Home > Bruce S. Ticker, Gaza, Iran, Israel, Lebanon, Palestinian Authority, West Bank > The word for J Street: irrelevance

The word for J Street: irrelevance

December 30, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments


 By Bruce S. Ticker

PHILADELPHIA–Where’s a J Street when you really need one?

 For a very long time, I could not voice differences over Israeli policies without being shouted down by hard line advocates for Israel. It was very difficult to defend Israeli policies. The military undertook operations that seemed excessive and settlements were built amid a hostile Arab population in Gaza and the West Bank.

I could have benefited from the supportive presence of a strong organization willing to raise legitimate concerns about Israel. None existed. Now we have J Street, which bills itself as “the political arm of the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement” and lobbies Congress and President Obama to take positions that are considered leftward of those stances supported by most other pro-Israel organizations.

A series of events transformed my thinking on Israel, as said events transformed the thinking of many on the right. The most agonizing moment came during summer 2005 when Israel evacuated all settlements in Gaza, thus eliminating the threat to the lives of settlers and troops there. I fume whenever I recall reports of Arabs burning down the synagogue structures that were left behind, and then they subsequently launched rockets into southern Israel.

There are still times when criticism against Israel is merited, but now I am on the same page with one-time adversaries on most key issues. I have been close to the point where I do not care what Israel does.

So why does J Street inject itself into such a volatile situation? J Street offers a new take on the theory that some groups outlive their usefulness. J Street would have been helpful prior to the Gaza evacuation, but J Street’s usefulness vanished before J Street was even created.

Israel’s new ambassador, Michael Oren, launched a frontal assault on J Street in Cherry Hill, N.J., a Philadelphia suburb, while addressing a convention of Conservative synagogue leaders on Dec. 7. The weekly Forward reported that Oren called J Street “a unique problem in that it not only opposes one policy of one Israeli government, it opposes all policies of all Israeli governments. It’s significantly out of the mainstream.

“This is not a matter of settlements here (or) there. We understand there are differences of opinion. But when it comes to the survival of the Jewish state, there should be no differences of opinion. You are fooling around with the lives of 7 million people. This is no joke.”

Perhaps Oren’s outburst was more forceful than necessary. On its Web site, J Street denies that it is the disloyal monster portrayed by its detractors. However, a single word defines J Street: irrelevance.

I objected to some Israeli policies a decade ago despite the peacemaking strides of Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak. Israel played with fire by allowing settlements in Gaza and the more isolated reaches of the West Bank. I was willing to support the creation of a Palestinian state even with its capital in East Jerusalem if it would produce a peace settlement. When Ariel Sharon was prime minister, I was appalled by Israel’s fierce military incursions that contributed to a skyrocketing casualty rate.

Circumstances changed my perspective.

Nearly two years ago, J Street joined a sprawling network of Jewish advocacy organizations that tend to trip over one another and prove themselves useless when some important issues arise. The money spent on their bureaucratic operations can be better directed to Jewish social-service needs. To be fair, many of these organizations serve the Jewish people well in numerous ways, but not all the time.

Most of these organizations take moderate or hawkish positions on Israeli issues that can change with circumstances and political arrangements here and in Israel. J Street sets itself apart by firmly urging the creation of a Palestinian state and sending mixed messages on whether the Arabs should control East Jerusalem. I might be able to find common ground with J Street to eliminate West Bank settlements, but existing organizations share this view.

J Street’s arguments collapse against the backdrop of the past decade. Israel offered the Arabs an independent state with no strings attached during the 2000 Camp David summit, despite the lies of the late Yasser Arafat. Arafat rebuffed the offer and facilitated a war against Israel, and then refused an expanded offer shortly before President Clinton left office. After Sharon defeated Barak for prime minister in February, 2001, he intensified the hostilities which mainly played out in Gaza and the West Bank. Most civilian casualties were caused by terrorist bombings and other attacks within Israel proper and the bulk of military casualties occurred in the territories.

Sharon presided over the Gaza evacuation in 2005, eliminating concerns about settlements being retained there amid hostile neighbors. Arabs responded by burning synagogues and greenhouses, and then firing rockets into Sderot and other towns in southern Israel. They provoked a two-front war in 2006 after kidnapping a soldier near Gaza and two soldiers in or near southern Lebanon. That effectively delayed plans to evacuate settlements in the West Bank.

Both Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon have built war machines, and Hamas provoked Israel into another fight last year. The leadership of Fatah in the West Bank has shaky support and Hamas persists with its intent to destroy Israel. Have I mentioned Iran’s threat to demolish Israel with a nuclear device?

These events helped satisfy my prime concerns about Israeli policies. Israel no longer controls land in Gaza and its attention to West Bank settlements was diverted by military conflicts. Flaws with the military infrastructure were exposed during the 2006 war and some improvements were implemented, though probably not enough.

It is foolish to take fixed positions on issues that will be subject to negotiations between Israel and the Arabs. All parties should be open to the question of an independent Palestinian state and consider all pros and cons. Yet, J Street adamantly supports a state while right-wing groups such as the Zionist Organization of America adamantly oppose it. Too many questions must be answered.

As for Jerusalem, Arab leaders must justify why they need any part of it. Israel fought for control of East Jerusalem in 1967 and annexed it shortly after that war. I cannot see why they need any section of Jerusalem.

I presume that J Street and myself share common ground on arguments for evacuating some West Bank settlements, but existing organizations share these concerns.

 Perhaps it should be comforting that J Street is here for me now. Not that I need it.

* *

Bruce S. Ticker is a Philadelphia freelance journalist. He can be reached at Bticker@comcast.net.

  1. carol ann goldstein
    January 2, 2010 at 7:05 pm

    The word for J Street: irrelevance? I think not. J Street is an important group that advocates for peace and justice for all residents of Isreal and Palestine. The fact that “Israel’s new ambassador, Michael Oren, launched a frontal assault on J Street in Cherry Hill, N.J., a Philadelphia suburb, while addressing a convention of Conservative synagogue leaders on Dec. 7. The weekly Forward reported that Oren called J Street “a unique problem in that it not only opposes one policy of one Israeli government, it opposes all policies of all Israeli governments. It’s significantly out of the mainstream”
    tells me that Oren thinks J Street is a threat because it has a lot of support among Jewish Americans. AIPAC thinks J Street is a threat because AIPAC tried to intimidate US Senators and Congress men and women who were planning to attend a J Street Conference in Washington DC in early December 2009 into not attending. I know that my Congressman was going to attend the conference and co host an event, but he caved into the pressure of AiPAC; everyone in the US House is up for reelection in 2010.
    J Street is gaining a presence in Washington and will be a counter weight to AIPAC.

    • January 4, 2010 at 9:44 am

      J Street had a narrow window of opportunity to prove itself as an honest broker, but it quickly shot itself in the foot by making outrageous statements proving that it is, like most pro-Palestinian voices, in deep denial of reality, which is to blame Israel for evreything and exhonerate the Palestinians of any responsibility for the situation they put themselves in. By refusing to address the core issue, i.e. Arab and Palestinian rejectionism of Israel’s very existence, they have already made themselves irrelevant.

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