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Blaming Israel, Ignoring Radical Islam at J Street's National Conference

J Street, he told the delegates, was a group of the center-left that embodied people on various parts of that spectrum. They could not win their fight, he suggested, unless they kept the center and got more, not less, support from it. By not supporting the U.S. veto, he told them, they became “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” Many centrists who had supported them have broken ranks and dropped out of J Street. “We,” he said, “made them move away from us.” J Street therefore pushed the mainstream of the Jewish community away from them, rather than towards them. This meant that when they said the right things, they would have little impact, since the Jewish community would not trust them.

Saying that he understood that J Street’s leaders made a tough call, Saperstein argued that if they had supported the veto, they would have been in a position to wage a successful call for a new movement in America to oppose Israel’s settlements. Now they were undercutting their own program to help the Obama administration advance the peace process.

Saperstein, in other words, was saying that J Street should have tactically not taken the position they believed in, simply because they lost potential allies in doing so. He said they needed to wage an effort to fight the Tea Party and those who wanted to end U.S. foreign aid and especially aid to Israel. Claiming that he was concerned with those who wanted to delegitimize the Jewish state, he said they needed a broad tent that would give credibility to their effort to be both pro-peace and pro-Israel. They had to oppose those who sought to support the BDS campaign -- boycott, divestment and sanctions -- favored by many of the far left in America.

The pro-Israel forces, he concluded, needed their vision of a pro-peace position. This is not, he said, “a time for retreat, since our vision will prevail.” That vision, he ended, stood for  “dignity, social justice, and peace.”

Saperstein was followed by J Street’s polished director, Jeremy Ben-Ami. Reiterating their principles, Ben-Ami argued that Israel had to choose between being isolated because of its policies of occupation and working relentlessly for Palestinian rights and a Palestinian homeland. That meant a willingness to give up Palestinian land that it now controlled and give it back to its rightful owners. Israel’s long-term security, he argued, necessitated a Palestinian state and achieving a two-state solution. It was clear that he believes that the reason this does not exist depends entirely on Israel, and not one word was uttered by him or Saperstein about what the PLA might be doing that harmed Israel and prevented a Palestinian state from being created.  Israel’s own policies, he said, ruin its democratic character and cause its international isolation. Thus only vigorous criticism of the policies of the Netanyahu government was needed to save Israel from itself.

When the young man who introduced Peter Beinart spoke, he said Beinart inspired him, because while he loves Israel, he did not love its actions during the war in Gaza. Current policies of the Israeli government, Beinart said, were a moral failure and harmed Israel and put the country at risk. One had to wonder, what policies of Israel’s enemies, if any, does he think had the same effect? Does he really believe that a change to the “peace” policies he espouses would end Arab intransigence? Israel had to create a vibrant, democratic Israel -- not the kind of Israel now led by the reactionary Netanyahu government. Then and only then could the true holy mission of the Jewish people be realized, he said.

The crowd seemed to love it. As for myself, I wondered how this arrogant, so-called pundit had the nerve to tell the Jewish Israelis what was in their interest, and to tell them that he knew more than those who elected the center-right government what was in their own best interest. Beinart had not one word to say about the actual threats facing Israel from the new Middle East being created as we speak, from Iran, and from the very real threats to Israel from radical Islam.

The latter is hardly a surprise, since J Street’s own statement of principles says it opposes “efforts to demean and fan fears of Islam or of  Muslims.” In their eyes, evidently, any criticism or mention of radical Islam is verboten, since it reflects the kind of understanding liberals and the left can never comprehend.