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J Street and the question of the pro-Israel tent

At the Presidential Conference in Jerusalem, a panel called Thin Ice – Criticism vs. Loyalty in Israel-Diaspora Relations included reporter Shmuel Rosner as moderator. Participants were Jeremy Ben-Ami, Executive Director and founder of JStreet; Danny Dayan, Chairman of the Yesha (Judea and Samaria) Council; Dr. Fania Oz-Salzberger, professor of history in Monash University, Melbourne and in the Faculty of Law at Haifa University; Dr. Diana Pinto, a French historian; and, Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, President, Union for Reform Judaism.

The discussion focused for natural reasons on J Street and its activities. Jeremy Ben Ami, as expected, labeled his group “pro-Israel” and indicated that there is nothing wrong with, and in fact it is an important and friendly act, to warn Israel about the iceberg it may be about to hit. Later in the conversation he indicated that part of what was driving his group was their desire as Americans to ensure that America benefits from wise policy regarding the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Sitting next to Ben Ami was his ideological opposite. Danny Dayan. While J Street has been vociferous in its attacks on settlements – and they include eastern Jerusalem in this equation – Dayan chairs the Yesha Council and tries endlessly to show anybody who will listen that “settlers” are normal people living normal lives. Dayan spent his opening remarks claiming that certain rules exist for those wishing to call themselves “pro-Israel.” He then proceeded to list a set of rules which would remove an organization from the “pro-Israel” side of the aisle. Every “rule” consisted of something JStreet has done.

Dr. Fania Oz-Salzberger charmed everyone with a Jewish Martian joke and proceeded to make the most judicious claim of the event. She commented that it is her right to criticize Israel. However, outside of Israel, those who criticize Israel in public forums, she added, should use judiciousness and be wise about how they express themselves lest they inadvertently end up providing support and fodder to those who truly seek harm Israel.

Dr. Diana Pinto pointed out that she was the only panel member who lives in Europe and defended her right to be cirtical of Israel. She said it was her right and duty to criticize and her benchmark is Ha’aretz. If something is published in Ha’aretz, she added, then it’s not anti-Semitic and certainly she can say it. She added that it was critical that Jews recognized that when they criticize Europeans aggressively, they often make friends into enemies. The nature of the attacks, she said, should be reconsidered because very often remarks that were made in friendship or even remarks that are being said regularly by the Israeli Left, receive scrutiny and criticism when a European non-Jew says them that will often severely harm relations with the person or group. She later said that similarly, Israelis and their supporters need to recognize that it is foolish to attack concepts related “human rights” because there is a sense that Israel is often unfairly maligned by people using the idea of human rights to protest Israeli actions. She reminded that for better or for worse, even if some ideas are used cynically against Israel, the framework of human rights is a valuable one and it is critical that Jews and Israelis support them with an eye to the future when they may be depended upon them again, but also because they are a moral framework.

The final speaker was Rabbi Yoffie who spoke about the great variety of Jewish groups in the Diasporah and how we tend to play a game that is somewhat untruthful. When an Israeli right wing government is in power, Right wing American Jews show it great loyalty while the opposite is true when the Left is in power. He added that even though a plurality of voices is important, there are red lines when it comes to criticizing Israel. For example, making excuses for Israle’s enemies is crossing a red line. So is denying or undermining Israel as Jewish.

An interesting session, it was at times a dialogue between JStreet and Yesha Council, and perhaps as a result didn’t quite address broader questions of what is pro-Israel and what isn’t. What was clear, however, is that the Jewish groups and critics that criticize Israel feel extremely comfortable doing so and have no plans to change tack.

21 Comments

  1. Independent Patriot

    6/22/2011 at 9:35 am

    Of course these critics will not change tact. They have a self-righteous view of the world, that they can never be wrong. Their world view entitles them to say and do as they please since they view themselves as above the rest of humanity in thought and deed.Hubris coupled with a vainglorious ego is what drives these critics. They care nothing for Israel nor the fact that they may be aiding in Israel’s delegitimization world-wide. Their perception of the world is narcissistic and self-centered.

  2. paul jeser

    6/22/2011 at 10:11 am

    When JStreet asked the US administration NOT to veto the UN resolution condemning Israel they lost the right to be called pro-Israel. They should have not been invited to this conference.

    Any Jew who wants to publically criticize Israel must move to Israel, pays Israeli taxes, serves in the IDF. Criticizing Israel from his/her comfortable and secure armchair in the diaspora is morally wrong.

    • rabbiyonah

      6/22/2011 at 2:46 pm

      Well said.

