‘J Street’ comes to Syracuse

Israel/Palestine
on 35 Comments

The last time I attended an event on Israel at Temple Concord in Syracuse, I angered the audience when I confronted Ido Aharoni, the Consul General for the State of Israel. It wasn’t so much my alluding to dead babies and white phosphorous, but my brazen proffering that the average age of the audience was around 75 years, a comment made in the context that the younger Jewish population, not represented at the event, is far less tied at the hip to Israel as the older generation.

 So before last night’s event (8/25) which hosted the J Street Northeastern Regional representative, Melanie Harris,  I promised our group (CNY Working for a Just Peace in Palestine/Isreal) that I would be there in “silent solidarity”.  And I meant it. I had no intention of putting the audience or the speaker on the offensive. Harris was there to introduce the audience to J Street with the aim of opening up a chapter in Central New York.

 
When J Street first emerged on the scene a few years ago, I was put off by their “Pro Israel, Pro Peace” motto.  I’d have preferred Pro Human Rights for all, but it’s not my gig.  When J Street organizers gave the brush off to Rabbi Michael Lerner of Tikkun at one of their earlier conferences, I wrote them off as duplicitous and shallow.  However, over the past couple of years my opinion of them has changed and I’ve often participated in their petitions and have sent financial contributions.  I appreciated their ability to reach the hardcore Israel-supporting audience that my group rarely penetrated and I began to perceive them as the counter-balance to AIPAC, slowly siphoning off the large lobby’s membership and money.
 
So it was with this belief that I and my daughters as well as several members of our group attended the event last night.  We didn’t want to challenge the speaker.  If she would be able to crack through the “Israel right or wrong” mentality, we’d be happy.
 
 Harris began her presentation by explaining that J Street’s objective is to widen the dialogue within the Jewish community, thereby breaking through the not-so-subtle prohibition on questioning Israeli leadership or policy.

It encourages political participation of its members to encourage continued US political commitment towards achieving the objective of a Two-State solution.  She explained that a Jewish State alongside a Palestinian State is the only way to assure Israel’s survival as “Jewish and Democratic”.  J Street supported continued US military aid to Israel, a demilitarized Palestine, and borders somehow based on ’67 lines with land swaps to denote settlements which aren’t going to be dismantled.  She commented that the “policy of Israel right or wrong mentality is damaging for the US and Israel”.  J Street wants participation from its membership to “show that there is a base of support for President Obama’s positions” as outlined in his March 2011 speech.  She urged the audience to reach out to their officials to show support for these policies. She spoke of the Jewish values she was raised with and her personal desire to “take back the conversation from the extremists”.  She wished for “pragmatism, rational thought…not bogged down in the history of the conflict”.  
Zingo.  Let’s open the conversation, but not that far.
 
Troubling to me was the fact that J Street wants to open up the conversation and abandon the “Israel Right or Wrong” mentality, but not pose the question: “Zionism, right or wrong?” Harris explained that the organization isn’t eager to get bogged down in history, but can this context be omitted from an in-depth discussion of the conflict?  Harris spoke of a suffering friend in southern Israel worried about rocket attacks, but omitted any mention of the Palestinians of Gaza, the Wall, expropriated lands, the inability for Palestinians to travel, to arrive at hospitals, or get an education. She stressed the need for the “Palestinians to abandon their right of return because it would pose a demographic problem for the Jewish State” and made no mention of the ever growing population of Palestinians within Israel or how the Jewish state will deal with that messy demographic conundrum down the line.
 
Before attending last evening’s event, I opined to my group members my belief that J Street, while quietly as outraged as we are over Israel’s human rights abuses and outright murderous actions, is being “tactical” to garner the support of the Jewish community. I believed that there is more than one path to the ultimate objective of peace and justice for Israel and Palestine.  I was left, however, with the notion that J Street is very much like AIPAC in the sense that they advocate for continued US involvement, political support, and US tax dollars, but only as long as our elected officials advocate on behalf of the continued existence and strength of the militarized Jewish State.  I felt a total disconnect and even denial by the speaker of the constant trampling on Palestinian human rights.  They were represented merely as a demographic problem with terrorist tendencies.
 
