Commentary Magazine


Topic: J Street

“Orthodox” as a Pejorative: The Democrats and the Jews

Democratic Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky’s controversial comments at the J Street conference–a gathering seemingly formed for the purpose of disparaging the rest of the Jewish community–deftly illustrated a couple of uncomfortable truths about modern liberalism’s increasingly rocky relationship with religious belief. Liberalism itself has become a religion, and so the left generally seeks to either coopt or delegitimize competing religious practice. At J Street, Schakowsky engaged in the latter.

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Democratic Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky’s controversial comments at the J Street conference–a gathering seemingly formed for the purpose of disparaging the rest of the Jewish community–deftly illustrated a couple of uncomfortable truths about modern liberalism’s increasingly rocky relationship with religious belief. Liberalism itself has become a religion, and so the left generally seeks to either coopt or delegitimize competing religious practice. At J Street, Schakowsky engaged in the latter.

As JTA reported:

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois apologized for referring to a one-time political rival as an “Orthodox Jew” in casting him as a threat to liberal interests. …

“In 2010, I had an election within our community. That is, I ran against a Jewish Orthodox Tea Party Republican who made it very clear that actually, Jan Schakowsky was anti-Israel because of the positions that she took,” Schakowsky said. She thanked J Street because it “came to the rescue” with money and moral support.

Schakowsky in 2010 faced Joel Pollak, a conservative activist, in her suburban Chicago district.

After JTA tweeted a reference to Schakowsky’s comments, the Orthodox Union asked her for a clarification.

“In the context of her remarks and speaking to such an audience, the Congresswoman’s use of the term ‘Orthodox’ was a negative term – as negative for that audience as Tea Party and Republican,” the O.U.’s Washington director, Nathan Diament, said in a statement.

To her credit, Schakowsky offered a sincere apology, though she did deny the obvious intent of her comment. But it was important and revelatory. The lede of the JTA story gets it exactly right: Schakowsky saw her opponent’s Orthodox faith as a threat to her view of proper politics and governance.

There are a few points to unpack here. The first is that this is further confirmation of what Norman Podhoretz called the “Torah of Liberalism.” Many left-leaning Jews have elevated their political ideals to the level of scripture.

A related point is what follows from that: they have demoted scripture to the level of politics. That’s why Schakowsky–who is Jewish–thought it relevant to add “Orthodox” to the list of political modifiers that included “Tea Party” and “Republican.” To Schakowsky, and no doubt to many liberal Jews, Pollak was a political opponent because of his level of private religious observance.

It’s entirely appropriate that her comments were made at a J Street event. Back in 2010 the Washington Jewish Week noted that J Street had launched a website dedicated to personally attacking Bill Kristol and Gary Bauer. The site “highlights the pair’s stances on gay marriage, a woman’s right to choose, Sarah Palin, the Tea Party movement and the separation of church and state,” and left even liberal Jews confused. But they shouldn’t have been confused: J Street has always been a Democratic pressure group, of which Israel is only one excuse to smear political opponents and settle scores. It’s why they saw fit to launch a campaign to promote abortion while selling themselves to donors as a “pro-Israel” lobby.

The liberal positions on these issues have nothing to do with Israel, but they do conflict with strict adherence to Jewish law and tradition. And so they were targeted.

The only strange part of Schakowsky giving this speech to J Street, in fact, was that she certainly didn’t need them and they certainly didn’t ride to the rescue. In 2010 she won about 66 percent of the vote in a district Roll Call rates as “safe.” She was never in danger of losing, notwithstanding the nefarious Orthodox Jews lurking about her district.

One of the prevailing myths of the liberal view of history is that religious conservatives–especially evangelical Christians–greatly increased their activity in the public square in order to attempt to force religious doctrine into legislative governance, rather than as a reaction to what they saw as a bureaucratic intrusion into private religious practice. Jewish participation seems destined to follow a similar trend, but the real numbers of Orthodox Jews in the U.S. mean they won’t have a tangible impact on national political contests in the immediate future, even if they continue wading more into the public sphere.

That would be true, at least, as a standalone bloc. But Orthodox interests align with many conservative Christian interests as well, which align with certain libertarian interests, for example with regard to the debate over religious freedom and forced compliance with regulations that violate religious liberty. Seen in that light, then, the raw numbers of politically aware (and right-of-center) Orthodox Jews aren’t nearly as significant as what they represent: the expansion of a broad conservative alliance pushing back on encroachments on constitutional freedoms.

Israel is only part of this story, because it has long been a bipartisan cause. But it’s poised to become a larger part if Democrats continue distancing themselves from support for Israel and casting Israel as a litmus test of partisan loyalty, as President Obama has done.

And that’s a more likely justification for Schakowsky’s professed gratitude toward J Street for her reelection campaign. She didn’t need them for votes, or really anything tangible. She needed cover from an ostensibly “pro-Israel” group because her party’s traditional support for Israel is waning, and J Street is dedicated to improving the political viability of declining support for Israel.

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Baker Creating J Street Challenge for Jeb

The announcement that former Secretary of State James Baker was one of the advisors to Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign created a minor stir a few weeks ago. As our Michael Rubin noted at the time, Baker’s long record of hostility to Israel and consistent backing for engagement with rogue regimes ought to make him radioactive for a candidate seeking to brand himself as a supporter of the Jewish state and a critic of the Obama administration’s foreign policy. But Baker’s status as a faithful family retainer for the Bush family might have given Jeb a pass, especially since, as Michael wrote, another far wiser former secretary of state — George P. Schultz — is considered to be Jeb’s top foreign policy advisor. But the news that Baker will serve as a keynote speaker at the upcoming annual conference of the left-wing J Street lobby ought to change the conversation about this topic. Coming as it does hard on the heels of the president’s open threats to isolate Israel, having someone so closely associated with his campaign serve in that role at an event dedicated to support for Obama’s hostile attitude toward Israel obligates Jeb to not let this happen without saying or doing something to disassociate himself from Baker.

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The announcement that former Secretary of State James Baker was one of the advisors to Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign created a minor stir a few weeks ago. As our Michael Rubin noted at the time, Baker’s long record of hostility to Israel and consistent backing for engagement with rogue regimes ought to make him radioactive for a candidate seeking to brand himself as a supporter of the Jewish state and a critic of the Obama administration’s foreign policy. But Baker’s status as a faithful family retainer for the Bush family might have given Jeb a pass, especially since, as Michael wrote, another far wiser former secretary of state — George P. Schultz — is considered to be Jeb’s top foreign policy advisor. But the news that Baker will serve as a keynote speaker at the upcoming annual conference of the left-wing J Street lobby ought to change the conversation about this topic. Coming as it does hard on the heels of the president’s open threats to isolate Israel, having someone so closely associated with his campaign serve in that role at an event dedicated to support for Obama’s hostile attitude toward Israel obligates Jeb to not let this happen without saying or doing something to disassociate himself from Baker.

Baker won’t be the only celebrity in attendance at the conference. White House chief of staff James McDonough will also be there signaling the president’s approval for his faithful liberal fans. That’s an encouraging development for a group that, despite its boasts about supplanting AIPAC as the voice of American Jewry on Israel, has struggled for influence even during the administration of a president they ardently support. J Street has little juice on Capitol Hill, as only hard-core left-wingers tend to endorse their proposals with the overwhelming majority of members of both political parties rightly understanding that AIPAC remains the address for the pro-Israel community.

Even the Obama administration has often bitterly disappointed J Street, especially during the president’s re-election campaign, when the White House made clear that its focus was on appeal to the mainstream pro-Israel community, not its left-wing base. In 2012, the president not only addressed the AIPAC conference but also went farther toward the pro-Israel community on the Iran nuclear issue than ever before.

But in recent months as Obama openly feuded with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu over the president’s pursuit of détente with Iran, J Street has been feeling more love from the administration. After the White House responded to Netanyahu’s re-election with petulance and threats, J Street is thrilled with a president who seems to have finally decided that he need not hide his disdain for the Jewish state’s electorate.

Baker served the last president before Obama who engaged in feuds with Israeli leaders. Though rightly considered egregious at the time, George H.W. Bush’s provocations against the Shamir government seem tame when compared to Obama’s stunts. But as the moving force behind the elder Bush’s attacks on AIPAC as well as a policy of pressure against the Jewish state, Baker is rightly remembered as a foe of Israel.

Baker did help the campaign of George W. Bush, especially during the Florida recount. But he was a consistent critic of Bush 43’s foreign policy. While it is to be expected that he would rally to support the third member of the Bush clan to seek the presidency, for someone so publicly identified with Jeb’s campaign to be the keynoter at J Street’s conclave creates a much bigger problem for the candidate than even Michael Rubin thought a few weeks ago.

Simply put, Bush can’t let Baker’s appearance at the J Street event go unremarked upon. He must either explicitly distance himself from Baker’s appearance and from J Street’s support for Obama’s threats against Israel or ask Baker to formally disassociate himself from his presidential effort. That will be hard for Jeb as, like the rest of this family, he prizes loyalty and Baker has been the most faithful soldier in their family retinue for decades. But if he allows this to pass without telling the world that he condemns J Street’s activities and Baker’s support for Obama’s policies, it will taint him and his campaign. The man who would be Bush 45 has a strong record of personal support for Israel and was rightly among the first to congratulate Netanyahu on his decisive victory in Tuesday’s election. But if he keeps Baker on now, it will be difficult to argue that he can be counted upon to stand with Israel against Obama.

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Obama and the Jewish Left Politicizing Iran

One of the main talking points of those criticizing Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s plan to speak to Congress on the question of Iran sanctions is that by opposing President Obama’s stand on the issue, he is turning support for Israel into a partisan question. This would be a grievous fault if he were guilty of doing that, but while Netanyahu’s decision to stick with his planned address is a mistake, those who are characterizing the debate on Iran as one in which the prime minister has undermined bipartisan support for measures that are important to Israel couldn’t be more wrong. And there is no better example of why this interpretation is wrong than the battle being waged to influence Senator Cory Booker. Though support for more pressure on Iran has always had broad bipartisan support, it is the Jewish left and their allies who are doing everything possible to frame the issue as one on which Democrats must blindly follow the lead of the head of their party, principle and the security of Israel be damned.

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One of the main talking points of those criticizing Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s plan to speak to Congress on the question of Iran sanctions is that by opposing President Obama’s stand on the issue, he is turning support for Israel into a partisan question. This would be a grievous fault if he were guilty of doing that, but while Netanyahu’s decision to stick with his planned address is a mistake, those who are characterizing the debate on Iran as one in which the prime minister has undermined bipartisan support for measures that are important to Israel couldn’t be more wrong. And there is no better example of why this interpretation is wrong than the battle being waged to influence Senator Cory Booker. Though support for more pressure on Iran has always had broad bipartisan support, it is the Jewish left and their allies who are doing everything possible to frame the issue as one on which Democrats must blindly follow the lead of the head of their party, principle and the security of Israel be damned.

As NJ.com reports, Booker has always been considered a stalwart supporter of Israel but he is under intense pressure from Democratic partisans to bail on the bipartisan Iran sanctions bill being co-sponsored by Robert Menendez, the senior senator from his state and a fellow Democrat.

Booker received massive Jewish and pro-Israel support in his bid for the Senate but he is nowhere to be seen on the issue of Iran right now. Though the only real chance to get Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions is to place additional pressure on the Islamist regime by warning it that more sanctions will be imposed if they continue to stall the negotiations, Booker has been mute on the issue and refused to sign on as one of the numerous co-sponsors of the bill proposed by Republican Mark Kirk and Menendez.

What could be preventing him from taking a stand on which there is a broad pro-Israel consensus? The answer is obvious. It is pressure from the White House and partisan Democrats who are seeking to prey on the blind partisan loyalties of Democrats in an effort to derail the sanctions effort. The president sees the sanctions bill as a threat to his policy because it is precisely aimed at strengthening his hand in the talks with Iran. That’s because he sees the talks as not so much a tool in order to force Tehran to dismantle their nuclear program, as he promised in his 2012 foreign-policy debate with Mitt Romney, but a means by which to advance a new détente with the Islamist regime. And in order to keep this dubious goal on track, he is calling in all of his political markers with fellow Democrats. Since he and Booker have been political allies, he is seeking to use his leverage with the senator in order to get him to toe the White House’s agenda rather than the one followed by Menendez, Charles Schumer, and many other pro-Israel Democrats.

That this effort is being backed by the National Jewish Democratic Council is particularly troubling since it shows just how far partisan fronts will go in terms of discarding their pro-Israel principles in order to do the bidding of their party masters. This is also the case with the left-wing J Street lobby, whose behavior has often given the lie to its claim to be both “pro-Israel” as well as “pro-peace.”

J Street is leading the charge against Netanyahu with a web campaign against the prime minister and Iran sanctions that the Anti-Defamation League has denounced as “inflammatory and repugnant.” In it, J Street has denounced the prime minister claiming, “Netanyahu does not speak for me.” To claim, as they do, that the prime minister’s stand on Iran is “hardline” and therefore out of touch with American Jews is nothing short of astonishing since it assumes that there is some kind of debate about the virtues of détente with Iran within American Jewry or even Americans in general. The ADL has called on Netanyahu to postpone his speech, but even they realize that the tone of the J Street attack on the Israeli is redolent of the sort of dual-loyalty arguments used by anti-Zionists.

