Tag Archives: J-Street

The AIPAC/J Street Color War

by Charles Kopel

A new spring ritual has taken form for American Jews concerned with Israel activism. The AIPAC Policy Conference, a mainstay in the American Zionist establishment for 53 years, is attracting larger and larger groups of delegates to Washington, DC each year. These delegates gather from around the country to address the importance of strengthening the “U.S.-Israel relationship.” The third annual conference of AIPAC’s self-proclaimed rival, J Street–aimed at fostering a network of supporters to advance its “pro-Israel, pro-peace” agenda–is wrapping up today in the nation’s capital. This division of the Israel lobby into two separate camps proves to be a comfortable accommodation for the increasingly polarized spectrum of American Jewish views regarding both the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the potential nuclear threat from Iran.

An added dimension of this division, however, is that the conference faithful of both organizations now assemble each year for a sort of color war. Not only does each group aim to advance its own agenda; it takes swipes at that of the other group. Of course, this is more of a reality for J Street, which remains, in its youth, a small and ineffective opposition lobby that struggles to find its legitimacy with attacks on AIPAC. The establishment body AIPAC, however, has achieved a legendary position of power and influence in United States policy, reflective of the general success of American Jewry, and serving as an endless quarry of fodder for anti-Zionist thinkers and conspiracy theorists. To AIPAC, J Street is beyond the pale of “pro-Israel,” more critical of Israel’s actions than those of its enemies. To J Street, AIPAC represents an old American perception of pro-Israel, ignorant of the beliefs and sentiments of both the younger generation of American Jews and of the majority of Israelis.

The physical realities of the conferences demonstrates the organizations’ power differential quite well: This year’s AIPAC conference gathered 13,000 delegates, more than 1,000 of whom were students, and included visits from more than half of Congress, addresses from President Obama, Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Peres, minority leaders from both houses of Congress, and Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. The conference operation was a logistical masterpiece, with organizational finesse and visual productions that speak to the lobby group’s undeniable importance.

The J Street conference, in contrast, gathered only 2,500 delegates, 650 of whom were students, with no top-ranking government officials. The conference operation was messy, reminiscent of a small-scale synagogue gathering, and with a bizarre and extensive hodgepodge of participating organizations–the New Israel Fund, Peace Now, Rabbis for Human Rights, B’Tselem, Givat Haviva, Tikkun Magazine and many more–not all of whom even share similar political stances.

It is therefore with good reason that J Street classifies itself as a “movement” and not a lobby. Its conference seemed at times to be a summit of somewhat like-minded organizations, uniting under the banner of a group that has its own particular party line and a lobby group to advance it.

A much more important distinction between the conferences was the demographics of the presenters at each. An elementary understanding of each organization’s purpose is more than enough to account for this distinction. AIPAC, whose essential goal is to be a Washington advocate for the positions of the elected Israeli government , featured mainly American politicians among its speakers, as if to tell the delegates and the world: “Just look–the American government already overwhelmingly supports the decisions of the Israeli government!”

J Street, whose essential goal is to be a Washington advocate for the positions of the American Jewish population as regards Israel, featured mainly Israeli speakers at its conference, as if to tell its delegates and the world: “Israelis themselves want us, the American Jews, to use the unique power of citizen lobbying in order to urge Washington to pressure Israel toward a two-state peace agreement with the Palestinians!”

This difference in perspective has wide-reaching effects on the image of Israel that emerges at the respective conferences. For delegates of AIPAC, Israel is a hazy, amorphous idea, a distant reality that supports Jewish values, democratic government and the rule of law, one that shares interests with the United States and has legitimate and far-reaching security concerns. Thousands of Zionists attending the conference learned to see Israel through the lens of American leaders–as a “strategic ally,” a place of some ideological and emotional value, a sheet of foreign financial aid figures and a basis for promises of military action.

