Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, with Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo: Tim Boxer)
The recent Jerusalem gathering that brought members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations together made clear that the Jewish establishment has rallied around Benjamin Netanyahu’s war footing on Iran. But J Street, the liberal Zionist lobby group, has bucked the establishment’s line on Iran--so much so that the conference’s executive vice president, Malcolm Hoenlein, is on the warpath against the group, seeking to make its Iran position beyond the pale.
Israeli journalist Larry Derfner’s eye-opening report in +972 Magazine exposed the rotten core of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, an umbrella group encompassing organized Judaism’s most prominent organizations--52 in total, including Americans for Peace Now. Derfner reports on a panel discussion on Iran that took place during the gathering:
The best question came from from Rabbi Basil Herring, executive vice president of the (Orthodox) Rabbinical Council of America. Noting the difficulty in destroying Iran’s underground nuclear installations, Herring asked if Israel would consider “the use of tactical nuclear weapons in areas that aren’t so populated, or in the open desert? To show the Iranians that their lives are on the line, that Israel won’t go quietly?”
One of the very few liberals in the group told me he knew of three organizational leaders who sounded like they wanted to use tactical nuclear weapons on Iran “right now.” A number of them think Netanyahu is being too soft on the Iranians. As a whole, he said, the visitors were a little shocked at all the relatively dovish talk they were hearing from some of the Israelis on these panels.
J Street’s position is far removed from this hysterical and damaging war posture. While the group has advocated for punitive sanctions on Iran, which has had deleterious consequences for Iranian civilians, they are now pushing back hard against a potential Iran war.
J Street is currently promoting a Congressional letter authored by Reps. Keith Ellison, a progressive Democrat from Minnesota, and Walter Jones, a Republican from North Carolina. J Street states:
As the drumbeat for war with Iran grows louder veteran diplomats are straining to be heard, urging as Ambassadors Thomas Pickering and William Luers did in the New York Times, a robust, new diplomatic initiative.
Thankfully, some elected officials are listening, anxious to avoid yet another Middle East war. Representatives Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Walter Jones (R-NC) are seeking their colleagues' signatures on a thoughtful letter to the President that supports both sanctions and pressure on Iran as well as a robust diplomatic initiative.
Although they praise sanctions on Iran, the Ellison-Jones letter (pdf) also strongly urges “diplomatic efforts” in order to head off a war.
J Street’s promotion of the letter can be considered a clarion call for sanity in a mainstream debate operating under the assumption that Israel faces an “existential threat” from Iran. But it also opens up a crack in the Jewish community--a crack that Hoenlein is afraid of.
We recently reported on comments that Hoenlein made to an Israeli magazine about J Street. Hoenlein said, “when you criticize the government of Israel, you have to consider the consequences.” He also ominously warned that “sadly, when we are divided, history records we have paid a heavy price”--clearly a reference to the Holocaust and a shot across the bow at J Street. Hoenlein similarly blasted J Street’s efforts in a video interview with the settler news website Arutz Sheva, calling the organization “irresponsible” and “out of step.”
So it’s clear that Hoenlein wants to rally the troops for a potential war with Iran. But J Street remains in the way, and Hoenlein wants to marginalize that way of thinking.