J Street’s unanswered questions
In his column “J Street and what it really means to be pro-Israel” (online, Jan. 5), J Street’s president, Jeremy Ben-Ami, states that, “I would be glad to meet publicly with those who disagree and discuss civilly our views of US-Israel relations, Israel’s future, and the organization I lead.” Pardon me if I doubt his honesty. On April 19, 2021, I wrote Mr. Ben-Ami and asked him the following questions. He never responded. I ask them again. Let’s see if he is a man of his word.
My letter was headed “Trying to understand your position on Israel and the Palestinians.”
J. Street is being stomped on by many Jewish commentators and web sites that claim that its support for Israel is a pretense, that its prime consideration is the welfare of the Palestinian Arabs. Before jumping aboard, I would be honored if you would take the time to answer some questions that would make your position clear.
Do you accept that Jews are the aboriginal people of Israel, formerly Judea, formerly Judah, formerly Israel?
Do you have a problem with the existence of a Jewish state whose national anthem relates to Jewish yearning?
Would you agree that the official position of Gazan Palestinians and many in the PA is to bring an end to Israel?
Would you agree that Omar Barghouti, the founder of BDS stated that Israel must be euthanized?
What is your position on the IHRA definition of antisemitism?
Israel has made a number of peace offers to the Palestinians including one that was brokered by Bill Clinton, actually signed by the parties and then abrogated by Yasser Arafat. Why do you think the Palestinians refuse all offers, and if they continue doing this, what hope is there for peace?
Do you believe that Israel is responsible to vaccinate Arabs living outside of Israel in self-governing areas? If so why?
Do you believe that Zionism is an oppressive system of subjugation or the yearning of diaspora Jews to return to the land form which their ancestors were forced to flee? Are the two explanations compatible?
Would you agree that people who are reluctant to overtly smear Jews do so by substituting the word “Zionist”?
Thank you so much for responding to my questions.
Calgary, Alberta Canada
In the Jan. 6 edition of the Jewish Chronicle, Rabbi Rick Jacobs cites the determination of the Maccabees for the Reform movement’s fight against the new Israeli government’s turn to the right. This analogy seems ironic.
The Maccabees were not only fighting against the evils of the Greco-Syrian regime but against Jews that were assimilating and reforming the religious practices of the day. The Maccabees were religious zealots more closely tied to the groups Rabbi Jacobs is calling out against — the nationalists and ultra-Orthodox.
The Maccabees would more closely align with Netanyahu’s government than the American Reform movement. His analogy is an example of appropriation.
Israel in a democratic election formed a new government. Hopefully his liberal movement’s fight for the Israel they love and desire leads to a fair and equitable Israel and not in their zealous pursuit an Israel we all lose and mourn by empowering her enemies.
Questioning Ben-Ami’s love for Israel
I agree with Jeremy Ben-Ami on just one thing: We shouldn’t let the far-right define what it means to be pro-Israel (“Don’t let the far-right define what it means to be ‘pro-Israel,’” online, Jan. 4).
But, even more, we shouldn’t let anyone like Ben-Ami define what it means.
Ben-Ami professes to love Israel and to be pro-Israel, but look at what he and J Street actually do and say when he’s not claiming to be pro-Israel. Almost all J Street’s lobbying efforts have been in opposition to the Israeli government. It hasn’t mattered whether Israel has had a right-wing or left-wing government.
If you believe a loved one is making a serious mistake, you speak directly to your loved one, perhaps with others; you don’t write op-eds in The New York Times criticizing that person. If Ben-Ami loved Israel but thought it was making some mistakes, then he would be directly lobbying Israelis and Israeli leaders; he would not constantly be writing harshly critical op-eds in The New York Times and whatever other newspapers would publish him.
There’s certainly no shortage of harsh and unfair criticism of Israel. All Ben-Ami does, as he must know, is alienate Israelis, make them less likely to pay attention to what he says, and give more ammunition to Israel’s many enemies.
He complains about the mantra “J Street is many things but it’s not pro-Israel.”
By his words and by his actions, Jeremy Ben-Ami has demonstrated its truth.
Understanding what it means to be pro-Israel
Yitzhak Rabin understood Israel’s security needs better than J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami can ever hope to (“Don’t let the far-right define what it means to be ‘pro-Israel,’” online, Jan. 4). During the War of Independence (1948-1949), Rabin commanded the Harel Brigade, which deployed on the Jerusalem front. He served as O.C. Northern Command (1956-1959); as chief of operations and deputy chief of staff (1959-1964); and as chief of staff (1964-1968), commanding the IDF during the Six-Day War.
Rabin was keenly aware that political conditions in the Arab world can change rapidly. This requires that Israeli security must be based on more than a snapshot of the situation at some specific time.
Perhaps Mr. Ben-Ami does not recall that in his last speech before the Knesset, PM Rabin was very clear about Israel’s security needs: “The borders of the State of Israel, during the permanent solution, will be beyond the lines which existed before the Six-Day War. We will not return to the June 4, 1967, lines … The security border of the State of Israel will be located in the Jordan Valley, in the broadest meaning of that term.”
Israelis — not what Ben-Ami calls the pro-Israel American majority — are the only people who can legitimately determine which policies will best ensure Israel’s future. It is Israelis, not American Jews, who will bear the consequences of whatever decisions are made.
Understanding this reality is what it really means to be pro-Israel.