Impressions from the 1st full day at J Street conference

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
on 97 Comments

Apologies to readers for being AWOL. We’re at the J Street policy conference and it’s an exciting and historic event, as one of the panelists said tonight. There have been a lot of organizing conversations going on in the corners, about BDS and Jewish identity and Zionism and Gaza, which I’ll try and convey in days to come, but a few quick impressions at midnight.

The leadership of J Street is to the right of its base. The base is leftleaning. A lot of them are old Brit Tzedek types who are overjoyed to be in the mainstream at last (as Scott McConnell observed) but they don’t cheer when Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky of Illinois says she’s signed on to the Iran sanctions bill. That’s big, that they’re sitting on their hands. Also the young people are many of them weirded out by Israel. They’re openly uncomfortable, upset, and the big news tonight, the thing that excited us at dinner, was learning that the campus branch of the group has dropped the "pro-Israel" phrase from its slogan, "pro-Israel, pro-peace." This strikes me as a historic blow of non-Zionism, or anyway of Jewish discomfort with the ways of the Jewish state. (UPDATE: I’m told this is an unreliable report, by the Jerusalem Post, that J Street’s student wing, J Street U, has denied that it is dropping pro-Israel from its slogan)

The main tedium of the conference is having to listen to Jews handwringing about Israel at panel after panel. J Street feels at times like a halfway house for ardent Zionists. They’ve been hooked on Zionism for years and they come here to handwring in a comfortable space. I find this stuff boring and upsetting too. It’s like, how long do the Palestinians have to wait for you to figure out how you feel about the Jewish boot being on their necks? I thought you were the smartest people in the world. This doesn’t take a long time to figure out; they just murdered 300 Palestinian children in self-defense and are ethnically cleansing Jerusalem. But the people who handwring are in agony. They talk about the Jewish "transformational" piece– the identity piece– and how hard they worked on atrocities in Darfur, and how it didn’t jibe with their work on Israel/Palestine.

And they say they worry about their funders if they speak out. Yes let’s talk about money. They talk about excommunication, too. I’ll get you quotes in days to come.

A bunch of Jews are way past the handwringing. God bless J Street for having the full Eastern European skirt that we can get under. There’s a lot of us on the left here.

But the leadership is to the right. Or positioning itself to the right. Against BDS, and in love with Israel. Everyone who goes up to the podium starts out by declaring their love for Israel.

The best news moment of the conference was at tonight’s plenary when California congressman Bob Filner said that the Israel lobby is getting congressmen to vote in favor of a war over an issue that the actual people in a congressman’s district couldn’t care less about. It’s all about money, he said (echoing my description of the lobby as bribery and corruption); and about politicians’ terror over what happened to former Congresspeople Earl Hilliard and Cynthia McKinney, publicly fried by the lobby for speaking out for Palestinian human rights. Filner let loose in the context of Colorado congressman Jared Polis saying that we shouldn’t go in for conspiracy theories about Jewish influence, and the lobby is no different from a lot of other lobbies. That’s when Filner said, No it’s different, and said the lobby was engaged on a flashpoint issue for the stability of the world, and pushing congressmen to vote for war. I believe the plenary session is recorded on the J Street website. McConnell tells me Filner used the word "nuclear" in there. I have a video of the moment. I’ll post it in days to come. So: an attack on the Israel lobby, from the dais at a plenary. Pretty darn good.

For me the soul of the conference so far was a session I went to with Akiva Eldar and two other leftleaning Israelis talking about what their society has become. I found it deeply disturbing, more disturbing than these people are aware, even. I’ve spent all of ten days in Israel; though I’ve seen what they did to Gaza. Eldar described apartheid in the West Bank, and Hagai El-Ad, leader of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said that the Supreme Court of Israel has signalled that it is going to endorse separate roads for settlers and Palestinians as a legitimate function of the Jewish state. The panelists also spoke about the Nakba law being discussed in the Knesset that very day. To bar the teaching of the Nakba. An abuse not just of Palestinian minds, El-Ad said, but of Israeli minds too, Israelis who want to know their history. He spoke too of Palestinians being second-class citizens.

Hearing these valiant but puny Israelis, who are of this society, and struggling with it, I reflected, These people are lost. Their society has gone down the wrong road, and they are in turmoil. And what has American Jewry done for them? It has been profoundly irresponsible, it has given them license again and again and again, setting aside its own political experience in the name of ethnocentrism. But two Brit Tzedekish members of the audience for that session asked questions that were non-Zionist. One questioned the idea of a Jewish state. I was grateful to them.

I thought then that the gift that lib-left American Jews can give Israelis is to speak openly on the basis of our own experience and say, Guess what, in my heart I don’t believe in the idea of a Jewish democracy.

I mean only if you sincerely don’t believe that idea– if you voted for Barack Obama and know that in Israel the Arab parties are not even allowed to participate in the governing coalitions, no the Jews stick with the Jews, even liberal parties side with the religious rightwing, because they’re Jewish– well I think that you owe that expression to your brothers and sisters, as the Israelis were described by one speaker. You owe them your honesty. And expressing that disbelief now would be a great gift. Open your heart. Don’t lie that you love Israel if you don’t. Such honest expression would be potentially transformative, it might show the Israelis a doorway out of their condition, not to mention our own congress; and it would be a lot more interesting than the handwringing.  

97 Responses

  1. Danaa
    October 27, 2009, 12:41 am

    That’s a good summary of the main theme of the conference, Phil. I’d hazard a guess that you are right – most J streeters are to the left of the leadership, which is what we all expected. Politics is as politics goes and one has to start somewhere. But J street gives a good mapping of the growing schism – and indeed – the schizophrenia that afflicts the jewish community at the moment. I saw a panel on CSPAN and was glad to see issues aired and questions asked that we never hear from the aipac supported meetings. Especially Michelle goldberg, once she got going.

    I also understand what you said about Akiva and the other israelis you met. there was an israeli woman who asked the same kind of question at the session isaw, and had similar anguish. Most of the Israeli left does indeed feel betrayed by their american jewish bretherns who left them to twist in the ill winds blowing through their country. The thing that strikes me when I hear panelists like JJ goldberg is exactly what’s wrong with the position of our own witty here. Like many once automatic supporters of Israel they realize something has gone haywire. But they just can’t face up to the truth of just where israeli society is really going. They take refuge in pronouncements that most israelis want peace. yes, on their terms, with arabs out of sight – all of them – inside israel and outside. Israel’s “friends’ don’t hear – or don’t wish to see – the unrelenting, nasty incitement coming out of Israel about islam, about arabs in general. They don’t process that the “enlightened” zionism they were wedded to no longer exists, if it ever did.

    Something very bad happened in israel and it’s getting worse by the day. The brave remaining leftists like eldar, hass and levy whom we all read – not to mention the ones toiling with the palestinians like dana, nawi and other good and brave souls – are alone fighting their own establishment, sometimes with nothing but a motley crew of fellow peacenicks, internationals and palestinians on their side. It’s a terribble predicament – to be sentenced to internal spiritual exile in your own country. To sit and listen to the pronouncements of “love for israel” when they come to the states must be unbearable.

    In large part, I think they all KNOW it’s a one way street. there’s no love coming back america’s way – nothing that is heart felt or meant. Just some dry self-interest for them and a constant demand for ‘warm love” from others. it’s all realpolitik for them – their version of it. The israeli “leftists” and “peacenicks’ know there’s triple estrangement here at work – from their countrymen, from their jewish diaspora friends, and from the american values they respect and which their society once proclaimed its desire to emulate. They can see no sign that there’s a popular – or just significant – quest for a new way of living in israel, based on the principles of equality, civility and human rights they grew up with.

    As Phil notes – they are asking for help from american jewry and from the american people in general. help they know will be slow in coming, and for being so slow, it may be too late.

    • Call Me Ishmael
      October 27, 2009, 2:30 am

      The panel discussion that Danaa refers to above can be found here (1hr, 25 min):

      link to c-spanvideo.org

      I also recommend it. Very revealing. Besides Michelle Goldberg (clearly the star for the young liberals) and J.J. Goldberg, the panel included Ezra Klein and Katrina Vanden Heuvel.

