Ordinarily, I would not be so vociferous in the defense of J Street, but the hearing last week in the Knesset held to determine whether or not J Street is a pro-Israel organization (“No” was the answer from the revanchists who organized the inquiry) made me almost physically ill. I come out of Hashomer Hatzair, the socialist Zionist youth movement, which is significantly to the left of J Street, and though I don’t subscribe to Hashomer’s worldview anymore, I believe that that view is part of the pro-Israel consensus. What the Knesset members who organized this petty little hearing are trying to do is excommunicate from Zionism anyone who believes that it is not in the Jewish people’s best interest to rule, against their will, the Palestinians of the West Bank.
Let me be clear about something: There are many things about J Street that I dislike. I think some of its members actually don’t like Israel very much, and especially don’t like the idea of Israel. I think many J Street supporters are cringing Diaspora Jews who are embarrassed by displays of Jewish muscularity, those displays of muscularity that are warranted as well as those displays that are unwarranted. There is much about J Street policies that I don’t like; I think J Street believes that settlements are the root cause of the Middle East conflict; I believe that settlements are a moral and political catastrophe, but that one of the tragedies of the settlements is that the settlements obscure the true nature of the Middle East conflict. I don’t like the vicarious thrill seeking of J Street. This particular complaint is not a partisan complaint. The Zionist Organization of America, a right-wing group, also engages in political thrill seeking. It advocates for positions that may bring about Israel’s ruin from the safety of America. This is also true for J Street. And of course I don’t like the fact that J Street found it impossible last year to tell the truth about its funding, from George Soros and other people who are frank antagonists of the Zionist idea.
But: J Street is still a Zionist organization. I believe it is fighting for Shimon Peres’ vision of what Israel should be, and Yitzhak Rabin’s, and more to the point, it is fighting for the vision espoused by Israel’s George Washington, David Ben-Gurion. Commit this to memory: While many Israelis were ecstatic about the victory over the genocidal Arab armies of 1967, Ben-Gurion issued a warning: This will not work. Ben-Gurion said that Israel cannot be an occupier of Arabs. He was right then, and J Street is right now. If Peres is to be considered a Zionist; if Rabin is considered to have been a Zionist; and if Ben-Gurion is to have been considered a Zionist, well, then J Street is Zionist as well. It is not heroic in the manner of these men, but neither are most of Israel’s current leaders, and nor are the leaders of American Jewry today.
The Knesset is debating whether or not J Street is Zionist. This is a farce. The prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, refuses to meet with J Street. This, too, is a farce. The prime minister, in fact, will meet with Sarah Palin (whose politics are favored by a tiny minority of American Jews) but he will not meet with J Street. He should argue with J Street, yell at J Street, grapple with J Street, but most of all, meet with J Street. Those Israelis, and those American Jews, who believe that J Street, and the spirit it represents, are fleeting phenomena have absolutely no idea what is happening in the Jewish world.
This op-ed originally appeared as a blog post at theatlantic.com/jeffrey-goldberg. Reprinted with permission.
Jeffrey Goldberg is a columnist for The Atlantic.