In Gregory Levey’s How to Make Peace in the Middle East in Six Months or Less Without Leaving Your Apartment, he tells of sitting on a panel about the Arab-Israeli conflict when a Palestinian man in the audience leans in toward the Palestinian sitting next to Levey and says: “It’s easier to deal with the extreme Zionists. Much harder to deal with the moderates.”
I wondered about the meaning of this quote until I read Adam Kredo’s story in this week’s Washington Jewish Week, about the latest project from J Street. The group brought in seven former Israeli officials to lobby Congress and the White House to accept the 1949 armistice lines as the basis for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations–loudly and overwhelmingly rejected by Israelis and the Congress. When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected those terms in his visit to the U.S., his popularity jumped, and formerly anti-Bibi Israelis were telling the Washington Post: “Now he’s our guy. He’s the voice of Israel.”
But this moment of Israeli unity and national pride was too much for J Street, which just had to find a way to bring them down. Reading Kredo’s story, I realized it’s not the moderates the Palestinian was talking about being unable to deal with; it’s the “moderates.”
Unlike actual moderates, who occupy the middle ground, these “moderates” are people who hold no principles, merely existing to tear at consensus and whose raison d’être is opposing whatever is being practiced at the moment by people they don’t trust. This has always been the case for J Street, an organization which announced its founding by simply attacking the existing infrastructure of pro-Israel support in crude, hyper-partisan political terms.
I’m not sure we ever got a satisfying answer as to what bothers J Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami so much about Israel’s friendship with the United States. But Levey’s Palestinian acquaintance may have come closest: Ben-Ami, pretending to be a moderate, is a “moderate.” In some cases, Ben-Ami’s political positions are so fringe even the Israeli hard-left won’t associate themselves with him. But that’s what a “moderate” does. If Bibi Netanyahu says Israel has the right to defend itself, and the Israeli public mostly agrees, the consensus must be targeted. And J Street is just the group to do it.
J Street is leading a leftist chorus for generous land swaps in any two-state solution. But where was Ben-Ami during Netanyahu’s first stint as prime minister, when Bibi proposed the idea of land swaps to Arafat? Ben-Ami’s boss, President Clinton, didn’t seem too keen on the idea, dismissing it out of hand. Now, of course, the idea is trendy on the Left. Does Ben-Ami praise Netanyahu for being the first to offer such an idea, a decade and a half ago? Does J Street laud Bibi as a visionary for coining a plan they have finally understood the wisdom of? Of course not.
Might we hear some praise from J Street for the fact that, as historian Yaacov Lozowick has pointed out, Netanyahu is to the left of Yitzhak Rabin on the issues of Palestinian statehood and borders? Again, of course not.
I feel for that Palestinian who sat near Levey at the panel. He wants to negotiate with people who believe in something and understand the history and the land. He has no use for “moderates,” who change their position based on who is in the prime minister’s office (and Israel changes leaders so often, it becomes impractical to even try to keep up with the evolving nonsense of groups like J Street).
Such partisanship in place of principles offers nothing to the Palestinians and Israelis who are truly in search of peace.