It must be understood that the reason why Obama and his Jewish apologists are focusing on Netanyahu’s speech is because they wish to obscure or to downplay the merits of the debate on Iran sanctions. The president and J Street have always taken it as an article of faith that pressure on Israel is a necessary component to the Middle East peace process. This is a fallacy, but they seem to think that support for pressure on Iran is somehow a function of “hardline” Israeli ideology or Republican politics. Nothing could be farther from the truth, as Menendez and other pro-Israel Democrats have continually pointed out. It is only by treating Netanyahu’s foolish but entirely appropriate efforts to influence the sanctions debate as something that is beyond the pale can they avoid having to defend treating Iran with kid gloves. That the NJDC would choose Obama over Israel is disappointing but perhaps understandable give that it is nothing but a partisan front. But for a group that claims to be pro-Israel to be conducting a campaign that can only be described as incitement against the democratically elected leader of the State of Israel illustrates just how disingenuous their “pro-Israel” tag has become.

It is worth noting that Booker co-sponsored a similar bill sponsored by Kirk and Menendez last year that former Majority Leader Harry Reid torpedoed at the behest of Obama. So Booker can’t be opposed to the bill on principle. The only reason for him or anyone else on both sides of the aisle to oppose more sanctions on Iran is pure political partisanship. And it is the Democrats and their spear-carriers like the NJDC and J Street that have divided the pro-Israel community on these narrow grounds purely to advance the agenda of President Obama. Say what you will about Netanyahu’s tactics, but there is no doubt that the people who are trying to turn Israel into a partisan issue are left-wing Democrats, not Netanyahu and the Republicans.

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J Street Ally Promotes Anti-Semitic Slander

Yesterday on the Sunday morning talk shows, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough attempted to walk back some of the most intemperate off-the-record comments from administration officials about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to speak to Congress about Iran sanctions. But even as he reaffirmed the strength of the alliance, some of the president’s supporters continued to not only campaign for Netanyahu to cancel his acceptance of House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation but to denigrate the Israeli leader. Among the most vocal was Kentucky Rep. John Yarmuth, who told radio talker Stephanie Miller that the invite was “close to subversion” and accused the bipartisan pro-Israel majority in Congress of dual loyalty. That should leave the Jewish group that has embraced Yarmouth—the left-wing lobby J Street—with some questions as to whether they are prepared to draw a line between their own campaign against Netanyahu and slander of Israel and pro-Israel members of Congress.

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Yesterday on the Sunday morning talk shows, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough attempted to walk back some of the most intemperate off-the-record comments from administration officials about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to speak to Congress about Iran sanctions. But even as he reaffirmed the strength of the alliance, some of the president’s supporters continued to not only campaign for Netanyahu to cancel his acceptance of House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation but to denigrate the Israeli leader. Among the most vocal was Kentucky Rep. John Yarmuth, who told radio talker Stephanie Miller that the invite was “close to subversion” and accused the bipartisan pro-Israel majority in Congress of dual loyalty. That should leave the Jewish group that has embraced Yarmouth—the left-wing lobby J Street—with some questions as to whether they are prepared to draw a line between their own campaign against Netanyahu and slander of Israel and pro-Israel members of Congress.

J Street is currently promoting a petition on its website demanding that Congress delay Netanyahu’s speech. They say the problem is timing, coming as it does weeks before the Israeli election in March. But unlike those Israelis and Americans like myself that think Netanyahu is showing poor judgment because the issue of his invitation is aiding the administration’s efforts to fight increased sanctions on Iran, J Street’s concern is just the opposite. They worry that Netanyahu’s speech may help rally Americans behind the new bipartisan sanctions legislation. They probably are also concerned about whether the speech might help Netanyahu’s reelection prospects.

J Street’s priority here is support for Obama and his policy of appeasing Iran in negotiations that are supposed to be aimed at halting Tehran’s nuclear program but which are instead increasingly aimed at promoting detente with the Islamist regime. But as discreditable as those positions are, they are a far cry from Yarmuth’s incitement.

As it turns out, the relationship between Yarmuth and J Street is close. The group’s website is also promoting an effort to get more members of Congress to sign a letter co-authored by the Kentucky congressman urging the administration to put the creation of a Palestinian state at the top of America’s foreign-policy agenda. Though couched in the language of support for a two-state solution, the letter ignores or minimizes the Palestinian rejectionism and culture of intolerance for Zionism and Jews that is the real obstacle to peace and places the onus for a solution to the conflict on Israel. Seen in the context of Yarmuth’s statements, it is hard to see it as anything but the latest effort from the left to promote pressure on the Jewish state.

Yarmuth’s interview laid bare the animus for Israel that lies behind some of the bland “pro-Israel, pro-peace” statements that serve as a cover for some of J Street’s supporters’ true intentions.

Yarmuth starts by claiming that his Jewish identity gives him particular standing to speak on Israel but then proceeds to claim that most of those who do back the Jewish state and those who seek to defend its security are merely in it for the money. Echoing some of the worst elements of the Israel Lobby thesis about support for the Jewish state, Yarmuth says members only back Israel to get campaign donations and accuses its backers of putting its interests above those of the United States:

“And you know, a lot of it has to do with fundraising — I’m sure some of it is sincere support for Israel,” Yarmuth said.

“You know, I’m a Jewish member of Congress, I’m a strong supporter of Israel, but my first obligation is to the Constitution of the United States, not to the Constitution of Israel. And unfortunately, I think, some of the demands that are made of members by AIPAC and some strong Jewish supporters are that we pay more attention — I guess we defer — to Israel more than we defer to the United States.”

Echoing the slanders of the pro-Israel community made by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, Yarmuth also said the acclaim with which Netanyahu was greeted during his speech to a joint session in 2011 was bought and paid for by AIPAC:

“And, you know, I was there in the chamber in 2011, when Netanyahu spoke, and there he got I don’t know how many standing ovations. And I was in Israel shortly thereafter, and believe me, the Israelis pay very, very close attention to events like that. And I just — the first thing out of virtually every Israeli’s mouth was: ‘What was with all the standing ovations?’ And I said: ‘Well, AIPAC was meeting in Washington that week, and the gallery was full of AIPAC members, and every one of the members all wanted to see — make sure that their constituents saw them stand up.’

Neither Yarmuth’s faith nor his relationship with J Street can justify these remarks. They are an echo of the worst sort of anti-Semitic stereotypes put about by Israel haters. Like the authors of the Israel Lobby smear and others who seek to discredit the bipartisan across-the-board pro-Israel coalition in Congress, Yarmuth fails to understand that support for Israel is part of this nation’s political DNA. It transcends party politics or region. Members of Congress back Israel because it is both good public policy and good politics. That’s because Israel is beloved by the vast majority of Americans, whether they are Jewish or not.

I understand that rabid Obama supporters like the leaders of J Street will back him in anything he does, even in appeasement of Iran, though doing so endangers Israel. One doesn’t have to think it’s smart for Netanyahu to intervene in a debate that the pro-sanctions side can win without him (in fact, it may be easier without the speech since the alleged breach of protocol gave Obama an issue that could cause some weak-willed Democrats to sustain a veto of sanctions) to understand that this kind of pushback against the speech has nothing to do with what is best for the U.S. or Israel. Yarmuth’s vile accusations show that the motivation here is to marginalize those who whose support for Israel’s safety means more to them than loyalty to Obama. The real “subversion” going on here isn’t an invitation to an allied leader to speak to Congress, but the willingness of a rogue member of Congress and his allies to trash the alliance with the Jewish state in order to promote the presidential agenda.

If J Street is serious about the “pro-Israel” part of its slogan, it must repudiate Yarmuth. If it doesn’t, a group that had little credibility as a backer of the Jewish state will be rightly branded as an ally of its enemies rather than its friends.

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Brandeis Learns a Lesson in Free Speech

When a major accusation is leveled against a high-profile individual or institution, the rebuttal can often do far more damage than the charge, by inadvertently confirming the worst of the allegations even while attempting to deny them. That seems to be the case with Brandeis University. Its response to the Wall Street Journal’s revelations about the denial of due process and speech rights to a pro-Israel student at the behest of a college J Street official appears to only buttress the case against the school.

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When a major accusation is leveled against a high-profile individual or institution, the rebuttal can often do far more damage than the charge, by inadvertently confirming the worst of the allegations even while attempting to deny them. That seems to be the case with Brandeis University. Its response to the Wall Street Journal’s revelations about the denial of due process and speech rights to a pro-Israel student at the behest of a college J Street official appears to only buttress the case against the school.

To recap: over the weekend, the Journal conducted an interview with Brandeis senior Daniel Mael. The story recounted an incident that occurred in fall 2013 and its extended aftermath. Mael is an honor-roll student and an active member of the university’s pro-Israel and Orthodox Jewish communities. Mael is currently embroiled in a more recent controversy for coming under attack for reporting the anti-cop tweets of another Brandeis student leader in the wake of the execution of two New York police officers. Mael’s pro-police stand was echoed by the university president, who stood by his right to report the public comments of the anti-police student. Unfortunately, the school’s support for Mael’s free speech rights is a rather recent development.

In October 2013, two campus pro-Israel groups hosted former Israel Defense Forces spokesman Barak Raz. Brandeis student and J Street campus leader Eli Philip apparently didn’t like what he heard from Raz, and challenged Raz and Mael in a Facebook exchange the following day.

Mael wanted to keep the debate going, “challenging [Philip] in the university’s marketplace of ideas, including by publishing articles and circulating petitions.” Philip’s response was hostile to the very idea of such debate: “Mr. Philip interpreted this as harassment, and in a Dec. 9, 2013, complaint to Brandeis administrators, he presented charges under the university code of conduct.”

The university, irresponsibly, played along and went after Mael. Officials told him not to use social media and to be prepared for Philip’s (as-yet-unexplained) charges. Philip went on a semester abroad, which brought a pause to the show trial proceedings. When Philip returned, so did the campus commissars. The charges were revealed: bullying, harassment, religious discrimination. Nonsense, but I suppose sadly appropriate for J Street to take up the practice of lawfare against supporters of Israel.

The tide would start to turn back in Mael’s favor when the Emergency Committee for Israel retained the law firm of Covington and Burling to represent Mael. Here’s how it ended:

By the end of October, Mr. Mael was finally provided a copy of the charges he would face. And Covington & Burling submitted to Brandies two lengthy legal memoranda blasting violations of Mr. Mael’s rights. One letter concluded: “We reserve all rights on behalf of Mr. Mael, including the right to assert claims for the reputational and other harms caused by the baseless allegations at the heart of this proceeding.” In other words: See you in court.

On Oct. 27 Dean Adams informed Mr. Mael via email that the “allegations against you will not be adjudicated through our Student Conduct Board. The accuser has withdrawn from the option to do so and therefore this case should be considered closed and without determination of fault or sanction. . . . Thank you for your cooperation.”

The only thing that stopped Brandeis’s assault on Mael’s rights was the possibility of having to defend their actions in lawful proceedings. Their actions were indefensible, and they knew it.

But after the Journal story ran, Brandeis president Frederick M. Lawrence wrote a letter to the Journal ostensibly to dispute the story. Except he didn’t–or, more likely, couldn’t–dispute the essential facts of the case. His letter is quite revealing; he must fill it with pompous boilerplate about how great he and his university are and therefore shut up:

Our university has an unyielding commitment to free speech and expression of ideas. No student would ever be sanctioned for holding a specific point of view. In the spirit of our namesake Justice Louis D. Brandeis, we will staunchly defend every student’s right to advocate for causes they hold dear.

Moreover, Brandeis’s affinity with Israel has never been stronger, and no university in the United States is more deeply engaged with Israel. This connection is central to our identity as the only non-sectarian university founded by the Jewish community in the country, and indeed outside of Israel, in the world. It is a connection that reinforces our engagement in far-reaching research and scholarship. Though we have students, faculty and alumni on many sides of the debate, our dozens of centers, institutes, programs, scholarships and bridge-building efforts are proof that Brandeis University embraces those who stand with Israel.

In other words, if you’re looking for what the Journal got wrong, you won’t find it here. Lawrence does say that “Though privacy laws prohibit us from providing details, The Wall Street Journal article contains several breathtaking mischaracterizations.” And who wouldn’t take the school’s word for it? Would Frederick M. Lawrence, “accomplished scholar, teacher and attorney” (according to his bio) who is “one of the nation’s leading experts on civil rights, free expression and bias crimes” lie to you? Are you really going to believe your lying eyes?

A proper rebuttal would have, well, rebutted the accusations. Brandeis wouldn’t do that, suggesting Mael’s side of the story is correct. Instead, we get assurances that the school values free speech and Israel and intellectual engagement no matter what the facts say. If the vaunted institutions of American academia are reduced to insisting their glorified press releases should be the final word on serious battles over basic constitutional rights, then they should be happy to have students like Mael around to give administrators a periodic refresher course in those rights.

