Friday, October 30, 2009

J Street, Obama, and Israel.

I find the arrival of J Street onto the scene at this moment in time fascinating. They seem to offer another view of the Israel-Palestine conflict, one which doesn't correlate with the AIPAC/Likud line which for so long has been the line which it was demanded that one take or risk being called "anti-Israel".

But, at the time of Obama, and a new realism regarding what must be done to ensure peace in the Middle East, this group of Jewish realists appear to be stepping up to the plate, decrying Israel's expansionist and obstructionist policies, and offering a fresh hope that Israel will embrace international law and give up her desire for ever more Palestinian land in the hope of forming Eretz Israel.

And more and more American Jews are making their voices heard:

The J Street philosophy is that there is a kind of "silent majority" of US Jews who aren't happy with Israel's expansionist polices and intransigence, and who don't believe they're represented properly by right-leaning groups such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Milling around, I spoke to a number of those in attendance. A couple of rabbis, from Massachusetts and California, said that the conference was an opportunity to meet with like-minded, liberal, pro-peace Jews. "When I stand up in my pulpit, with any kind of criticism of Israel, over settlements, Gaza, to say anything other than, 'Go, bomb them when you want,' it's considered anti-Israel," saud Rabbi Joshua Levine-Grater from Pasadena. "So it's thrilling to be here, to say, 'We love Israel, we believe in Israel's security, but the status quo isn't acceptable."

That about sums up J Street's message.

It's a message that most of us on the left can agree with. We all want a secure state of Israel, but we also want to see the historic wrong that has been foisted on the people of Palestine corrected and to see them have their own state.

But, until now, Israel has insisted that one must see her problems as part of the wider war on terror, casting the Palestinians into the role of "terrorists", rather than that of an occupied people seeking their liberation.

It's a false choice that many of us have always felt extremely uncomfortable with.

And, as someone who has argued for years that solving this problem will do more to undermine terrorism that anything else that I can think of, I was especially pleased to hear this sentiment being expressed by Obama's representative to the conference.
The highlight of the conference was an address by General James Jones, the US national security adviser, who pledged that the Obama administration will take part in future J Street events as well. "You can be sure this administration will be represented at all future conferences," said Jones. In his speech, Jones pronounced the standard boilerplate about the unbreakable bond between Israel and the US, but for the most part the liberal audience sat on its hands, erupting into applause instead when Jones spoke forcefully about the crisis in Gaza and about the importance of creating a "contiguous," viable, independent Palestinian state. Jones also said that if he could tell President Obama to solve any single one of the world's many problems, "This would be it." (Of course, Jones can tell that to Obama.) The Israel-Palestine conflict affects many, many other problems around the world. "This," he stressed, "is the epicenter."
One of the reasons why I first found myself supporting Barack Obama, although I admit at times it was like trying to read tea leaves, were the few comments he made regarding this conflict. He always gave out hints that he understood the importance of achieving a lasting peace here and that he also understood that this peace would never be achieved if one stuck to the standard Likud line.

For much as we have all been taught that the Israelis are seeking a "partner in peace", one only has to look beneath the standard Likud line on any issue to realise that peace is the last thing which they actually desire. The Likud line actually embraces the West Bank and Gaza as part of Israel, everything else they say is blatant bullshit.

And, at the J Street conference, there were many young American Jews stating that they have woken up to this fact:

Rachel Jones spent the past week in Washington, DC, at the first annual conference for the new progressive Jewish organization J Street. She was passing out literature for Meretz USA, an American nonprofit that supports the platform of one of Israel's most left-wing political parties.

Politically and socially, Meretz USA is a far cry from Jones's upbringing as a devout Jew in small-town Iowa. The only story Jones, now 24, heard while growing up in her tiny community--a story she now calls "right wing"--was that Israel's borders included Gaza, the West Bank and the Golan Heights, and that Jewish identity was staked on the country's defense.

Her transformation from a conservative Zionist to a J Street volunteer is a product of the two years she spent in Israel. "I came to it from such a place of love and admiration and desire, and I wanted to just be completely embraced by my homeland, and all these romantic and idealistic pictures of what Israel was supposed to be for me," she said. But instead of finding her "homeland," Jones found the 2006 Lebanon war. The violence she witnessed deeply challenged her religious faith and her confidence in Israel's actions.
I don't know if Obama's presidency has produced J Street or if Israel's actions, especially her recent wars in Lebanon and Gaza, have made this movement inevitable, but the ground is definitely shifting in the way in which this dispute is now viewed.

For too long it was plain heresy to question Likud's extremist policies. The arrival of Obama - and now J Street - are a long overdue correction of that bias.

It was notable that, whilst Obama sent along his national security adviser, Michael Oren - Israel's ambassador to the United States - declined to attend.

Likud and AIPAC aren't going to give up their ground easily. Indeed, the very fact that Orin refused to attend shows that battle lines are being drawn.

I am with Obama and J Street.

We have tried the Likud line for over forty years. It has produced nothing other than further Israeli grabbing of Palestinian land. It will never produce peace because it is built on the false premise that Judea and Samaria actually belong to Israel.

J Street offers a new path. It is one that Israel should embrace.

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