Delegates of J Street, however, learned to see Israel as a living and breathing reality, a Jewish reality, with troubling complexities and too many flaws for comfort. They heard from intellectuals and authors like Amos Oz, social protest leaders like Stav Shaffir, women’s rights advocates like Anat Hoffman and left-wing Israeli politicians like Ehud Olmert, Amram Mitzna, and Avishay Braverman. They were presented with a uniquely Jewish imperative for peace, ranging from Oz’s secular, pluralistic Judaism to Hoffman’s “Women of the Wall” religious-feminist movement to Rabbi Donniel Hartman’s Orthodox presentation of “aspirational Judaism” and its relationship with “aspirational Zionism.” They were told that, sure, Israel has great security concerns, but that the threats posed by its current policies to its Jewish values are of greater consequence and greater urgency. Ultimately, it was added, these threats will compromise Israel’s security even more drastically.

That great security concern at AIPAC’s conference, was, of course, the threat posed by Iran; little time or interest was given to any other Israeli concerns. Hardly a word was said about the status of the Palestinians or the historic social developments that transpired in Israel since last year’s conference. Where survival in the face of an enormous enemy is concerned, all other causes are allowed to fall by the wayside. For this reason, Bibi, who has concerned himself diligently and loudly with stopping Iran, received a welcome from the AIPAC 13,000 far warmer than he would ever receive anywhere in his own country, where the people’s conscience grasps far more than one singular Israeli issue.

At J Street’s conference, however, Iran was considered mostly a diversion created by the Likud machine to avoid action on Israel’s real pressing problems—peace with its neighbors, Palestinian autonomy and social reform. Sure, Iran is a real and serious threat, the J Street speakers said, but it is a threat shared by the whole world. Israel has its own problems to deal with first. Also, they added, survival is worth very little when it comes at the expense of national values.

In these different perspectives lies the flaw of each lobby group’s repertoire: a deep transgression of omission. AIPAC presents what Israel is on paper, and what the concept of Israel looked like in 1948 (with, of course, a great deal of accolades for the small nation’s start-up miracles and high-tech achievements), but says nothing of the real status of Arabs in Israeli society, of the women who are made to ride in the back of buses in Haredi communities, of the Jewish state’s socioeconomic gaps now perching at the second-largest in the western world, of the recent slew of anti-democratic legislation in the Knesset (aimed at weakening the ability of NGOs and human rights groups to operate within the country), of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s concerted attempts this week to assert his administration’s control over the future of the Channel 2 news network, and of the threat to Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state posed by the basic reality of millions of disenfranchised Palestinians living under Israeli military authority.

J Street presents what is supposedly a liberal Zionist ideal, and a genuine effort to save the soul of Israel. Its narrative seems, however, to include no room to blame anyone but the Likud-led coalition for Israel’s misfortune. No recognition of rocket fire from Gaza on Israeli civilians. No examination of the factors that led the last serious round of peace talks to devolve into a murderous Palestinian intifada. Little acknowledgment of the role of today’s Palestinian Authority intransigence in stalling the negotiation process. (Robert Danin, former head of Quartet Envoy Tony Blair’s mission in Jerusalem, and current senior fellow in the Council on Foreign Relations, shared at the AIPAC Policy Conference that, in his personal experience, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has no coherent peace negotiation policy at all, but just employs tactics variously to ensure that at the end of each day, he remains in power, and Israel remains demonized.) Little acknowledgment of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s great success in bringing home captured soldier Gilad Shalit, whose plight had for five years been at the forefront of the Israeli collective mindset, and whose safe return was undoubtedly among the most momentous occasions in modern Israeli history.

Some of these realities did emerge at the conference’s breakout sessions. The various guest speakers–intellectuals, journalists and generals–conducted informational lessons that at times acknowledged the history of Palestinian terror, PA intransigence, and the role of Netanyahu in the Gilad Shalit deal. But the plenaries, with the great big statements of J Street policy, were something else entirely. The throngs of delegates were told only how crucial a two-state solution is for Israeli security and values (which it is), how much of an obstacle the settlements pose to such a solution (which some certainly do) and how terribly the Likud administration has abused the democratic system in Israel (which, arguably, it has). But there was no room for nuance concerning these subjects, and no room for right-of-center Israeli voices–another legitimate segment of the Jewish reality in Israel.

