The J-Street Crowd and its idiosynchrasies…write Gabsy Debinski

October 3, 2013 by Gabsy Debinski
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“Peace and security. Nobody should choose between peace and security. The State of Israel doesn’t need to choose between peace and security…. As I’m fighting for peace – and there is a political price for it – in the negotiations room, I’m fighting also for Israel’s security. And I’m here today in order to ask you, this special audience, those who are fighting for peace: In your quest for peace don’t abandon Israel’s security needs.”…Tzipi Livni.

Gabsy Debinski

Gabsy Debinski

Such was the message of Tzipi Livni, Israel’s Justice Minister, in her addresses at J Street’s national conference this week.

J Street, a non-profit organization, held its national conference in Washington DC, and unsurprisingly was full of spirit and controversy.

Livni sent a powerful message to J Street’s progressive crowd, which since its founding in 2008 has come under fire from pro-Israel figures in Washington and Israel for its criticism of the Israeli government.

Indeed, the self-described “political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans” has sparked debate about the parameters and definitions of being ‘pro-Israel.’

Most notably last year American law professor and prominent pro-Israel advocate Alan Dershowitz, accused the lobby group  of “totally undercutting American policy toward Iran,” and of misrepresenting the views of prominent Israelis over thwarting Iran.”

In an interview with the Times of Israel Dershowitz said his own views on Israeli settlement policy and on the two-state solution “are closer to J Street in many ways,” but that the lobby group’s position on Iran had taken it out of the pro-Israel camp.

The national conference featured high profile politicians, thinkers and diplomats, and included addresses from US Vice President Joe Biden as well as Martin Indyk, US special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

So what big issues were discussed, and why all the apparent drama?

Husam Zomlot of Abbas’ Fatah party was met with loud applause for his appeal to the Palestinian law of return and call for official recognition of ‘the Nakba.’

“What do refugees want?” he asked. “They want… four options. Some of them might want to stay where they are. Some of them might want to resettle somewhere else, in a third country. Some of them might want to choose to come back to the state of Palestine. And some of them might want to return to their original homes. But all of them- all of them- want one thing. Full recognition of the Nakba that has befallen our people (sustained applause).” (You can hear the address on a recording posted to sound cloud).

Allowing for a Palestinian law of return is considered a non-starter by Israel, and this has been conveyed to successive Palestinian leaders as non-negotiable. This premeditated focus at a ‘pro-Israel’ convention is merely inflammatory.

At the same time, the choice of Zomlot as a speaker is also divisive. The former PLO representative to the UK who last year told +972 Magazinethat “resistance, including armed resistance, is a right [of Palestinians]” hardly seems to perpetuate J Street’s ‘pro-peace’ mantra.

A diversity of views should not only be accepted in this context, but should be encouraged. These sorts of conventions should evoke thought and reflection on the conflict, and are meaningless if they fail to provide room for consideration of the other.

However, it was the audience’s ‘robot-like’ reception of various speakers, and rejection of others, that is causing the most stir.

The Times of Israel reported that when Labor leader MK Shelly Yachimovich said “we believe in a free and democratic Israel with a strong army and secure borders to defend not only our people but our values” she received a lukewarm clapping. And when she paused after adding “this is the true Zionist dream,” there was no applause at all.

If this is the sentiment of a self-proclaimed ‘pro-Israel’ conference, I shudder at the thought of its antithesis.
Social issues also fired up the crowd. Members of Knesset Ruth Calderon (Yesh Atid) and Merav Micaheli (Labor) got heated on a panel on “The Changing Face of Politics in Israel: Will Women Lead the Way?”

Their verbal row showed that they both have a vested interest in a feminist agenda, but disagree on how to go about it.
A great article in the Daily Beast  sums up the crux of the panel. It says while the two female MKs agree that the Knesset is “a boys’ club,” Michaeli went on to describe a time when solidarity between the Knesset’s women failed to materialize.