    • Elliot
      October 27, 2009, 6:16 am

      Some of the speakers at the J street conference, including Jeremy Ben-Ami, have referred to the importance of the Israel question to American Jewish identity. But this is not fully acknowledged. I asked the panel with JJ Goldberg (in the C-Span broadcast that you referenced): given the generational shift among American Jews, and now that the identification with Israel is based on values rather than ethnicity, won’t there come a time – or, perhaps it’s here already – when American Jews require that Israelis adhere to liberal American Jewish values? (It’s at 76:16 in the vid). Ezra Klein completely missed the point. He went one about how such a stance will turn off Israelis.
      The whole point is that J Street is all about American Jewish identity and separating that from Israel. It’s time to let the 60 year old child make it on her own. She can come by for some extra cash, we’ll visit and we’ll always care for her. But it’s time for us to be having our own fun and not always tied up with the babysitting.

      • Shmuel
        October 27, 2009, 6:34 am

        Elliot:

        The whole point is that J Street is all about American Jewish identity and separating that from Israel. It’s time to let the 60 year old child make it on her own. She can come by for some extra cash, we’ll visit and we’ll always care for her. But it’s time for us to be having our own fun and not always tied up with the babysitting.

        Are these Klein’s words or your own? I had thought (hoped) that J Street was about a lot more than letting Israel go it alone – with full “parental” support (cash, visits, care). I had thought (hoped) that J Street was about denying Israel American-Jewish (and hence American within a broken corrupt system) support, and calling Israel to account for its actions, using its clout to force Israel to change. The “child” happens to be a mass murderer with nuclear weapons, and an important part of “the family” is actively complicit.

      • Mooser
        October 27, 2009, 2:54 pm

        She can come by for some extra cash,

        Hell no, she will just spend it on ziocaine. She wants a drug habit, that’s her problem, but don’t expect us to pay for it.

      • Call Me Ishmael
        October 27, 2009, 6:20 pm

        Shmuel, I can’t see that J Street has been willing to take on the broad agenda you outline. It has seemed to me, as an outside observer, that the leadership has in mind much more limited goals, such as the separation of American and Israeli Jewish identities that Elliot mentions, and a discreet, unobtrusive effort to promote an ill-defined two-state solution.

    • Julian
      October 27, 2009, 8:08 am

      The Israeli left is a minuscule few failures who come to the US to push their agenda.
      Israel is a democratic state that has elections. The losers of the left should work to get elected, not circumvent democracy by crying to the American radical left for help.
      I’ve spent much more time in Islamic countries than Israel, but what I saw of Israel was an advanced open western country where life is very good. Israelis don’t want to emulate the American system. There own system is far more sensitive to what the voters want and what they certainly don’t want is what the far left has to offer.

      • Chaos4700
        October 27, 2009, 8:12 am

        Ha! Israel doesn’t want to emulate the American system but they have no problems raking in billions in taxpayer money and billions more in charity, favored trading and tax shelter exploitation from the American economy.

        Israel is a democracy? Then why don’t the Palestinians get a vote? Open the doors and let the natives return and give them a vote. If you really believe Israel is a democracy.

      • Shmuel
        October 27, 2009, 8:42 am

        The very fact that elections are held, and a very limited view of reality on the ground (leaving out the reality of literally millions of people). What a simplistic view of democracy. While you’re at it, why not cite Sharansky’s test of being able to shout criticism of the government in public.

      • potsherd
        October 27, 2009, 9:18 am

        If life is very good in Israel, its foundation is the suffering of the Palestinians. The very fact that life is good in Israel is reason for shame.

      • VR
        October 27, 2009, 10:26 am

        The “democracy” of Israel is a so-called democracy with none of the accouterments of what a democracy is supposed to be. Equality, justice, opportunity, and freedom for all. What kind of democracy is this? One in name, nothing of substance.

      • James North
        October 27, 2009, 11:33 am

        Another vital point: The Israeli electorate continues to decide knowing the United States gives them billions of arms and other aid, and supports them internationally. Under such circumstances, why would most voters there go for left parties that argue for compromise? Removing the American blank check would have tremendous repercussions among Israeli voters.

  2. Nolan
    October 27, 2009, 2:01 am

    link to pbs.org

    I’m going to be sending the following letter to Bill Moyers in response to his interview with Judge Richard Goldstone.

    How Bill Moyers Became a Propagandist

    He opens with this:

    …It came after years of Hamas militants firing their missiles from the Gaza strip into southern Israel. Israel retaliated last December with Operation Cast Lead: 22 days of military action targeting Gaza, those 139 square miles between Israel and Egypt that are recognized as Palestinian territory. More than twelve hundred Palestinians died.

    Followed by:

    BILL MOYERS: Let me put down a few basics first. Personally, do you have any doubt about Israel’s right to self-defense?

    […]

    BILL MOYERS: Were those rocket attacks on Israel a threat to the civilians of Israel, to the population of Israel?

    […]

    BILL MOYERS: And Israel, in your judgment, was justified in trying to put an end to those rocket attacks…

    […]

    >BILL MOYERS: I didn’t know until I read your report that the Israelis had actually called, 100,000 calls to telephones in Gaza and said, in effect, “Get out,” right? They were intending to target, and they were giving the occupants a chance to move.

    […]

    BILL MOYERS: But since they knew you were coming to try to prove that Israel had committed war crimes, you would have expected some hospitality, right?

    […]

    BILL MOYERS: Many Israelis said that if they took your findings to heart, they would not be able to root out the terrorists that surround them, and Israel does live in a sea of animosity.

    […]

    BILL MOYERS: Let me show you a clip from the speech made at the United Nations by the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

    […]

    BILL MOYERS: That’s been a pattern, hasn’t it? That the United Nations has focused far more on Israel as a target of challenges on human rights than anybody else.

    […]

    BILL MOYERS: But if you were an Israeli, would you not be fearful of a United Nations that historically has been biased against the country?

    Bill Moyers’ leading and suggestive questions in this interview perpetuate Israel’s own propaganda.

    Do the Palestinians have a right to defend themselves from a three year siege that punishes 1.5 million people, numerous aerial attacks and a brutal military occupation that is 40 years old?

    Was it ethical to conveniently ignore those fact? Not once did you mention that the Palestinians are under a military occupation and under siege.

    Your suggestive questions reflected your overt bias. From the outset you framed the entire issue as a matter of self-defense vs. terrorism. Not to be outdone by Fox-like propaganda, you managed to establish – wrongfully – that the UN has historically been biased against Israel.

    First, some background. When Hamas won elections – supervised by former president Jimmy Carter’s delegate – in 2006, they renounced suicide bombings and sought to become a legitimate political entity that represents the Palestinians.

    A report published in April 2008 in Vanity Fair Magazine, entitled The Gaza Bombshell, described in detail how the Bush administration pushed for elections. When Hamas won, both Bush and Israel disagreed and sought to remove Hamas from power in an armed takeover by supporting the opposition, Fatah. Hamas preempted the takeover and staged a coup.

    In the weeks and months that followed, Israel kidnapped and assassinated Palestinian parliament members of the legislative branch. At the same time the Israeli government imposed a siege on Gaza, isolating it from the outside world, preventing food and medicine from reaching the civilian population, preventing sick children from seeking emergency medical treatment in Israel and ramming fishing boats and shooting Palestinians who dared venture into their own territorial waters in search of food.

    Palestinian women and children were also killed in the aforementioned extra-judicial assassinations, but the Israeli army and government rebuffed them as unfortunate collateral damage.

    Hamas responded by launching homemade rockets. Israel intensified its shelling of Gaza. In the summer of 2008, through Egyptian intermediaries, both Israel and Hamas negotiated a six-month ceasefire agreement. The agreement called on Hamas to cease rocket attacks, and called on Israel to cease military raids into Gaza, lift the siege and allow UN humanitarian aid into the Strip.

    Hamas complied with the agreement and ceased launching rockets. Israel refused to end the siege. On November 4th, 2008, Israel attacked Gaza and killed six Palestinians allegedly to destroy a tunnel. Incidentally, on that November day, the world’s attention was focused on the presidential elections in the United States and Obama’s subsequent victory speech in Chicago that evening. That is quite a coincidence, is it not?

