Which Side Are You On, J Street?

Alex Kane May 1, 2010

A couple of news items relating to the self-described “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobby J Street over the past few weeks have shown that it’s siding with the wrong people if it is honestly interested in a just and lasting solution to the situation in Israel/Palestine.

On one hand, you have Jeremy Ben-Ami, the executive director of J Street, taking down Alan Dershowitz in a running debate on the Huffington Post. But actions speak louder than words, and J Street’s actions have aligned the group with right-wing apologists for Israel.

J Street allied itself with the Anti-Defamation League, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and Israel’s consul general in San Francisco to successfully beat back the UC Berkeley resolution calling for divestment from companies that supply weapons to Israel for use in the occupied territories. J Street’s support of that effort was harshly criticized by some Israeli activists, who said the lobby group was “trying to gain political capital at the expense of dedicated peace activists.”

J Street is deeply concerned about preserving Israel’s “Jewish and democratic” character. But by supporting the likes of AIPAC in opposing the efforts of boycott, divestment and sanctions activists, it’s actually making the two-state solution obsolete. If Israel doesn’t suffer any consequences for its colonization—something that AIPAC and the rest of the Israel lobby have been very successful at ensuring—then it is on a path to “national suicide,” as John Mearsheimer put it. What’s J Street going to say when nobody can deny that Israel is an apartheid state? Will it continue to ally itself with AIPAC, or will it be on the side of justice?

In a April 25th interview with Haaretz (h/t to Richard Silverstein), Ben-Ami expressed “deep respect for AIPAC and what they’ve accomplished. It’s hard not to be impressed over what they have done over many decades to establish such a deep US-Israel relationship.” Take that in. Is Ben-Ami really saying that he has deep respect for AIPAC muzzling open debate in the United States about Israel, ensuring that billions of dollars keep flowing to Israel with no strings attached, even when war crimes are committed?

After being left out in the cold by the Netanyahu government, it seems like J Street is being brought in. Its officials met with Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren recently, and are now being recruited by the Netanyahu administration for the “front against Iran,” according to an Israeli media report that Didi Remez posted.

All of these news items cut to the core of J Street’s problem: how can you be “pro-Israel” and “pro-peace” at a time when supporting Israel means supporting colonization, racism, and war crimes?

How will history view J Street 20 years from now? The group has to choose between being AIPAC-lite, in effect a supporter of apartheid, or a group dedicated to justice. I urge the organization to pick justice.

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