Perhaps I was wrong to keep my pledge of silence during Q & A, but my daughter made no such promise and she asked a three-part question which was basically met with “we advocate for a Zionist State”.  So much for opening up dialogue.
 
After the event I spoke to Melanie Harris about my concerns and she suggested I attend the first meeting of the new J Street chapter in Syracuse next month.  (I had already registered)   I think I will attend, but only to see if in a smaller, more intimate environment the J Streeters are more open to real and meaningfully conversation and whether the group advocates justice for all, or merely a strong Jewish Israel totally supported by US policy and money.      

35 Responses

  1. annie
    August 26, 2011, 2:04 pm

    thanks for the report. j street might be making a dent in stalwart support for israel in terms of distancing themselves from the extremists but mainstream opinion of the youth is marching towards anti zionism while j street still operates like it doesn’t realize zionism is what’s on the chopping block. they might give lip service to a threat regarding israel as ‘a jewish and democratic state’ but they don’t acknowledge it can’t be both without ethnic cleansing.

    • eee
      August 26, 2011, 2:11 pm

      The proof of the pudding is in the eating. If most or many young American Jews are anti Zionists, where are the large organizations that reflect that? Until I see them, I don’t buy this trend. My reasoning is that being anti-Zionists also makes one reject the Jewish community in many cases and therefore the chances one will work within it are slim.

      • Philip Weiss
        August 26, 2011, 2:14 pm

        if many young American Jews are anti-Z, do you really think there would be organizational evidence of that at this point? certainly on campuses, the SJP (students for justice in palestine) orgs have strong young Jewish representation.

      • eee
        August 26, 2011, 2:27 pm

        Of course there would be evidence. The anti-Zionist organizations in colleges would be bigger than the Hillel and the Jewish fraternities that are all Zionist if your thesis is right. But the evidence shows that they are much smaller. In which campuses are organizations like SJP bigger than Hillel or the Jewish fraternities? None that I heard of.

      • Richard Witty
        August 26, 2011, 2:38 pm

        The anti-Zionist organizations have marginal presence on campuses.

        Those that are “anti” can only force (impose) a change, and create three brick walls for every one torn down. J Street can persuade for a change. and create one brick wall for every two torn down.

      • Philip Weiss
        August 26, 2011, 3:03 pm

        hillel has been around a long time. so have fraternities

      • eee
        August 26, 2011, 3:13 pm

        “hillel has been around a long time. so have fraternities”

        So what? If most or many young Jews on campus were anti-Zionist why would they join them? Why would they care how long these institutions have been around? Are you claiming that young Jews, despite being anti-Zionists, join Hillel and the Jewish fraternities, clearly Zionist organizations?

      • Richard Witty
        August 26, 2011, 4:35 pm

        The point is the persuasion makes progress, while resistance makes regress.

        Its victory is regress. Its defeat is regress.

      • James North
        August 26, 2011, 4:46 pm

        Richard Witty said, ‘I sound like a Chinese fortune cookie here. But it’s better to sound vague, than admit that the practical policies I advocate — such as allowing the 550,000 illegal Israeli settlers to stay in the West Bank — make any hope for peace impossible.’

      • Cliff
        August 26, 2011, 4:46 pm

        Your haikus get more and more incoherent each time you regurgitate them.

      • Cliff
        August 26, 2011, 4:47 pm

        LOL

        Thank god for James North on this blog.

      • annie
        August 26, 2011, 4:52 pm

        Those that are “anti” can only force (impose) a change, and create three brick walls for every one torn down.

        sounds like zionism to me! but of course, zionism is anti democratic, zionism is anti ethnic multiplicity. zionism is anti a lot of things and they are most definitely forcing/ imposing expansion/colonialism and creating walls.

      • Richard Witty
        August 26, 2011, 4:53 pm

        Cute dismissal. You need to hear the content.

        The content is that the victory of Palestinian resistance that is only satisfied by punishment of Israelis is a step backwards in the world of justice.

        So, if you succeed at BDS (after utterly isolating Israel for how long, and how thoroughly, to protest against isolation), that will be merely a pendulum swing, nothing to write home about for an actual progressive. Partisans, go to town, make war if you like. (Please don’t.)

