Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister stopped just short of calling J Street “anti-Israel” at a February 16 meeting of American Jewish leaders in Jerusalem.
“The thing that troubles me is that they don’t present themselves as to what they really are,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon in an address to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “They should not call themselves pro-Israeli.”
Ayalon’s remark stood in contrast to a recent thaw in the relationship between J Street, a left-wing lobbying group, and the Israeli government, including statements by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, who, after calling J Street a “unique problem” in a December address, is reconciling with the group.
In case you missed the exchange between J Street executive director Jeremy Ben-Ami and Union for Reform Judaism president Eric Yoffie — moderated by Forward editor Jane Eisner — at the recently wrapped J Street conference, you can watch it in its entirety here:
Other videos of conference sessions can be viewed here.
A Tight Squeeze
It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book. When planning an event, always make sure the room is just big enough or, even better, a little too small for the number of people you are expecting. That way, the room will always be full and you can avoid any embarrassing bald spots in the crowd.
But that was not the case this morning as J Street began its inaugural national conference at a downtown Washington hotel. The rooms were way too crowded to suspect any deliberate underestimation.
Organizers were expecting a little more than thousand participants. They were even very proud of this number. But as the doors opened, the numbers grew. Three hundred walk-ins checked in during the first hours of the day and others showed up the night before. That brought the number of conference participants to 1,500. It was a huge success for J Street, and a big problem for those who actually tried to make it into the breakout sessions that were packed way beyond capacity.
The Israel Project and J Street are now officially at war.
The two groups have been trading barbs in Jewish media outlets in recent days over leaks from the Israel Project’s (TIP) “message guide” on what to say when talking about Israel.
Columnist Doug Bloomfield reported in the New Jersey Jewish News about the manual and provided some juicy excerpts that stirred immediate controversy. Among them was The Israel Project’s suggestion that its activists compare the demand for removal of all Jewish settlements from the West Bank to “ethnic cleansing.”
The best argument on this issue, states the TIP manual, is that since Israel provides its Arab citizens with full rights, the idea of removing Jewish settlers from Palestinian areas would be racist.
The 140-page guidebook is titled “2009 Global Language Dictionary” and was prepared by political strategist and pollster Frank Luntz. At the bottom of each page it carries a warning: “not for distribution or publication” but a full copy was obtained by the Forward.
Here are some ideas for effective advocating for Israel, according to TIP:
Don’t talk about religion Americans who see the bible as their sourcebook on foreign affairs are already supporters of Israel. Religious fundamentalists are Israel’s “Amen Choir” and they make up approximately one-fourth of the American public and Israel’s strongest friends in the world. However, some of those who are most likely to believe that Israel is a religious state are most hostile towards Israel
Concede a point Look for opportunities in every TV debate or interview to concede a point to the interviewer or debate partner. It doesn’t have to be a major point. The point isn’t to undermine some essential plank of Israel’s foreign policy platform. But the simple words “you make a good point” do wonders among an audience.
And this one:
Never, never, NEVER speak in declarative statements. Never
The information leaked from TIP’s manual instantly got all the red-alert lights flashing at the headquarters of the Jewish dovish groups. Americans for Peace Now’s Ori Nir argued that “American Jews increasingly realize that settlements undermine Israel’s ability to survive, long term, as a democratic Jewish state and that they undermine America’s national security interest.”
And over at J Street, an immediate action alert went out, calling supporters to sign on a letter demanding The Israel Project remove any “pro settler fear mongering” language from its talking points.
TIP’s president and founder Jennifer Laszlo-Mizrahi responded to JTA that that the withdrawal from Gaza was in fact an act of ethnic cleansing, since all Jews “including the dead Jews” were removed.
Laszlo-Mizrahi also took a shot at J Street: “I get up in the morning and say ‘How can I attack the Iranian nuclear threat,” said Mizrahi. J Street “gets up in the morning and says ‘How can I attack other Jewish organizations?’”
There are only a few days left until Benjamin Netanyahu descends on Washington, and preparations within the Jewish community are in high gear. That means, of course, that it’s time for some inter-organizational fighting.
The first question is who will get to meet Bibi. The Israeli embassy is putting together a list of 40 communal leaders that will cram into the Blair House meeting room on Tuesday to hear the prime minister sum up his first visit with President Obama.
So far, based on a partial sample of Jewish organizations, all the major mainstream groups are in, as are some of the smaller political groups (Zionist Organization of America, from the right, and Americans for Peace Now, from the left). Notably absent is the up and coming dovish lobby J Street. Not a big surprise considering the group’s harsh criticism of the Netanyahu government and their call for U.S. pressure on Israel to move forward with the peace process.
Then there’s the substance.
