March 15, 2011
J Street: 'Maybe Israel really ain't a good idea'
"Maybe, if this collective Jewish presence" -- that is, the Jewish State in the Middle East -- "can only survive by the sword, then Israel really ain't a good idea." So said Daniel Levy, one of J Street's founders, at the 2011 J Street Conference. You can hear him, and the lack of any objection from even one of the 2000-strong audience, here, at 1:26:15 on the J Street Conference video, on J Street's own website.
Are we there yet? Is this clear statement by one of J Street's founders -- that if the Arabs will force Israel to defend herself, then the Jews should abandon the Middle East -- enough to prove that J Street is not "pro-Israel" at all? Is this confession enough to enable (or force) people to see that it is this belief: that the Jews are simply wrong to defend themselves ever, including against Gazan terrorism or a nuclear Iran, that constitutes the foundation of J Street?
Last fall a blogger found another utterance of Daniel Levy's in which it looked as though he said Israel was a mistake, but one he at least forgave, given the horrors of the Holocaust. Confronted with this, J Street rushed to argue in the alternative: first, J Street said, Levy didn't really make the statement; his words were misrepresented and taken out of context. That explanation became non-operative (as the Nixon White House would say), when it turned out that a video of the event was available, so then J Street moved to answer number 2: Levy isn't an official part of J Street, so he wasn't speaking for J Street when he kinda, sorta did make a statement that sounded as though he thought Israel was a mistake.
In this case, there is no question Levy made the statement. There is no question he made it at an official J Street event, and it is a direct quote. The context, of course, matters, and the context is even more damning.
Levy was discussing the US policy implications of the Middle East uprisings at a J Street conference prime time plenary session in the huge double ballroom of the Washington Convention Center. The other members of this panel included Bernard Avishai, who suggested, at 50:40, there should be an Obama Blueprint in which Obama organizes world opinion to pressure Israel into making real concessions to the Palestinians, and Roger Cohen, a New York Times columnist who seemed to suggest that it was the financial muscle of the nefarious Israel Lobby that forced the US to veto the recent United Nations Security Council Resolution condemning Israel. Cohen hoped Obama would extract a pound of Israeli flesh, or at least thousands of dunums, in exchange for that "favor." At 1:17:30.
And since J Street cannot deny Daniel Levy's "Israel ain't such a good idea" statement or the context, perhaps they will retreat to a position they've used before, that Levy isn't really a J Street official. But that won't work either. Levy is often sent to be the voice of J Street at public events, including one very recently at the Westchester, New York Jewish Community Relations Council.
But let's look beyond the masthead officials, and beyond the speakers on panels to whom J Street hands its bullhorn. By all means let's go beyond these things, to see what J Street is really made of. For the rot goes so much deeper -- from the people on the pulpit that J Street has created, all the way down to the anonymous members and fellow travelers who make up its audience and cheering section.
While waiting on line at the Starbucks at the J Street convention, I overheard a conversation among several Colorado J Street members. These were nicely dressed thirty-something women who were discussing why they weren't wearing the J Street buttons in their packets, which bear the phrase "pro-Israel pro-peace." The entire Boulder delegation, they said, was very uncomfortable with the emphasis, because "pro-Israel" was first, and "pro-Palestinian" wasn't a part of it. These women agreed that J Street had a messaging problem. If the buttons read "pro-Israel and Pro-Palestinian, or just "pro-peace" and NOT "pro-Israel," then they'd be willing to wear them.
I agree with the women from Colorado. J Street's messaging is problematic. And these women are right that the problem is with the "pro-Israel" claim. Can you be pro-Israel but deny that country the right to self-defense? Really, if J Street has to keep defending itself from documented proof against its claim to be "pro-Israel," maybe that claim "really ain't a good idea."
Lori Lowenthal Marcus is president of Z STREET, www.zstreet.org