President Barack Obama addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference opening plenary session in Washington, D.C., Mar. 4, 2012.
"J Street is a Dead End"
Op-Ed, The Jerusalem Post
February 24, 2013
Author: Chuck Freilich, Senior Fellow, International Security Program
Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security
In the final analysis, only Israelis bear the responsibility for determining their future.
For over 60 years the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has lobbied on behalf of the US-Israeli relationship. Drawing on broad popular support for Israel, US strategic interests and shared values, AIPAC’s successes have been legion.
It is not by chance that Israel is the largest beneficiary ever of American peacetime aid, or that the relationship continues to thrive, despite decades of controversy. Over 10,000 pro-Israel activists will participate in AIPAC's upcoming annual conference in Washington. It will be a celebration of the American-Israeli relationship and of American democracy at work.
Consensus and unity of purpose have never been a primary Jewish characteristic. Never content to say yes to success, disaffected supporters of Israel have in recent years promoted the "non-AIPAC," an ostensibly alternative lobby with a selfstyled "pro-Israel, pro-peace" mission.
And here I thought that we all wanted peace.
Stung by criticism, maybe more experienced, J Street has actually toned down its official positions and in many areas they are not that different from AIPAC. Like AIPAC, it supports a strong US-Israeli relationship, including robust aid and a two-state solution, and opposes a nuclear Iran.
Crucially, however, AIPAC believes its role is to promote the bilateral relationship regardless of the governments in office in the US or Israel and that in doing so it is not endorsing any specific policy, regarding which there can be legitimate differences, but the relationship's long-term vitality and Israel's security. Over the decades there have been disagreements between the US and such close allies as Britain and France, but no one advocated setting up new lobbying organizations.
Second, AIPAC focuses on strengthening the US-Israeli relationship unconditionally, without adopting positions on controversial issues such as the peace process, beyond broad consensual statements such as support for a two state solution. J Street, conversely, severely criticizes Israel's policies regarding the Palestinians and peace process, indeed, promoting its preferred solution to the conflict is its reason for existing as an alternative to AIPAC. If and when a left-leaning Israeli government is once again elected in Israel, such as those headed by Rabin, Peres, Barak and Olmert, will J Street disband? Or will a new lobby be established every time disagreement arises within the Jewish community? J Street has also taken a strong position opposing the use of force against Iran. One can agree or not, but that it is not the point. Most observers agree that the threat of force is crucial to induce Iran to reach the diplomatic outcome that everyone — Israel above all — prefers, though if diplomacy ultimately fails, force may prove necessary. Or does J Street believe that its strategic planning capabilities exceed those of Israel or the US? Of far less strategic importance, but no less indicative of its arrogant attitude, J Street recently launched a campaign entitled "Smear a Bagel, Not Chuck Hagel." Some pro-Israel advocates may have over-reacted to his nomination, but J Street does not even harbor any doubts. Its role, once again, is to be the antithesis to the pro-Israel establishment.
ALL OF this would be unimportant were J Street not actively trying to expand its outreach and lobbying activities.
I happen to agree with J Street that settlement of the West Bank poses a threat to Israel’s Jewish and democratic character and that a final settlement should be based on the 1967 lines with land swaps. Guess what? A vast majority of pro-Israeli Americans and, as the polls have shown for decades, most Israelis, agree.
The means to promote the two state solution is not by lobbying the US administration. J Street seems to believe that if only the US would make a major effort and Israel would cease settling, an agreement would materialize overnight. It is so much easier to unthinkingly place the blame almost solely on Israel and the US. In fact, Israel has made dramatic proposals for peace, based on exactly the kind of settlement J Street advocates, at Camp David and the "Clinton Parameters" in 2000 and again in Olmert's proposals in 2008. Yasser Arafat rejected the deal in 2000, Mahmoud Abbas failed to even respond in 2008.
In its child-like demand for immediate gratification, J Street ignores these historic Palestinian failures.
Moreover, there is reason to fear that an all-out American effort to push for peace now, when conditions are far less propitious than in the past, is almost guaranteed to fail and that the wiser course is to seek incremental change. J Street does not bother considering whether the Palestinians, deeply divided between the feckless Palestinian Authority and radical "Hamastan," are capable of making a deal and, given their past record, whether they even wish to do so.
Israel's national security stands on three pillars — the resolve of its people, the strength of the IDF and the US-Israeli relationship. Those who endanger any of these pillars, even if well-intentioned, endanger Israel's security. If pluralism in thought and organizational structure has enriched American-Jewish life internally, the unity in support for Israel was always the basis of the strength of the US-Israeli relationship.
In the final analysis, only Israelis bear the responsibility for determining their future. American Jews who are deeply concerned about Israel's future have a right to speak out, but the place to achieve a two-state solution is in the diplomatic arena. The place to advocate changes in Israel's policies is within Israel's democratic process and the plethora of American-Jewish organizations, many of which take a strong pro-peace position.
It is not in Washington, lobbying the US administration. On the US-Israeli relationship American Jews must stand united. J Street leads only to a dead end.
The writer is, a former deputy national security adviser in Israel, is a senior fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School and the author of Zion's Dilemmas: How Israel Makes National Security Policy.
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