    In effect, this was Israel’s second violation of the ceasefire agreement. When the ceasefire agreement was reaching its expiration in December, Hamas – again through Egyptian intermediaries – offered Israel an extension, for as long as ten years. The only condition Hamas put forth at the time was for Israel to actually end the siege and abide by the agreement signed in the preceding summer; Hamas would abide by it as it had before.

    Israel ignored that offer and on December 27th, 2008 attacked Gaza.

    The total death toll – which you, Bill, managed to get wrong somehow – was more than 1400 Palestinian deaths and about 13 Israeli deaths.

    In addition, Bill, are you aware of the fact that in the last nine years, Israel has killed more than 6,500 Palestinians, while the rockets which Hamas has launched killed less than 35 Israelis? A total of about 600 Israelis were killed in the last nine years by Palestinians. That is a ratio of about 10 to 1.

    Yet, you propagandize and make it seem as if Israel were defending itself, nary a mention of the various opportunities it had to avert last winter’s bloodshed.

    You continue to mischaracterize the entire onslaught as if it were a conflict between two equal sovereign states, one being a rational democratic state while the other is a seemingly fanatical entity with nuclear weapons seeking to destroy Israel.

    Alas, you put Fox News and their propaganda to shame with your rhetoric and intentional omissions. You, Bill, have become a propagandist. You may have had credibility up to this day regarding the involvement of the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan, but when it comes to Israel, the sacred cow of political discourse, your propaganda falls on its face.

    It seems to me Moyers is interested in the truth ONLY when it does not reflect negatively on Israel.

    See sources below…

    • Shingo
      October 27, 2009, 5:43 am

      Excellent sumation Nolan,

      But you might want to begin this summary with the so called withdrawl from Gaza by Israel that was followed with 7,700 shells fired by Israel into Gaza over 12 months alone, and what followed as summized by Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar .

      “After Israel withdrew it’s forces from Gaza, in August 2005, the ruined territory was not released for even a single day from Israel’s military grip, or from the price of the occupation that the inhabitants pay every day. Israel left behind scotched earth, devastated services, and people with nearly a present or a future. The Jewish settlements were destroyed in an ungenerous move by an unenlightened occupier, which in fact continues to control the territory and kill and harass it’s inhabitants, by means of it’s formidable military might.”

      • Nolan
        October 27, 2009, 7:12 am

        This won’t be complete without the information you posted. I will work that into the letter.

      • potsherd
        October 27, 2009, 9:22 am

        As well as the fact that right after the elections Hamas offered Israel a cease-fire in both Gaza and the WB, and Israel responded by killing Palestinian activists from Islamic Jihad in the WB. This began the current cycle of killing and retaliation.

        Why is it that Israeli retaliation is called “defending ourselves” and Arab retaliation is called “terrorism”?

      • Shmuel
        October 27, 2009, 9:25 am

        Potsherd – My favourite term for such actions (unwittingly coined by an Indian journalist) is “unprovoked retaliation.”

      • David Samel
        October 27, 2009, 10:25 am

        Nolan – You are certainly right in noting the absence of the siege, and the 2009 continuation of Israel’s imposed misery on Gaza. I think it would have been interesting to see Goldstone’s take on these things. His report certainly does discuss the pre-assault siege, and rather decently. It would not have detracted from the interview had Moyers asked him about that. Overall, I’d say that nearly all of Moyers’ questions were confrontational, and Goldstone looked all the better for it. But it would not have hurt had Moyers mixed in a few “friendly” questions to give some airing to these other issues. Perhaps you can ask Moyers if he would give an hour to grilling an Israeli rep – Michael Oren, or Olmert, or someone – and show the same kind of tough questions. I just saw Oren on Tavis Smiley, and if you really want to be disappointed in a PBS host, check it out.

    • David Samel
      October 27, 2009, 8:19 am

      Nolan, I respect your intentions but disagree with your analysis. My impression from watching the interview was that Moyers appeared to be representing his own views with his questions, but I’m not quite sure. Some have suggested that he was playing devil’s advocate and repeating the charges made against Goldstone to give him the chance to answer his critics. I do think that regardless of Moyers’s motives, his tough questioning strengthened the interview, because Goldstone’s performance was so brilliant. As a lawyer, I can tell you that “leading and suggestive questions” are perfectly appropriate for cross-examination, and Goldstone came through that “crucible” with flying colors. Such questions are inappropriate when the interview is fawning, say, Sean Hannity interviewing Alan Dershowitz on the Goldstone report (hypothetically).

      The fact is that Moyers’s questioning of Goldstone does not necessarily reveal his own opinions. Moyers does speak his mind quite often, and I recall him being severely critical of Israel during the Gaza assault. You can probably find it on the net if you have more time than I do right now. But this interview, while somewhat troubling, does not deserve your skewering criticism, much as I agree with your facts. Frankly, if I were to interview Goldstone, I probably would ask most of the same questions with the intention of giving him the chance to respond to all the criticism. (I might have a different inflection or slightly different wording.)

      It’s not that I think sending Moyers a letter is a big mistake, but I would suggest that your letter be toned down to reflect the reality of the interview process rather than an oral essay by Moyers himself. His brief intro was indeed terribly skewed. I think it was proper to keep it brief and reserve as much time as possible for Goldstone, but simply mentioning the rockets and Israel’s response as “retaliation”, with no mention of the blockade, betrayed a bias in favor of the Israeli version. I would agree with harsh criticism of that intro, but the questioning is a different story. Of course, it’s your letter, and you obviously took the time to construct a very detailed and well-written one. Still, if Moyers bothers to respond, your letter leaves him with an easy out, as I described above.

      • Nolan
        October 27, 2009, 9:39 am

        This is one of the many advantages of the internet; people can share ideas openly and freely.

        You bring up several important points which I will take to heart upon revising this letter. I am actually conflicted as to whether Moyers’ interview style served the truth. While I understand that he was playing the part of the Israeli government in his framing of the questions to Goldstone, I can’t help but wonder if that were fair. If we accept Moyers’ interview as playing the devil’s advocate, then he fails at being an objective journalist since he only presents the Israeli perspective. The Palestinian perspective is absent.

        I suppose one could argue that since the Goldstone report puts most of the blame on Israel, then Moyers’ questions seem somewhat justified. But, when I take into account his introduction, I get the sense that he is not as objective as he should be.

        The interview could have been phenomenal had he simply bothered to explicitly mention the siege, the continued occupation and assassinations. That will be the thrust of my revision as I feel he’s dropped the ball on those specific points.

        Again, thanks for the input. I’ll see what I can do to de-skewer ;) him.

      • David Samel
        October 27, 2009, 10:27 am

        Whoops, Nolan – I think I just replied to you on the wrong thread. If you get a chance, look above.

      • Call Me Ishmael
        October 28, 2009, 4:07 am

        Odd, isn’t it? I agree with both Nolan’s and David Samel’s takes on the interview.

  3. Nolan
    October 27, 2009, 2:02 am

    Sources (in no particular order):

    lrb.co.uk/v31/n02/sieg01_.html

    democracynow.org/2009/1/14/leading_israeli_scholar_avi_shlaim_israel

    haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1035414.html

    antiwar.com/porter/?articleid=14031

    vanityfair.com/politics/features/2008/04/gaza200804

    guardian.co.uk/world/2006/apr/09/israel

    guardian.co.uk/world/2008/nov/05/israelandthepalestinians

    btselem.org/english/statistics/casualties.asp

    csmonitor.com/2008/0425/p99s01-duts.html

  4. Call Me Ishmael
    October 27, 2009, 2:20 am

    The panel discussion (1hr, 25 min) that Danaa refers to above can be found here:

    link to c-spanvideo.org

    I also recommend it. Very revealing. Besides Michelle Goldberg (clearly the star for the young liberals) and J.J. Goldberg, the panel included Ezra Klein and Katrina Vanden Heuvel.

  5. Taxi
    October 27, 2009, 2:41 am

    Thanks for the report guys.

    But did you really think it would be any different? The tedium, the hand-wringing, the right-leaning organizers, the endless ‘i love isreal’ etc. etc. etc…. and while you’re all there talking Jewish this and Jewish that, FASTER acts of ethnic cleansing is occurring in Jerusalem.

