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First do no harm, J Street

With nothing left to offer except hollow pep talks about the peace process, the liberal lobby is fighting BDS – together with the pro-Netanyahu, pro-occupation American Zionist right. Next stop: the Presbyterian Church USA’s General Assembly.

What is J Street doing? Why is it acting in concert with right-wing Zionist organizations like AIPAC and StandWithUs in fighting against boycott, sanctions and divestment, while offering no alternative of its own for ending the occupation?

Because the truth is that J Street offers no alternative anymore; now that the Kerry talks have failed, and all the secretary of state has to show for them is a footprint on his pants seat courtesy of the Netanyahu government, America is through trying to make peace between Israel and the Palestinians. And everybody seems to acknowledge this except J Street. Which is not a surprise, because without America in the peace process, J Street’s reason for being is gone.

That’s tough; the organization is going to have to change or close shop. And I hope it does change successfully by finding a new way to advance the two-state solution. Moreover, I hope it finds a less antagonistic way than BDS to accomplish this. And if it does find such a way, I will join J Street in a minute, because as an Israeli I don’t particularly enjoy supporting the boycott of Israel – but I do it because I see no other way anymore to end the occupation and allow the two-state solution to come into being. And nobody else has come up with another way, either. So as far as anyone can see, it’s either BDS or occupation forever.

Yet J Street, by default, has thrown in on the side of occupation forever. With nothing left to offer except hollow pep talks about the peace process, it’s fighting BDS – together with the pro-Netanyahu, pro-occupation American Zionist right.

Its Seattle branch just joined with AIPAC, StandWithUs, the Jewish Agency and Hillel (the last is not a right-wing organization; the first three are) to defeat a BDS motion before the University of Washington’s student government. Not only that, its Seattle branch wrote on its Facebook page that “global BDS is an ineffective, and worse, anti-Semitic, movement.”

Anti-Semitic? Is Jewish Voice for Peace anti-Semitic? Is Stephen Hawking anti-Semitic? Is the European Union anti-Semitic? That’s slander. That’s not liberal Zionism, that’s McCarthyite Zionism. What’s gotten into these people?

And now it’s moving on to the Presbyterian Church USA’s General Assembly in Detroit, June 14-21. There it will argue against a motion for divestment from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola, whose bulldozers, segregated biometric ID system and surveillance services, respectively, are used by Israel in its military dictatorship over the Palestinians in the West Bank.

J Street was instrumental in beating back the same motion in 2012, when it failed before the church’s General Assembly by a vote of 333-331. But that was then. Then it was possible to argue (although I’d already stopped) that there was still hope the United States would pressure Israel into making peace. Then it was still at least reasonable for J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami to tell the Presbyterian Church: “Reject divestment, and embrace full-on pursuit of the diplomatic efforts necessary to create genuine and lasting peace for Israel and the Palestinian people.”

But now? What argument can an anti-occupation movement make to the Presbyterian Church in June 2014 about why it should not divest from Caterpillar’s bulldozers, Hewlett-Packard’s ID system for Palestinians, and Motorola’s surveillance machines? Because it would interfere with U.S. diplomacy in the Mideast? Because it would harden the Netanyahu government’s stance in the peace talks?

From an anti-occupation perspective, what is there to lose by a Presbyterian Church vote for divestment? Nothing. But what is there to gain? A blow against injustice, the kind that has been scaring the Netanyahu government and Israel lobby like nothing else – certainly not the Obama administration – which is a very good sign that the BDS campaign is on to something.

This time around, J Street will again be joined in the opposition by at least one right-wing Zionist organization: NGO Monitor, headed by one of the world’s leading McCarthyite Zionists, Gerald Steinberg. A friend of mine was at a talk he gave late last month and said Steinberg was going on about how “he spends time working with the Presbyterians documenting why divestment represents classic elements of anti-Semitism.” Great stuff.