      JStreet has been trying to repair that massive error ever since. I remain unconvinced as do many other people that J Street is really about Israel’s best interests. It seems that JStreet is more about American Jews feeling better about themselves.

  3. AlexK

    6/22/2011 at 10:40 am

    To put it plainly… F*** JStreet.

    • Steve

      6/23/2011 at 5:39 pm

      AlexK – You took the word right out of my mouth.

  4. Marjoriemoon

    6/22/2011 at 11:38 am

    This spoke to me, “Dr. Fania Oz-Salzberger charmed everyone with an Jewish Martian joke and proceeded to make the most judicious claim of the event. She commented that it is her right to criticize Israel. However, outside of Israel, those who criticize Israel in public forums, she added, should use judiciousness and be wise about how they express themselves lest they inadvertently end up providing support and fodder to those who truly seek harm Israel.”

    I was upset yesterday at the criticism of Sarah Silverman on Twitter and a number of Jews (I’m guessing they’re Jewish but who knows) were upset with me. They didn’t get that we have to be really careful who hears our own criticism and how we say it.

  5. AlexK

    6/22/2011 at 2:02 pm

    Marjorie, I was one of the people on twitter criticizing Sarah Silverman and whomever thought she’d be a good idea to have involved in this event. While I understand Fania’s and your point about being careful where we air our dirty laundry (in regards to Israel) and I agree, criticizing specific people and specifically Jews is entirely different than a nation or people as a whole. I am more than happy to let every Gentile in this world that I, as another Jew, do not agree with nor respect Sarah, and that she speaks for herself and her fans and not for all of us.

    Lastly, I’m surprised she wasn’t booed off stage. Based on polls in Israel, Obama is considered extremely unpopular and Sarah happens to be one of his biggest cheerleaders in Israel and in the US. Surprising she isn’t being held accountable for being a mouthpiece for one of the most anti-Israeli US presidents in history. Not to mention her continuous insults against conservatives and other Jews like me.

  6. Marjoriemoon

    6/22/2011 at 10:39 pm

    Hi Alex: Actually, I’m not a Sarah fan. I don’t have particularly strong feelings about her either way, but regardless, I think this conference is really important on so many levels and we should save our criticisms for another day. Her presence was more for humor anyway, rather than serious philosophical discussion. She has a style and maybe there were other comedians more appropriate. But she went. I know little about her, but I know enough to know she loves the country, because she went and wanted to be a part of it. At a time when Israel faces boycotting by celebs, you can give her that, no?

    The comment I saw was “[Sarah] has never been funny. Horrible for Jewish cause. Hopefully young Jews will not be influenced by her.” Horrible for Jewish cause? Who gets to decide that? Are we not a diverse group with no one thought, political leaning, from various countries and backgrounds? I thought it rude. Yea, I know. Internet, rude, pretty much a given.

    • AlexK

      6/23/2011 at 6:04 pm

      Marjorie, while I respect your opinion, I disagree. I can’t give her that. She’s a Jew? Yes. She loves the country? Great. Only dumb, evil, narcissistic, self-hating Jews don’t, so it’s not a big deal that a Jew loves Israel. The problem is, she’s an incredibly divisive and controversial figure here. She has insulted people like me, also lovers of Israel, personally, and I don’t ever hold back criticism from someone whom attacks me or my way of life. Her being Jewish at that point has no relevance to me. Out of all the Israel loving Jewish comedians out there, they couldn’t find one less political, pompous, intelligent, and more of a uniter than her?

      And I’m sure even the world’s most self-hating Jews, the harshest critics of Israel feel that they can determine what’s best for the Jews and who is a good Jew or not, so I agree with you there. But the road to hell is paved with intentions, so despite what those are, each of us is able to determine in our opinion who is good for Judaism and Israel. Unfortunately, we won’t know for years to come who was right or not. The Commie bastards in the USSR who killed millions, including our people, were at one point heavily comprised of Jews with great intentions, but we are able to see today, that they were definitely NOT good for the Jews or Judaism. I feel the same about today’s critics as I do about them and I feel confident in my soul, that based on my understanding of history and humanity that I am correct in my assertions.

      So I will call out bad Jews when I see them and praise good Jews as well. What I won’t do is allow a dumb celebrity who’s most famous contributions to society involve fart jokes and helping a mamzer with anti-semites all up in his grill like Obama get elected, speak for me as a Jew.