    Perhaps while you’re there guys, you can ask around if anyone has any sound and practical ideas about how Israel with its infamous ‘exceptionalism’ is gonna realistically defeat the 1.3 billion moslems who value Jerusalem just as much as any of your garden variety zionist zealot. I mean the Moslem world is on orange alert at the moment with regard to Jerusalem, chattering about how they would use their own bodies to defend it from Jewish apartheid. Perhaps another simple and obvious question can be put forward to J-Streeters: when your Isrealis brethren have poked and poked the sleeping Moslem giant and he wakes, then what?… Gamble the WHOLE country of Israel against ‘equal rights for all people living in the holy lands’?… We are in the eleventh hour, do they know this or do they live in a fishbowl? Just count the many flashpoints in the moslem world: Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Tamour, Chechnya, Lebanon, Gaza, West Bank, Sudan, Somalia – and brewing: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria and Jordan. Are Israelis a bunch of somnambulists stuck in a nightmare? Oyvey, oyvey, oyvey!

    Hey by the way, I’m here in sunny bunny Beirut conducting research for a couple of weeks and last night at a lively cafe I told some Lebanese about Mondoweiss and J-Street. I’m sorry to say but everyone laughed at the idea that a left-leaning zionist is any better than a right-leaning zionist. I encouraged them to go to the websites and explore just for the sake of education and peace. ” What peace?”, one lady said, “we don’t make peace with child-killers and hospital bombers – we make peace with our equals only”. Another teen said: “peace with Israel is a stupid idea”. ‘Stupid’, me said, “but why”? He said: ” because the ‘peace’ they’ve been talking about all my life is a scam that’s killed thousands of people in its name. War is the only answer”. But wars kill too, I said. He finished: ” yeah but at least you get forward movement out of it cause right now we’re all up to our noses stuck in quicksand”.

    So you see, you can have your conferences and shmonferences, but the truth is you’re all talking in a hall-of-mirrors while the Arab world ain’t listening to words.

    What I found interesting too was a generational gap: older lebanese people thought they could live side by side with a peaceful Israeli state, while the younger generation refuses even to recognize the ’48 partition.

    Seems that all this ‘supposed’ peace talk has done nothing but radicalize the Arab youth and I don’t see any signs of it changing.

    That’s why it seems inconsequential that J-Street is on the scene – for the bigger picture that is.

    • Nolan
      October 27, 2009, 2:56 am

      What I found interesting too was a generational gap: older lebanese people thought they could live side by side with a peaceful Israeli state, while the younger generation refuses even to recognize the ‘48 partition.

      I appreciate your insight.

      Forgive my pointing the obvious here, but the proverbial writing is on the wall; the emotional scars of the wars and destruction of yesteryear were healing in the minds of the older generation. The psychological scars of the wars of this decade (2006 Lebanon, 2009 Gaza) are still fresh.

      As you have pointed out, I’m afraid that either the Iran issue or the Jerusalem issue will be the last and final straw.

      • Taxi
        October 27, 2009, 3:05 am

        The older generation, who’ve seen more death and war, are not healed but exhausted into a compromise. While the youth are simply buzzing with rage and revenge.

      • Nolan
        October 27, 2009, 3:20 am

        That sounds like a more reasonable explanation.

        I’ve never been to Lebanon, so I’m kind of curious. Did you get a sense from the people with whom you spoke where they see themselves in the coming years? What expectations do they have? What in their view would an ideal Middle East look like?

      • Taxi
        October 27, 2009, 3:56 am

        What can I tell you, Nolan, my friend? This is a truly beautiful country with very good looking and hospitable people. Their infrastructure is chaotic and within this chaos a peculiar order thrives – i mean pretty much everything is broken but somehow the lebanese make it work! There is construction of homes and businesses EVERYWHERE. A very industrious and hyper active people (could be all the turkish coffee they consume). They see the next approaching war as the big and final one that will end with the Euro Jews going back to Europe – the end of the state of Isreal and the welcoming back of Arab Jews back into the Arab lands to live amongst them as equal citizens.

        A pipe dream?

        We shall indeed see.

        One journalist said: “the situation is terrible – we know what we want but we don’t know what’s going to happen. 90% of the problem is completely out of control with no one able to steer the careening car of peace.” When I said Obama wants to change the situation, he shook his head with deep regret and said: yes he’s a nice well-meaning man, but do you think the American Jews are going to let a black man tell Israel what to do”?

        My response was to take the last gulp of my beer.

        p.s. sorry i must leave for a couple of hours – i will post more on this later…

      • wondering jew
        October 27, 2009, 6:24 am

        Taxi- When Jewish Israelis express a desire to kick out the Palestinians, this is called “Feeling the Hate” and condemned as racist. But when the Lebanese you talk to aspire to the next and final war which will lead to the kicking out of the Jews, you view it as “a pipe dream” only because of its unreality but not because of its lack of morality.

      • Shingo
        October 27, 2009, 6:33 am

        “But when the Lebanese you talk to aspire to the next and final war which will lead to the kicking out of the Jews, you view it as “a pipe dream” only because of its unreality but not because of its lack of morality. ”

        Which Lebanese have you talked to that apire to the next war? The last 2 wars with Israesl have resulted in 20,000 dead Lebanese civlians.

        Lebanon have been invaded by Israel 5 times and occupied for 18 years. Perhaps they have a reason to be bitter about Israel.

      • Chaos4700
        October 27, 2009, 7:54 am

        Yeah, between Lebanon and Israel, it’s pretty clear that Israel is the one that aspires for war and it isn’t Jewish people who are being eliminated, it’s Muslims and Christians.

      • Chaos4700
        October 27, 2009, 7:59 am

        Also, one little follow-up. So now Lebanon has swung pendulum-like from “virtual failed state example of how multiculturalism doesn’t work and why Arab countries are inferior to Israel,” to “military existential threat to Israel.” Expecting consistency from a Zionist is like trying to milk a bull, apparently.

      • Taxi
        October 27, 2009, 8:56 am

        Wandering Jew,

        The Lebs hate the Israelis for good reason, not because they’re Jewish. In fact just now I visited a synagogue in the heart of Beirut and spoke there to a Lebanese Rabbi who claims that zionism may have been good for German Jews, but certainly not for him or the other remaining 200 members of his fellow Lebanese Jews. His grandfather, he says, used to ride a donkey-and-cart in his youth all the way from Beirut to Jerusalem to sell his delicious tomatoes and almonds – now this Rabbi swears he would never set foot in Jerusalem so long as the “imposters’ from Europe are in power”. I guess this spunky Rabbi does not answer to Natanyahoo, Aipac , or J-Street. I actually told him about Mondoweiss and J-Street and he just shrugged his shoulders saying: “Well I can’t say its a bad thing but do they honestly think they can go against the World Jewish Congress and win”?

        Also, I actually personally do not think the Lebanese dream regarding Israel is a pipe-dream. I believe the Israelis will be defeated beyond recognition – and sooner than later. I cannot see how Israel can be in a perpetual state of war and grow solid roots in the region at the same time – and America ain’t gonna exactly be an indefinite blind idiot. I’ve come to this conclusion from years of studying the behavior of Zionist Colonials, the last colonials on the planet.

        You know every time I say anything positive about Lebanon and it’s people, I sense a deep and seething jealousy by Israelis towards the Lebanese – a completely different kind of ‘hatred’ the zios express towards the Palestinians. Can you perhaps explain this variety of hatred the zios seem to have cultivated? Perhaps they fearlessly hate the Palestinians, but FEAR and hate the Lebanese?

        Methinks I’m onto something here.

      • Shmuel
        October 27, 2009, 9:19 am

        Taxi,

        Thanks for your fascinating reports from Beirut. It’s interesting that you should mention Israeli feelings toward the Lebanese, as compared to the Palestinians. During the first Lebanon War (the ridiculously named “Operation Peace for Galilee”), I was a high school student in Jerusalem, and I remember hearing a lot of comments along the lines of “Lebanon is an amazing land (water, trees, mountains, etc. – “just like Switzerland”). The Lebanese don’t deserve it.” There was even a right-wing nutcase in my year, who was part of a (tiny) movement advocating permanent occupation and Jewish settlement in southern Lebanon.