J Street also prides itself on the political/historical narrative offered by American Jewish voices such as J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami, provocative journalist and author Peter Beinart, and historian, author and oleh Gershom Gorenberg. All three of these men have recently written books arguing against Israeli settlement policy, and advocating for a new form of pro-Israel mentality based on the liberal Zionist aspirations of the younger generation of American Jews. Beinart in particular aroused a firestorm recently when he published an op-ed in the New York Times, in anticipation of the release of his book, which enjoined American Jews to boycott the West Bank settlements in order to save Israel (somehow assuming that afflicting the livelihood of private settlers, whom he maintains are not necessarily themselves guilty, will influence Israeli policy). It is worthwhile to note that references to this position at the J Street Conference received mixed responses from the delegates.

J Street claims that the positions of these three innovators represent the authentic voice of American Jewry, and its young generation in particular. In response, Bret Stephens wrote three weeks ago in the Wall Street Journal, “one wonders why organizations more in tune with those ‘real’ views rarely seem to find much of a base.” Stephens’s claim is hardly compelling when considered in light of J Street’s short history and its attempt to compete with an old, entrenched establishment like AIPAC. Only several years down the line, in light of the success or failure of J Street to expand and thrive at that point, can Stephens’s contention be honestly assessed.

*                                      *                                      *

On the opening night of the J Street Conference, renowned Israeli author and social critic Amos Oz delivered a stunning plea for two-state peace. In doing so, he acknowledged differences of opinion concerning Israel’s future. “Zionism has always been a surname,” he said, “not a first name. No one person was ever allowed to claim Zionism for himself.” This point was well taken, and the vast divide between the different Zionist camps in Israel and America perhaps illustrates it quite well.

Still, the color war presentations of AIPAC’s and J Street’s conferences reflect this attitude quite poorly. It is true that the two organizations help complete the spectrum of politics within American Jewish activism for Israel. And it is entirely legitimate for any one Israel group to pursue only its agenda and leave other aspects of Israel aside. Nonetheless, the insistence of each group on considering only the support for its own agenda in a vacuum, ignoring any and all contravening evidence, leaves behind a sense of lifeless, unproductive dialogue–not entirely unlike the 21st century incarnation of Israeli-Palestinian dialogue.

Editor’s note: A version of this article appeared in Yeshiva University’s The Commentator.

March Comes In with AIPAC and Goes Out with J Street

March is bookended by two Israel-related conferences in Washington this year: the annual AIPAC Policy Conference, attended by about 13,000 people, was held the first weekend in March, and the coming weekend marks J Street’s third national conference. So, what does it mean to be pro-Israel? Moment asked 24 writers and thinkers–including Israeli novelist Amos Oz and journalist Peter Beinart, both of whom will be at the J Street conference–to tell us what they think it means to be pro-Israel today.

Where Does This J Street Go?

by Theodore Samets

Summer is a time for sales. It’s a time for vacations. It’s a time to escape work in the afternoon to get to the beach or the golf course.

It’s not usually a time for negotiating the final parameters of an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. The folks at J Street are trying to change that.

For just over a month, J Street has been pushing a campaign they call “Two-State Summer,” which they describe as “a push to support President Obama’s vision for a real and final resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

If you don’t follow J Street on Twitter or like the organization on Facebook, you may not have heard of the campaign, but – get excited – you may soon, because J Street is planning an “August Day (sic) of action to publicly demonstrate broad support for the President’s vision.”

Since the organization’s birth, J Street has tried to claim that they were one of the only Jewish organizations that strongly supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Ignoring widespread support for the idea across party lines and throughout the Jewish community, they’ve worked to label those who oppose their efforts as opposed to peace.