      The extent of my belief in the vague mythology of “the common good” goes as far as refraining from criticizing Israel in public myself, even when I feel it deserves it, because there will always be little pricks like the JStreet punks to do it full time. I’m a non-objective supporter and lover of Israel and am perfectly fine with my choices and opinions. 🙂

  7. ugh

    6/23/2011 at 1:26 am

    I don’t think we need a litmus test to oppose Isreali policy… but in the case of a Peace Now, a Tikkun, the “post-Zionists”, or for a J-Street, to bill themselves as PRO Israel is a sham. It’s a dishonest attempt to control both sides of the discourse. Taking on major elements of Israel’s enemies platform, and rebranding them, claiming they’re positive Pro-Israel initiatives in the best interest of Israel nationalism, is political subversion. Israel is a centrist country with room to evolve, but these groups stifle, and undermine that. Hell, that’s what J-Street was created for.

    • AlexK

      6/23/2011 at 6:07 pm

      Like!

  8. Yisrael Medad

    6/23/2011 at 7:38 am

    As for Fania’s (Amos Oz’s daughter) joke, she claimed it was new. Quite wrong. I wasn’t charmed. A better version has been around for close to 30 years, that I know.

    The two astronauts from Earth on Mars seek to speak to the little green creatures but despite using all the known languages, binary and computer languages and whatnot, no dialogue occurs. Frustrated, on guy says to his buddy, “wait. fire is the basis of all civilization, right? i’ll light a flame and they will definitely say something to describe it and we can start from there.”

    He does and the little green men go crazy. The two turn up their headsets for better reception and all they hear is “Shabbes! Shabbes!”

  9. themicah

    6/23/2011 at 10:48 am

    [O]utside of Israel, those who criticize Israel in public forums … should use judiciousness and be wise about how they express themselves lest they inadvertently end up providing support and fodder to those who truly seek harm Israel.

    The problem of course is that the definition of “judicious” varies depending on who you ask. Rabbi Yoffie has his “red lines,” which I’m sure are far beyond the lines most of the commenters here would draw. I think Ben Ami would acknowledge that they flirt with the limits of judiciousness, but he clearly believes they don’t cross the line as he sees it.

  10. Charles

    6/23/2011 at 1:24 pm

    Settlers talking about what is ‘out of bounds’ for Israel…. too funny. Here’s what is the very definition of ‘out of bounds’: SETTLEMENTS. SETTERS. Violent, war-mongering, racist enemies of the state of Israel. Crossing the Green Line, expropriating Palestinian land, getting fat on subsidies, extracting ‘price tags’ on Palestinians, and in all other ways making the State of Israel synonymous with their actions.

    You won’t hear that from Jeremy Ben-Ami of course. J Street is a cautious, moderate voice looking out for the future of Israel, and needs to play by the rules. But damn, that iceberg Israel is hitting sure is big and jagged.

    • ugh

      6/23/2011 at 2:49 pm

      Jstreet are the farthest thing from moderate. They’re Soros funded parrots like all the other Anti-Israel dog and pony shows.

      The Palestinian leadership doesn’t distinguish between a Settler and an Israeli. Their goals don’t distinguish between a Jewish State and disputed territory, or between 1967, and 1947. All of that is a false framework to distract from the very fact that Arabs and Jews are the victims of a genocidal program started by the Mufti Al-Husayni, the Nazi Party, the Muslim Brotherhood, the PLO, and their collaborators.

      • LM

        6/23/2011 at 5:00 pm

        wow — That is quite a Glenn Beck-ian conspiracy theory you’ve got there. Although I find it difficult to believe in non-chalk board format.

        • AlexK

          6/23/2011 at 5:41 pm

          LM, apparently your knowledge of history is sorely lacking.

        • ugh

          6/23/2011 at 9:28 pm

          LM…. What are you calling a conspiracy?

          1) That Jstreet is funded by Soros?
          http://jstreet.org/blog/explanation-of-george-soros-j-street-funding/

          2) That representatives of virtually every Palestinian Arab faction have called Tel Aviv occupied, and the map of “Palestine” on Fatah, and Hamas own literature, websites, classrooms, is the entirety of Israel?

          3) That the The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem initiated pogroms, opposed Jewish immigration to the Holy Land, and gave birth to supremacist Pan-Islamic militant groups across the region, inspiring them with calls of “kill the Jew wherever you find them” ?

          These are all basic facts….
          If you had to learn them from Glenn Beck, that’s sad.

    • Steve

      6/23/2011 at 5:40 pm

      Besides Israel, are there any other countries you hate?

  11. AlexK

    6/23/2011 at 1:27 pm

    Wow, big powerful words from Charles. In caps even. I was moved. And what a face to go with those words. Are you on JDate? I’d love to look you up.

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