The J Street Project, or "Yes, Virginia, you can be pro-Israel and progressive"

By Martin Bosworth

I’m Jewish. You don’t hear me blog about this much for a variety of reasons, one of the major ones being that you are then inevitably asked to take a stand on Israel–as if such a thing even needed to be discussed, like Marx’s odious asking of “The Jewish Question.”

My faith influences my thinking in a lot of ways, but it is not the sole arbiter of my thinking, and I don’t feel that I have to travel in lockstep with what any other Jew thinks–certainly not about Israel, which has every right to exist as a sovereign state, yet commits indefensible acts against peoples it (rightly or wrongly) perceives as implacable foes. As such, people like myself stay out of the debate, allowing it to be usurped and dominated by a cabal of crazy ultrahawkish right-wing Zionists who claim that anything short of total annihilation of Palestine will end with, as my father says, “the Jews being driven into the sea.”

Thankfully, there’s an alternative coming around, and it is called J Street.

The project, organized by a veritable “Who’s who” of Jewish liberals, promises to both reframe the debate on the lobbying level and actually push money towards candidates with a more progressive approach to Israeli/Arab politics:

“The genesis of this is really the frustration on the part of a very substantial portion of the American Jewish community that despite the fact that there is broad support for a peace-oriented policy in the Middle East, there doesn’t seem to be the political will to actually carry it out,” Ben-Ami said. “We have not been effective at transmitting the message that there is political support for these positions in the American Jewish community and their allies.”

Another article on J Street from the Washington Independent’s Spencer Ackerman catches a very smart point about the differences between America and Israel on this issue:

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.”

This is absolutely correct. Safe from viewing the brutalities of occupation close-up, the armchair generals and quarterbacks of AIPAC and their allies in established media outlets can safely call for the eradication of Arabs as an ethnicity and culture, without even blinking at the irony of this coming from a bunch of those goddamned Jewish New York Liberals ™. As if it wasn’t less than seventy years ago that we were being gassed to death by the millions and buried in ditches by the hundreds.
Don’t forget that many equally insane fundamentalist evangelical Christians have every desire to see a great war begin in the Middle East, as it heralds for them the start of the return of Jesus and the great Armageddon that will send them rising on waves of rapture into Heaven. Think I’m kidding?:

At a dinner addressed by the Israeli ambassador, a handful of Republican senators and the chairman of the Republican Party, Mr. Hagee read greetings from President Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel and dispatched the crowd with a message for their representatives in Congress. Tell them “to let Israel do their job” of destroying the Lebanese militia, Hezbollah, Mr. Hagee said.

He called the conflict “a battle between good and evil” and said support for Israel was “God’s foreign policy.”

Wow, that Hagee sounds like a real nut. Good thing he isn’t in bed with any of the current Presidential candidates.

Seriously, we have let these lunatics dominate the discussion of Israeli/Palestinian affairs for longer than I have been alive, and that has to end. You can’t expect any kind of peace or rapprochment to come from these people–they’re too far gone. It’s time for the debate to be realigned. As Matt Stoller so succinctly put it:

It’s a significant moment for progressive Jews who have previously not had our voices represented in the foreign policy realm, drowned out by right-wingers intent on the most hawkish policies out there. I am pro-Israel, I believe that respect for the Palestinians is the only way to build a sustainable living space for the Israeli populace to live in peace.

In less than two weeks, it will be Yom Hashoah. As we take time to remember those lost to the greatest act of villainy in human memory, I am happy to see many of my fellow Jews taking a step into the future and not letting the dogma of the past dictate their actions. I’ll be doing my part to take those steps with them.

5 replies »

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  2. Good piece, Martin. I’m surprised you haven’t gotten more comments. Maybe it’s because the subject is so controversial and even a hint that the Israeli government isn’t the soul of perfection from a goy like me can lead to charges of antisemitism. I’ve often wondered about that. How is it that critiicism of a country’s policy can lead to a general charge of prejudice against an entire group that happens to live in that country?

    Anyway, those who know me well have heard me say more than once that a state that is in a perpetual war will eventually lose. That’s just the odds. Long-term survival depends on having neighbors who don’t want to kill you. The right-wing in Israel will never be convinced, because they feel it’s a sacrilege to give up one square meter of land granted them by Yahweh.

    Ultimately, I think Israel can make this work, but only by withdrawing settlers from the West Bank and giving it to the Palestinians as a homeland. How they will do that, when it seems that many of the governments there insist on actually building new Israeli housing in the West Bank, it a mystery to me.

  3. Ditto, Martin. Well done. Another of your “Gee, I didn’t know that” pieces. Thanks.

  4. I’ll echo JSO with a quote from Jim Lobe‘s piece on the subject:

    “There is no way that Israel as a Sparta is going to be in the interests of the Israeli or American people,” noted Sam Lewis, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel who helped negotiate the 1978 Camp David Accords with Egypt under the Jimmy Carter administration.

    I like their name — instead of K Street (boulevard of the lobbyists), J for Jewish, I guess.