It hasn’t worked. Instead, they’ve been mired by accusations – among others – that the organization isn’t actually pro-Israel and concerns over J Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami’s lies about George Soros’s support for the organization.

Yet their newest plan seems ill conceived, even for J Street. Instead of focusing on the upcoming U.N. vote on a unilateral Palestinian declaration of a state, which is a great threat to the peace process J Street claims to support, they’ve continued their selfish, go it alone attitude with their “two-state summer.” (The organization itself does not take a stand on the vote, instead encouraging “diplomatic efforts” that would make such a vote “unnecessary.”)

This is all despite the fact that Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, refuses to sit down with the Israeli government and negotiate. How does J Street propose reaching the two-state solution they claim to so actively desire if they can’t get Abbas to agree to negotiations?

By hosting strategy sessions in the States.

J Street openly claims to be President Obama’s “blocking back” on Israel policy. So far, they haven’t had more success than President Obama or anyone else in bringing the two-state solution to fruition.Maybe this is because they are more focused on claiming support for two states as their cause and theirs alone instead of recognizing that a passion for such an agreement is at the heart of most American Jewish organizations and most American Jews.

The two-state summer campaign is showing that J Street may just be the Jon Huntsman of Israel organizations. (Or is Jon Huntsman the J Street of the Republican primaries?) Despite protestations that they have widespread support, the organization seems to be at risk of losing the only folks who really do follow their efforts: the media. There’s been little coverage, if any, of the “two-state summer,” which is J Street’s current focus. Perhaps the media has realized the minority of American Jews on whose behalf J Street speaks.

For those who care about Israel and the US-Israel relationship and who genuinely desire a peace that keeps the Jewish state safe and secure while creating an independent Palestinian state, it is becoming clearer every day that J Street is not the answer. Instead, the organization helps to elevate anti-Israel voices (like the J Street-endorsed Rep. Lynn Woolsey) and works against the efforts of the democratically-elected Israeli government.

But if J Street proves me wrong and shows that YouTube videos and strategy sessions in Manhattan are the way to peace before the autumnal equinox, more power to them. I’ll tip my cap and write them a check.

Glenn Beck’s Wet Hot Israeli Summer

By Adina Rosenthal

Glenn Beck is making quite a splash in the Jewish state this summer. This August, Beck will host “Restoring Courage,” a three-part event that Beck’s website describes as “an opportunity to demonstrate to the world that Israel does not stand alone.” The first event will be for American Christians “to get the Christian community in America to wake up and start standing up [for Israel].” The second will be more explicitly political in nature, purportedly including Senator Joe Lieberman, GOP presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Herman Cain, and two other presidential candidates yet to be revealed. The final August 24 event that, according to the Jerusalem Post, “would be attended by more than 30 American national political figures, 70 international politicians and citizen delegations from 100 countries around the world, including Bahrain” will be held at the Southern Wall excavation site in Jerusalem’s Old City.

Beck pledges to make this event bipartisan, not a rally against President Obama and his administration. For Beck, “If it’s just an event, we failed…It’s a launch of a movement of decent, like-minded, freedom-loving peaceful people who know the answer won’t come from Washington or Copenhagen. It’s not going to come from our political leaders, but from the people. It’s a freedom movement.”

However, not everyone is quite as enthusiastic. On the American home front, Beck has received criticism, especially from left-leaning press and groups. In response to a question about Glenn Beck’s participation in a summit in Israel, Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, replied that association with Glenn Beck is “not in the interest of the American Jewish community.  Alluding to a “proven track record of anti-Semitism,” Ben-Ami concluded that “this kind of friend Israel doesn’t need.”  In a recent Huffington Post piece titled, “Glenn Beck Defiles the Holy Land,” commentator MJ Rosenberg further draws out this accusation of anti-Semitism, describing Beck as treyf who is using Israel “as a disinfectant to cleanse him of the stink of anti-Semitism, racism, and proto-fascism. Without Israel, Beck is just another right-wing bigot and crackpot. But with it, he becomes almost legitimate and so does the dangerous and ugly portrayal of Jews that has become his trademark.”