It says: “MK Hanin Zoabi, a female Arab parliamentarian, had proposed a bill to promote gender parity in Israel’s political parties. To Michaeli’s shock, many of the other female MKs chose not to endorse it. She recalled members of the Meretz party yelling, “How can you possibly not support this legislation?” and one of the members from Yesh Atid—Calderon’s party—answering, “Don’t be so angry, we’re working on a similar bill ourselves, we’re just not going to vote for Zoabi’s legislation.”

Calderon dismissed Michaeli’s claim with two words: “That’s bullshit.” At least they weren’t putting on any pretences for their ‘politically-correct’ audience.

It was also reported that members of the crowd, which was composed largely of self-defined progressives, weren’t very moved when a number of attending MKs discussed rising income gaps in Israel. Pluralism though was a popular subject, and Calderon was greeted by rounds of applause when she mentioned the need for increased religious diversity in Israel.

The J Street crowd’s distinct support for progressive social issues, and seeming disregard for Israel’s right to peace with security, leaves an uncomfortable taste in the mouth.

But hopefully the sentiment of Tzipi Livni will be absorbed somewhat, even if subconsciously.  And Livni can hardly be dismissed as hawkish.

“The Middle East is not… a fairytale or a Hollywood movie,” she said. “We live in a tough neighbourhood and even after a peace agreement is reached… it will remain a tough neighbourhood. Peace — real peace — will not come in the same moment in which we sign, hopefully, the peace treaty.”

“We cannot just throw the keys over to the other side of the new border and hope for good…. “We cannot afford in our region, to be naive.”  Touché.

Gabsy Debinski is Advocacy and Media Director at the Zionist Federation of Australia


9 Responses to “The J-Street Crowd and its idiosynchrasies…write Gabsy Debinski”
  1. Gil Solomon says:

    Hi Paul & Otto,

    I think you are both wasting your time in trying to explain anything to “Ben Eleijah’ if that is his real name.

    All his posts over the last 12 months indicate to me that he is a rabid anti-Israeli fanatic trying desperately to come off as being reasonable. This brainwashed (I’m being as diplomatic as I can) individual, whoever he is, simply craves attention and I wouldn’t indulge him with a response.

    Henry, won’t you please do us all a favour and get rid of this propagandist from our midst. The likes of Ben Eleijah and his ilk have no place on this site where most of us here wish to engage in serious dialogue.

    To anyone interested, please feel free to tell me if you agree with my perspective or not. Ben, you however can butt out.

  2. Otto Waldmann says:

    If I may indulge in my own “periodic Table of the NYC Yidische mame and her Bubele”:

    1950’s : ” My Heyshon ( Hershon) is a bit of a swinger, but at least he’s not a Commie”.

    1960s : ” My Angie is a hippie, but at least she not a Republican.”

    1970s ” My Abe is a bit of a Zionist , but at least not into smoking weed.”

    1980s ” My Stewart is a bit into alternative living but he’s not gay”.

    1990s : ” My Savannah is a single mother, but at least we spent Seder together with her new partner, Chris.”

    2000 : ” My Gordon and his partner Chris ( no longer with Savannah ) moved to California, but at least they call me once a month on Skype.”

    2013 : ” My Shirly is very high on JStreet, but at least she is not Chabad.”