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Israel’s Critics Shouldn’t Count on Hillary or the Palestinians

In today’s New York Times Magazine, we are invited to pity “liberal Zionists.” These Jews claim to love Israel but hate its government and the conflict with the Palestinians. They long for an American president to save the Jewish state from itself but are always disappointed because those pesky pro-Israel Jews who aren’t as pure of heart as the critics but seem to be better connected with Israel’s voters and American politicians. Which means as they look ahead to 2016, these hard-core Democrats who are often identified with the J Street lobby are hoping a President Hillary Clinton will do what they want and finally hammer the recalcitrant Israelis into shape. But there are two problems with this scenario. The first is that they have no idea what Hillary will do in office. The second is much more serious. It’s that the Palestinians have no intention of making peace no matter what concessions “liberal Zionists,” Washington or the Israeli government offer them.

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In today’s New York Times Magazine, we are invited to pity “liberal Zionists.” These Jews claim to love Israel but hate its government and the conflict with the Palestinians. They long for an American president to save the Jewish state from itself but are always disappointed because those pesky pro-Israel Jews who aren’t as pure of heart as the critics but seem to be better connected with Israel’s voters and American politicians. Which means as they look ahead to 2016, these hard-core Democrats who are often identified with the J Street lobby are hoping a President Hillary Clinton will do what they want and finally hammer the recalcitrant Israelis into shape. But there are two problems with this scenario. The first is that they have no idea what Hillary will do in office. The second is much more serious. It’s that the Palestinians have no intention of making peace no matter what concessions “liberal Zionists,” Washington or the Israeli government offer them.

The Hillary problem is one that every liberal interest group shares with the Jewish critics of Israel. The former secretary of state is a political chameleon who assumes whatever political positions are necessary to advance her agenda. Though a favorite of Wall Street types and someone who is believed to have more moderate and realistic views on foreign policy than President Obama, there are clear signs she will run to the left in the next year in order to steal some of Elizabeth Warren’s thunder and to forestall the liberal favorite from thinking about an insurgent run for the presidency. Though big money contributors will hope that her fake populism (“corporations don’t create jobs”) is just an act, and a poor one at that, they don’t know for sure what will happen if she ever wins the White House. The same is true of the J Street crowd.

As the Times Magazine article notes, Clinton has given them some reason for hope in the past. There was her famous embrace of Suha Arafat after the terrorist’s wife had just accused Israel of poisoning Palestinian children. Hillary also played a key role in some of the nastiest fights with Israel that Obama picked during his first term over issues like settlements and Jerusalem. But they also remember that Clinton ran for the Senate in 2000 as if she was a member of one of Likud’s right wing factions and stuck to that line throughout her time in Congress. And, as the Times points out, Clinton understands that there are a lot more votes to be won and cash to be raised by supporting the Jewish state than by bashing it with the J Streeters even in a Democratic Party with a growing anti-Israel faction.

Which is the true Hillary? Their guess is as good as yours. Privately, Hillary may be a J Street fan at heart. But it’s hard to imagine her or her husband/consigliere going to war with AIPAC, which despite the misleading slanders about it is peopled with a huge contingent of ardent pro-Israel Democrats as well as Republicans,

A more astute observation would be to point out that there is no real Hillary position on any issue, only momentary political advantages to be won so context-free predictions about her behavior if she is elected president are a waste of time.

But the real dilemma facing these “liberal Zionists” has nothing to do with American political calculations.

The reason why their views are so out of touch with most Israeli voters in the past few elections is that the latter have been paying attention to the decisions and actions of the Palestinians during the last 20 years of the peace process while the “liberal Zionists” have been studiously ignoring them. Israelis know they have repeatedly offered the Palestinians peace and have been turned down every time. They may not like the settlements or even Prime Minister Netanyahu but outside of the far-left, few think the Palestinians will make peace in the foreseeable future because they haven’t given up their anti-Zionist ideology in which their national identity is inextricably tied to the war on Israel’s existence.

That’s why most American politicians, Democrats as well as Republicans, are sympathetic to Israel and want no part of J Street plots to pressure it into making concessions that would endanger the Jewish state’s security while not bringing peace any closer.

Though they lament Israel’s turn to the right, their real problem is with a Palestinian political culture and a Palestinian people that won’t play the role assigned them in the liberal morality play in which the Jewish state can make peace happen by themselves. In other words, their focus on getting Obama or Clinton or somebody else to hammer Israel is pointless since even if the ticket of Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni defeat Netanyahu in March, there’s no reason to think the Palestinians will be any more likely to make peace than with the current government.

Just as discouraging for J Street supporters is the fact that they are losing ground among Jewish leftists to less agonized critics of Israel such as Jewish Voices for Peace. JVP has little sympathy for Zionism and enamored the BDS — boycott, divest and sanction — movement that seeks to promote economic warfare against Israel. JVP scorns Israel as a colonial apartheid state. That position has more appeal to some segments of the left where Jewish identity and particularism is also viewed with hostility. Instead of supplanting AIPAC as the voice of the pro-Israel community as they hoped when Obama was elected president, J Street finds itself lacking the clout and support of the mainstream group while being squeezed from the left by open Israel-haters.

In other words, Hillary would be a fool to throw in with a group that is divorced from the political realities of the United States, Israel or the American Jewish community. Though the group and its “liberal Zionist” backers grow more out of touch with the facts on the ground in the Middle East as well as within the Democratic Party they will have to comfort themselves with sympathetic coverage in the Times.

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Can Israel’s Critics Listen to Its People?

With relations between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and coalition ally Yair Lapid at a nadir, it appears that the current Israeli government will soon be dissolved and the Jewish state will be heading back to the polls only two years after electing the current Knesset. Many Israelis are understandably annoyed at what they rightly perceive as a parliamentary crisis that is more about perceptions than substance. Nor is the prospect of Netanyahu being forced to face his people again riling most of his foreign critics. But rather than merely yawning over the prospect of another vote or buying into the distortions being published about the issue that helped sink the coalition, those inclined to take a dim view of Netanyahu should take a good look at the polls and draw some conclusions about the facts of Israeli political life even if they don’t jibe with liberal conventional wisdom about the country.

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With relations between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and coalition ally Yair Lapid at a nadir, it appears that the current Israeli government will soon be dissolved and the Jewish state will be heading back to the polls only two years after electing the current Knesset. Many Israelis are understandably annoyed at what they rightly perceive as a parliamentary crisis that is more about perceptions than substance. Nor is the prospect of Netanyahu being forced to face his people again riling most of his foreign critics. But rather than merely yawning over the prospect of another vote or buying into the distortions being published about the issue that helped sink the coalition, those inclined to take a dim view of Netanyahu should take a good look at the polls and draw some conclusions about the facts of Israeli political life even if they don’t jibe with liberal conventional wisdom about the country.

Netanyahu’s apparent decision to force Lapid to accept a humiliating defeat in the Cabinet or accept new elections is, among other things, another illustration of the former journalist not being quite ready for prime time when he parachuted into Israeli politics. Though the charismatic leader of the Yesh Atid Party was the big winner in the last vote, his decision to join the government and become finance minister was a classic rookie error. Lapid’s reputation as a fresh new voice hasn’t survived the ordeal of government responsibilities. Netanyahu has run circles around him in parliamentary maneuvering and Lapid’s pointless opposition to a largely symbolic compromise bill proclaiming Israel to be a Jewish state has put him at a disadvantage both within the Cabinet and with the Israeli electorate. Polls show Yesh Atid likely to lose almost half its strength in a new election and no one, even his most bitter opponents, has the slightest doubt that Netanyahu will still be prime minister when the next Knesset is eventually sworn in.

But the most salient point to be gleaned from this bickering has nothing to do with the substance of that bill or even the way Lapid’s impending fall from grace demonstrates the apparently ironclad rule of Israeli politics that dictates that new centrist parties are doomed to decline after doing well the first time out. Instead, the most important lesson here is that the next election will likely illustrate the same truth about Israeli politics that the last two votes confirmed: the dominance of Israel’s right-wing parties.

If the polls are vindicated by the results, all a new election would achieve would be to reshuffle the deck in the Knesset to make the next government a bit more right wing. Yesh Atid’s mandates may go to a new center-right party led by former Likud cabinet minister Moshe Kahlon that would become a new focus of concern about the economy and social justice while not likely to disagree much with Netanyahu on the peace process or the Palestinians. Tzipi Livni, the former main challenger to Netanyahu but lately his sometime ally will also find herself diminished and will almost certainly have to join with some other party to stay relevant. Meanwhile one of Netanyahu’s main antagonists on the right, Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home Party will likely gain seats and, in conjunction with Avigdor Lieberman and the Likud (which will also gain by running on its won without Lieberman) form a huge right-wing block around which other parties will have to join.

What’s missing from this discussion is the complete absence of a credible alternative to Netanyahu who might represent the views of liberal critics of the prime minister who think Israel needs to be saved from itself. That’s not just because no one thinks Yaakov Herzog, the leader of the Labor Party, is ready to be prime minister, but rather to the fact that the combined strength of the Israeli left—even if anti-Zionist Arab parties are added to their number—makes them non-competitive.

Despite the never-ending critiques of J Street or the Obama administration, the overwhelming majority of Israelis continue to reject the parties that espouse such views.

Like the last election, the next one in Israel will likely be fought on domestic issues rather than the traditional arguments about war and peace despite the last summer’s war in Gaza, stalled talks with the Palestinians, or the Iranian nuclear threat. Though Americans, including many Jews, find it hard to believe, there is actually a strong consensus in Israel that peace talks with the Palestinians are pointless and that territorial withdrawals in the West Bank would be suicidal.

That’s why, no matter how all the small and medium sized parties sort themselves out in a vote, Netanyahu will be reelected with ease. Those Americans who think that Netanyahu is leading Israel in the wrong direction are entitled to their opinion. But they should ponder whether the people of Israel—the ones whose lives are at risk in this conflict—know more about what is good for their country than J Street.

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Israel’s Critics and the Next Election

The drumbeat of incitement against Israel in Europe reached a fever pitch this past summer as the war in Gaza raged. But though the anti-Semitic tinged demonstrations in support of a “free Gaza” — albeit one that was ruled by Islamist terrorists raining down thousands of rockets on Israeli cities — have ceased, the incitement continues as does the diplomatic initiatives seeking to pressure Jerusalem to make concessions. But rather than aiding the tiny minority of Israelis who oppose the war, criticism from abroad has seemingly only solidified a national consensus that opposes further territorial withdrawals under the current circumstances. And that is something its foreign detractors as well as American Jews who are bitterly opposed to Israel’s government should try to understand.

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The drumbeat of incitement against Israel in Europe reached a fever pitch this past summer as the war in Gaza raged. But though the anti-Semitic tinged demonstrations in support of a “free Gaza” — albeit one that was ruled by Islamist terrorists raining down thousands of rockets on Israeli cities — have ceased, the incitement continues as does the diplomatic initiatives seeking to pressure Jerusalem to make concessions. But rather than aiding the tiny minority of Israelis who oppose the war, criticism from abroad has seemingly only solidified a national consensus that opposes further territorial withdrawals under the current circumstances. And that is something its foreign detractors as well as American Jews who are bitterly opposed to Israel’s government should try to understand.

Judging by developments in the last week, Israel is more isolated than ever. A new Swedish government announced that it would grant formal recognition to the Palestinian Authority as a state while the European Union made clear it planned to reevaluate bilateral ties with Israel unless it stopped building beyond the 1967 lines and failed to make progress in negotiations with the Palestinians. But rather than acting as a prod to Israel’s government or its people to rethink their stands on the dead-in-the-water peace process, there is no sign that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government is worried about its future or rethinking its actions. The events of the past summer have had the opposite effect on Israelis and that is reflected in the moves the prime minister is making toward moving up the dates of the next scheduled parliamentary election.

Having won a second consecutive term (and third overall) as prime minister in January 2013, no elections need be held in the country until at least 2017. But according to the Times of Israel, the prime minister’s decision to move up the date of his party’s primaries and to change procedures for selecting Knesset candidates all indicate that he intends to call for new elections sometime in the next year.

The reasons for this are obvious. In the wake of the war, what remains of Israel’s left-wing pro-peace camp is more discredited than ever. The centrist faction led by Finance Minister Yair Lapid that did so well in the last elections look to be badly beaten the next time voters have their say. Just as important is that Netanyahu is eager to shed what is left of the merger of his Likud Party with that of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael B’Aliya Party that has since been dissolved. Likud will win far more seats on its own next time out while its major right-wing partners Lieberman’s party and Economics Minister Naphtali Bennett’s Jewish Home Party will also likely be a big winner.

While a year is a lifetime in politics, there is little doubt the political landscape is shifting in favor of Netanyahu. While there is plenty of competition for the role of his eventual successor, no one, including Lapid, Lieberman, Bennett or Yitzhak Herzog, leader of the opposition Labor Party, seem to be credible alternatives to Netanyahu as prime minister. Which means that barring some unforeseen cataclysm, the prime minister and his party will be heavily favored to gain a third consecutive term that will place him in the same historic context as the nation’s founding father, David Ben Gurion.

