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J Street - Two Years after its Formation

By       Message Dan Lieberman     Permalink
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Two years ago, J Street, a newly registered pro-Israel lobby, hit the American Streets with optimism, vitality and promise. Its thrust: To replace or diminish the punch of the American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC).

J Street intends to subdue AIPAC's charge and steer United States Middle East policy towards bringing peace to the Middle East - a worthy objective reinforced with strong rhetoric two state solution, achieve regional comprehensive peace, broaden debate on issues, diplomatic solutions favored over military solutions, an immediate and total freeze of settlement construction, Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem to be under Israeli sovereignty and Arab neighborhoods to be under Palestinian sovereignty.

Nevertheless, long time critics of Israel's policies suspect J Street could have unintended consequences, will not achieve objectives and might sidetrack activists from properly engaging Israel.

J Street's challengers accuse it of couching objectives in dubious language with words such as favored, broaden, should support; of not providing rigorous plans to achieve the objectives (such as changing the Israeli administration); of a commitment to Israel that does not sufficiently recognize the seriously oppressive nature of Israel's policies.

How far will J Street go in modifying present Israel? Will it be enough to bring peace to the Middle East or only enough to satisfy J Street's ambitions for Israel? A lingering doubt has J Street with another "Good guy/ Bad guy" routine, a familiar characteristic of Israel's political scene? In this routine the out of power Party promises to undo the extremist policies of the Party in power and then, when in power, continues the same extreme policies, while the "extremist' Party, now out of power, promises similar changes.

In its annual reports for 2008 and 2009, J Street shows organization and support. The lobby has raised sufficient funds for a $3 million dollar budget (AIPAC budget is $75 million), has a campus arm, and has sponsored meetings all over the nation. It claims successful financing for selected congressional candidates.

This claim intends to overshadow AIPAC's principle aims, which are obtaining congressional allegiance to Israel and support for arms delivery to their favored nation. However, J Street does not exclude from its programs the objectives which most annoy AIPAC's detractors. Examine a sampling of candidates supported by J Street and we find they have one policy in common, intensive allegiance to Israel.

Jeff Merkley D-Senator Oregon
"I strongly support the US-Israel relationship, a mutually beneficial bond made stronger by common values, histories, and dedication to democratic principles. Our first and unassailable commitment in the Middle East must be to the security of Israel."

Gary Peters D-Mi
"Israel is the lone democracy in a sea of tyranny. In Congress I will fight to make sure that the U.S. - Israeli relationship remains strong."

Tom Perrielo D-Va
Voted for House Resolution 867 "Calling on the President and the Secretary of State to oppose unequivocally any endorsement or further consideration of the "Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict.' (Goldstone Report)

The lobby has supported Donna Edwards, a Maryland congresswoman with high marks from Arab groups for her fair minded attitudes. Score one for J Street.

J Street's leader, Jeremy Ben Ami, in an interview with Jefffrey Goldberg, confirmed his support for military assistance to Israel. " the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel, the essential security guarantee that the U.S. provides, the notion that Israel should always have a qualitative military edge, those are things that have been achieved by lobbying, by what some people would call the "Israel lobby. J Street is very happy with these achievements, and we support those ends, and we respect and admire much of what groups like AIPAC and others have done over the years."

Possibly, two years is insufficient to judge the effectiveness of a lobby organization. Nevertheless, after two years, J Street's accomplishments are meager and have not influenced any administration policies. J Street has neither impeded AIPAC's effectiveness nor been able to convince the administration to implement any of its proposals. Despite charges of its members receiving unauthorized government information, AIPAC continues its successful lobbying efforts without loss of momentum. Peace in the Middle East never looked more discouraging.

J Street provides hope, but its inconsistencies, its incomplete agenda, its vagueness, and what it does not say, has not turned hope into accomplishment. To its credit, J Street refused to support House Resolution 867, which condemned the Goldstone Commission report on Operation Cast Lead, but "would be able to support a resolution that recognized the history of bias against Israel at the United Nations, the flaws in the original mandate to the Goldstone Commission and the dangers in pursuing resolutions in multilateral fora with a track record of anti-Israel bias; and condemns the series of one-sided resolutions adopted by the UN Human Rights Council."

The lobby also stated it "further urges the Obama Administration to make every effort to oppose and defeat the one-sided and biased resolution that is likely to be presented in the General Assembly and to work actively for the adoption of a better, balanced resolution. We urge the United States to make clear that it will use its veto to prevent any referral of this matter to the International Criminal Court."

Rather than supporting existing movements that are taking action against Israel's oppressive policies, J Street steers them to opposing polices. The Campus Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel has taken off. J Street intends to bring BDS back to the ground.

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Dan Lieberman is the editor of Alternative Insight, a monthly web based newsletter. His website articles have been read in more than 150 nations, while articles written for other websites have appeared in online journals throughout the world(B 92, (more...)
 

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