        Also, Lebanon – despite everything it’s been through – is a propsperous democracy, with a free press and strong ties to the West. That bugs Israelis. It’s harder to press the case that Israel’s enemies are all “mad mullahs” and “walking tents”. Thank Allah for Hizbollah. It helps offset that other Lebanon, with which westerners might identify.

      • potsherd
        October 27, 2009, 9:44 am

        Here is why the Lebanese can never trust Israel, because Israel is already planning the next war against them. Israel is always planning the next war. link to ynetnews.com

        In order to put an immediate end to missile attacks on central Israel – regardless of where they originated: Syria, Lebanon, or Gaza – we will see massive retribution that will make Operation Cast Lead appear like a tiny scratch in the Middle East’s violent history.

        (…)

        And here the formula is cruel and simple: The more effective the rocket terror war will be, the less “proportional” the response would be.

        Under such circumstances, we will see a massive retaliatory blow, from the air and from the ground, targeting various infrastructures and sites and being painful enough to prompt the enemy to hold its fire. If the world expects Israel to only hit military targets and chase every rocket or launching site, it expects Israel to commit suicide.

      • former coMMenter
        October 27, 2009, 10:31 am

        …thank Allah for Hezbollah

        …or Sharon. One of the two.

      • Shmuel
        October 27, 2009, 11:06 am

        FC:

        …thank Allah for Hezbollah
        …or Sharon. One of the two.

        Yeah, but Allah rhymes, and undoubtedly works in mysterious ways.

      • Taxi
        October 27, 2009, 1:46 pm

        Shmuel,

        I don’t know why but my last post to you was blocked – (sorry moderator if I offended though it feels a little kafkaesque coz i don’t know how it was possible to offend when i was merely comparing my experiences visiting the countries of Lebanon to Israel).

        Anyhowz Shmuel, I wanted to also include in my censored post that I have actually met an Israeli soldier who served in Lebanon during the occupation and he said he dreamed of peace between the two countries so he could go and become a resident of Lebanon coz he loved it there so much – he wanted to go back and find a wife! So I think some Israelis are cool with Lebanon for the right reasons.

        Few and far between, but they exist.

      • VR
        October 28, 2009, 2:01 am

        Taxi, I share the enthusiasm to see the last of old colonials disappear, the only thing that does not seem to be leaving is neocolonialism. That is the sense of puppet ruling kingdoms all over the region, and the strangulation on forging ahead set to the tune of the world order through Western Hegemony. In some ways worse than the old colonialism because it bears the same face of th people oppressed. You might give that a bit of thought. If you are unfamiliar with this I can elaborate.

        A side note for potsherd, in regard to Israel planning its next war. In a sense Israel always plans the next war because that “aid” which is sent to them is designated to be spent for the most part on US military hardware (they have a bit of a sweet deal in Israel because they can spend 15% of it on their own “development” ). If you are unfamiliar with the process let me introduce to you what I have called elsewhere the circle jerk of foreign aid. Israel is like a conduit pipe which send you’re money (if you happen to be in the USA) back into the elite pockets of the US military industrial complex at exorbitant prices. This goes on all over the world, it is part of that old crony capitalism process to enrich its own. Just thought people might like to know in case they did not think a confluence of interest is going on here, and that is was merely “the lobby” that bullied them into giving “aid” to Israel.

        Anyhow, it is late and I need my beauty rest. Looking forward to more posting about the conference, and posted to give a reminder to everyone that things are a bit more complicated than they look.

      • Call Me Ishmael
        October 28, 2009, 4:43 am

        I have read much about the political intrigue that infects Lebanese society, for understandable reasons. Along those lines, I’ll relate a story that Robert Fisk, an English journalist living in Lebanon and reporting for The Independent of London, likes to tell concerning an interview he had with former PM Rafic Hariri shortly before his assassination.

        Hariri said, “In Lebanon, one believes nothing that one hears, and only half of what one sees.”

  6. Rehmat
    October 27, 2009, 4:21 am

    Zionist lobbying organizations got to the current power through blackmail – money, media and sex scandals. As long as the US, Europe and Muslim countries are controlled by the corrupt leaders – Zionistst could not be marginalized. The world needs more of Ahmadinejad, Chavez and Erdogan. Some of the participants at J-Street conference must be aware of that fact.

    Pusshing Americans to go to war against innocent people whose leaders maybe conceived by Tel Avivt – as ‘a threat’ to the Zinists experiment in the Middle East – is at the core of the ‘Jewish problem’ in the West especially in the US. I do hope the Jewish communities stop looking to the Muslim world through their western experience. As the late professor Edward Said once wrote: “If Palestine ever return to Muslim rule – the great majority of the European Jews in Israel would prefer to live under the Muslim rule rather than go back to their European ancestral lands – because they know how much anti-Semitism would be waiting for them there.”

    The Best Democracy a Lobby can buy
    link to rehmat1.wordpress.com

  7. Call Me Ishmael
    October 27, 2009, 4:41 am

    Meanwhile, Ethan Bronner reports the following story in today’s NYT:
    “Opportunities Fade Amid Sense of Isolation in Gaza”.

    link to nytimes.com

    Note the typical Bronner distortions and spin. He almost seems to gloat over the Gazan misery, which of course is the fault of Hamas.

  8. Richard Witty
    October 27, 2009, 4:47 am

    I’m not there obviously.

    I am pleased to hear that there is diversity of opinion expressed there. I expected that there would be, and I think your first summary was reflective of what I would have expected.

    I differ with the gist and specifics of a few of your pet theses. I hope that aside from vainly (as in “I told you so”) maligning the hand-wringing of those that hoped and tried for easy success at something that was in fact difficult, you journalistically inquired further into the differences of emphasis in the different handwringing.

    You bother to do that among the more radical left (periodically, though avoiding differences as differences for “fear” of conveying disunity). It would be useful (more informative) to dive deeper into that impression, than leave it as a vain generalization.

    I think the element of “Loving Israel” is very important in the content of the J Street effort, and in the message itself. I’m assuming that that is not lost on you. If it is, I’m amazed.

    Please be clear that even as some individuals question Zionism as an ideology, that does NOT likely mean that they adopt the view that “Zionism is racism” or that Israel should never have existed, in any political form. I’m nearly certain that excepting those that have sincerely never read of Jewish or Israeli history, that that conclusion would be an extremely thin minority among even “on the fence” liberal/radicals. It could be an expression of their handwringing, their frustration, more than their reasoned conclusion.

    The significance of “love Israel” includes the component “we love Israel so much that we are committed to their/our ethics. It is HOW we are Jewish and love it”. Like, I hope that you consider it important personally to be kind, respectful, honest, even in situations when it doesn’t serve your “interests”.

    And, CERTAINLY politically, if sincere and expressed sincerely in policy and strategy, it is what takes the wind out of the fortress/opportunist form of “loving Israel”. That argument is then obviously thin.

    “Why do we need East Jerusalem to be Israel if that results in 650 miles of frontier with enemies (if the treaties with Egypt and Jordan unravel), rather than 0 miles (if the Arab League proposal is adopted sincerely by mutual consent)?”

    “How can we be proud of our being Jewish? How can Israel support sensitivity as a positive governing and social value, not just forcefulness?”

    Those are ethical questions that are both pragmatic and value-driven.

    They assume and apply though ONLY the two-state approach to reconciliation. They value Zionism, with its tensions (noting that EVERY alternative has similarly confusing tensions that strike to the bone of contradiction. Consider the odd logic of the single state, claiming to be “democratic” when it imposes and proposes to suppress FAR more than a skillful two-state).

    As far as worrying about funders, EVERY executive leadership in any not-for-profit runs a difficult dance with funders. There are few unconditional funding sources for any wonderful venture or project. (In socially responsible investing currently, there is a movement for “slow money”, meaning a 5-10 year investment window still at 18% annual return for venture funds, rather than a 1-3 year window at 30%. Most conventional venture funds reluctantly wait even 3 years.)

    I expect that you worry about your funding, don’t you? If you receive funding from any far left sources, I would be more worried. They can be FICKLE and very imposing, and crudely.