In analyzing the reason for this it should be remembered that Netanyahu has never been personally popular and his party remains beset by what sometimes seem like more popular competitors for the votes of right-wingers.

But despite this, Netanyahu represents what is now a centrist consensus about the prospects of peace with the Palestinians. While a majority of Israelis still favor a two-state solution in theory and many would be happy to be rid of much of the West Bank, the Gaza war, they also recognize that in the absence of a sea change in the political culture of the Palestinians, such moves are impossible.

With the Palestinian Authority and its leader Mahmoud Abbas still unable and/or unwilling to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, few believe more talks with the PA will accomplish anything. Moreover the growing popularity of Hamas after its futile war reflects support for its desire to destroy Israel and to go on fighting until that goal is accomplished. Given that the Islamist movement leads Abbas in polls of West Bankers that ensures that the PA will not be holding another election anytime in the near future. But it also signals Israelis that any theoretical deal concluded with Abbas would be meaningless if he is succeeded, either by election or coup, by Hamas.

While Israelis are drawing appropriate conclusions from these events, many American Jews and other erstwhile supporters of Israel are not. They continue to attack Netanyahu and, like the left-wing J Street lobby, think that Israel should be saved from itself. But instead of carping about a government that looks to be in power for the foreseeable future, those who claim to be both pro-Israel and pro-peace should think about the need to respect the judgment of the people who were under fire last summer. Israelis don’t want peace any less than Americans but unlike some of their critics, they have been paying attention to what Palestinians say and do. The terror tunnels and the rockets and the support for those who shoot them, not to mention the Palestinian rejection of peace offers, have convinced them that they have no peace partner. In the absence of proof they are wrong, American critics of Israeli democracy should pipe down.

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Israeli Reality Check for Liberal Critics

Israel’s American critics viewed the latest conflict in Gaza as more evidence of how the Jewish state needs to be saved from itself. That is particularly true of Jewish groups like the left-wing lobby J Street whose attacks on the Netanyahu government and support for Obama administration pressure on Israel have continued even as anti-Zionist and pro-BDS (boycott, divest, and sanction) efforts have intensified. But the latest opinion poll from Israel illustrates yet again just how out of touch these liberal know-it-alls are with reality as seen by the majority of Israelis.

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Israel’s American critics viewed the latest conflict in Gaza as more evidence of how the Jewish state needs to be saved from itself. That is particularly true of Jewish groups like the left-wing lobby J Street whose attacks on the Netanyahu government and support for Obama administration pressure on Israel have continued even as anti-Zionist and pro-BDS (boycott, divest, and sanction) efforts have intensified. But the latest opinion poll from Israel illustrates yet again just how out of touch these liberal know-it-alls are with reality as seen by the majority of Israelis.

A new opinion poll from Israel’s Channel 10 provides sobering results for those who continue to hope that Israelis will listen to them and both push for a new prime minister and resolve to begin leaving the West Bank. While many, if not most Americans, actually believe the press when they call Netanyahu a “hard-liner,” the perception of his conduct at home is very different. Far from convincing Israel to start ceding more territory to the Palestinians, after their 50-day ordeal during the summer as thousands of rockets fell on their heads and a new threat of terror tunnels made them feel even less safe, more Israelis seem inclined to view Netanyahu as not tough enough.

Netanyahu’s personal approval ratings dropped once the fighting ended and many of his countrymen were disappointed with his failure to end the threat from Hamas-run Gaza once and for all. These latest numbers confirm that the big winner if elections were to be held today would be the prime minister’s most strident critic on the right. Even more discouraging for the “save it from itself” crowd is the fact that the right-wing parties as a whole are gaining strength while those on the left are dropping even lower in public esteem.

The Channel 10 poll shows that the public would give Netanyahu’s Likud Party 26 seats in a new Knesset. That’s less than the 31 it got when it ran on a joint ticket in 2013 with Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beytenu Party. But that right-wing rival would get 14, representing a gain of four for the two natural coalition partners. But the big winner would be Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home Party which has been highly critical of what it considers to be Netanyahu’s timid approach to Gaza and negotiations with the Palestinians. It would get 16 in a new election, an increase of four over their current total.

While these three men are more or less continually at each other’s throats, it must be understood that the combination of the three—which represent the core of any center-right government—would stand at 56, almost enough for them to govern on their own and reminiscent of the old days of Labor Party dominance when the left ruled the country for its first three decades. That would give Netanyahu the option of putting together a right-wing government with the religious parties that would, however fractious its character, dominate the Knesset.

At the same time, the biggest losers would be the parties that Israel’s critics are counting on to form the core of a new “pro-peace” Cabinet. The centrist Yesh Atid Party led by current Finance Minister Yair Lapid is the big loser in the poll, going down to only 8 seats from its current 19. That leaves any potential center-left coalition led by Labor, which went down to 13 from its current 15 seats, hopelessly short of any sort of majority. Even if you added in the seats that may be won by a new party focused on economics led by former Likud minister Moshe Kahlon to the total of all the left-wing, centrist, and Arab parties, it adds up to only 49. And that is an inconceivable coalition since in all likelihood Kahlon and his supporters would join any Cabinet led by Netanyahu.

What does this mean?

The first conclusion is that although anything can happen in the two or three years between now and the next election, barring some sort of spectacular and currently unforeseen collapse, Netanyahu will almost certainly lead the next Israeli government.

Second, Lapid’s party appears fated to follow that of every other centrist party in Israeli political history. Voters are always hungry for alternatives to the old left and right choices but even though circumstances occasionally thrust a centrist to the fore, they are inevitably, as Lapid has been, marginalized by the continued centrality of war and peace issues on which they cannot compete. Lapid also made the same mistake of all his predecessors (including his father) of joining a government and thus became both tarnished and diminished by the hard choices any Cabinet must make on economics or peace. These poll numbers also lessen Lapid’s leverage in the current budget dispute he’s been waging with Netanyahu.

Third, and most importantly, these numbers reflect the fact that, unlike most liberal Jews–or most Americans for that matter–Israelis have been paying attention to events in the region. They know the continued rule of Hamas over Gaza and the Islamists’ increased popularity among Palestinians at the expense of the supposedly more moderate Fatah and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas renders any idea of withdrawing from the West Bank, as was done in Gaza, an impossibility. No sane Israeli leader would risk turning that far larger and more strategic territory into another Gaza.

This will, no doubt, heighten the frustrations of American left-wingers about Israel. But their anger tells us more about them and their refusal to think seriously about what Palestinians have done and believe than it does about what Israel should do. Israelis want peace as much if not more than American liberals. But they understand that dreams of peace are meaningless to Hamas and Palestinian rejectionists. Those who claim to be pro-Israel as well as pro-peace need to come to terms with the fact that the people who understand their country’s dilemmas far better than they could are still firmly rejecting their advice.

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Why AIPAC Matters and Its Critics Don’t

Critiques of AIPAC that predict the end of the bipartisan pro-Israel consensus in Congress and the nation are old hat. After the Walt-Mearsheimer Israel Lobby smear campaign and the subsequent media offensive seeking to prop up the left-wing J Street alternative, one would have thought the well had run dry in this genre. But the editors at The New Yorker thought otherwise and commissioned Connie Bruck to rehash some of the same tired material about an out-of-touch Jewish establishment in service to an extremist Israeli government in a lengthy new article. But the bad timing of the publication of the piece illustrates exactly why Bruck’s thesis about AIPAC’s loss of influence is wrong.

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Critiques of AIPAC that predict the end of the bipartisan pro-Israel consensus in Congress and the nation are old hat. After the Walt-Mearsheimer Israel Lobby smear campaign and the subsequent media offensive seeking to prop up the left-wing J Street alternative, one would have thought the well had run dry in this genre. But the editors at The New Yorker thought otherwise and commissioned Connie Bruck to rehash some of the same tired material about an out-of-touch Jewish establishment in service to an extremist Israeli government in a lengthy new article. But the bad timing of the publication of the piece illustrates exactly why Bruck’s thesis about AIPAC’s loss of influence is wrong.

The pro-Israel lobby has had its ups and downs and as Bruck’s article, which devotes a great deal of space to the history of the organization, demonstrates. The problems generally occur when Israel’s friends run into confrontations with sitting presidents and those stories always end the same way. Whether it was Ronald Reagan and his decision to sell AWACS radar planes to Saudi Arabia or Barack Obama’s attempts to head off plans for tough sanctions on Iran, no matter how much support AIPAC can amass on Capitol Hill, no lobbying group can beat the occupant of the mansion at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue if they go all in on a specific issue.

But even an attempt to write a critical history of AIPAC must acknowledge that it has helped forge a U.S.-Israel alliance whose enduring strength transcends party loyalties as well as the changing names of presidents and cabinet secretaries. As Bruck is forced to acknowledge in the lede of her piece, this summer’s congressional action to give Israel more funding for its Iron Dome missile defense system in the midst of the ongoing war in Gaza was a triumph for the lobby. It as also a timely rebuke from the leadership of both congressional caucuses to an Obama administration that had gone out of its way to try and delay the delivery of ammunition supplies to the Israel Defense Forces as part of its strategy to pressure the Jewish state into halting its counterattack on Hamas in Gaza and agreeing to unsatisfactory cease-fire terms. That two bitter foes like Senators Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell who normally couldn’t agree to back a resolution saying the sky was blue would unite on behalf of Israel in this manner, with the Senate agreeing to delay its summer recess in order to get the measure passed, shows that AIPAC’s clout is undiminished. The fact that this is so despite the fact that, for all of its reputation as the most powerful lobby in Washington, AIPAC hasn’t nearly the money or the influence of other lobbies such as that of the oil or pharmaceutical industries only makes their achievement even more amazing.

But Bruck’s main point in a piece where she tries hard to work in quotes from the organization’s critics is not so much as to try and make a weak case about it losing ground on Capitol Hill. Rather it is to claim that AIPAC is out of touch with liberal American Jews who are increasingly distancing themselves from the Jewish state and who view Israel’s center-right government with distaste.

This is the same argument put forward over and over again by people like author Peter Beinart, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, and was rehashed in the same newspaper on Sunday in another lengthy rant by British analyst Antony Lerman. They believe Israel’s refusal to make peace and insistence on occupation and rough treatment of the Palestinians disgusts most liberal Jews in the Diaspora, especially the youth that has grown up in an era in which the Jewish state is seen as a regional superpower rather than as the one small, besieged nation in the midst of Arab enemies determined to destroy it.

But the problem with this argument is that no matter how many times liberal critics of Israel tell us how disillusioned they are with the reality of a Jewish state at war, they invariably neglect, as did Lerman and Bruck, to discuss why it is that the overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews see things differently. The point is, no matter how unsatisfactory the status quo may seem to most Israelis, unlike their Diaspora critics, they have been paying attention to events in the Middle East during the last 20 years since the Oslo Accords ushered in an era of peace negotiations. They know that Israel has repeatedly offered the Palestinian Authority peace deals that would have given them an independent Palestinian state in virtually all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem and that it has been turned down flat every time.

Rather than Israel needing to finally take risks for peace, as liberal critics keep insisting, the Jewish state has done so repeatedly. It brought Yasir Arafat and the PLO back into the territories and empowered them and rather than trading land for peace, it got the terrorism and horror of the second intifada. It withdrew every last soldier, settler, and settlement from Gaza in 2005 and instead of creating space for a productive and peaceful Palestinian state, it got a Hamas-run Islamist state that has rained down thousands of rockets on Israeli cities and used international aid funds and materials to build tunnels to facilitate terrorism.

This cruel reality has destroyed the once dominant left-wing Israeli political parties, but American liberals haven’t paid much attention to it or anything the Palestinians do or say. This is especially instructive this summer as Hamas launched a terror war that illustrated even for those not paying close attention that when it says it wants to end the “occupation,” it is not discussing the future of the West Bank but reasserting its goal to eradicate Israel and slaughter and/or evict its Jewish population.

It is true that American Jewry is changing in ways that may eventually cripple its ability to be a coherent force on behalf of Israel as well as its other vital interests. But, contrary to the liberal critics, that has little to do with the policies of Israeli governments and everything to do with statistics about assimilation and intermarriage that speak to a demographic collapse of non-Orthodox Jewry.

That’s a serious problem as is the ongoing tension with an Obama administration whose barely concealed hostility to the Netanyahu government is making mischief on several fronts, including negotiations for a nuclear deal with Iran that seems headed toward appeasement of the ayatollahs rather than a fulfillment of the president’s campaign pledges to prevent Tehran from acquiring a weapon.

But it doesn’t point toward the irrelevance of AIPAC, let alone the ascendance of J Street, its left-wing rival that has gained virtually no ground on Capitol Hill or anywhere else during an administration that should have been their ally.

AIPAC counts because it is connected to the reality of a Middle East where Israel remains the sole democracy and a vital American ally while the Palestinians continue to embrace terror and reject peace. So long as that is the case, Congress and the overwhelming majority of the American people will remain firmly on Israel’s side and, by extension, AIPAC. Though we should expect that its critics will continue to carp away on the sidelines and predict its doom, so long as they ignore what the Palestinians do or say, they will remain irrelevant or sink into the same kind of conspiratorial anti-Semitism that sank Walt and Mearsheimer.