All Jewish advocacy groups are pitching in to tell Congress, the administration and even the Israelis what exactly should be said and done at the May 18 meeting between Netanyahu and Obama.
AIPAC is lobbying for a Congressional letter supporting the White House’s drive for peace, but stating that “the parties themselves must negotiate the details of any agreement.”
J Street is pushing for a different letter, which calls for a policy that will “actively working to de-escalate conflict and advance peace.”
But that’s not all: Americans for Peace Now put out an action alert calling on its activists to urge Obama to “stick to his guns,” and not give up on the two-state solution. And the Israel Policy Forum out a letter, signed by former ambassadors to the region, encouraging Obama to take an active role in promoting Israeli–Palestinian peace.
So, which of the letters will the president have read as he sits down with Netanyahu in the Oval Office?
Given his extremely busy schedule this week, probably none of them.
UPDATE: As of a little bit after noon, the J Street statement in question is back online.
UPDATE II: Isaac Luria of J Street e-mails that the “text was down due to a technical error. It’s back up, as you’ve noted. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.”
J Street, the dovish new Israel lobbying group, launched last year to great fanfare. On the left, there were high hopes that J Street would be an “alternative Aipac” — a bold new endeavor that would finally give Jewish doves a voice inside the Beltway. On the right, there were those who questioned the veracity of the first half of J Street’s self-description as “pro-Israel, pro-peace.”
Israel’s Gaza offensive was the first serious Israeli-Arab conflagration to come along since the group was launched. So it’s no surprise that when J Street spoke, there were plenty of folks — friends, foes and fence-sitters alike — eagerly waiting to see what tack it would take. Sure enough, J Street managed to make quite a splash, sparking a ferocious intra-communal debate that played out on the blogosphere and in the pages of the Forward.
In its initial response to Israel’s air-strikes in Gaza, J Street put out a December 27 statement from its executive director, Jeremy Ben-Ami. He warned that the air-strikes “will deepen the cycle of violence in the region” and called for “an urgent end to the new hostilities.”
It was a second statement, however, that really seemed to strike a nerve. That statement —based upon an earlier e-mail missive sent out by J Street’s online director, Isaac Luria — reiterated the earlier call for an end to the violence. Its rhetoric, however, went further. It explicitly criticized Israel’s actions on moral — as opposed to essentially pragmatic — grounds, and seemed to compare, or at least refused to contrast, Israeli actions with those of Hamas:
Neither Israelis nor Palestinians have a monopoly on right or wrong. While there is nothing “right” in raining rockets on Israeli families or dispatching suicide bombers, there is nothing “right” in punishing a million and a half already-suffering Gazans for the actions of the extremists among them.
And there is nothing to be gained from debating which injustice is greater or came first. What’s needed now is immediate action to stop the violence before it spirals out of control.
That language drew a sharp rebuke from Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism and arguably the Jewish communal establishment’s most high-profile dove. “These words are deeply distressing because they are morally deficient, profoundly out of touch with Jewish sentiment and also appallingly naïve,” he wrote in an opinion article for the Forward.
J Street, for its part, made no apologies for its statement. In fact, in a December 31 statement responding to Yoffie’s article, Ben-Ami struck a note of defiance, explaining that J Street “takes serious issue” with Yoffie’s article:
It is hard for us to understand how the leading reform rabbi in North America could call our effort to articulate a nuanced view on these difficult issues “morally deficient.” If our views are “naïve” and “morally deficient”, then so are the views of scores of Israeli journalists, security analysts, distinguished authors, and retired IDF officers who have posed the same questions about the Gaza attack as we have.
Now, however, that second statement, containing the language Yoffie called “naïve” and “morally deficient,” has vanished from J Street’s Web site. Go to the url, and you get the following message: “Access denied… You are not authorized to access this page.” It has been gone for at least the past several days.
Note: J Street has responded with an apology and explanation. See the updates to this post below.
It’s not hard to find examples of inflammatory rhetoric from Christians United for Israel founder John Hagee. All you have to do is listen to his sermons, read his books or, for the more lazy among us, do a quick Google search. J Street, the new dovish Israel lobby, dug up a few of Hagee’s greatest hits for the YouTube video that it’s circulating as the centerpiece of its campaign scolding Senator Joseph Lieberman for his embrace of the controversial pastor.
Given that there is no shortage of material to work with, it’s particularly strange that J Street would throw in a sound bite that seems to be the product of incredibly misleading editing.
At exactly 37 seconds into the following J Street video, you can hear Hagee say: “Islam is a doctrine of death.”
The problem is that this snippet omits a single — and quite significant — word. In a 2006 sermon at Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., Hagee said that “Radical Islam is a doctrine of death.” (Emphasis is mine.)