewish character?
• As the BDS Movement against Israel gains traction, will we recognize that the best way to defeat it isn’t spending our energy on preventing its supporters from being heard, but on ending the conflict in two states for two peoples?
• If you recognize the existential necessity of a two-state solution for Israel to survive as a Jewish and democratic homeland, isn’t it time to acknowledge the price that has to be paid to achieve it? How can we say we support a two-state solution but oppose establishing borders based on the pre-67 lines with swaps? How can we say we support two states and oppose a Palestinian capital in the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem?
• Is it appropriate to call those who criticize Israeli government policy anti-Israel or anti-Semitic? Plenty of Israelis including security chiefs, former Prime Ministers and Members of the Knesset are critical of present policy, and they’re certainly not anti-Israel. In fact, using the anti-Semitism label to describe criticism of Israeli policy demeans the horror of real anti-Semitism.
• Is it right or smart to limit the right to speak in Jewish communal spaces to those with whom you agree? The more we limit admission to Jewish communal spaces by imposing ideological litmus tests regarding Israel, the smaller our Jewish community will be.
• Are we, as a people, treating the Palestinian people the way we ourselves want to be treated? Are we living up to the moral standards of our people and have we learned the lessons of our own oppression through the centuries and across the globe?
• Can we finally stop ignoring what is happening beyond the Green Line? The day-to-day maintenance of a 47-year occupation of another people runs counter to the interests and values of Israel and the Jewish people. It places all the wonder and accomplishment of the state of Israel at risk. It is time for the occupation to end.
We urge those attacking us to spend a little less time leveling baseless accusations against a now-established Jewish organization and a little more time addressing these fundamental challenges facing the Israel we love.
In Jewish communal venues here and across the globe, let’s call an end to the attack videos and mudslinging and let’s start discussing the significant challenges that really threaten not just Israel but the heart and the soul of the Jewish people.