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Gaza Fighting Proves J Street’s Irrelevance

Pity poor J Street. As Israelis seek to defend themselves against Hamas rockets and terrorist tunnels, the left-wing lobby finds itself in a tough spot. Its flagging bid for mainstream support has caused it to try and craft a low-key position of support for Israeli self-defense. But that nuanced stance is causing many of J Street’s supporters to abandon the organization for those groups that take sides against Israel.

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Pity poor J Street. As Israelis seek to defend themselves against Hamas rockets and terrorist tunnels, the left-wing lobby finds itself in a tough spot. Its flagging bid for mainstream support has caused it to try and craft a low-key position of support for Israeli self-defense. But that nuanced stance is causing many of J Street’s supporters to abandon the organization for those groups that take sides against Israel.

As the Forward noted today, J Street has tried not to repeat the mistake it made in 2008 when the group publicly opposed Israel’s efforts to suppress Hamas rocket fire during Operation Cast Lead. The position was very much in character with J Street’s ideology that sees Israel as the obstacle to peace rather than the Palestinian refusal to recognize a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn. But the group that at that time harbored an ambition to replace AIPAC as the voice of the pro-Israel community learned its lesson after it was condemned for this outrageous decision by a wide spectrum of American Jews, including many liberal leaders. During subsequent crises J Street has avoided open condemnations of Israeli actions while still failing to play the sort of role in mobilizing support for an embattled Jewish state that other more mainstream groups take as a matter of course.

As Alan Dershowitz wrote in the Jerusalem Post last week, J Street refused to take part in a communal pro-Israel rally organized by the Boston Jewish federation. Nor did J Street chose to co-sponsor a similar rally in New York. He said these actions sounded the “death knell for J Street” as a group that sought to be considered as part of the pro-Israel community. But the irony is that sort of moral cowardice isn’t enough for many, if not most J Street supporters who are uncomfortable with the way the group has sought to neither condemn nor fully support Israel’s campaign in Gaza.

As the Forward reported, even as J Street avoided being seen at pro-Israel rallies, their members are playing a prominent role in organizing protests against the Jewish state. Many have joined #ifnotnow, a new ad hoc group dedicated to opposing Israel’s actions in Gaza.

Even worse for J Street is the trend that was also discussed in a separate Forward article which reported that many of the group’s adherents are leaving it to join the openly anti-Zionist Jewish Voices for Peace. That group, which serves as the Jewish front for BDS—boycott, divest, sanction—campaigns against Israel is profiting from the situation since many on the left prefer its unadulterated venom directed against the Jewish state to J Street’s more equivocal positions.

While no one should be shedding any tears about J Street’s dilemma, their troubles do illustrate a key point about the ongoing battle to defend Israel.

J Street came into existence in part as a cheering section for Obama administration pressure against Israel. But it was also a manifestation of the old left-right debate in Israel and the United States between those who supported “land for peace” as the solution to the conflict with the Palestinians and those who opposed the idea. J Street’s belief that Israel needed to take risks for peace might have made sense in 1992 before Oslo, the second intifada, and three Palestinian refusals of Israeli offers of statehood. But after 20 years during which Israel has traded land not for peace but for terror, J Street’s positions aren’t so much wrong as they are irrelevant. That’s why Israel’s political left that once dominated the country’s politics is now marginalized and rejected by an electorate that backs the Netanyahu government’s actions in Gaza by a 9-1 margin.

The real battle for Israel now isn’t the old one about where its borders should be placed or whether settlements are good or bad but whether there should be a Jewish state or if it has a right to defend itself. In that struggle, J Street’s tepid Zionism doesn’t resonate with the mainstream community and is of little interest to leftists who prefer open-Israel bashers like JVP.

J Street once thought it would become the main address for Jewish activism. But recent events have shown that J Street’s moment has passed. Those who wish to support Israel in its life and death struggle against Hamas terrorists who seek its destruction will always gravitate toward groups that don’t pull their punches when it comes to defending the Jewish state. At the same time, J Street’s base on the left is following celebrity Israel-bashers and abandoning it to join with those who are playing into Hamas’s hands by claiming it is wrong to shoot back at the terrorists. In this environment, organizations that won’t take a clear side in this fight will soon find themselves historical relics of a bygone era that will never return.

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The End of the Liberal Critique of Israel

After several days of personally observing the people of Israel reacting to rocket attacks and the grim reality of the fight against Hamas in Gaza, the irrelevance of most of the things the country’s American critics say about it has never seemed more obvious to me. After being forced into a war that the overwhelming majority of people here understand is one about their survival and not the political issues that divide Jews, it’s little wonder that most Israelis pay little attention to their country’s foreign detractors who seek to save them from themselves. People who claim to care about the Jewish state need to draw similar conclusions.

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After several days of personally observing the people of Israel reacting to rocket attacks and the grim reality of the fight against Hamas in Gaza, the irrelevance of most of the things the country’s American critics say about it has never seemed more obvious to me. After being forced into a war that the overwhelming majority of people here understand is one about their survival and not the political issues that divide Jews, it’s little wonder that most Israelis pay little attention to their country’s foreign detractors who seek to save them from themselves. People who claim to care about the Jewish state need to draw similar conclusions.

The contrast between the support for the efforts of the Israel Defense Forces to attack Hamas’s rocket launchers and terrorist tunnel network in Gaza that is exhibited by most Israelis and the outrage that these efforts at self-defense have generated elsewhere is hard to ignore. Israelis understand the current conflict has nothing to do with arguments about settlements or borders. You don’t have to be a supporter of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or those of pro-settlement critics on the right here to understand that Hamas and its sympathizers don’t care where Israel’s borders should be drawn. Nor is there any real debate about the impact of a Palestinian political culture in which even the supposed moderates applaud terrorism and treat those who slaughter Jews as heroes. The point of the terrorist fortress in Gaza that the Israel Defense Forces is trying to disarm if not dismantle is to serve as the base for an ongoing war against the existence of the Jewish state. The choice of Hamas’s leaders to deliberately sacrifice as many of their own people as possible in order to protect their terrorist infrastructure has not been lost on Israelis. Nor has it escaped their notice that the whole point of the massive investment in rockets and infiltration tunnels by the government of a district mired in poverty is to produce as many Jewish casualties as possible regardless of the impact such actions may have on the safety or the quality of life of Palestinians.

Just as important is the ugly anti-Semitic tone of much of the protests that have been mounted against Israel’s counter-attacks against Hamas in Gaza. Simply put, much of the world seems to think that Hamas has a “right” to shoot thousands of rockets at Israeli cities or to launch cross-border terror raids aimed at kidnapping or killing as many Jews as possible and that the Jewish state has no right to defend itself against these actions–even if they go to great lengths (as the Israel Defense Forces do as a matter of course) to avoid hurting the civilians that the Islamists use as human shields. The general invective against Zionism being heard on the streets of Europe’s cities and even in the U.S. protests against Israel is of a piece with the tone of Hamas’s talking points. The solidarity these demonstrators are expressing for the “resistance” against the “occupation”–a term by which they mean all of Israel and not just the West Bank or the Hamas-run independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza–also makes plain the nature of the struggle. Even those who support a two-state solution that would entail an Israeli withdrawal from most or all of the West Bank must now comprehend that their dislike of the settlements or the desire to satisfy the Palestinian ambition for sovereignty can’t ignore the fact that the debate about these ideas is entirely moot while the rockets are flying and terrorists are tunneling beneath the border in hope of emerging inside Israel to slaughter innocents. In this context of hate and violence, the only real points of contention are whether you support the survival of the Jewish state or not.

That is why the energy expended by so many American liberals on behalf of projects designed to pressure Israel’s government to make more concessions to the Palestinians is not merely wrongheaded. It’s utterly irrelevant to the realities of both the Middle East and the global resurgence of anti-Semitism. Groups such as J Street that are predicated on the notion that Israel must be saved from itself by principled liberal critics are treated as both serious and representative of Jewish opinion by the mainstream media. But that group has little to say about the current conflict that requires our notice. Nor are its efforts to distinguish itself from far more radical anti-Zionist groups that openly support efforts to isolate Israel economically and support protests against its right of self defense of any importance any longer.

At this moment it is no longer possible to pretend that the conflict can be wished away by Israeli concessions that would, if implemented, create another 20 Gazas in the West Bank. Nor can one rationally argue that more Israeli forbearance toward Hamas in Gaza and a less vigorous effort to take out its vast system of tunnels shielding its rocket arsenal and terror shock troops would bring the region closer to peace when the only way to give that cause a chance is predicated on the elimination of Hamas.

If, at some point in the indefinite future, the Palestinians turn on Hamas and its less radical allies and embrace a national identity that is not inextricably linked to Israel’s elimination, perhaps then we can resume the debate about settlements and borders that J Street craves. But until that unlikely event happens, it is imperative that Americans realize that the J Street critique of Israel that is often echoed by some in the Obama administration and throughout the left is over. The only question to be asked today is whether you stand with Israel’s right to defend itself or not. Jews and others who consider themselves friends of the Jewish state must find the courage to speak up for the justice of Israel’s cause in the current crisis against the forces of hate. Viewed from the perspective of the last week’s events here in Israel, anything else is a waste of time.

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Fayyad Explains Why J Street Is Irrelevant

The left-wing lobby J Street didn’t turn out to be the Washington colossus its backers hoped it would be when Barack Obama entered the White House in 2009. Despite having a president who was clearly sympathetic to their point of view, the group has never been able to successfully challenge AIPAC in the contest to see which of them would speak for the pro-Israel community. Nor has it amassed much influence on Capitol Hill and it has often been marginalized by the White House, especially during the 2012 presidential election. But J Street did score a major public-relations victory this spring when the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations voted to exclude it from their ranks. While the vote exposed the resentment much of the organized Jewish world bears for a group that has, from its inception, sought to undercut other groups, it also allowed J Street to play the victim and made it easier for it to say that the mainstream Jewish groups are unrepresentative.

But when J Street convened its annual conference in San Francisco this past weekend, there seemed to be little evidence that it had either amassed the influence it once thought it might have or that its views favoring U.S. pressure on Israel to make concessions for peace were gaining traction. Instead, the group was forced to answer questions as to why anyone should take seriously a group whose views were so obviously out-of-touch with the reality of a Middle East peace process that had broken down again. While J Street may claim that if its positions were adopted, Israel might have been able to finally make peace, that position is given the lie by the Fatah-Hamas unity pact that effectively precludes the Palestinian Authority from ever making peace with Israel. But the real proof of just how clueless J Street is about Israel’s supposed peace partners came from the speakers list at their conference. One of the keynote speakers on the first evening of their conclave was former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who expressed pessimism about peace but urged J Street to persist in its efforts to pressure Israel.

While Fayyad is a Palestinian who is generally admired by mainstream Israelis as well as Americans who are knowledgeable about the Middle East, his presence at the J Street event is telling. While J Street is right to think that Fayyad would be a real partner for peace if he were still in office, his availability to fly to San Francisco tells us something about how representative his opinions actually are. His brand of pragmatism and opposition to both the violence of Hamas and the kleptocracy of Fatah marks him as a man without political constituency among a Palestinian population that prefers both of those two terror groups/political parties to “Fayyadism.” If J Street is to hang its hat on the notion that this person’s ideas are a guarantee that peace is possible, no wonder few in Israel or anywhere else take them seriously.

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The left-wing lobby J Street didn’t turn out to be the Washington colossus its backers hoped it would be when Barack Obama entered the White House in 2009. Despite having a president who was clearly sympathetic to their point of view, the group has never been able to successfully challenge AIPAC in the contest to see which of them would speak for the pro-Israel community. Nor has it amassed much influence on Capitol Hill and it has often been marginalized by the White House, especially during the 2012 presidential election. But J Street did score a major public-relations victory this spring when the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations voted to exclude it from their ranks. While the vote exposed the resentment much of the organized Jewish world bears for a group that has, from its inception, sought to undercut other groups, it also allowed J Street to play the victim and made it easier for it to say that the mainstream Jewish groups are unrepresentative.

But when J Street convened its annual conference in San Francisco this past weekend, there seemed to be little evidence that it had either amassed the influence it once thought it might have or that its views favoring U.S. pressure on Israel to make concessions for peace were gaining traction. Instead, the group was forced to answer questions as to why anyone should take seriously a group whose views were so obviously out-of-touch with the reality of a Middle East peace process that had broken down again. While J Street may claim that if its positions were adopted, Israel might have been able to finally make peace, that position is given the lie by the Fatah-Hamas unity pact that effectively precludes the Palestinian Authority from ever making peace with Israel. But the real proof of just how clueless J Street is about Israel’s supposed peace partners came from the speakers list at their conference. One of the keynote speakers on the first evening of their conclave was former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who expressed pessimism about peace but urged J Street to persist in its efforts to pressure Israel.