Some Israelis are not impressed with Beck’s message either, but some for unexpected reasons. An an interview with Channel 10 news last week, during the second of his three solidarity trips to Israel (the first was on Israeli Independence Day), drew criticism that Beck may not be conservative enough.  Although he told a Knesset committee that the Israeli Palestinian conflict “is about the destruction of Israel and the end of the Western way of life,” his comments to Channel 10 news that “I’m not against a Palestinian state. I’m not here for a political solution,” elicited a sharp response from nationalist parliamentarians. National Union MK Arye Eldad told Beck “I believe in a two-state solution, because I remember that there is already a Palestinian state in Jordan…Israel belongs to the Jews. We need to end the occupation—the Muslim occupation of Israel that began 1,300 years ago.” MK Ayoub Kara (Likud) added “There were never Palestinians in this area.” In addition, Beck has never advocated freeing Jonathan Pollard from prison, a cause which MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) and MK Marina Solodkin (Kadima) mentioned to Beck at the meeting.

Despite the flack Beck is receiving on all sides of the Israeli aisle, whether you like his politics or not, his heart seems to be in the right place. In a video on his website, Beck describes in detail the brutal murders of the Fogel family last March, and cites that most Americans had no idea of the atrocities as a platform for the importance of his initiative to stand with Israel. When asked about a segment on his former Fox News show dedicated to the heinous acts, Beck replied, “You have a horror show that Hollywood spends months dreaming up. You have villains like I’ve never seen before,” lauding Israelis’ courage and hope despite such suffering such tragedy. Beck also has plans to visit Tamar Fogel, daughter and sister of the victims, as part of this summer’s upcoming trip to Israel. Glenn Beck’s message is clear: “Israelis may like to hear and see that you’re not alone…There are millions of people [who support Israel] that you don’t see, because the media doesn’t want to tell their story, either.”

Love him or hate him, as MK Danny Danon (Likud) quipped, “If we didn’t have someone like Glenn Beck we would have had to invent someone like him.”

Loving Israel The Right (Or Left) Way

By Amanda Walgrove

Last week, Sarah Palin visited Israel and met with Prime Minister Netanyahu and other members of Israel’s right-wing coalition, including Likud Chairman, Danny Danon. Many have questioned whether or not this was an early campaign move; many GOP members who may throw their hats into the Presidential ring—Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, and Haley Barbour—have recently made visits to Israel as well. “It’s not the Ames straw poll, but I do think a visit to Israel is an important stop for folks who are running for president,” Republican Jewish Coalition executive director Matthew Brooks told Politico. “So much of what our commander-in-chief will deal with in the White House is rooted in this part of the world.” Besides being a shiny credential on the checklist for candidacy, Palin’s visit also serves to put another face to the name of what has become an increasingly conservative stance on what it means to be “pro-Israel.”

Tea Partiers have been split between what Walter Russell Mead has deemed the “Palinite” and “Paulite” approaches to foreign policy. The “proactive” tactics Palin  endorses call for maintaining a tight alliance with Israel. Garnering significantly less support from the GOP is Ron Paul’s “passive” approach, which suggests that America distance itself from the Israeli-Palestine conflict and avoid supporting one over the other. Speaking out about the need to condemn Palestine for attacks on Israel, Republican House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, responded to the recent bombing in Jerusalem by saying, “The White House must do more to tamp down anti-Israel incitement in the Palestinian territories. That’s why I support bipartisan efforts in the House and Senate that call on the White House to put an end to anti-Israel incitement in the Palestinian territories.” But how has the median Jewish American constituency reacted, considering the latest tragedies that Israel has faced?