    What exactly do you mean when you say “don’t believe in Jewish democracy”. Are you saying that it is such a tension that you/they don’t think it is possible? Or, are you saying that one or the other is undesirable?

    That is the advantage of choosing where one lives. If you/I are more socialized and naturally supportive of multi-cultural setting in which we can be Jewish, or even Zionist, legally and socially accepte in America, wonderful. Jews in Israel have a different context than us, and it is reasonable, kind, just to acknowledge that.

    Also, MUCH of what you write (exagerating the Walt/Mearsheimer observation/thesis) implies that you are uncomfortable with Jews being able to assimilate while expressing their unique and often shared sensitivities, that at times it appears that you wish to restrain that liberty (on ethnic measurements, if not specifically illegal grounds).

    Rather than proposing better, and more effectively and rationally conveying that proposal better.

    As J Street is attempting.

    • Richard Witty
      October 27, 2009, 6:22 am

      Are you an angel investor, willing to take a 25% risk that your investment will flop, and that can’t touch it for 3 years?

      • Chaos4700
        October 27, 2009, 8:10 am

        Wow, talk about pressure sales.

  9. MRW
    October 27, 2009, 5:36 am

    Gee, Witty, for someone who wasn’t at the conference, you make giant assumptions and logical leaps about what Phil experienced., or should be experiencing…after one day.

    As an aside, can you tell me where these kinds of returns are “currently” transpiring? These are better than Madoff’s manufactured returns by a factor of two or three.

    (In socially responsible investing currently, there is a movement for “slow money”, meaning a 5-10 year investment window still at 18% annual return for venture funds, rather than a 1-3 year window at 30%. Most conventional venture funds reluctantly wait even 3 years.)

    • Chaos4700
      October 27, 2009, 8:02 am

      Ahem. Would this be a bad time to mention the current state of Witty’s employment?

  10. Sin Nombre
    October 27, 2009, 6:14 am

    Quite understandably given the activist-types who this conference attracts, not to mention Phil’s naturally sweet disposition leading him to be somewhat naturally optimistic, I wonder about being seeing too much promise in his report here. (From my perspective of what would indeed be good here.)

    So as to give credit to Phil and Adam I think there’s a lot of sophistication in their not being as glum as me: That is I think their hope is that even if J-Street’s leadership itself is only seeking marginal changes, it may unwittingly be Gorbachev-like phenomenon of the entire breaching of a social dam despite the initial attempt to merely lower that dam a bit.

    I think the situation here is different though. With the Soviet situation everyone knew the entire damn was rotten to the core. The bottom line here is where will the American jewish community be not just on marginal little issues like a total settlement freeze as opposed to a partial one or etc., but on big big huge ones, like *withdrawing* entire settlements and *withdrawing* from large parts of the West Bank, and *withdrawing* from J’slem, and not insisting that the Pal’s recognize Israel as “the jewish state,” and trying to put Iran under the thumb, and etc. and so forth.

    As regards those really important issues then I just don’t see any sea change coming, and thus no change in the political pressure put on the U.S. system by the American jewish community to support whatever Israel wants as regards same.

    Hope I’m wrong, but ….

    In any event still nice to hear these voices.

  11. wondering jew
    October 27, 2009, 6:19 am

    Phil Weiss – “Such honest expression [of opposition to Israel as a Jewish state] would be potentially transformative, it might show the Israelis a doorway out of their condition…” Do you feel that Israeli leftists are restraining their opposition to the Jewishness of their state because American leftists are not being honest with them? This seems to be what you are saying and I think it is nonsense. And how would it be a doorway out of their condition if they are such a small minority? Again more nonsense.

    • Nolan
      October 27, 2009, 7:07 am

      Why is it that most American Jews support the separation of church and state in the US, but when it comes to Israel, they see no problem with the state’s political, judicial and legislative bodies being entrenched in religion?

      Surely, the hypocrisy that arises as a result of sentimental bias should be addressed by said community.

      Furthermore, if many believe that Hamas’ ultimate goal is to establish an Islamic state, ruled by Islamic law, then why is it legitimate to criticize Hamas while giving Israel a free pass? The fact that Shass is in the coalition government coupled with recent tendency within the Israeli government to favor ultra orthodox policies over secular ones – even within the Jewish sector in Israel – makes matter worse.

      On a personal note, I don’t understand why people still cling to religion in this day and age to shape their social identity.

      • Shingo
        October 27, 2009, 7:17 am

        There are many contradictions in America, especially from the right. The right wing like to wave the consitution in the air when it suits them , seperatino of church and state is anathema. They deem socialism and government run services to be evil, but boast about the government services they have implemented in Iraq et al, and hold Israel up as some utopean ideal.

      • potsherd
        October 27, 2009, 9:32 am

        To be cynical – American Jews support the separation of church and state in the US because they know any establishment of religion would be Christian and work against their own freedom of worship.

        They seem to think that the establishment of a Jewish religion would be just dandy – in which they are in deep denial, since the established religion in Israel is a brand of Orthodoxy that is far more hostile to the Reform strain of the religion that most US Jews practice.

      • America First
        October 27, 2009, 9:40 am

        Mario Cuomo’s famous view on abortion was that as a Catholic, he opposed it personally, but had no business imposing his religious values on anyone else through government policy. Jews in public life seem to have no such compunction.

  12. bob
    October 27, 2009, 6:44 am

    The leadership of J Street is to the right of its base. The base is leftleaning

    Pretty much sums up Iraq War I and II support, Iran support, the inconsistency between Jewish support for US civil rights and ignoring Palestinian civil rights…. etc.

    • potsherd
      October 27, 2009, 9:33 am

      Sums up the Obama administration, too. Liberal US Jews were gulled by Obama into thinking he would deliver peace, now they’ll find themselves gulled by J Street.

  13. Cheryl
    October 27, 2009, 7:54 am

    Picked the following up from Muzzlewatch this a.m regarding a conference breakout session:

    I attended what turned out to be the replacement for J street’s disinvited poet panel. Ari Roth from Theater J — who supported the poets by coming out to their reading yesterday at BusBoys & Poets — used the beginning of his time to alert people to the panel that was and delivered a passionate defense of poets from a literary perspective.

    Ari urged not taking the words literally and pointed out that one “doesn’t look to poets for rational discourse.” He defended the “right to conjoin symbols,” and asked if “a wonky convention like J Street is comfortable with metaphor.” He dismissed any suggestion that anyone was calling for a boycott of J Street, creating a “truly J Street dialectic: pro-conference and pro-poetry (a play of words on J Street’s tag line, pro-Israel, pro-peace), which led to applause.

    He posed two possibilities: we are either entering a “new age of censoriousness” or an “excitement moment,” and noted what great plays have been performed at Theater J, including “Seven Jewish Children,” and a play featuring both Rachel Corrie and Daniel Pearl. All in all, it was a hopeful moment for both art and the conference, whatever the larger moment we live in.

    – Jesse Bacon

    • Chaos4700
      October 27, 2009, 8:08 am

      Well, I guess at least there’s a dialog going on at the conference but the move to “disinvite” the poets is not exactly an encouraging sign about J-Street. We’ll have to see which way J-Street goes — basically, if Ari Roth ends up being “disinvited” next time around.

  14. America First
    October 27, 2009, 8:01 am

    The main tedium of the conference is having to listen to Jews handwringing about Israel at panel after panel.

    I noticed that too in the part of the panel I caught on C-SPAN. I was going to call it “dour.” Michelle Goldberg was so cautious she could barely get her words out. Certainly a far cry from the triumphalism and pyrotechnics of AIPAC. And with all their fondness for Obama, they don’t do political theater the way he does.

    Also striking was the lack of doubt in any of their minds that US policy should be decided by the perceived interests of Jews. They may have some empathy for the plight of the Palestinians, but I see none for gentile Americans. Their talk of universalism is self-deception.

  15. former coMMenter
    October 27, 2009, 8:14 am

    I imagine that for some participants and speakers, “loving Israel” may be a pragmatic stance, to gain credibility among the faithful. People like Richard who are just too emotionally invested in Israel to hear criticism without first having their sensitivities assuaged.

