March 1, 2011
J Street needs another lane
I was watching the J Street convention on its Web site, and it reminded me a little of those underground meetings among religious settlers in the West Bank. That is, a constant flow of red meat served to the fervent and the like-minded.
In the case of J Street, this red meat can be boiled down to this: It is really, really, really, really important that Israel reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
One fervent speaker after another came down from the mountaintop to convince an already convinced audience of how really important this goal is. Whether it was Peter Beinart fearing for Israel’s democratic future, or Rabbi David Saperstein appealing to our highest Jewish values, or Sara Benninga finding her meaning in life by leading weekly demonstrations at Sheikh Jarrah, the theme was the same: Israel must make peace and end the occupation as soon as possible.
And who’s the bad guy in all of this? Take a guess. With the J Street crowd, the underlying assumption is always that the major obstacle to peace is Israel. Palestinian obstacles to peace? They’re as likely to be mentioned at a J Street convention as Avigdor Liberman is of being invited.
Sometimes I wonder what it must feel like after three days of one of these J Street smugfests. How do you go from feeling absolutely certain that you are right to feeling even more certain that you are right?
I remember when Rabbi Michael Lerner of Tikkun invited me to speak several years ago at one of its peace conventions in New York City. I was glad that he did, because it gave me a chance to ask a few hundred peaceniks a question they likely rarely hear: “When is the last time any of you woke up in the morning and asked yourself: ‘What if I’m wrong?’ ”
No one raised their hand.
Yes, compassion is a great Jewish virtue, I told them, but so is humility. I confessed that, initially, I didn’t believe in the Oslo peace process (because I didn’t trust Arafat), but I asked myself, “What if I’m wrong?” and I ended up going along with it. So, I suggested, “What would happen if you all asked yourselves that same question?”
When I look at J Street now, I see some obviously good intentions (“We want peace!”), but not much humility. What comes across more than anything is an orgy of ideological self-confirmation toward pressuring Israel.
That’s disappointing. I expect more from open-minded liberals who claim to care for the “other side.” For one thing, I expect they would also care for the other side of an argument.
Have they studied, for example, the Palestinian Authority’s global campaign to undermine and demonize Israel and the corrosive effect this has had on the peace process? As a “pro-Israel” group, what kind of public pressure have they brought to bear on the Palestinians to end their glorification of terror and indoctrination of Jew-hatred that has made so many Jews reluctant to take more risks for peace?
Where was their public campaign to pressure the Palestinians to return to the peace table during the first nine months of a 10-month Israeli settlement freeze the Obama administration lauded as “unprecedented”?
To balance their countless speakers who advocate putting more pressure on Israel, why haven’t they included speakers like Itamar Marcus of Palestinian Media Watch, who has documented the continued anti-Semitic incitement in official Palestinian media, or an award-winning Mideast journalist like Khaled Abu Toameh, who makes a powerful case that the Palestinian Authority’s primary interest is not to make peace with Israel — but to delegitimize the Jewish state?
If the goal is to bring together two sides, isn’t it important to scrutinize both sides?
Why doesn’t J Street bring in experts to explain the danger of Hamas taking over a Palestinian West Bank and pointing 10,000 rockets at Israel’s nuclear installations, potentially creating a catastrophic meltdown in the Jewish state? Talk about fearing for a country’s democratic character.
J Street’s relentless focus on pressuring Israel isn’t only unfair, it’s also remarkably ineffective. A couple of years ago, Palestinian and Israeli leaders were negotiating directly as a matter of course. Now, in the face of the enormous and single-minded global pressure on Israel, Palestinians are negotiating in international forums on how best to demonize Israel. They won’t even consider talking to Israel until it commits to freezing all construction in disputed territory, including, I presume, freezing any renovation of the restrooms at the Western Wall.
We’ve seen that the greater the pressure on Israel, the faster the cockier-than-ever Palestinians have run away from the peace table. J Street’s reaction to all this is to bring 2,000 people together in Washington, D.C., to put even more pressure on Israel and urge the Obama administration to do the same.
In other words, after two years of generating bumper-to-bumper traffic on the failed road called “let’s pressure Israel,” J Street has decided that the best thing to do is to attract even more traffic to that road.
Maybe they ought to consider adding another lane to their congested highway and calling it “Let’s pressure the Palestinians to stop undermining Israel and return immediately to the peace table.”
In Los Angeles, we would call that the carpool lane.