Dominating the American Jewish landscape, the right-leaning AIPAC fully supports the policies of any Israeli government, including the current one, stating on its website, “AIPAC works to secure vital U.S. foreign aid for Israel to help ensure Israel remains strong and secure.” Jeremy Ben-Ami, creator of the three-year-old J Street, felt that this conservative domination left a gap for American Jews who wanted to commune and raise money for a more peaceful solution to conflicts between Israel and Palestine. While a tagline of “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace” has a positive ring to it, the controversy lies in the idea that Palestine should not be reprimanded for attacks on Israel, but rather, they must be persuaded to make a peace agreement. For supporters of J Street, questions arise such as: Is someone anti-Israel if he or she believes that the Palestinians deserve the same rights as the Jews? Can someone be pro-Israel without fully supporting the Israeli government’s decisions?

Israeli lawmakers held a hearing on Wednesday to decide the answers to these questions, discerning what role Jews living outside the country should have in Israeli policymaking. A recent poll showed that only 14% of Israelis had ever heard of J Street and only 19% believed that the American Jewish community should provide unconditional support for Israeli politics. However, right-wing Israeli politicians, believing America’s support to be crucial, think that J Street verges upon  treason by not backing the decisions of the Israeli government. Lawmaker Otniel Schneller, a member of the centrist Kadima party, said at the hearing, “J Street is not a Zionist organization. It cannot be pro-Israel,” suggesting that J Street’s display of love for Israel “has strings attached.”  While extreme critics of J Street have labeled the lobby group “anti-Israel,” Danon said he would call for a committee vote to have J Street labeled a pro-Palestinian rather than a pro-Israeli group, a move Ben-Ami said could compromise J Street’s appeal in the United States.

Without having to label any group or belief as the “anti,” it’s easy to see that there are different definitions of what people consider to be “pro-Israel.” After the recent brutal murder of the Fogel family in Israel, representatives from the left and right sent letters to President Obama, advising him on how to stand with Israel in the conflict with Palestine. Obama’s dedication to the “Pro-Peace” sentiment is supported by J Street and its passionate followers, but remains  neglected by Netanyahu’s administration. Meanwhile, Republicans have been accusing Obama of taking a weak stance in supporting Israel, especially after his reluctance to veto a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s settlement policy.

Ahead of Palin’s visit to Israel last week, an Obama official reportedly joked that the Netanyahu was “waiting for President Palin.” But preoccupation with American campaign strategies, lobbyists, and party lines seems increasingly distracting during a time of violent unrest in the Middle East. The real problem is that powerful stances on foreign policy are becoming dangerously polarized, to a point where disingenuous jabs will be made from each side.  AIPAC was recently condemned for using the recent bombing in Jerusalem in its fund-raising and J Street has been accused of criticizing other organizations in order to promote a more leftist standing. Instead of figuring out who is centrist, hypocritical, leftist, or conservative, the focus should be put back on a practical strategy for the safety of Israeli citizens and the ways in which America can use its resources to help.

At J Street, Attempting to Redefine “Pro-Israel”

By Niv Elis

In its second-ever conference in Washington, DC this week, the self-described “Pro-Peace, Pro-Israel” lobby group J Street drew some 2,000 left-leaning Israel supporters.

By its very existence J Street, has sparked a conflicted and sometimes angry debate within the Jewish community as to what it means to be “pro-Israel.”  Before J Street, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) held a virtual monopoly in Washington on the term pro-Israel.  For AIPAC, it meant supporting a “strong U.S.-Israel relationship” by keeping disagreements out of the public spotlight and, more broadly, supporting the policies of the democratically elected government in Israel, regardless of who was in power.  But critics, including many J Street supporters, accuse AIPAC of being more sympathetic to the conservative Likud party and promoting its hard-line policies.

J Street has its own critics, who argue that it provides political cover for those who undermine or delegitimize Israel.  After all, they say, how can publicly criticizing Israel and its policies be construed as “Pro-Israel?”