    But aren’t words so cheap? Wouldn’t real love for Israelis (the people, more than the idea of a Jewish state in the abstract) mean prioritizing peace over colonization and ethnocracy?

    While it is encouraging that someone like Congressman Filner can put the subject of Zionist power (“the lobby”) on the table, since the U.S. Congress is currently so compromised by unconditional support for Israel, an organization is only as strong as its leadership, and J Street’s seems more concerned with showing its “pro-Israel” bona fides. It reminds me of MoveOn.org, which was able to capitalize on a groundswell of opposition to the Iraq war, but squandered it by refusing to take on the bigger issue of militarism, beyond partisan theatrics. Where is MoveOn.org now? Not in the news. No longer relevant.

    Even if J Street fails as an organization, however, I can appreciate Phil’s perspective that just uniting these people for a conference is a positive achievement. Even if J Street fails to become more representative of its base, the networks and energy formed during events like this can create momentum for other endeavors.

    …Like BDS.

    • bob
      October 27, 2009, 8:35 am

      I imagine that for some participants and speakers, “loving Israel” may be a pragmatic stance, to gain credibility among the faithful. People like Richard who are just too emotionally invested in Israel to hear criticism without first having their sensitivities assuaged.

      Sad, but I can see it. It is a clear indicator of the broken state of U.S./Israel relations when your emotional attachment bona fides (often to Likudnik policies) are required in order to talk about something that should be chiefly focused on U.S. interests. I guess in this way, non-Jews are often seen as emotionally suspect, when this issue should’t even be a factor. Judt highlighted this point in the Mearsheimer-Walt debates. There shouldn’t be negative treatment based on ethnicity vis-a-vis U.S.-Israel relations.

      • former coMMenter
        October 27, 2009, 9:44 am

        That’s exactly why I think the anti-anti-Semitism crusade here is completely counter-productive. Not because I’m pro-prejudice and itching to get the pogroms started–but because the paradigm of ever-suspect motives needs to be changed.

        Ethnocentric Jews treat anti-Semitism like it’s one of Newton’s laws. In fact, it was a specific historical phenomenon and barely applicable at all to the situation at hand–unless you’re a Zionist with a “Jews need a haven” paranoid worldview.

      • Mooser
        October 27, 2009, 11:15 am

        You may very well be right, Former Commenter! Will “Real” Americans be more influenced by the suffering of the Palestinians, or more susceptible to arguments that “the Jews” in the US are too powerful, and cutting off Israel is the way to take care of that?
        Or maybe we should go on supporting Israel, but just make a few much-needed laws here to balance and reduce the power of the Jews over America?

        You know, I’m beginning to think America First believes in Zionism more than most Zionists do!

      • MRW
        October 27, 2009, 12:54 pm

        Ethnocentric Jews treat anti-Semitism like it’s one of Newton’s laws.

        Great line.

      • MRW
        October 27, 2009, 12:59 pm

        Mooser, “Real” Americans (as you call them) should concentrate on the issue at hand when they object to what Israel is doing to the Palestinians and boycott the bastards. It’s clean, non-political in the sense that it doesn’t directly address either US or Israeli political parties specifically, and it unites people in other countries in a cause that is focused on getting the job done.

      • MRW
        October 27, 2009, 1:01 pm

        former coMMenter, in fact your whole post was well-said and succinct @ #57.

      • DG
        October 27, 2009, 1:37 pm

        MM: “… the paradigm of ever-suspect motives needs to be changed.”

        Mooser: “Will “Real” Americans be more influenced by the suffering of the Palestinians, or more susceptible to arguments that “the Jews” in the US are too powerful, and cutting off Israel is the way to take care of that?”

        You see, Mooser, you are illustrating MM’s point by being more concerned with imagined motives than with end results.

      • Call Me Ishmael
        October 27, 2009, 6:46 pm

        Mooser asks, “Will ‘Real’ Americans be more influenced by the suffering of the Palestinians, or more susceptible to arguments that ‘the Jews’ in the US are too powerful, and cutting off Israel is the way to take care of that?”

        Neither. “Realist” Americans, who comprise the majority, will conclude that the special relationship with Israel is contrary to American national interests, and will eventually demand that it be ended. It’s an altruistic minority, including people like you and me, who are motivated by anguish over the suffering of the Palestinians.

      • Dan Kelly
        October 27, 2009, 8:07 pm

        Ethnocentric Jews treat anti-Semitism like it’s one of Newton’s laws.

        From the laws of physics to the genes of biology: Some Jewish academics/authors have actually posited that gentiles are born with an “anti-semitic gene.”

        Since we would seem to be completely at the mercy of our gene pool (as opposed to behaviors that are environmentally-induced), an “anti-semitic gene” is, as of current Western scientific reasoning, the ultimate basis for a Jewish safe-haven in Israel.

      • Call Me Ishmael
        October 28, 2009, 5:10 am

        An antisemitic gene? That’s as atrocious as the crazy theories about eugenics in the 1930’s. Surely the processes of natural selection would then give rise to an inherent defense mechanism – the anti-antisemitic gene.

    • David
      October 27, 2009, 11:50 am

      ” Even if J Street fails to become more representative of its base, the networks and energy formed during events like this can create momentum for other endeavors.

      …Like BDS. ”

      Agreed.

    • MRW
      October 27, 2009, 12:51 pm

      BDS is that only way to go. It’s not religious. It addresses Israel as a nation, and doesn’t give a shit about its religiosity or internal promises to its people through its Basic Law pronouncements. It directly addresses what Israel is doing that is offensive to those who would use the boycott vehicle to object.

      J Street is (all) talk. BDS is action.

  16. David
    October 27, 2009, 11:44 am

    “The leadership of J Street is to the right of its base. The base is leftleaning.”

    This is fascinating stuff, Phil. Thanks for posting. I found something similar with the base of Churches for Middle East Peace. CMEP has very tightly controlled messaging, but delegates at this year’s CMEP conference stood to applaud Dr. Mustafa Barghouti (who will be appearing on the Daily Show tomorrow along with Anna Balzer) when he talked about direct action and BDS.

    What does it mean to have so much of the grassroots support for justice and peace consistently represented in “the mainstream” by centrist talking points? Does that convey legitimacy to a movement? Or does it dissipate energy?

  17. David
    October 27, 2009, 11:48 am

    Maybe another way of posing my question would be, “Are the participants at these conferences (such as CMEP and J Street) representative of the majority of the grassroots base of these organizations? Are they representative of the funding base? Are they representative of the grassroots movement for justice and peace, whereas J Street is looking not for grassroots activist support but trying to build a mild base of middle class opinion that will eventually turn the policy tide?

  18. Todd
    October 27, 2009, 2:02 pm

    “Anyhowz Shmuel, I wanted to also include in my censored post that I have actually met an Israeli soldier who served in Lebanon during the occupation and he said he dreamed of peace between the two countries so he could go and become a resident of Lebanon coz he loved it there so much – he wanted to go back and find a wife! So I think some Israelis are cool with Lebanon for the right reasons.”

    I’m sure he’ll be welcomed with open arms! I met UN soldiers who served in Lebanon, and they said that Lebanese men are vicious when it comes to the honer of Lebanese women. How true is this?

  19. matt
    October 27, 2009, 2:16 pm

    Hi Phil. I attended the first two days of the conference, including the blogger panel. I thought I’d share some impressions that I recorded in an email to a friend:

    “Overall, I came away feeling like–while I support J Street and what it’s attempting to achieve, while I respect their pragmatism–I am not one of them. The discourse that saturated every proceeding was geared toward, quite literally, people who love Israel, who have a deep emotional or spiritual connection to the country. In a panel I attended, J.J. Goldberg suggested that J Street activists should initiate any criticism of Israeli policy with the words (quoting directly here) “I love–not like, not support, but love–Israel, and that is why I am concerned about [x policy issue].” Afterwards, Goldberg recounted at a subsequent panel, a conference attendee approached him and said “How dare you tell me I have to love Israel. Are you implying that I shouldn’t be here if I don’t?” “Well,” Goldberg thought to himself, “maybe you shouldn’t.”