While Fayyad is a Palestinian who is generally admired by mainstream Israelis as well as Americans who are knowledgeable about the Middle East, his presence at the J Street event is telling. While J Street is right to think that Fayyad would be a real partner for peace if he were still in office, his availability to fly to San Francisco tells us something about how representative his opinions actually are. His brand of pragmatism and opposition to both the violence of Hamas and the kleptocracy of Fatah marks him as a man without political constituency among a Palestinian population that prefers both of those two terror groups/political parties to “Fayyadism.” If J Street is to hang its hat on the notion that this person’s ideas are a guarantee that peace is possible, no wonder few in Israel or anywhere else take them seriously.

J Street’s positions on the issues that were reiterated at their conference by its leader Jeremy Ben-Ami are a confusing blend of naïveté, leftism, and Zionism. Being “pro-Israel” and “pro-peace” can be a problem in a left-wing milieu where openly anti-Zionist groups like Jewish Voices for Peace are stealing J Street’s thunder. To his credit, Ben-Ami continues to insist that support for BDS (boycott, divest, and sanction) campaigns against Israel are something his group can never support. J Street walks a fine line that is not as attractive to its core constituency of radicals who are more comfortable with BDS than they are with Ben-Ami’s brand of left-wing Zionism.

To compensate for that, the group emphasizes the key points that helped bring it to life as a cheering squad for the Obama administration against the mainstream pro-Israel community. Thus, J Street is not only highlighting its support for continued efforts to revive the peace talks via pressure on Israel and backing the administration’s decision to embrace the Fatah-Hamas unity government. In addition to that it is also seeking to build support for any nuclear deal that Obama might cut with Iran and to oppose congressional efforts to force the administration to keep its word to avert the nuclear threat.

Ben-Ami’s pretense is that this makes J Street a moderate force rather than a Jewish rump of so-called progressive groups like the leftist Moveon.org. But that pose of moderation is just as absurd as clinging to the notion that Fayyad represents Palestinian opinion. As one of the other speakers at the J Street event noted, the Israeli public has repeatedly rejected leftists who agree with the American group and is likely to swing even further to the right in the future. The reason for this is that, unlike liberal American Jews, Israelis have been paying attention to the repeated PA rejections of peace offers and the fact that Fayyad is a man without a party or supporters among the Palestinian people. It’s not that most Israelis don’t want a two-state solution. They do want it. It’s just that they have come to accept the fact that the Palestinians don’t want one.

More than their disgraceful position on Iran or their slavish applause for Obama’s betrayal of Israel on Hamas, the presence of Fayyad at the J Street event shows that they are not only wrong on the issues, they are also irrelevant to any serious discussion about the Middle East.

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Breaking Up Conference Won’t Help Israel

The day after J Street failed in its bid for admission to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the backlash about the vote is growing. The group that represents the largest denomination of American Jewry, the Union of Reform Judaism, is demanding that the Conference change its one group, one vote policy while also openly threatening to leave the umbrella group. An official of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly is also demanding changes. Meanwhile liberal commentators are blasting the Conference for its 22-17 vote to deny entry the left-wing lobby and making extravagant claims about this vote symbolizing the growing alienation of the Jewish establishment from the wishes of most of those it purports to represent.

Which means that, all things considered, it was a very good day for J Street. As I predicted yesterday before the vote was held, a defeat at the Conference was the best possible outcome for the left-wing organization that came into existence not to fit in and cooperate with existing Jewish groups and coalitions but to blow them up. The negative vote enables J Street and its various left-wing sympathizers to play the victim and boosts their agenda to first delegitimize groups like the Conference and AIPAC and then to replace them.

But while it is understandable that the Reform and Conservative movements would join the lament about J Street’s defeat in order to assuage some of their liberal constituents who support the left-wing lobby, they should be careful about advancing any agenda that could undermine umbrella groups like the Conference. While such organizations can seem at times to be irrelevant to the day-to-day business of American Jewry, they still serve a vital purpose. If the non-Orthodox denominations help J Street destroy them, they will soon learn that not only will it be difficult to replace them but also they and their constituents will not be well served by the politicized chaos that follows.

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The day after J Street failed in its bid for admission to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the backlash about the vote is growing. The group that represents the largest denomination of American Jewry, the Union of Reform Judaism, is demanding that the Conference change its one group, one vote policy while also openly threatening to leave the umbrella group. An official of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly is also demanding changes. Meanwhile liberal commentators are blasting the Conference for its 22-17 vote to deny entry the left-wing lobby and making extravagant claims about this vote symbolizing the growing alienation of the Jewish establishment from the wishes of most of those it purports to represent.

Which means that, all things considered, it was a very good day for J Street. As I predicted yesterday before the vote was held, a defeat at the Conference was the best possible outcome for the left-wing organization that came into existence not to fit in and cooperate with existing Jewish groups and coalitions but to blow them up. The negative vote enables J Street and its various left-wing sympathizers to play the victim and boosts their agenda to first delegitimize groups like the Conference and AIPAC and then to replace them.

But while it is understandable that the Reform and Conservative movements would join the lament about J Street’s defeat in order to assuage some of their liberal constituents who support the left-wing lobby, they should be careful about advancing any agenda that could undermine umbrella groups like the Conference. While such organizations can seem at times to be irrelevant to the day-to-day business of American Jewry, they still serve a vital purpose. If the non-Orthodox denominations help J Street destroy them, they will soon learn that not only will it be difficult to replace them but also they and their constituents will not be well served by the politicized chaos that follows.

Only hours after their defeat J Street was already attempting to make hay from the vote with a fundraising email sent out to their list. It read, in part:

“Thank you, Malcolm Hoenlein and the Conference of Presidents.”

Yesterday’s rejection of our bid to join the Conference validates the reason for J Street: those claiming to speak for the entire Jewish community don’t in fact represent the full diversity of pro-Israel views in our community—or even its prevailing views.

Thus despite J Street leader Jeremy Ben-Ami’s public expression of disappointment about the vote, the group was clearly prepared all along to exploit a rejection to further their campaign to brand both AIPAC and the Conference as out of touch. J Street came into existence hoping to do just that, but over the course of the last five years failed miserably to do so. Though J Street’s raison d’être was to serve as a Jewish cheerleader for Obama administration pressure on Israel, it has little influence on Capitol Hill and has even, to its dismay, sometimes been repudiated by a president it supports unconditionally. Thus it hopes to use this incident to gain more traction against mainstream groups.

But those, like Haaretz’s Chemi Shalev, who are using this vote to bash pro-Israel groups should be asking themselves why so many members of the Conference which already includes left-wing organizations like Americans for Peace Now and Ameinu would vote against adding one more to their ranks. The reason is that many centrist groups clearly resented J Street’s unwarranted pretensions to speak for American Jewry and to undermine the broad-based AIPAC.

The Conference was created to provide a way for a diverse and cantankerous Jewish community a single structure with which it could deal with the U.S. government. The point was, though its members have often disagreed and true consensus between left and right is often impossible, the Conference still provides Congress and the executive branch an address through which they can reach a broad and diverse coalition of Jewish organizations. Adding one more on the left wouldn’t have changed that but unlike other left-leaning groups, J Street has never had any interest in playing ball with rivals or allies. Its purpose is not to enrich and broaden that consensus but to destroy it. And that was something that groups that had no real ideological fight with J Street rightly feared.

Moreover, the arguments that only groups like J Street can speak to Jewish youth are also easily debunked. Rather than seek to bolster the efforts of pro-Israel groups on American campuses, J Street’s cohorts seem more interested in making common cause with anti-Zionist and pro-BDS groups than in standing together with the courageous Jews who are resisting the boycotters.

But if the Reform and Conservative movements aid J Street in this effort what follows won’t aid their cause. If the formal structures of American Jewry split between those backed by the centrist establishment and the J Street-led left, this won’t advance the cause of Israel or the interests of American Jews. Dividing the Jews in this manner will only serve the cause of those who wish to wage war on Israel’s democratically elected government and to widen the splits between Jerusalem and Washington. That isn’t something that any group that calls itself “pro-Israel” should want. Non-Orthodox Jews who wish to bolster the position of their members in the Jewish state should also be especially wary of anything that will make it harder to make their voices heard in Jerusalem.

Whatever one may think of the Conference or of its decision to play into J Street’s hands with this rejection, the notion that including the left-wing group would strengthen Jewish unity or the community’s outreach to youth is a myth. J Street may have failed miserably in its effort to defeat AIPAC in Washington, but its campaign to trash the pro-Israel consensus and replace it with one that seeks to undermine the Jewish state is still very much alive.

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Did J Street Win by Losing?

J Street’s application to join the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations failed today. According to JTA, the vote was 22-17 against with three abstentions. This will, no doubt, be represented by J Street as proof that the mainstream community is trying to stifle dissent. But, as the Conference noted in a subsequent statement, there is already no shortage of liberal and left-wing groups among its members. If J Street has alienated so many other Jewish organizations by its strident criticism of Israel’s democratically-elected government and efforts to include anti-Zionist groups in the community, it should not be surprised that many want no part of it. Indeed, the willingness of so many groups to say no to them is a heartening sign that many American Jews have grown tired of its shrill one-note act.

Yet as I noted earlier, a negative vote is probably on balance a good thing for J Street. This rejection will give it material with which it can continue its already flagging efforts to delegitimize mainstream groups like AIPAC and to masquerade as the true voice of American Jewry. Gaining admission would have deprived it of that talking point and relegated it to being just one more among dozens of groups that call themselves “major” but are, in fact, nothing of the sort.

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J Street’s application to join the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations failed today. According to JTA, the vote was 22-17 against with three abstentions. This will, no doubt, be represented by J Street as proof that the mainstream community is trying to stifle dissent. But, as the Conference noted in a subsequent statement, there is already no shortage of liberal and left-wing groups among its members. If J Street has alienated so many other Jewish organizations by its strident criticism of Israel’s democratically-elected government and efforts to include anti-Zionist groups in the community, it should not be surprised that many want no part of it. Indeed, the willingness of so many groups to say no to them is a heartening sign that many American Jews have grown tired of its shrill one-note act.

Yet as I noted earlier, a negative vote is probably on balance a good thing for J Street. This rejection will give it material with which it can continue its already flagging efforts to delegitimize mainstream groups like AIPAC and to masquerade as the true voice of American Jewry. Gaining admission would have deprived it of that talking point and relegated it to being just one more among dozens of groups that call themselves “major” but are, in fact, nothing of the sort.

Nevertheless, no one should be under the impression that J Street is either a significant player in Washington or speaks for an under-represented constituency. J Street has failed in its effort to supplant or even significantly challenge AIPAC. That it is not even able to gain admission in what is one of American Jewry’s least exclusive clubs is one more indication that it is a dismal failure.

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Conference Vote Demonstrates J Street’s Irrelevance

Today, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations will vote on the J Street lobby’s application for membership. The question has split the Conference with more conservative pro-Israel groups expressing opposition and left-wingers and centrists seeming to favor it. If, as some expect, J Street wins the vote, it will probably be interpreted as a victory for “diversity” of thought about Israeli politics. More to the point, the group and its allies will spin the ballot as proof that its brand of left-wing politics and support for U.S. pressure on the State of Israel to “save it from itself” has gained legitimacy in the American Jewish organizational world.

But both celebrating J Streeters and opponents who will mourn its growing acceptance should calm down. The fact is, joining the Conference as just one more not particularly influential member among a long roster of generally well meaning but politically insignificant groups is actually a huge step down for J Street from where it started a few years ago. The best thing that could happen to J Street would actually be to lose this vote.

Here’s why:

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Today, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations will vote on the J Street lobby’s application for membership. The question has split the Conference with more conservative pro-Israel groups expressing opposition and left-wingers and centrists seeming to favor it. If, as some expect, J Street wins the vote, it will probably be interpreted as a victory for “diversity” of thought about Israeli politics. More to the point, the group and its allies will spin the ballot as proof that its brand of left-wing politics and support for U.S. pressure on the State of Israel to “save it from itself” has gained legitimacy in the American Jewish organizational world.

But both celebrating J Streeters and opponents who will mourn its growing acceptance should calm down. The fact is, joining the Conference as just one more not particularly influential member among a long roster of generally well meaning but politically insignificant groups is actually a huge step down for J Street from where it started a few years ago. The best thing that could happen to J Street would actually be to lose this vote.

Here’s why:

J Street burst upon the public scene at the end of 2008 hoping to capitalize on the victory of Barack Obama. At that point J Street’s ambitions soared as high as the new president’s popularity. Its goal was nothing less than to challenge and then replace AIPAC as the voice of American Jewry on Israel. More sober observers always thought this was a pipe dream and today it seems not so much over-ambitious as it does ridiculous. But at the time the J Street crowd was drunk on the Obama victory and convinced that the traditional overwhelming support in the community for the Democratic candidate meant that most American Jews shared Obama’s desire for pressure on Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians in order to achieve peace. Since they wrongly believed AIPAC to be a right-wing dominated clique rather than a bipartisan consensus-driven umbrella coalition, J Street thought its appearance on the scene would shove the older group aside and establish the newcomers as the go-to organization for American Jews on Israel. It was, they thought, the perfect opportunity at the perfect time for a group whose raison d’être was to take Obama’s side against the Israelis.

