Philip Giraldi on Antiwar.com produced an excellent article on J Street, the new “pro-Israel, pro-peace” alternative to AIPAC, which last month held its inaugural conference in Washington. [ "My Problem with J Street"]
The organization’s name, J Street, a lettered street which does not exist in Washington, DC, is presumably an effort to identify with K Street, which is considered the central location for lobbying firms in Washington, with the “J” presumably standing for “Jewish,” since “J” is not the only unused letter for Washington street names.
J Street has been excoriated by the neocons and other hardline Zionist rightists as being anti-Israel, while it has been hailed as a great hope for the future by many proponents of a more balanced, less pro-Israel, American policy in the Middle East. Giraldi, however, stands virtually alone in seeing things in a much different light. To him, J Street is “just another Israel advocacy group with a slightly more progressive and politically correct and therefore acceptable message.” In short, with its moderate, pro-peace image, J Street can more effectively promote the policies of the Israeli government, to the detriment of the Palestinians and the United States.
Giraldi shows that, on crucial issues, there is not much substantive difference between J Street and AIPAC. He writes that the “the two pro-Israel lobbies clearly have the same overriding objective: to preserve unlimited American support for the state of Israel, not advancing the interests of the United States.” Specifically, J Street holds that the U.S. “should continue indefinitely in its role as Israel’s patron, security guarantor, and financial supporter.” The new lobby rules out the idea that American aid to Israel should be conditioned on Israeli concessions for peace.
Giraldi points out that, like AIPAC, J Street accepts the exclusivist Jewish state instead of “equal rights for all citizens.” J Street’s executive director, Jeremy Ben-Ami. castigates Mearsheimer and Walt’s portrayal of a powerful Israel Lobby as anti-Semitic. Ben-Ami also rejects the UN-sponsored Goldstone report’s critical depiction of Israeli war crimes in the December 2008—January 2009 incursion into Gaza, which was endorsed by the overwhelming majority of countries of the world. Moreover, J Street differs but slightly with AIPAC on Iran. If diplomacy and UN Sanctions fail to bring concessions, J Street advocates the strong sanctions advocated in the U.S. House of Representatives bill on Iran, which, Giraldi points out, “is basically an act of war requiring intervention by the US Navy and would devastate the Iranian economy.”
There is also one other J Street position that completely undermines its image as pro-peace. J Street specifically talks about incorporating the major West Bank Jewish settlements into Israel, instead of having Israel return to its 1967 borders. In short, there is no evidence that J Street is willing to support any type of Palestinian “state” that differs in any significant way from what Israeli governments have proposed in the past, which essentially is a non-viable state that is, understandably, completely unacceptable to the Palestinian people.
So what is J Street’s likely impact? As suggested earlier, it provides a liberal façade for Israeli “peace” terms, thus garnering greater support from progressives in the United States and around the world. The fact that the Zionist Right would likely be yelling appeasement and condemning J Street as a bunch of “self-haters” would do even more to bolster any Israeli peace proposal endorsed by J Street. Conversely, any Palestinian rejection of such “liberal” peace terms supported by J Street would provide greater justification for their demonization and harsh treatment by the Israeli government.
Street also creates a shield to protect Israel and all of its supporters, including hard-line rightists, from truthful criticism. Because of its public image as fair-minded, J Street can implicitly set strict limits for allowable criticism of Israel and its American supporters. Any criticism going beyond this, no matter how accurate--which would include the charge that the Israel Lobby dominates American Middle East policy--would be considered unacceptable, and undoubtedly J Streeters would play a key role as gatekeepers. Prominent J Streeter Michelle Goldberg recently attacked my book, “The Transparent Cabal,” as an example of “subtle” anti-Semitism. Like Ben-Ami, she also expressed a negative view of Mearsheimer and Walt.
Giraldi appropriately questions “why there should exist a lobby operating in Washington consisting of American citizens promoting the interests of a foreign country,” which is so contrary to the thinking of America’s founders. In a follow-up article, Giraldi proposes the creation of a pro-American foreign policy lobby that “would be the modern embodiment of George Washington’s warning to steer clear of foreign involvements and to be a friend to all,” which he dubs X Street.
It must be pointed out that George Washington in his famous “Farewell Address” realized that there were Americans who were “passionately attached” to foreign countries, and that at some future date their agenda would be, to some extent, implemented, though he hoped that his warning could serve to mitigate the harm that this would do to the United States.
In short, there is nothing odd in American Jews’ having what Washington termed a “passionate attachment” to the Jewish state. What is odd, however, is that so many educated gentiles in the United States would look to Jews to correct US foreign policy where Israeli interests are involved. There seems to be an implicit assumption by many American gentiles that, because of historical discrimination against Jews, only Jews have the moral right to criticize the policies of the state of Israel and, even among those in whom this assumption does not prevail, there exists an overriding fear that for gentiles to criticize the state of Israel would bring on the lethal charge of anti-Semitism.
So in large measure, the problem is not with American Jews but with American gentiles. Undoubtedly, some American Jews have made telling criticisms of the policies of Israel, but American gentiles cannot afford to simply wait for the right Jews to rectify America’s one-sided policy in the Middle East. Matters in that region are so serious and so fraught with incalculable peril for the United States and for the world as to make this passivity unconscionable. Rather, American gentiles themselves must dare to step forward and speak out. The purpose is not to condemn Israel or its American supporters, but simply to tell the truth. The peace and security of the United States and the world depend on it.