Saturday, October 31, 2009

What's to Disavow? J Street is Extremist

From Jamie Kirchick, "The Fork in J Street: Will the New Israel Lobby Disavow Its Extreme Left Flank?" After the introduction, Kirchick writes:
In the weeks leading up to its conference, J Street was wracked by a series of controversies. The group had to cancel a poetry session after it was exposed that one of the participants had compared the Guantanamo Bay prison camp to Auschwitz and another likened Israel to a "whore." The organization's credibility was further challenged when Israeli ambassador Michael Oren refused an invitation to speak at the conference, and an embassy spokesman said that J Street could "impair Israel's interests." Due to these incidents and pressure from the group's skeptics in the Jewish community, 13 senators and congressmen removed their names from the event's host committee. ("Had we known more about J Street back in the summer, it would've been a different story," says a spokesman for one of these members, who affirmed that the congressman would refuse to appear on the host committee next year if invited.)

In the wake of these public defections, Ben-Ami granted an
interview to the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg in which he repositioned himself much closer to the center. He criticized Walt and Mearsheimer's views and backed away from his initial calls for Israel to negotiate with Hamas. He said that the prospect of threatening to cut off military aid to Israel "should not be on the table." And, he added, "I hope that we have a very strong left flank that attacks us."

But Ben-Ami's stated goal of having J Street represent "the center" of American Jewish sentiment on Israel was undermined by a variety of events at this week's conference, most notably
a bloggers panel featuring the likes of avowed anti-Zionists Philip Weiss and Max Blumenthal, as well as Helena Cobban, the newly-appointed executive director of the Council for the National Interest, one of whose founders has spoken at a conference of a Holocaust denial group. At the panel, Blumenthal attacked Ben-Ami for "capitulating" to Goldberg ("What happened really disappointed me, at least on the point of Walt and Mearsheimer," he said) and mocked Elie Wiesel for investing money with Bernie Madoff. Though information about the event did not appear on the conference agenda and Ben-Ami told Goldberg that J Street was not giving "sanction to their beliefs," the organization provided space--adorned with a giant J Street banner--for the panel, and Ben-Ami himself dropped in on the event.

While Ben-Ami has distanced himself from the Walt-Mearsheimer thesis, their theories about the Israel lobby were widely touted at the J Street conference. At a full Monday afternoon panel entitled, "The View from the Hill: Congress and the US-Israel Relationship," Democratic congressman Bob Filner cited the defeats of his erstwhile colleagues Earl Hilliard and Cynthia McKinney as examples of how the Israel lobby "intimidates" politicians. In response, freshman Democrat Jared Polis repeatedly implored the audience to avoid talking about the pro-Israel lobby in such dark tones. "I encourage everyone to resist talking about this in ways that demonize the Jewish people," he said.

And while Ben Ami is trying to assert his group's Zionist bona fides, a number of speakers at the conference questioned the very idea of a Jewish state--and actually received loud applause. Cheers greeted Bassim Khoury, the former Palestinian Authority's Minister of National Economy, when he said that "if the majority of the Israeli people want to define Israel as a state with a religion like the Islamic Republic of Iran, let them." And Hussein Ibish of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee similarly received applause after delivering a lengthy denunciation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's call for the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
More at the link.

See also, "
Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace; or, Pro-Palestinian Destruction of the Jewish State..."