Posted by: sean | April 17, 2008

New pro-peace Israel lobby

In case you haven’t heard, there’s a new Israel lobby in town. It’s called J-Street and is supposed to be a progressive alternative to the hawkish pro-Likud lobby that is AIPAC et al. Spencer Ackerman has a piece about how the new group wants to reframe the Israel debate:

[Co-founder Daniel] Levy, though a long-time peace negotiator, is eager to debate what it means to be pro-Israel, and draws a comparison between AIPAC and the hard-liners who ended up compromising the Jewish future millennia ago. “We’ll say, ‘Zealots like you led to the destruction of previous Jewish commonwealths,'” Levy said. “We’re not going to be intimidated.”

J-Street gives us some examples of the current militant rhetoric surrounding Israel these days and asks if that’s what it truly means to be pro-Israel and, more to the point, if these voices truly speak for American Jews:

Ezra Klein weighs in to talk about his experience of being alienated at his synagogue:

I can’t recall now if it was the Jenin incursions or the riots at the Temple Mount that set my rabbi off. Or perhaps he was just enraged by one of the obscure convulsions of violence that occur with such regularity as to virtually mark time in the Middle East. What punctures the haze of memory is when he transitioned from sports to politics, telling the assembled alumni that the Jews would be within their rights to forcibly deport and displace the entire Palestinian population. I objected, and we began shouting at each other as my classmates looked on in annoyance. I stormed from the room and it was the last time I set foot in that temple. In my temple.

He later goes on to talk about the link between Judaism and human rights and how, to his mind, this is “no time for silence.”

On the other side of the aisle, of course, things are different. In truly predictable style, our favorite philistine Noah Pollak (who once visited “Upper Galilee“) is already slamming J-Street. It seems that a pro-peace lobby is just too much to stomach for Pollak, so he makes a big deal of the fact that Avraham Burg is “near the top of its list of [Israeli] supporters.” (Note to Pollak, when a list is in alphabetical order, people whose names begin with the letter B will usually be “near the top.”) He paints Burg as some sort of a radical but fails to mention that he used to be the Diaspora advisor to the Israeli Prime Minister, chairman of the Jewish Agency, speaker of the Knesset and chair of the World Zionist Organization.

I’m not going to say that Avraham Burg isn’t polemical in Israel; he is, and if you’re interested in reading his opinions for yourself, Ha’aretz published a fascinating interview with him. But Pollak prefers to brandish a single controversial supporter of J-Street (without even mentioning his former role in the Israeli establishment) and build a strawman in an attempt to discredit an entire movement rather than, say, actually debate the issue on the merits. But that’s par for the course for Pollak and his ilk. And by the by, TNR is already preparing a hit piece against J-Street, according to Ackerman.

To my mind, a new lobby will give progressive Jews a chance to have a voice in the Israel/Palestine debate and have a tangible (although much less so than AIPAC) effect on Middle East policy. It seems that, like the Arabs, there’s an aversion to public dissension in the ranks, a certain disgust at airing the community’s dirty laundry in public. J-Street might just be overcoming this fear to become an avenue for progressive American Jews to have a say in what’s being done and said in their name by the likes of AIPAC and Alan Dershowitz.

UPDATE: In another post attacking J-Street, the hilariously yet unintentionally ironic Pollak has this to say:

It seems to me that the J Streeters are never going to be able to escape the fact that, sitting in Washington, they are advocating policies for Israel that are overwhelmingly unpopular among Israelis — and attempting to brand this paternalism as “pro-Israel.”

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