October 6, 2009
J Street is selling snake oilBy Lori Lowenthal Marcus
It is appropriate that at the end of October, right before Halloween, a large gathering of anti-Israel organizations dressed up in costumes labeled "pro-Israel" and "pro-peace" will convene in Washington. The disguises are new and from a distance they look so good that a shockingly large contingent of our national representatives have been fooled -- and then lent their names to endorse the central public component of this deception, otherwise known as "J Street's First Annual Gala Dinner."
Throughout the history of language the meaning of a word evolves, sometimes becoming the polar opposites of the original meaning. For example, back in the 1500s the word "harlot" meant a male itinerant jester or buffoon. Today the word means something quite different, and harlots are only female.
And how about the term "snake oil?" Snake oil was an ancient but apparently effective Chinese folk remedy used for conditions such as arthritis; snake fats and oil are high in a certain acid believed to have anti-inflammatory properties. Over time "snake oil" evolved into a disparaging term, and it now is used to refer to sham products represented by hucksters as effective.
Let's turn to the current political lexicon. What does it mean when one represents oneself as "pro-peace," and how do we measure whether something really is?
The term "pro-peace" means that one favors actual peace, that is, not war and not violence; it is characterized by support for whatever is most likely to lead to a long-term period of non-violent coexistence.
And what does it mean to represent oneself as "pro-Israel?" In order to qualify, one would at least have to support the existence of that state, and to disassociate with and defend against those who want to expunge it.
On its website, in its literature, in the glossy mailings sent to government officials, universities, synagogues and individuals, J Street garbs itself as "pro-peace" and "pro-Israel." But let's peek underneath the costume to see whether J Street really is what it claims to be.
Does J Street espouse positions that, given all the current evidence, are most likely to lead to a just and lasting peace?
For years Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly threatened to wipe Israel off the map, denied the Holocaust as a trick to justify the establishment of Israel, and has predicted the end of Israel and of the United States. President Barack Obama recently revealed that Iran has been lying for years about a secret underground nuclear plant. Iran is closer to its goal of nuclear weapons than officials previously thought. Obviously any entity so publicly and enduringly committed to death, destruction and deception is a major obstacle to global peace. Surely any pro-peace organization would support every possible means of ensuring that this country, nominally headed by a highly volatile dictator (whose strings are pulled by fanatical mullahs waiting for the 12th Imam to come up out of a well on Judgment Day), would be prevented from completing its race towards nuclear weapons.
But even after Obama revealed Iran's secret nuclear plant, J Street's position remains unequivocal: it is "strongly opposed to any consideration at this time" of "further sanctions" against Iran, and it is of course categorically opposed to "the use of military force by Israel or the United States to attack Iran's nuclear infrastructure." As the peace window is closing, J Street opposes swift, decisive action to prevent it from slamming shut.
Now let's look at whether J Street's positions concerning Israel are calculated to ensure a real and lasting peace between Israel and its enemy neighbors.
The raison d'etre of the terrorist group Hamas is the annihilation of Israel (and the Masons and the Rotarians -- who knows why?). The Hamas charter says this in black and white -- there's no costume in use here. Hamas's sole modus operandi is murderous violence and intimidation.
In January, 2009, Israel deployed a military response intended to eliminate the continuation of years of violent attacks by Gazans against Israeli civilians. Surely the cessation of attacks on its people is a necessary part of ensuring a country's existence. J Street claims that "it recognizes the unquestioned right of Israel to take action to answer acts of terror and violence." But it came out strongly against Israel's efforts at self-defense. Better, apparently, so far as J Street was concerned to let the rockets continue to fall, as they have for years, on Israeli towns.
Perhaps J Street simply cannot condone a "stronger" nation imposing its will on one that seems weaker? That would be in concert with the au courant policy of cultural authenticity and moral relativism.
No, that won't work either. There is one area where J Street comes down very harshly, very decisively against the local populations and on which it seeks to impose the will of outside super powers in order to achieve the results other than what the native populations wants. That local population is -- contrary to what most would think given J Street's professed "pro-Israel" position -- the Israeli one, and, -- here we have a surprise! -- also the Palestinian one.
In its hegemonic insistence on the immediate creation of a Palestinian state, J Street is President Obama's self-described "blocking back" determined to impose a two-state solution on the Israelis and the Palestinians in the shortest possible timeframe.
The participants resist the creation of two states for different reasons -- the Palestinian leadership, both Hamas and Fatah, will only be satisfied with one state: a Palestinian one -- and no Jewish one, as they have acknowledged repeatedly, in public and in private, in Arabic and in English, and to continue its armed "resistance" in order to achieve that goal.
The Israelis will not agree to a Palestinian State until they are assured it will recognize Israel as a legitimate Jewish State, and they insist on continuing to protect themselves from the Arabs' armed "resistance," which is itself another costume, beneath which is the use of weapons to attack all Israelis, including unarmed civilians.
Those are the reasons there has been no breakthrough in the "peace process," not because Israel's allies have applied insufficient pressure on Israel. This imperialist view ignores the vital essence of each participant. And J Street is pushing an approach that will guarantee a violent, bloody and long-term conflagration. Again, the contrary of working towards a lasting peace.
So why does J Street keep claiming it is pro-peace and pro-Israel? And, more importantly, what does that mean for people, especially politicians, who lend their names to such an organization precisely because being pro-peace and pro-Israel is being sold as the current miracle elixir?
Perhaps we need to turn to Jeremy Ben-Ami, the executive director of J Street, for an explanation. He publicly stated: "We're trying to redefine what it means to be pro-Israel." He neglected to tell us that J Street is also redefining what it means to be pro-peace.
Let's take Ben-Ami at his word. But let's make sure everyone buying the J Street snake oil understands what they're drinking. Congressional leaders who have linked their names to the snake oil salesmen should understand which definitions of pro-peace and pro-Israel they are endorsing. Every reader should give those representatives some friendly advice: just because it's Halloween, don't be taken in by the punch. Or the Kool-aid. Or the snake oil.
Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the co-founder of Z STREET.