        If you attempt and then fail at BDS, then Palestinians will be continually suppressed. (Actually, maybe that would work, as the message might get across and they would be motivated by the end of the threat to make concessions, but it will still be passive for Palestinians, the result determined by Israel).

        Another approach is needed that relies on a different basis of what constitutes dignity and success.

      • James North
        August 26, 2011, 5:00 pm

        Richard Witty said, ‘More dime-store aphorisms from me. I still say the 550,000 illegal settlers should remain in the West Bank, and the Palestinians who are losing what is left of their country should just “humanize the other” and get over it.
        ‘In fact, the truth is that I’m to the right of 3e. I suspect 3e recognizes that any 2-state solution would require that the settlers leave. Not me.’

      • annie
        August 26, 2011, 5:15 pm

        i don’t think they necessarily self identify as anti zionist campus orgs eee and richard. (i don’t even self identify as an anti zionist) check out the speakers at this american friends service committee Campus Organizing Conference . you might recognize quite a few. i heard it was well attended. this is quite a line up of speakers

        Rae Abileah, Maimuna Ahmed, Anna Baltzer, Jennifer Bing, Max Blumenthal, Shirien Damra, Felicia Eaves, Noura Erakat, Adam Horowitz, Mark Lance, Michael Merryman-Lotze, Abdelnasser Rashid, Miryam Rashid, Josh Ruebner, Brian Van Slyke, and more

        from what i hear the palestinian solidarity groups are replacing the anti war groups on campuses all across the country. these are the up and coming human rights activists. i don’t really think human rights advocacy and zionism make a neat fit.

      • Shingo
        August 26, 2011, 5:31 pm

        The content is that the victory of Palestinian resistance that is only satisfied by punishment of Israelis is a step backwards in the world of justice.

        But Witty, you have argued against justice all along. You do realize that justice means accountsbility right? So are you for justice or against it.
        Another pearle of wisdom from Witty – justice is injustice.

      • thankgodimatheist
        August 27, 2011, 6:15 am

        “Its victory is regress. Its defeat is regress.”

        I dont quite understand what you’re saying but I’ll give it a try: “its victory is regression. It’s defeat is regression.”. Did I get it right?

      • annie
        August 26, 2011, 4:58 pm

        The proof of the pudding is in the eating. If most or many young American Jews are anti Zionists, where are the large organizations that reflect that?

        here

        here

        here

        lots of orgs popping up n campuses across the nation reflecting the need to counter ‘delegitimization’. btw, i didn’t say ‘most’ i said ‘marching towards anti zionism’. as beirnart mentioned in his much read article the failure of the american jewish establishment (paraphrasing) if kids are asked to make a choice between being left or liberal vs zionists, zionism will take a beating.

        that is why these ‘left’ groups like j street are so important to zionism, the warm and friendly ‘liberal zionist’. but there’s nothing left or liberal about zionism at all. neoliberal maybe, but not liberal.

      • piotr
        August 27, 2011, 3:01 am

        Actually, it does not prove much.

        Jewish politics in respect of Israel is dominated by the lobby. Lobby does not exists to serve the customer, but to create the market for its services. Thus Israel is always in the deepest crisis. “Now, more than ever, your donation ….” Because there are hardly any threats left, now we have delegitimization and The Left. I think that what Annie documented is that donors were bamboozled to support more astro-turf on campuses.

        The real danger for Israel is the mind rot in the lobby. Simulation of eternal crisis can lead to a really bad crisis, e.g. if someone took seriously an idea like attacking Iran. Iran more or less promised that they would respond by shutting down Persian gulf, and the resulting crisis could drag for months, with gasoline prices in double digit and solidarity with Israel becoming inversely proportional to those prices. And this is but one of the crazy ideas.

        So that is probably the premise of J-Street. Zionism with a brain. Pitiful minority of course, but with some potential.

      • Shingo
        August 26, 2011, 5:44 pm

         The proof of the pudding is in the eating. If most or many young American Jews are anti Zionists, where are the large organizations that reflect that?

        That’s Tony Blair logic. When a million people in Britain demonstrated against the Iraq war, Blair argued that because only a million showed up, that proves that those who stayed home were supporting the war.

        Similarly, one can be anti Zionist without supporting it. Zionism is antithetical to Judaism and to humanity.