In order to get a better understanding, Moment asked participants in J Street’s conference what being pro-Israel meant to them.  These are some of the responses:

“It means supporting the best interest of the state of Israel, which means supporting peace.” -Yahel Metalon, New York, NY

“To me being pro-Israel means caring deeply about Israel, its security, its fate and the fate of the Israeli people.  It means hoping for a better Israel, making it a more democratic, safer place for all its citizens to be.” –Shiri Ourian, Moshav Kfar Neter, Israel

“I support a peaceful Israel that is there forever, living in peace, that can count on being secure in its future.  I have a dream of seeing Israel at peace forever and would love to see that come to pass in my lifetime.”  -Bruce Pollock, Rochester, NY

“I think being pro-Israel is about really having the conversation about the future of Israel, where you want it to go and helping to shape that in the present in every capacity whether it’s social, political, economic, educational, all of it.  It’s tying conversation and activism.”  -Darya Shaikh, New York, NY

“I have no idea.  I’m from Israel.  I grew up there and moved to New York in my twenties, so I really can’t answer that question.  This conference is the first time I ever felt there was a viable, Jewish American Left that I can associate with.  I haven’t felt that since I moved from Israel.” -Avi Criden, Israel

“It means defending Israel, when necessary, against its very real enemies, providing for its security and also defending its democratic institutions and ensuring that it can have a stable future as a prosperous, democratic and peaceful state.”  -Ben Alter, New Haven, CT

“It means to be for Israel, for the state, for the survival of Israel.  How do you demonstrate it?  Don’t hate yourself.” –Isi Tenenbom, Hamburg, Germany

“It means thinking about everything in a slightly different way.  I feel a push and a pull, a need to be involved.  I’m afraid to be involved.  Where do you stop with that involvement?  It’s this love conflict and it takes a lot of excitement and motivation to consider things in a different way” –Hilda Blyer, Ottawa, Canada

“I think it’s important for American Jews to be concerned about social justice in at least two countries.  In my mind it’s the obligation of American Jews to assert their concern that Israel be activated as a force for peace, in its interest and in America’s interest.” -Marvin Sparrow, Boston, MA

“I guess to support both a physical place, in terms of a home land—a safe place for Jewish people to go and a place where Jewish people from around the world can feel culturally and spiritually fulfilled in some way—and that includes it being a place where people’s rights are respected.  Ultimately I think that pursuing peace and respecting the rights of others are a very important part of being pro-Israel.  To me being Jewish has to involve justice, and I don’t want to have to choose between those values and having that physical place for safety.” -Daniel Marans, Washington, DC

“I have no f*cking clue.  That’s kind of why I’m here, isn’t it? -Raphaela Wyman-Kelman, New York, NY

What do you think it means to be “Pro-Israel?”  Leave us a comment and let us know!

Additional reporting by Sala Levin

Jews Up For Grabs

By Symi Rom-Rymer

In advertising the November debate between Alan Dershowitz and Jeremy Ben-Ami, the 92nd St. Y framed it as a discussion over Israeli policy, Iran, and military vs. diplomatic strategies in the Middle East.   Yet it turned out to be a debate not so much about foreign policy, as a fight for the right to represent the Jewish community.   A clash between the old and the new.  Who has the right to speak for American Jews? Can that right extend to more than one group?  And most importantly, (at least to Dershowitz) who has earned that right?

There was, of course, the requisite tussling over J Street’s branding and each of their positions on Iran but the real flashpoint erupted around J Street’s very existence.   Despite its successes in its first 18 months, including being named as “in” on the Washington Post’s “What’s In and What’s Out for 2010” list, Dershowitz dismissed it is a small and unimportant organization.  Instead, he magnanimously offered to fold J Street into AIPAC, thus preserving its position within and without the Jewish community.  Furthermore, he made it clear that AIPAC deserves this distinction because it “has been the standard, traditional organization”—in other words, it has been around longer. Continue reading