J Street the new Israel lobby in the USA held their first conference last week. The Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren declined to attend but the Obama administration was well represented by the President’s National Security Adviser James Jones. J Street has raised much ire amongst many in the Jewish community. The reason is simple J Street is a left wing organization that is happy to criticize the Israeli government and lobby the United States Government for what they perceive to be in Israel’s interests.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is the long standing and very powerful Israel lobby in Washington whose policy is to never criticize Israel and always lobby for whatever is the policy of the current Israeli government. This is one of the reasons I find it so difficult to support AIPAC. They supported and lobbied on behalf of Israel when it was carrying out some of the most foolish and suicidal policies in its young history. They supported Israel when it signed the Oslo Accords which brought the arch terrorist Yasser Arafat within a few miles of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. They also supported Ariel Sharon when he forced Jews out of their homes in Gush Katif.
Herein is the problem. In general one may say that there are two views of how Israel should act with regard peace. J Street promotes itself as a pro-Israel, pro-peace movement. But the notion that there are some supporters of Israel who don’t want peace is ludicrous. It is only the method of achieving peace that we disagree on. J Street and people that subscribe to their ideology think that peace can be achieved through dialogue and diplomacy alone. Their logic goes like this: if only Israel would be nice and, instead of needlessly harassing and mistreating the Palestinians, give them a state of their own there would be peace.
Clearly there is not a solely military solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. However, there is not a exclusively diplomatic solution either. Israel must be allowed to fully defend herself when needed. And the concept that giving up territory—either through negotiations or unilaterally—will bring peace has been thoroughly discredited.
Dangerous to Jews and to Israel
This argument is age old and as with most things the truth lies somewhere in the middle. The Kabbalists tell us our forefather Abraham represented the concept of unrelenting kindness. In our prayers we talk about having a shield (Magen) of Abraham. The Kabbalists interpret this to mean that we need a shield for unremitting kindness because it will be benevolent to causes and people that need to be restrained and dealt with harshly. This is why ultimately, in the view of the Kabbalists, Jacob was most the most successful of the three forefathers; he was the ultimate middle ground between unadulterated kindness and extreme severity. He was kind when it was appropriate and simultaneously had no problem being harsh when needed as well.
In a similar way only a very powerful Israel that is unafraid to use its full military might, when necessary, will be able to negotiate a fair settlement and solution with its neighbors. Conversely a week Israel that seems desperate for peace and is reluctant to properly defend herself and therefore ignoring the terrorism, the fascism and anti-Semitism of the likes of Hamas and the PA, will never be in a position to bring peace.
But amongst Jews opinions regarding Israel are polarized. While AIPAC was supporting the disengagement from Gaza I and people that share my ideology become disillusioned with them. They did not represent my views at all. Now, however, that AIPAC is supporting the policies of Benjamin Netanyahu, who does not ascribe to the notion that the creation of a Palestinian State is the answer to all of the world’s problems, J Street and their supporters are disillusioned and in response have started an alternative lobbying group that more closely represents their views.
There will always be a place for AIPAC as an organization that supports the policies of any and all Israel governments without asking any questions. But now J Street has changed the rules of engagement—the pro-Israel movement in the United States has been irrevocably split. I agree that J Street is in many ways dangerous to Jews and to Israel. But instead of wringing our hands at the damage they are currently doing and that they inevitably will continue to do real action must be taken.
Here is what needs to occur. An alternative pro-Israel, pro-peace organization must be founded that takes the more pragmatic approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict one that balances the need for a strong and unapologetic Israel with an urgent diplomatic search for peace that does not need to include the surrender of our Holy Land. Such an organization will reenergize millions of American Jews to support Israel and it will show that whilst the vast majority of American Jews are pro-peace they vehemently disagree with the appeasement ideology of J Street. The birth of this organization is long overdue.
Rabbi Levi Brackman is author of Jewish Wisdom for Business Success: Lesson from the Torah and Other Ancient Texts