  3. Otto Waldmann says:

    Gabsy, you cute and happy little thing, your assesment(s) are precise and well articulated.
    I would delve, however, just for a short while , into the deeper anxieties of the motivations behind Jewish centrifugal exploits as we see at the Jstreet mob.
    In the absence of any dominant existential philosophies akin to the 19century and most of the 3/4 20 Century tertiary educated urban ideology seekers, the identity crisis encountered by these Jews led them to entertain ANY raeas of “intellectual” conflict. Those indiferent to solid religious introspections ( simply because good colleges have long departed from spiritual pursuits ) have found fertile grounds in the “genuine” political movements thriving on campuses and all other forms of dialectical social functions. The hyper active Jewish mind needed outlets for releiving tensions. Jewish cultural traditions have been strangers to “normal” past time vulgarities. Good Jewish boys and girls have been encouraged by their ghetto or shtetel environments to undertake elegant and articulate sparing occasions – look at yourself how neat and persuasive a mind you have developed !!-.
    Arguing mastyerly is just as good as any topic broched and nothing could make one stand out that oposing THE establishment. Constructing theories in a non-stringent logical millieu does not require cannons. Anybody can shine as long as formal logic is persuasive. Nothing being sacred “no more”, Jstreet is but the bio-logical enfant terrible which, as it happens, culd be even organically attached to existing absurdities willing to embrace it , even if as useful idiots. In actual fact the barricades were right there, so our precious ingele and meidele did not need dirty their precious little jands with the brick and mortar of bulding repugnant socio-political edifices.
    Now they only need spin a few God terms, print a few posters, invite readily available mouths for hire among the tribes of mental hooligans and we have a “respectable” institution numbering sufficient supporters to make the shlemils an autentic political force. All they require is now more and more people confronting them, it DOES NOT MATTER who they are and what they stand for. Israel, for instance, dislikes them, kol hakavod and baruch aba. Their main slogan is ” You wanna piece o’me, that’s what I’m here for !!??”.

    I know that it will pass. How do I know ??!! Remenber Mr. Kohn-Bendit ?! I don’t think so. That’s how I know !!!!

  4. Gil Solomon says:

    Well said Paul.

    If Israeli leaders had an ounce of Hasbara ability they should not only decline any invitation to speak at J-Street conferences but come out publicly to denounce this organisation for what it is, an anti-Israeli lobby group purporting to be pro-Israel. But as I’ve been saying for ages, Israeli politicians have not a clue in this area.

    To me, J-Street is a symptom of a cancer that has infected a large contingent of those morons of the diaspora, American Jewry.

  5. Paul Winter says:

    J-Street was established by a Jewish former lobbyist for some Arabs to counter the pro-Zionist AIPAC. Its funding is uncertain, but if my memory serves me right, some of it comes from Arabs, someone with ties to Arabs living in Singapore and George Soros, who funds several anti-Zionist front groups. Its policy supports Obama’s Islamophilic perspective which is hostile to Israel. Its recommendations are always against Israel’s interests all the while claiming to be pro-Israeli. It and like-minded groups, arrogantly and insultingly tell Israel what its best interests are. Its existence shames all Jews. And the attendance of MKs to J-Street’s conference is an absolute disgrace and shames the Knesset and Jews everywhere.

    • ben eleijah says:

      Smear and slander. Obama’s “islamophilia” ? What about the Walt, Meirshemer report, David Petrae’s deposition. The US does not have the economic, political muscle to support Israel. It is sunk in economic decline and unwinnable wars, it will go the way of the Spanish, British empires. Israel will have to continue its expansion with its own funds.

  6. ben eleijah says:

    This is shadow boxing between AIPAC and JStreet. Israel’s “security needs” is just a cover for ensuring nuclear monopoly and military dominance of the area while expanding settlements and dispossessing Palestinians.

    • Otto Waldmann says:

      … we’re getting somewhere, “ben”. You got it right and one wonders what can you and your lot can do about it, because I can assure you that these Zionists ( you know the ones with that bloody hasbara all over the place ) shall anticipate with resolute means everything their enemies could possible fathom. How’s that for keeping you in the business of never being happy with us !!?? To that, I wish you a long life of misery !

    • Paul Winter says:

      Ben, your obsessions and fixed ideas that ignore reality worry me. Israel has very real security needs; only Egypt and Jordan have a peace treaty with it and both of those are shaky. The Syrian and Lebanese fronts can erupt any time. Israel may or may not have nukes and if it does, it has those lawfully. Unlike the cheating and lying Iranian regime (and previously the Libyian), Israel is not an NPT signatory. Your repetitious claims of Israeli expansion is contradicted by reality which you strenuously deny. And finally, Israel is not dispossessing the local Arabs; there is no such thing as a Palestinian. In fact – and sadly – Israel is disadvantaging Jews by respecting the titles to state land given to cronies by the former Jordanian occupier of Samaria and Judea.

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