Tuesday, May 27, 2008

J-PAC: Debating J-Street, the American Jewish Peacenik Lobby

Jamie Kirchick's got an interesting piece on "J Street," a new American-Jewish lobby that claims to better represent the American Jewish diaspora than does AIPAC:

Consider the plight of the American Jewish peacenik. With Hamas in control of Gaza, Ehud Olmert under investigation, and the West Bank government of Mahmoud Abbas shaky as ever, a negotiated deal between Israelis and Palestinians doesn't exactly appear imminent. Meanwhile, closer to home, the likely Democratic nominee, Barack Obama, has said he won't negotiate with Hamas. Under these grim circumstances, what's a Peace Now type to do?

Enter J Street, a new lobbying group and political action committee that says it will represent the interests of liberal American Jews. The organization derives its name from the fact that Washington's road system, in which horizontal streets are named after letters of the alphabet, contains no J Street--the grid goes directly from I to K. Just as there is no J Street on the city's map, the group's founders maintain that the perspectives of liberal Jews are not adequately represented among Washington's pro-Israel lobbyists. "It is time for the broad, sensible mainstream of pro-Israel American Jews and their allies to challenge those on the extreme right who claim to speak for all American Jews in the national debate about Israel and the Middle East--and who, through the use of fear and intimidation, have cut off reasonable debate on the topic," declared J Street founder and former Clinton administration official Jeremy Ben-Ami in a recent piece for The Forward. The group, according to its website, favors "diplomatic solutions over military ones, including in Iran; multilateral over unilateral approaches to conflict resolution; and dialogue over confrontation with a wide range of countries and actors when conflicts do arise." Perhaps most controversially, its founder favors negotiating with Hamas. "Should there be attempts to engage Hamas and to find dialogue with them? Yes, " Ben-Ami said last month. One of the other brains behind the group, Daniel Levy, a British-born Israeli citizen and former adviser to Knesset member Yossi Beilin of the left-wing Meretz Party, has been a vociferous advocate of negotiating with the terrorist group.

The genesis of J Street lies in the allegedly right-wing agenda of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) - king of pro-Israel lobbies with 100,000 members and an annual operating budget of $60 million. "I'm not with AIPAC; I do not support AIPAC," prominent New York lawyer and J Street Advisory Council member Victor Kovner said in a press conference call last month. (Other members of the council include Robert Malley, a former Clinton administration peace negotiator who has defended Yasser Arafat's rejection of Clinton's 2000 Camp David peace proposal; Moveon.org founder Eli Pariser; and journalist Eric Alterman.)
Note that Robert Malley's the former Barack Obama advisor who recently resigned his post over controversial direct contacts with Hamas, and MoveOn's the radical online advocacy group that compared President Bush to Adolf Hitler and smeared General David Petraeus as a traitor.

Here's more
from Kirchick:

The movers and shakers behind the organization allege that American Jews, whose political orientation is overwhelmingly liberal, are not accurately represented by AIPAC and other long-established pro-Israel groups...

Some J Street supporters point to a 2007 survey conducted by the American Jewish Committee (AJC), which found that 58 percent of American Jews identify as Democrats (only 15 percent classify themselves as Republicans) and that Jews overwhelmingly trust Democrats on the Iraq war, terrorism, and the economy. "Within the U.S. Jewish community, there's [a gap between] the hawkish views expressed by leaders and 'pro-Israel' activists and the more dovish opinions of much of the community," Gershom Gorenberg, one of the group's intellectual mavens, recently wrote on The American Prospect's website. But the real gap, it turns out, is between the miniscule group of writers and activists involved with J Street and the majority of American Jews. It's true that American Jews are overwhelmingly liberal on most issues; the problem for J Street is that Israel simply isn't one of those issues. According to the same AJC survey cited by J Street supporters, nearly three-quarters of American Jews do not believe that Israel can "achieve peace with a Hamas-led, Palestinian government," as J Street's founder advocates. What's more, 55 percent believe that negotiations between Olmert and Abbas "cannot lead to peace in the foreseeable future." And a whopping 82 percent agree with the following statement: "The goal of the Arabs is not the return of occupied territories but rather the destruction of Israel."

A perusal of J Street's list of supporters further undermines its pretensions to mainstream credibility. One of the most prominent Israelis involved with the group is Avrum Burg, former speaker of the Knesset. A member of a distinguished Israeli political family, he set off a political scandal last year when, in an interview with Ha'aretz, he claimed that "to define the State of Israel as a Jewish state is the key to its end"; he has also compared contemporary Israel to pre-Nazi Germany. Naomi Chazan is a former Knesset member from the left-wing Meretz Party, which has just five seats (out of 120) in the Knesset. Henry Siegman, a former Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, has compared Israel to apartheid South Africa, accused Israeli leaders of having the U.S. government "in their pockets," and claimed (absurdly) that the 2000 intifada "was not planned by Arafat, but a spontaneous eruption of Palestinian anger."

Hmm, J-Street supporters comparing Israel to South Africa under apartheid? Yo, Jimmy Carter, bro!

No wonder
Spencer Ackerman denounces Kirchick as "a talentless neoconservative," refuses to provide a link to Kirchick's TNR piece, and boosts Jeremy Ben-Ami, who flails away with such intellectual piddle as this:

"The 2007 American Jewish Committee survey finds that a plurality (46% - 43%) of American Jews favor establishment of a Palestinian state "in the current situation" using the words of the survey."
Dude, we be singin', I got de' margin-o'-error blues...!!

I can see why
Ackerman dogged Kirchick on the link love! Geez, I'd be embarrassed to be pumping up Ben-Ami too.

AIPAC's got no worries! Man!!