      • piotr
        August 27, 2011, 3:11 am

        I would be careful with the formulation “Zionism is antithetical to Judaism and to humanity”. Who knows what the correct Judaism is? Perhaps it is an obnoxious tribal cult, and all those humane Jews are simply heretics?

      • lottaann
        August 28, 2011, 8:49 pm

        Some young american jews find it difficult to become outspoken anti-zionists because they are not finished de-brainwashing themselves from their hebrew school childhood or something… and if they are, their purse-string-holding parents are still zionists, so they feel pressured not to be too vocal about it. This might explain part of the perceived absence of anti-zionist jews on american college campuses.

    • Castle Keep
      August 27, 2011, 10:16 am

      I wish I could agree, annie, but imo the objective of J Street is NOT to influence American Jews but to influence the American Congress.

      Jeremy ben Ami came from the Washington lobby-insider network; he knows what buttons to push.

      Every J Street meeting and project funnels the participant to the Action Item: (besides donating to J Street) WRITE TO CONGRESS, LOBBY CONGRESS, INFLUENCE CONGRESS.

      Some argue that J Street is trying to put a different face on American Jewry, different from AIPAC.
      Think about that: Congressmen are extremely simple critters; they know either Yes or No. They can vote only Yes or No. The option of, “Not an AIPAC yes but a J Street yes” is not available.
      Thus, the function of J Street, which, I argue, ben Ami knows very well, is to amplify, not differentiate, the power of AIPAC to influence the US Congress to support the perquisites of American Jews in shaping US policy in a way that is favorable to Israel.

      An American congresscritter who hears from AIPAC and hears from J Street is NOT going to scratch his head and struggle over whether he should reach out to the Jewish J Street advocates among his donors or to the Jewish AIPAC advocates among his donors; he’s going to reach out to the Jewish donors.

  2. MRW
    August 26, 2011, 5:01 pm

    Good report. Held my attention.

  3. Philip Munger
    August 26, 2011, 11:26 pm

    Great report, interesting comments. A couple of observations:

    1). The presence of young Jews, anti-Zionist or not, in on-campus antiwar groups varies vastly, not only from campus to campus, from private to public college, but from state to state. Here in Alaska, to my knowledge, there are no Jewish kids involved in any of these groups, certainly not at UAA, the biggest campus, with the most longstanding human rights clubs or groups. That has continued to surprise me, even though, in respect to I/P, Alaskan Jews are markedly doctrinaire. It also surprised me, because colleges I’ve attended or been involved with in the past, such as Oberlin and the University of Washington, or where my kids have gone (Western Washington and Humboldt State) have large percentages of Jewish kids in these kinds of orgs.

    annie’s examples @ 4:58 are viably large, or at least well organized. But to state as 3e did, that “If most or many young American Jews are anti Zionists, where are the large organizations that reflect that?” neglects the sad fact that this young generation has not fought against wars and human rights abuses in the same ways we did in the 60s, for instance. I foresee more youth activism soon, as the economy dips beyond recession and into true depression this fall.

    2). Since hosting Jeremy Ben-Ami at firedoglake’s book salon at the end of July, I’ve been trying to get an organization in Alaska sponsor an appearance here by J Street, where they have no presence. No success, so far.

    I can’t describe the details, but well established public forums here consider J Street toxic, and not because they are too conservative, or too committed to a two-state solution, ’67-based borders, or a demilitarized Palestinian state. The plain fact is that there is no discussion whatsoever at important public affairs speaking venues here on this issue that does not have the prior approval of AIPAC’s Alaska head, David Gottstein.

    I’m trying to change that, not so much because I believe in most of what J Street stands for, but because getting Jeremy or somebody like Melanie Harris up here might shake things up far more than anyone who lives in the NE USA might be able to understand.

  4. Real Jew
    August 27, 2011, 1:02 am

    For the last 60 yrs the political landscape in the West (particularly the US and UK) has been completely dominated by the pro Israel narrative. This reality has been manufactured and perpetuated by the powerful Israel Lobby and their control over mainstream media. They have essentially forced our congress into submission, made criticism of Israel a moral and professional sin, and hijacked our foreign policy to serve Israel first and America second.