    During the inaugural plenary, we sat at round tables and were asked to discuss a list of questions with our table-mates. The first and only question we were able to address in the time given was “What is your connection to Israel?” My table consisted of myself and a group of seven retirement-aged friends, most of whom had made aliyah in the 1960s and had been involved in the peace movement for decades. Naturally, I was the person they insisted go first and explain my Zionist bona fides. Uncomfortably, I had to tell them that I had no connection with Israel besides the fact of my being ethnically Jewish, that I have never in fact been to Israel nor do I have any friends or relations there. “Then why are you here?” one lady replied. I muttered something about human rights and changed the topic.

    And that was essentially the tone of the conference as a whole, as I experienced it. It was not a place for peace oriented non-Zionists or anti-Zionists, or even liberals who recognize Zionist aspirations in principle but are not themselves ideologically committed–it was for unabashed lovers of Zion. That’s the J Street audience. And I am conflicted about it because, on one hand, those people need a voice, a voice that isn’t AIPAC, the ADL or the Conference of Presidents. They need to be brought into the peace fold and not left to the wolves. But on the other hand, its an alienating discourse for many young Jews who lack this emotional linkage, and I imagine they, like myself, will not feel comfortable taking a leadership role in the emerging grassroots movement J Street is trying to create.”

    • former coMMenter
      October 27, 2009, 2:29 pm

      Thanks for the insight, matt.

      Did J Street actually say they are trying to create an emerging grassroots movement, or was that your interpretation/expectation?

      From the name, I thought they saw themselves as a political lobby, which in the U.S. means an organization that sends money to politicians so they’ll act or vote a certain way.

      I can’t imagine an example of a D.C. lobbying organization actually being “grassroots.” Maybe “astro-turf.”

      • matt
        October 27, 2009, 2:35 pm

        Well, the “J Street U” campus advocacy program that Phil mentioned in his post is a grassroots-type initiative. I guess it was my own expectation that it would expand from there.

    • Donald
      October 27, 2009, 3:31 pm

      Matt, I have the impression Phil doesn’t necessarily read all (or many?) of the comments at his own blog, so if you want to be sure he reads your comments you probably ought to email him. Though of course the rest of us find your impressions interesting.

    • Sin Nombre
      October 27, 2009, 4:00 pm

      “Afterwards, Goldberg recounted at a subsequent panel, a conference attendee approached him and said ‘How dare you tell me I have to love Israel. Are you implying that I shouldn’t be here if I don’t?’ ‘Well,’ Goldberg thought to himself, ‘maybe you shouldn’t.'”

      Leading one to wonder if Goldberg has ever really thought about just exactly what he was saying. E.g., what about someone whose attitude towards Israel is that it is entirely dependent at any given time on whether its behavior is in the interests of the United States or not?

      Does he really truly understand that what he’s saying is that such a person is just not his type? That what’s he’s saying is that no matter what Israel does in terms of harming U.S. interests that same is just not relevant to him? (Except as that might come about to harm Israel?)

      I’m not saying Goldberg believes this, but don’t people have an obligation to be careful with their own words especially before possibly tarring others as being anti-semites for merely taking them at same?

      This is the kind of thing that just leads to the endless roundabout of claims of dual loyalties and etc. and then counterclaims of anti-semitism and etc.

      Yeesh.

  20. Mooser
    October 27, 2009, 4:46 pm

    So AIPAC is for people who are married to Israel, and J-Street for people who just want a quick tryst with her? Hoo-boy, this is gonna be good.
    Does Goldberg have any idea where he is, or what’s going on? He better think carefully! American Jews don’t have to hate Israel to destroy it, all they have to do is ignore it. And when they find out what a high-maintenance bitch she is, they may want nothing to do with her.

  21. America First
    October 27, 2009, 4:54 pm

    Another interesting event:

    The Council for the National Interest requests the pleasure of your company at our
    20th Anniversary Banquet Celebration
    aboard the S.S. Odyssey
    featuring
    Marwan Bishara, Al-Jazeera’s Senior Political Analyst
    Amb. Jack Matlock and members of the 17th CNI Foundation “Political Pilgrimage” delegation
    Congressman Wayne Gilchrest, chairman of CNI
    Helena Cobban, new executive director of CNI and the CNI Foundation
    and Eugene Bird, president of CNI and the CNI Foundation, as master of ceremonies.
    Date: Tuesday, November 17, 2009
    Time: Boarding, 6:00 – 6:30 pm. Dinner cruise, 7:00 pm to 10:00 pm.
    Location: Odyssey Cruises, 600 Water Street SW, Pier 4, Washington, DC 20024

    link to cnionline.org

    • DG
      October 27, 2009, 7:27 pm

      I didn’t know that Helena Cobban was the executive director of CNI. That’s good to see.

      CNI’s series of full-page ads in the NYTimes and Washington Post back in the 2005-07 era were probably the first exposure of many Americans to the idea that an Israel Lobby was distorting our foreign policy.

  22. Richard Witty
    October 28, 2009, 3:49 am

    The WORLD saw the earlier dialog between taxi and the local posse here.

    Taxi is predicting/proposing war to forcefully remove all of the Europeans from the land.

    If there is ANY sentiment that could be reported anywhere to support the likud “which side are you on” thesis, that is it.

    You live in a real fantasy world to think that Israel will disappear, or will not defend itself militarily and every other way, for a century.

    Emotions don’t last that long. To base a century-long war on either anger or “exhaustion” (from those with children, the word is “responsibility”, not “exhaustion”), is a sickness.

    Angers are passing, if you let them pass, and if you bother to establish new relationships.

    If you want to separate the Israelis/Jews from the Lebanese have restrictive and isolated borders. You know “good fences make good neighbors”, sometimes, hopefully rarely. Good conversations make good neighbors in fact. (Somehow in taxi’s summary, the “Europeans” must leave).

    It is also the neo-conservative formula. “The Europeans are the invaders. It is civilizational conflict.” Applauded when “resistance” states it.

    Fanatic view, from Lebanon. And, “it makes sense” (to other fanatics only, not to the mature or responsible).

    • former coMMenter
      October 28, 2009, 10:25 am

      The Arabs also lived in a “real fantasy world” that the Crusaders would disappear. And by 1291 AD, they mostly had.

      Of course many of the “Europeans” are choosing to leave Israel without anyone forcing them, because it is such a militarized and conflicted society, and life anywhere else–the U.S., Latin America, Goa–seems like paradise compared to it.

      And it is not inaccurate to portray the Zionists as the “invaders.” The word “invade” means to enter for conquest, to encroach upon, infringe, or spread over as if invading. Regardless of the better intentions of some early Zionists, the historical reality of Zionism is an invasion and attempted ethnic cleansing of Palestine. And that view is “applauded” whether stated by Ilan Pappé or Benny Morris.

      Without all the lawyers, guns, and money Israel commands from the U.S., the integration of the immigrant European population into the local fabric would probably occur quickly and peacefully.

      But by “defending itself militarily,” by which Richard means aggressively and brutally dominating the indigenous population, it engenders hatred, violent resistance, and rejection, all of which cycles into more “defending itself militarily.” It’s a script that the Crusaders of the 11th and 12th centuries already wrote. And the ending is known.

      But please, don’t anybody spoil it for Richard!

    • Chaos4700
      October 28, 2009, 10:39 am

      Witty? You have just ceded the right to ever complain about the way you are treated here. Because you show that you’re perfectly capable of targeting other commenters and slinging mud when it suits you.

      Keep showing us that ugly face behind the mask you wear. I kind of liked Phantom of the Opera for the plot, if not so much for the music.

    • Shingo
      October 28, 2009, 4:26 pm

      “Angers are passing, if you let them pass, and if you bother to establish new relationships.”

      This is your real agenda and hope isn’t it Richard? That anger and disgust at Israel will dissipate and that things will return to the pre Gaza massacre status quo and Israel can go on flouting world opinion, UN Resolutions, stealing land and buthcering Palestinians.

      This explains your insistence that treating Israel with kid gloves is the only solution, because soon emough, the I/P situation and the Goldstone Report will be displaced from the front pages and the world’s attention will have moved on.

  23. Citizen
    October 28, 2009, 9:21 am

    Did the WORLD see the earlier dialog between taxi and the local posse here in the context of the lack of information given to the USA public by the USA MSM posse, a much larger posse and one with all the guns?

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