To say that these hopes were quickly dashed is the understatement of the 21st century. AIPAC shrugged off the J Street challenge without missing a step. The left-wing group quickly proved that it was out of step with even most liberal supporters of Israel by opposing its counter-attack against the Hamas terrorist base in Gaza and went downhill from there. Not only did J Street soon find that it had little influence in Congress in comparison to AIPAC’s across-the-board support but it also rapidly began to comprehend that even its friends in the Obama administration were not interested in boosting it at the expense of its mainstream rival. Even worse, every time Obama picked a fight with Israel’s government to the cheers of his J Street fans, he eventually always disappointed him by backing down. By the time of his 2012 election-year Jewish charm offensive, the president was not only seeking to please the very people J Street despised, he was appearing at AIPAC and taking a tough stand on Iran that left-wingers opposed.

Though J Street has survived these disappointments and has enjoyed some moments of triumph during Obama’s second term as the president once again found himself at odds with Israel on both Iran and the peace process, it remains a noisy but marginal group. While it can count on support from the New York Times, it is still out of step with mainstream Jewish opinion (as its support for engagement with the Hamas terrorists proved again last week) and its positions are completely at odds with the views of a majority of Israelis.

The arguments against J Street’s acceptance are not without merit. The group’s positions are, at best, unhelpful to Israel and by seeking to undermine efforts to isolate anti-Zionist organizations like Jewish Voices for Peace it has hurt rather than helped the fight against the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement that seeks to wage economic war on the Jewish state. But so long as J Street adheres to a position of support for Israel’s existence and opposition to BDS, the rationale for keeping them out of such a non-exclusive and diverse group like the Conference is a tough sell.

Were J Street to be denied entry to the Conference it would, however, be a huge public-relations coup and allow it to milk the situation for sympathy and depict its critics as seeking to silence a voice for peace. But its potential entry into the Conference would be confirmation that rather than a significant force on the Jewish scene, J Street is just one more insignificant Jewish group among a welter of such organizations whose infrastructure consist of little more than a staff and a mailing list.

To say this is not to criticize the Conference which, under the leadership of Malcolm Hoenlein, has done great service to the community by helping to mobilize support for consensus positions on the issues. But joining it will be proof that rather than challenging AIPAC, all J Street has accomplished is to attain the dubious distinction of being the leading left-wing sparring partner for the Zionist Organization of America and its leader Mort Klein.

The point here is that rather than signifying its acceptance, today’s vote is merely a sign that J Street failed in its mission to overturn the Jewish consensus on Israel. A seat in what is, for all intents and purposes, a debating society–most of whose members are little known even among American Jews–strikes me as a poor consolation prize for such a defeat.

UPDATE:

J Street’s application to join the Conference was rejected. My take on the vote can be read here.

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J Street Finds Itself Marooned with Hamas

Pity the members of J Street. The left-wing lobby was brought into existence in order to act as a Jewish cheering section for Obama administration pressure on Israel. Its allegedly “pro-Israel, pro-peace” platform is predicated on the notion that the Jewish state must be saved from itself by means of heavy-handed American arm-twisting. It hoped Obama, whose election its members regarded as proof that they, rather than the mainstream AIPAC, represented the bulk of American Jewry, would apply the screws to Israel’s government and magically produce a peace agreement.

But well into the sixth year of Obama’s presidency, their hopes have been dashed. Bereft of influence on Capital Hill or even within the administration it relentlessly supports, J Street has found itself on the sidelines continually seeking to fan each flame of U.S.-Israel discord into a fire that will produce the peace process breakthrough it devoutly insists is always just around the corner. Though J Street has not been without its moments of triumph when Obama has gratuitously slammed Israel and its government, disappointment always follows because not even the most hostile administration to the Jewish state since Jimmy Carter has ever been willing to escalate those spats into all-out political war. Thus, despite its approval of Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative and of Obama’s disdain for Prime Minister Netanyahu, J Street finds itself out of sync with the administration.

That’s the position J Street finds itself in again today when it urged Obama not to let the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation agreement be an impediment to pursuing pressure on Israel. That put it at odds with an administration which considered the PA’s alliance with the Islamist terror movement both disappointing and troubling. The idea that Obama and Kerry would, as J Street urges, seize this moment to produce their own peace plan and demand Israel accept it is farcical. Instead of being able to use its influence in the Oval Office and the State Department, J Street is marooned with Hamas.

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Pity the members of J Street. The left-wing lobby was brought into existence in order to act as a Jewish cheering section for Obama administration pressure on Israel. Its allegedly “pro-Israel, pro-peace” platform is predicated on the notion that the Jewish state must be saved from itself by means of heavy-handed American arm-twisting. It hoped Obama, whose election its members regarded as proof that they, rather than the mainstream AIPAC, represented the bulk of American Jewry, would apply the screws to Israel’s government and magically produce a peace agreement.

But well into the sixth year of Obama’s presidency, their hopes have been dashed. Bereft of influence on Capital Hill or even within the administration it relentlessly supports, J Street has found itself on the sidelines continually seeking to fan each flame of U.S.-Israel discord into a fire that will produce the peace process breakthrough it devoutly insists is always just around the corner. Though J Street has not been without its moments of triumph when Obama has gratuitously slammed Israel and its government, disappointment always follows because not even the most hostile administration to the Jewish state since Jimmy Carter has ever been willing to escalate those spats into all-out political war. Thus, despite its approval of Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative and of Obama’s disdain for Prime Minister Netanyahu, J Street finds itself out of sync with the administration.

That’s the position J Street finds itself in again today when it urged Obama not to let the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation agreement be an impediment to pursuing pressure on Israel. That put it at odds with an administration which considered the PA’s alliance with the Islamist terror movement both disappointing and troubling. The idea that Obama and Kerry would, as J Street urges, seize this moment to produce their own peace plan and demand Israel accept it is farcical. Instead of being able to use its influence in the Oval Office and the State Department, J Street is marooned with Hamas.

As the New York Times reports:

After months of intensive shuttle diplomacy in which Mr. Kerry relentlessly pursued the peace process and even dangled the possibility of releasing an American convicted of spying for Israel to salvage the lifeless talks, his spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, called the Palestinian move “disappointing” and the timing “troubling.”

“Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the state of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties,” Ms. Psaki said, citing conditions Hamas has repeatedly rejected. “It’s hard to see how Israel can be expected to negotiate with a government that does not believe in its right to exist.”

J Street’s argument about Hamas being no impediment to peace (echoed here by the Forward’s J.J. Goldberg) is so out of touch with mainstream opinion in Israel and the American Jewish community it claims to represent as to be cringe inducing. They note that peace process cynics have rightly pointed out that so long as the Palestinians were hopelessly split between Fatah and Hamas, with the former running the West Bank and the latter operating an independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas had no ability to sign a peace deal even if he wanted to. It claims that critics of the process will now switch to saying that a unified Palestinian government with Hamas will be unable to make a deal and asserts that this illustrates their fundamental opposition to peace.

This is, of course, nonsense. The reason why the Israeli government and the pro-Israel community in the United States reject Fatah-Hamas unity is because the Islamist movement as well as a significant slice of Fatah want no part of peace. As I wrote earlier this month when noting the comparisons between the struggle for peace in Ireland and that in the Middle East, just as Irish leaders were forced to choose between peace with Britain and peace with maximalist extremists, so, too, did Fatah have to make such a choice. But unlike Michael Collins, Abbas and his predecessor Yasir Arafat were never able to muster the courage to wage war on those Palestinians who refused to accept a two-state solution. Whether that division was rooted in their own intransigence or their fear of Hamas, the result is the same.

While there is good reason to doubt that this reconciliation will be implemented, its purpose is not to prepare the ground for a unified push for peace but to allow both Fatah and Hamas to perpetuate the status quo. Abbas never wanted to negotiate with Israel and seized the first pretext he could find to abandon the talks. Neither Fatah nor Hamas can make peace or pursue the development Palestinians badly need, but both understand that they must continue to distract the people who suffer under their joint misrule from this fact.

Even more to the point, J Street’s suggestion that this is the moment for Kerry to put forward his own peace plan shows just how out of touch they are. Kerry may have been foolhardy enough to think the magic of his personality could achieve what all of his predecessors failed to accomplish, but he is not so stupid as to think he could persuade a Palestinian government that included Hamas would accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders were drawn. Nor would Obama risk his limited political capital in a midterm election year on a fight with Israel that would, like his previous squabbles with Netanyahu, do nothing to advance the cause. That’s why J Street, for all of President Obama’s sympathy for its goals, finds itself once again marginalized.  

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“J-Streetophobia” and Shutting Down the Debate

A documentary simply titled The J Street Challenge has been stirring up much debate and controversy in recent weeks. I wrote about it here when it was first released, but since then the debate surrounding it has only grown louder. Most recently a dispute arose as supporters of the left-wing lobby group J Street protested the showing of the documentary at Greater Philadelphia Hillel as part of an event discussing what it means to be pro-Israel. With J Street bidding to join the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, it seems this is not a debate J Streeters want to be the focus of right now. But for years J Street and those who share its views have been calling for just such a debate. This documentary, featuring such figures as Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz and Wall Street Journal editor Bret Stephens, is the most concerted effort yet by mainstream Zionism to answer J Street’s claims with clear counterarguments.

This is what “Liberal Zionists” on the Jewish left have been demanding, they must be so pleased that someone finally took them seriously enough to reply, right? Wrong. As ever, rather than take on any of these accusations directly, they have simply gone for that tried and tested method of shutting down debate by demonizing anyone who criticizes their views. The most recent, and indeed most astonishing example of this comes from Bradley Burston writing in Haaretz. In his piece J-Streetophobia, and the U.S. Jewish right’s hatred for American Jews Burston argues that this documentary is a window into the minds of what he calls “the Jewish right,” exposing how this seething faction is driven by its resentment of the rest of the Jewish community. In fact most of the voices in this film seem broadly in line with the pro-Israel consensus.

What is perhaps most striking about this line of argument is the one-directional set of standards that it operates on. When Jewish liberals in America criticize, condemn, and yes at times demonize Israelis, they tell us they do it out of love. Yet when those with a more “hawkish” perspective have the temerity to try and pick holes in liberal arguments, well then it must obviously be motivated by hate. It’s not a particularly sophisticated worldview: liberals are innately nice and conservatives are by their very definition nasty.

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A documentary simply titled The J Street Challenge has been stirring up much debate and controversy in recent weeks. I wrote about it here when it was first released, but since then the debate surrounding it has only grown louder. Most recently a dispute arose as supporters of the left-wing lobby group J Street protested the showing of the documentary at Greater Philadelphia Hillel as part of an event discussing what it means to be pro-Israel. With J Street bidding to join the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, it seems this is not a debate J Streeters want to be the focus of right now. But for years J Street and those who share its views have been calling for just such a debate. This documentary, featuring such figures as Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz and Wall Street Journal editor Bret Stephens, is the most concerted effort yet by mainstream Zionism to answer J Street’s claims with clear counterarguments.

This is what “Liberal Zionists” on the Jewish left have been demanding, they must be so pleased that someone finally took them seriously enough to reply, right? Wrong. As ever, rather than take on any of these accusations directly, they have simply gone for that tried and tested method of shutting down debate by demonizing anyone who criticizes their views. The most recent, and indeed most astonishing example of this comes from Bradley Burston writing in Haaretz. In his piece J-Streetophobia, and the U.S. Jewish right’s hatred for American Jews Burston argues that this documentary is a window into the minds of what he calls “the Jewish right,” exposing how this seething faction is driven by its resentment of the rest of the Jewish community. In fact most of the voices in this film seem broadly in line with the pro-Israel consensus.

What is perhaps most striking about this line of argument is the one-directional set of standards that it operates on. When Jewish liberals in America criticize, condemn, and yes at times demonize Israelis, they tell us they do it out of love. Yet when those with a more “hawkish” perspective have the temerity to try and pick holes in liberal arguments, well then it must obviously be motivated by hate. It’s not a particularly sophisticated worldview: liberals are innately nice and conservatives are by their very definition nasty.

Of course Burston is arguing nothing new here; the view he promotes is simply that of Peter Beinart, the movement’s would-be theorist in chief. In his manifesto for liberal Zionism The Crisis of Zionism, Beinart even claims that, contrary to popular belief, it is actually Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu who has the problem with President Obama. This, explains Beinart, is because Obama, as a liberal and thus a “Jewish President,” reminds Netanyahu of what he most dislikes about Jews. Presumably all of this is supposed to be profound, yet reading these lines many will have felt as if they were entering some kind of Alice-through-the-looking-glass inversion of reality.

The liberal Zionist argument regularly portrays the Likud-led Israeli right as little more than a fascist gang hell-bent on transforming Israel into a banana republic. The settlers are portrayed as still more frightful, ultra-religious crazies whose shadowy influence pulls unseen strings in the corridors of the Israeli government so as to keep the rest of Israel hostage in an imperialist conflict. Those speaking in The J Street Challenge on the other hand at no point try to frame Jewish liberals as even remotely ill willed. They simply seek to show how a well-meaning worldview has become quite precariously misguided and how the leadership of this movement has demonstrated a tendency toward dishonesty at times. Yet, Burston describes the film as “odd-man-out bitterness and the burning, bully pulpit venom of marquee personalities in the American Jewish right.” That description itself might sound pretty venomous to most observers.