    That being said, an organization like JStreet who calls for moderation and equality, emerging under these circumstances is unprecedented and inspiring. JStreet is not my ideal champion of Palestinian human rights, yet. But their existence should be appreciated nonetheless.

    JStreet is much much more than the “fly on the beast’s (AIPAC) back”. JStreet is providing an outlet for millions of Jews who care about Israel but not the Israeli govt. But more importantly, JStreet is reinventing what it means to be “pro Israel”. The whole “with us or against us” mentality AIPAC has demanded of the pro Israel camp is quickly diminishing.

    Jstreet, still in its infancy, is wise enough to tread softly for now until their numbers and influence grows. Only then can they take more bold positions that challenge the status quo

  5. Richard Witty
    August 27, 2011, 6:35 am

    The process of BDS succeeding ends in a fascist isolation of a whole nation of civilians, Israel. It is NOT parallel to South Africa.

    BDS failing ends in a fascist isolation of a whole nation of civilians, Palestine.

    The most plausible explanation that I’ve heard for the purpose of BDS, is for its educational component. But, that is NOT what the action of BDS does.

    There must be another way to motivate people to educate and be educated (not as polemic), that is not such a moral gamble.

    In some ways it goes back to Phil’s earlier question applied to supporters of Israel of “What are you willing to do? How far are you willing to go? And, how far are you willing to see Israel go?”

    Applied to solidarity, it is an important question to ask as well. “How far are you willing to go?”

    I get that when western non-violent (really non-violent, not just in tactic) activists are moved by compassion to solidarity that that feels like not a punitive effort, and BDS seems like that.

    That is why I ask those that are western non-violent proponents to distinguish their approach from others that are in support of BDS that are not in fact non-violent, for whom BDS is a component of their violent resistance, and by resistance I don’t mean a fight for Palestinian self-governance, but an “anti” fight for the end of Israeli self-governance.

    The success of that BDS movement is victory at war, for which BDS is merely a non-violent tactic.

    • Shingo
      August 27, 2011, 9:20 am

      The process of BDS succeeding ends in a fascist isolation of a whole nation of civilians, Israel. It is NOT parallel to South Africa.

      Rubbish as we’ve all come to expect from Witty. The process of BDS succeeding ends in the end of the occupation, the end of the settlements and as such, ending the isolation of Israel. You see Witty, the boycott was unltimately very good for South Africa and likewise, will be very good for Israel.

      BDS failing ends in a fascist isolation of a whole nation of civilians, Palestine.

      Sorry Witty, I know your Ziocaine addiction has turned your brain to mush, but success and failure cannot produce the same outcomes.

      The most plausible explanation that I’ve heard for the purpose of BDS, is for its educational component. But, that is NOT what the action of BDS does.

      The most plausible explanation is explictly detailed on the BDS web site, which you can easily google. You have no reason to have heard it, you can simply read it.

      There must be another way to motivate people to educate and be educated (not as polemic), that is not such a moral gamble.

      Yuo have been chellenged repeatedly to come up with an alternative that it practie and detailed Witty. The ball is in your court.

      There is no moral gamble in BDS, other than how Israel chooses to respond.

      Applied to solidarity, it is an important question to ask as well. “How far are you willing to go?”

      All the way Witty. If I had my way, I would have all states agree to cut of trade and aid to Israel and for all memebers at the UN to pass all resoutions condming Israel. In fact, I would have the resolutions escalated to Chapeter 7 status and for a multinational peace keeping force to be sent to the regiont to enforce Israel’s withdral from the OT.

      I get that when western non-violent (really non-violent, not just in tactic) activists are moved by compassion to solidarity that that feels like not a punitive effort, and BDS seems like that.

      Yes witty, we know that anythign that threatens to harm your beloved Israel in any way shape or form is alarming to you, though you are more than happy to support punitive efforts against Palestinians.

      And as for western non-violent activists, you are more than happy to seem them tyear gassed or shot. The reason you supports western non-violent activism is that it makes Israel’s job of killing them easier and less risky.

      The success of that BDS movement is victory at war, for which BDS is merely a non-violent tactic.

      So you are even opposed to non-violence. Israel’s crtics and opponents must give up all forms of dissent in you sick and damaged mind.

