AIPAC American foreign policy American Jews Israel Israel lobby Middle East peace process Palestinians

Don’t just sit there and complain about American policy. Help J Street

At long last, the urgently-needed “J Street” project has been officially launched. It has generated a great deal of media attention, much of it positive, but the most important story by far was in yesterday’s Washington Post:

Some of the country’s most prominent Jewish liberals are forming a political action committee and lobbying group aimed at dislodging what they consider the excessive hold of neoconservatives and evangelical Christians on U.S. policy toward Israel.

The group is planning to channel political contributions to favored candidates in perhaps a half-dozen campaigns this fall, the first time an organization focused on Israel has tried to play such a direct role in the political process, according to its organizers.

Organizers said they hope those efforts, coupled with a separate lobbying group that will focus on promoting an Arab-Israeli peace settlement, will fill a void left by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, and other Jewish groups that they contend have tilted to the right in recent years.

The fact that it passed the Post’s litmus test as a real story will prod the political elite to take notice, even before it accomplishes anything concrete. Of course, the fact that it is backed by some prominent Democratic donors and fundraisers is even more important.

I am forced to restrain myself from writing too much on this initiative. That is mostly because I am writing a book on the domestic political context of American Middle East policy, and I don’t want to give away too much of what I’ve discovered in advance. Even if I wanted to, my publisher, Potomac Books, wouldn’t let me. But I have been observing the various phases J Street has gone through and know something about the attendant birth pains. Jeremy Ben-Ami (its executive director). Daniel Levy (the tireless Israeli peace promoter) and others who have worked so hard to make this happen deserve not just acclaim, but gratitude from everyone who see no contradiction between being pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian and pro-American.

Gershom Gorenberg, the gifted Israeli writer, succinctly sums up why J Street is important:

Reading the front page of my Hebrew paper last weekend, I tried to imagine an American senator saying something like, “I have great respect for the Israel Defense Forces. But eventually Israel will have to leave the West Bank. In its heart, the Israeli nation has already decided. The Israeli army should not create a rift with Palestinians that haunts us for generations. Think of Palestinians stripped at the checkpoints only because there might be terrorists among them. Think of those who stand for hours at checkpoints because we fear that a booby-trapped car could pass through.”

I didn’t have to make up that speech from scratch, because I was reading about Ehud Olmert saying words very similar to a forum of IDF commanders in the West Bank. The prime minister could say that despite their short-term security benefits, West Bank checkpoints have long-term moral and strategic costs for Israel. How many pro-Israel members of Congress fear that if they voiced the same concerns, AIPAC would soon be encouraging donations to their next primary opponent.

One of the most daunting challenges facing the American Jewish peace camp is that it is very difficult to give supporters concrete and useful things to do, other than write a check to organizations within that peace camp, or support activists in Israel, or sign petitions and letters about legislation and other Beltway business. J Street is something else, something new. In addition to wandering around your search engine and reading all about it, please please please make sure to go to its web site and help it succeed.

Kevin, MM, John Sinclair, and all of the other contributors who have never met a Zionist you could tolerate, I don’t want you to feel excluded. Please tell us if you think this initiative is misguided. And if you believe it is, please suggest another political path, another way to get from A [the intolerable status quo] to B [an end to Palestinian suffering].

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