Of course, there is no such thing as J-Streetophobia, although there is plenty of critique of those J Street activities that run directly counter to the mainstream view. Yet one cannot help but reflect on the familiar pattern of how liberals have also been known to try and deflect comment on extremist Islam by labeling it Islamophobia. If in doubt, shut down the debate with cries of bigotry. Since liberal Zionists keep calling for an open discussion within the American Jewish community about Israeli policies, why don’t they stop demonizing and start debating? Could it be that they suspect that in fair fight they wouldn’t win?

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An Alternative Model for Pro-Israel Liberals

Alan Dershowitz has a blistering column in Haaretz today explaining why no self-respecting pro-Israel liberal should support J Street. Yet many genuinely pro-Israel liberals will likely continue doing so, for the same reason they continue giving to the New Israel Fund despite its track record of funding political warfare against Israel: They want an outlet for pro-Israel sentiment that also allows them to try to alter Israeli policies, whether foreign or domestic, with which they disagree. And absent a genuine outlet, it’s human nature to cling instead to groups that falsely purport to fill this niche, ignoring all evidence to the contrary. Hence an alternative model for pro-Israel liberalism is desperately needed.

The good news is that such a model exists. The bad news is that few people know about it–which is why Haaretz’s profile of philanthropist Robert Price earlier this month ought to be required reading for pro-Israel liberals. Price, who self-identifies as “toward the J Street side of things,” is a major donor to Israel, but on principle, he refuses to give to any Jewish Israeli institution: He focuses exclusively on the most disadvantaged fifth of Israeli society–the Arab community. Yet unlike, say, the NIF, Price doesn’t seek to “empower” Israeli Arabs by financing their leadership’s political war on Israel. Instead, he tries to promote Israeli Arabs’ integration, by focusing on educational initiatives that will ultimately improve their job prospects and earning power: early-childhood community centers in Arab towns and, more recently, an Arabic-language version of PJ Library. As he put it, “Arabs represent 20 percent of the population and have an opportunity, we think, to be productive citizens and to actually enrich the fabric of life in Israel if provided reasonable opportunities.”

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Alan Dershowitz has a blistering column in Haaretz today explaining why no self-respecting pro-Israel liberal should support J Street. Yet many genuinely pro-Israel liberals will likely continue doing so, for the same reason they continue giving to the New Israel Fund despite its track record of funding political warfare against Israel: They want an outlet for pro-Israel sentiment that also allows them to try to alter Israeli policies, whether foreign or domestic, with which they disagree. And absent a genuine outlet, it’s human nature to cling instead to groups that falsely purport to fill this niche, ignoring all evidence to the contrary. Hence an alternative model for pro-Israel liberalism is desperately needed.

The good news is that such a model exists. The bad news is that few people know about it–which is why Haaretz’s profile of philanthropist Robert Price earlier this month ought to be required reading for pro-Israel liberals. Price, who self-identifies as “toward the J Street side of things,” is a major donor to Israel, but on principle, he refuses to give to any Jewish Israeli institution: He focuses exclusively on the most disadvantaged fifth of Israeli society–the Arab community. Yet unlike, say, the NIF, Price doesn’t seek to “empower” Israeli Arabs by financing their leadership’s political war on Israel. Instead, he tries to promote Israeli Arabs’ integration, by focusing on educational initiatives that will ultimately improve their job prospects and earning power: early-childhood community centers in Arab towns and, more recently, an Arabic-language version of PJ Library. As he put it, “Arabs represent 20 percent of the population and have an opportunity, we think, to be productive citizens and to actually enrich the fabric of life in Israel if provided reasonable opportunities.”

This is a radical contrast to the NIF, which claims to promote integration but actually promotes Arab separatism. For instance, it’s a major funder of Adalah, an Israeli Arab NGO that actively promotes boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel, terms Israel an “apartheid state,” and demands a “right of return” for millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees. It was also a major funder of Mada al-Carmel, another Israeli Arab NGO, whose flagship project was the infamous Haifa Declaration. This document, compiled by dozens of Israeli Arab intellectuals, terms Zionism a “colonial-settler project” that, “in concert with world imperialism,” succeeded in 1948 “in occupying our homeland and transforming it into a state for the Jews,” partly by committing “massacres.” Israel, it adds, can atone for this sin only by transforming itself into a binational state with an Arab majority (via an influx of millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees).

Needless to say, such activities by Israeli Arab NGOs not only undermine Israel, but also worsen Jewish-Arab tensions and exacerbate anti-Arab discrimination: Why would any Israeli Jew want to help or even associate with a community whose leadership actively seeks the Jewish state’s annihilation? Thus by funding such activities, NIF hurts both Israel and the Arab minority it ostensibly seeks to help.

By promoting integration, in contrast, Price is helping both Israel and its Arab minority, and working to reduce discrimination–which is precisely what one would expect a pro-Israel liberal to want to do.

There are numerous ways to promote liberal goals while also genuinely helping Israel. Examples include programs that help ultra-Orthodox Jews acquire secular educations and enter the workplace, or that promote the integration of Ethiopian-Israelis, or that foster Israeli-Palestinian cooperation. But by clinging instead to groups like J Street and NIF, while turning a blind eye to their reality, liberals aren’t just harming Israel. They’re also missing precious opportunities to genuinely make Israel a better, more equal, and more just society.

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Blaming Kerry for Palestinian Rejectionism

Give left-wing author Peter Beinart some credit. He’s paying enough attention to the negotiations going on between Israel and the Palestinian Authority to understand that there’s almost no chance that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas will sign a peace deal. But whom does he blame for this in his latest cri de coeur about the peace process in Haaretz? Secretary of State John Kerry.

Of course, Beinart thinks Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is also at fault for insisting that Palestinians acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state, which is to say that they renounce their dreams of destroying it. He also slams Netanyahu for asking for serious security guarantees in the event that an agreement is concluded as well as demanding that the U.S. make good on the promises made to Israel prior to the Gaza withdrawal about the major settlement blocs in the West Bank being retained. In carping about Netanyahu he’s essentially blaming the people of Israel for rejecting the policies of the left after the collapse of Oslo and the Gaza disaster. To his way of thinking, democracy is all well and good but since liberal intellectuals like himself know what’s best for the country, the results of the last two Knesset elections should be set aside in order to allow American pressure to dictate peace terms with the Palestinians. Most of all he refuses to give the Palestinians any agency in their decision to turn down peace again.

This is familiar territory for Beinart. But now that Kerry is in the midst of an all-out effort to get Israel and the PA to agree to a new framework to allow for further talks with the Israelis set to say yes and the Palestinians almost certain to say no again, he’s been forced to come up with a new set of justifications for the left’s perennial argument that the lack of peace is Israel’s fault. His answer is that the true villain of the moment is Kerry and the liberal Jews who have been cheering the secretary on in his efforts to pressure Israel into accepting the framework. Why? Because, according to Beinart, Kerry’s terms are too favorable to Israel.

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Give left-wing author Peter Beinart some credit. He’s paying enough attention to the negotiations going on between Israel and the Palestinian Authority to understand that there’s almost no chance that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas will sign a peace deal. But whom does he blame for this in his latest cri de coeur about the peace process in Haaretz? Secretary of State John Kerry.

Of course, Beinart thinks Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is also at fault for insisting that Palestinians acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state, which is to say that they renounce their dreams of destroying it. He also slams Netanyahu for asking for serious security guarantees in the event that an agreement is concluded as well as demanding that the U.S. make good on the promises made to Israel prior to the Gaza withdrawal about the major settlement blocs in the West Bank being retained. In carping about Netanyahu he’s essentially blaming the people of Israel for rejecting the policies of the left after the collapse of Oslo and the Gaza disaster. To his way of thinking, democracy is all well and good but since liberal intellectuals like himself know what’s best for the country, the results of the last two Knesset elections should be set aside in order to allow American pressure to dictate peace terms with the Palestinians. Most of all he refuses to give the Palestinians any agency in their decision to turn down peace again.

This is familiar territory for Beinart. But now that Kerry is in the midst of an all-out effort to get Israel and the PA to agree to a new framework to allow for further talks with the Israelis set to say yes and the Palestinians almost certain to say no again, he’s been forced to come up with a new set of justifications for the left’s perennial argument that the lack of peace is Israel’s fault. His answer is that the true villain of the moment is Kerry and the liberal Jews who have been cheering the secretary on in his efforts to pressure Israel into accepting the framework. Why? Because, according to Beinart, Kerry’s terms are too favorable to Israel.

This is, of course, the same secretary of state that pressured the Israelis to release over 100 terrorist murderers to bribe the PA to come back to the negotiating table after boycotting talks for years. And he’s the same guy who threatened Israel with a new intifada and with expanded boycotts and economic warfare if they didn’t agree to his framework, setting the stage for more violence and delegitimization of the Jewish state after his efforts failed.

But Beinart has a beef with Kerry because in coming up with his framework, he’s incorporated some of Israel’s key demands and left other elements up to negotiations between the two parties. According to Beinart, Kerry has deviated from the plans offered to the Palestinians by Ehud Barak in 2000 and 2001 and the one proposed by Ehud Olmert in 2008. The differences between those schemes and the one in Kerry’s framework are small but significant.

The first problem is that Kerry agrees with the Israelis that the Palestinians should swallow hard and say the two little words—“Jewish state”—that signify they are ending the conflict for all time rather than pausing it in order to resume it later under more favorable circumstances.

The second is agreeing to a phased transition in which Israeli troops would remain in the Jordan Valley for perhaps as long as 10 or 15 years. Beinart agrees with the Palestinians that that kind of a security guarantee, made all the more necessary in recent years because of the rise of Hamas and Islamic Jihad as well as the threats to Jordan from Iran and Syria, is unacceptable.

What else? Beinart is unhappy about Kerry’s terms for the division of Jerusalem. Kerry is leaving the details of how to partition it to the parties and said one of the Arab neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city could serve as the Palestinian capital. Beinart agrees with Abbas and wants all Arab neighborhoods in the city to be constituted as the new capital of Palestine.

Beinart is also in a huff about the fact that Kerry’s framework doesn’t pay even lip service to the Palestinian demand for a “right of return” that would allow them to flood Israel with the descendants of the 1948 refugees. While Olmert foolishly offered the Palestinians the right to bring as many as 15,000 into Israel, Kerry has wisely turned them down flat on this question.

These differences from the plans of 2000, 2001, and 2008 don’t change the fact that if the Palestinians are smart enough to say yes to the framework, they would get their independent state including almost all of the West Bank, a share of Jerusalem and be compensated for the settlement blocs with equal amounts of Israeli territory. But in order to get it they have to agree to the legitimacy of a Jewish state alongside their nation and they have to agree not to use their state to restart the conflict once Israel withdraws. Since its inception, Palestinian nationalism has been solely focused on denying Zionism’s legitimacy rather than on building a nation. That’s why Abbas is no more capable of agreeing to peace now than he was in 2008 when he fled from Olmert’s offer or Yasir Arafat was when he said no twice to Ehud Barak.

But Beinart prefers to ignore the truth about Abbas and the political culture of rejection to which he is both enabler and hostage. Instead, he blames Israel and Kerry for not giving even more.

Interestingly, Beinart’s plan of action to deal with the problem doesn’t involve efforts to beg the Palestinians not to say no to peace and independence for the fourth time since the summer of 2000. Instead, he wants his friends at J Street and other liberal Jewish backers of the Obama administration to turn their wrath on the secretary of state. He wants the left to “raise a stink” against Kerry and the administration in order to get them to change the framework to make it more acceptable to the Palestinians, including deleting references to the Jewish state and giving the green light for the refugees.

Such an effort on the part of J Street is as unlikely as it would be absurd. J Street is more pro-Obama than it is pro-peace or pro-Israel. It will never launch a campaign against Kerry’s efforts to broker a deal in order to tilt the playing field even more toward the Palestinians than the secretary has already done.

This difference between Beinart and Kerry illustrates, if nothing else, the secretary’s sincerity. Kerry’s chances of success were always near zero and his willingness to undertake this mission despite the very real chances that attempting it would cause more harm than good by encouraging terrorism and boycotts after the inevitable Palestinian refusal testifies both to his poor judgment and his hubris. But Kerry also understands that after the collapse of Oslo, the withdrawal from Gaza and the three Palestinian “no’s” to peace offers, Israelis need to be persuaded that this peace is genuine and will guarantee the Jewish state’s survival. And that is why Abbas will never sign any deal with anything like reasonable terms.

Beinart understands that this decision will, like the many Palestinian decisions to repeatedly reject peace throughout the last century, undermine his thesis about Israel being to blame. So in order to preserve his dubious narrative of the conflict, he must start setting up Kerry as the fall guy for Palestinian rejectionism. Reading Beinart’s piece, I almost felt sorry for Kerry. Almost. 

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