The Launch of J Street, the New Pro-Peace, Pro-Israel Lobby | April 16, 2008

Thanx to Media Matters for this information:

Spencer Ackerman, writing for The Washington Independent, here, covers the launch of J Street, the new pro-peace, pro-Israel lobby and explains:

Two young, leading liberal Jews — the former Clinton administration domestic policy adviser Jeremy Ben-Ami and the former Israeli peace negotiator Daniel Levy — [unveiled] the first-ever political action committee dedicated to promoting political candidates in the United States who support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Known as the J Street Project, the effort intends to raise millions of dollars even at this late date in the 2008 election cycle.

It has an even grander ambition: to reframe the terms of the debate over what it means for America to support Israel, and recast them in a progressive direction. Currently, support for Israel is often seen as backing Israeli militarism against its Arab adversaries; liberal Jews believe that the only lasting security for an Israeli democracy is through a negotiated peace. But “our side gets cowed into silence,” said Ben-Ami, a former policy director for Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign. “They’re afraid to say, ‘No, we are more pro-Israel than you, our path is better.”

That side is, in Ben-Ami’s telling, the “substantial group” of American Jews who identify as liberal — and who identify with the Jewish state. Their contention is that after 40 years of Israeli military occupation of the West Bank, and the subsequent demographic threat to Jewish democracy posed by the population growth rate among Palestinians who live under Israeli control, the real threat to Israel is not the creation of a Palestinian state, but its absence.

According to this new group, the proper role for Washington is to broker actively the birth of an independent Palestine and settle the conflict — something it identifies as a first-order national interest for a U.S. in the war on terrorism. The Israeli occupation of Palestine, supported by the United States, is regularly cited as a catalytic driver of anti-Americanism throughout the Middle East, exploited by jihadist demagogues for radicalization and terrorist recruitment.

An irony of the American-Israeli relationship is that, while J Street’s perspective is controversial in the U.S., it commands a good deal of support in Israel. “We’ve been dealing with this in Israel since the late 80s and the 90s, from [assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin to the Kadima phenomenon,” said Levy, who negotiated peace accords for multiple left-wing Israeli governments. “If you understand security only as the war on terror and you’re not dealing with the occupation, you’ll never solve the problem. That fundamental change [in perspective] never took place here. We want to be a catalyst in closing that gap.”

According to J Street’s mission statement, the organization “represents Americans, primarily but not exclusively Jewish, who support Israel and its desire for security as the Jewish homeland, as well as the right of the Palestinians to a sovereign state of their own — two states living side-by-side in peace and security. We believe ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in the best interests of Israel, the United States, the Palestinians and the region as a whole.”


J Street’s founding principles include a negotiated settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; an “enduring relationship between the U.S. and Israel that promotes their common interests” and that recognizes “Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people;” a multilateral approach to U.S. policy-making in the Middle East; and the negotiated creation of a “viable Palestinian state.” Its advisory council includes prominent American Jewish political, business, religious, academic, media and cultural leaders, including Stride-Rite corporation founder Arnold Hiatt, ex-state department official Morton Halperin and American Jewish University rector Rabbi Elliot Dorff. Additionally, 20 prominent Israelis, including former top officials of the Shin Bet, Mossad and the foreign ministry, have signed a letter supporting J Street.


Levy and Ben-Ami insist that they’re not working in opposition to AIPAC specifically. But they feel that the terms of the debate over Israel set, in part, by AIPAC, end up alienating many pro-Israel American Jews. “A not-insignificant constituency says, ‘I care about Israel, but wait a minute: I have to support [evangelical conservative pastor] John Hagee, and this administration’s crazy neo-con agenda, and Doug Feith, and Ann Coulter, and Fox News? And my alternative to that is being anti-Israel?'” said Levy, who served as a peace negotiator in the Rabin and Barak Israeli governments, as well as an aide to dovish Israeli politician Yossi Beilin.

Levy’s contention is that that cohort of liberal American Jews — a breakaway 45 percent plurality, according to the American Jewish Committee’s 2007 study — instead believe that “My Jewish values and my universal values tell me that Israel should be secure, but doesn’t need to be in an occupation” of Palestinian territory.

You can read more about them and watch a video, here.

Original article source action@mediamatters.org

Posted in Middle East

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