      Got it.

  6. Richard Witty
    August 27, 2011, 11:30 am

    In this case, success and failure both produce harms to civilians.

    I am a supporter of the goals of ending the occupation, full equal rights for all citizens of Israel, and for individual law applied in a color blind manner, as the basis of fairly dealing with the Palestinian refugee problem (not the “right of return” though).

    Too many of the proponents of BDS extend their objectives far beyond ending the occupation, to the elimination of Israel. It IS vague, whether you regard it as vague or not.

    Even if the goals of BDS were not sought prominently in the maximalist form, I would still oppose BDS as method.

    I have close friends that do support BDS towards settlement goods. I personally don’t find out what are settlement goods from not. I assume that they don’t comprise even an incidental part of what I buy.

    As, I’ve said MANY times, I find the cultural and academic boycott effort to be suppressive rather than liberatory, and utterly counter-productive. I believe that MORE engagement is needed. We don’t need an additional conspirator to the wall, to divide the communities.

    • Shingo
      August 27, 2011, 4:58 pm

      Too many of the proponents of BDS extend their objectives far beyond ending the occupation, to the elimination of Israel.

      Bullshit. You’re lying as always. You do nothing but lie and lie and lie about BDS because you cannot admit that the only reason you oppose BDS is that it targets Israel. 

      I dare you to name one proponent that advocates the elimination of Israel and that they have any mandate to use BDS to achieve it.

      You’ve been caught lying about this topic repeatedly.  I don’t know why I waste my time even arguing with you .

      It IS vague, whether you regard it as vague or not.

      No it’s not Witty, which is why you refuse to cite the declared aims if BDS and keep referring to what you “hear” about it.

      Even if the goals of BDS were not sought prominently in the maximalist form, I would still oppose BDS as method.

      We know that Witty. You would oppose any punitive measures towards Israel even if Israel nuked Europe.

      You oppose anything that brings any accountability to Israel, because as a closet Likudnik, your support for Israel is unconditional – right or wrong.

      As, I’ve said MANY times, I find the cultural and academic boycott effort to be suppressive rather than liberatory,and utterly counter-productive.

      Yes Witty, we know in your sick and deranged mind, the only punitive measures you would ever accept are those that are not punitive.

      We don’t need an additional conspirator to the wall, to divide the communities.

      What is needed far more severe measures against Israel.  The US has engaged Israel and spoiled it rotten for 4 decades.

      As Martin Indyk pointed out, indulging Israel has not achieved anything – in fact it has simply convinced Israel that it does not breed to be make peace.

      BTW Witty, seeing as you challenged Phil to address Walt’s argument that Cast Lead and Eilat were morally bankrupt, do you accept Walt’s position that Cast Lead was morally bankrupt?

      • Richard Witty
        August 27, 2011, 8:16 pm

        “do you accept Walt’s position that Cast Lead was morally bankrupt”

        If he means that the extent of Cast Lead was morally bankrupt, then we mostly agree. If he means that any substantive military response to Hamas and factions’ shelling of Israeli civilians was morally bankrupt, then we grossly disagree.

        Which do you think he meant?

      • Shingo
        August 27, 2011, 9:19 pm

        If he means that the extent of Cast Lead was morally bankrupt, then we mostly agree.

        You grow more pathetic by the day Witty. You’re always happy to throw mud at Phil, but skulk away like a sleazy rodent as soon as the tables are turned on you.

        When you challenged Phil with Walt’s statement, you offered no such qualificatiers or specifics, so you apparently had a good idea of what Walt meant at the time.

        Was Cast Lead morally bankrupt or not Witty?

        Yes or no? Stop being a coward and answer the fucking question. Otehrwise, apologise to Phil for being out of line.

  7. beeb0
    August 27, 2011, 8:03 pm

    you concede the need for J-Street to be tactical, but can’t stomach it to see them actually using tactics?

  8. Pat Carmeli
    August 28, 2011, 2:43 pm

    @beebo
    I never said I couldn’t stomach J Street’s tactical approach to a resolution. I simply said I was surprised and disheartened by the fact that Harris hadn’t expressed any feeling of remorse on the side of the Palestinians. I’d hate to think that their tactical approach would deny Palestinian human rights.

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