November 5, 2009
We Need ‘A Street,’ Not J Street
I don’t quite get the brouhaha that is going on in the Jewish world about J Street. Some Jews are convinced that this new organization poses a threat to Israel’s interests, while others are equally passionate about the need for an organization that will counter AIPAC and critique Israeli policy for the sake of peace.
I’ve heard all the critiques of J Street, and I share many of them. But what I still don’t get is why people are making such a fuss about an organization whose message is so outdated and unoriginal.
Listen to some of their pronouncements and tell me if they don’t equal a triple shot of Valium. Hey, did you know, for instance, that J Street believes in diplomatic solutions over military ones? And in a negotiated end to the Israeli-Arab and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts?
And get a load of this: They believe in a two-state solution! Two states living side-by-side in peace and security! Because, they say, ending the Palestinian conflict is in the best interests of Israel, the United States, the Palestinians and the region as a whole.
Talk about going out on a limb. J Street believes it’s really important that we resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. No kidding. And what’s their brilliant brainstorm for how to do that? “Consistent and concerted diplomatic engagement by the United States.”
Wait a minute. Haven’t we heard all this before? Like maybe 30 years ago — and at every failed peace meeting since?
Well, yes, but J Street has put a fresh coat of paint on this fixer-upper. They’ve mastered the art of preaching mind-numbing clichés and making it look like they’ve found the Holy Grail.
Let’s look, for example, at the cliché that “consistent and concerted diplomatic engagement” — a euphemism for pressuring Israel — has a positive impact on the peace process. A good example of this engagement has been the demand on Israel to freeze all its settlement construction, a policy that J Street actively promotes. How has that engagement worked so far?
Let’s just say that since the United States made this demand six months ago, the Palestinians have taken to it like a pit bull discovering a tasty dog bone.
Does anyone remember that in the past, the Palestinians would come to the negotiating table without ever asking for this construction freeze — and that just over year ago, Mahmoud Abbas was knee deep in negotiations with Israel?
J Street is so sure of itself that it is still pushing for this construction freeze, even after it’s clear that it has pushed the parties further apart and even after the United States itself has softened its demand.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, because groups like J Street are still stuck in the old paradigm that the key to reaching peace is for Israel to make more concessions. History suggests otherwise. If the other side has been so poisoned that they want your destruction more than they want peace, making unilateral concessions only makes things worse, as we saw after the Gaza withdrawal.
But recognizing this sober reality would wreak havoc on J Street’s marketing and fundraising. It’s too messy and inconvenient. It would require too much original thinking. Better to stick with milquetoast themes like “pro-peace and pro-Israel” and the need for “broad public and policy debates.”
This idea that what’s missing right now in the Middle East is a “healthy debate” among American Jews is a narcissistic fantasy. Many “pro-peace, pro-Israel” American Jews, myself included, had plenty of debates when we supported the many concessions for peace Israel made over the years.
Now that Israeli society has decided to proceed more cautiously, the fact that we’re not critiquing the Israeli government doesn’t mean we follow them blindly; it means that we agree with them.
And the reason we don’t scream so loudly for peace is not because we don’t have a group like J Street to help us express ourselves, but because we’d love to see, for a change, more screaming for peace coming from the other side.
If you ask me, what the Middle East needs more than anything today is not a J Street but an A Street.
This would be an Arab organization that would do what no Jewish organization can do: rally peace-seeking Arab moderates to the cause of peaceful coexistence with a Jewish state. If the Jews can rally their own for peace, why can’t the Arabs? Why should Jews have an exclusive on self-criticism and internal pressure?
Can you imagine how transformational it would be if a high profile, “pro-Arab, pro-peace” organization pressured Palestinian leaders to dismantle the teaching of Jew-hatred in Palestinian society — a hatred that has made a mockery of all moves toward peace?
Can you imagine the impact on the peace process if 1,500 Palestinian peace activists gathered in Washington, D.C., for a conference against hatred?
Sure, it all sounds like a pipe dream, but not any more so than the outdated delusions coming out of J Street.