But this is the sort of company J Street keeps these days in the only meaningful action it’s involved in anymore: fighting BDS. With no peace process left, the organization has inadvertently gone from being “pro-Israel, pro-peace” to “pro-Israel, pro-occupation.” I know that’s not what J Street wants to be, but that’s effectively what it’s become by offering no path to peace while opposing the one way that still shows any prospect of success.

If J Street still wants to help heal Israel and Palestine, and I have no doubt it does, let it act like a healer and remember the Hippocratic oath: first do no harm.

This article appeared originally (with minor style changes) in The Jewish Daily Forward on June 9.

Related:
Beware, J Street: The Kerry deal looks rigged against the Palestinians
J Street past, present and future: Let’s get on with it

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  • COMMENTS

    1. Danny

      J Street is a joke. It is an organization without a message, without a strategy and without a vision. It’s fluff that nobody takes seriously – and rightfully so.

      Personally, I don’t care that J Street is against BDS because I don’t care about J Street.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Rab

      These have been a bad couple of weeks for BDS. The Rolling Stones appeared in Israel and loved it, while pointedly ignoring Roger Waters. Israel signed the Horizon 2020 agreement with the Europeans. The Pension Fund of Norway has increased its stake in Israeloi companies. George Soros has taken stakes in Teva and SodaStream. The PA arrested BDS activists for disrupting a cultural event. It even turns out that Al Qaeda is using an Israeli email system (let’s all pray it has a backdoor!!). The former PM of South Africa who destroyed that heinous system pointedly rejected the apartheid label for Israel. Chinese company is buying Tnuva. And on and on and on.

      It’s not because they’re all misguided, Larry. It’s because you are. If you want to apply pressure to make peace, the party that needs to be pressured is the Palestinians. The Israelis have already offered a Palestinian state, virtually all of Judea and Samaria and all of Gaza, the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, and either sovereignty over the Muslim part of the Temple Mount or an internationalized Holy Basin. You’re targeting the wrong party.

      Oh, and the ADL considers Jewish Voice for Peace (great name, but a lying one) an anti-Semitic organization: http://www.adl.org/israel-international/anti-israel-activity/profile-jewish-voice-for.html. There’s a PDF if you want the full report, just go to the link.

      Reply to Comment
      • shachalnur

        Is anybody keeping count of the amount of Jews left that are not being called “anti-Semite” by the ADL?

        And what is Judaism supposed to do when there are more “anti-Semitic” Jews than 1897 Zionist Banker slaves?

        2/3 of people born Jewish alive today are not part of 1897 Zionist controlled Judaism,they have turned their backs in silence, disgust or because of religious reasons.

        Maybe 1897 Zionism should change their movement’s name to something more accurate: “ADLsonism”,because it has nothing to do with Torah Judaism,only a bunch of racist landgrabbers supported by rich criminals.

        A century ago European Jewry recognized 1897 Zionism as a program to exterminate the Jewish People.

        Did you know that the ADL was created in 1913,long before the Holocaust and the creation of the Jewish State of Shame?

        They were created to protect their sponsors,the ones that took control of the US economy by creating the Federal Reserve,and they are still doing that.

        ADL doesn’t give a damn about Judaism,only their sponsor’s interests are being defended by them,not Judaism.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Harry Green

      Tell us about the great society that is letting all its people have democratic freedoms in West Bank and Gaza Larry. How the future state will support women’s freedoms like they do in Israel or the rights of the LGBT community?
      J street is a fraud. Jewish Voice for Peace is a fraud. BDS is anti Jewish and anti Israel, and most importantly , anti Palestinian if you think about it.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Scott Bernstein

      Regardless of what I think of BDS, as a Jewish American, I want my government and special interest groups in the US to support the people of Israel and their democratically elected government (Right or Left). If you (Israelis) don’t like Netanyahu’s policies, then get rid of him. Please stop looking for the US to correct your “electoral mistakes”.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Herb

      Larry, as long as you live and pay taxes in Israel, you theoretically support the Israeli government. If you really want to practice BDS, leave Israel like Lisa Goldman did. Otherwise you are being hypocritical

      Reply to Comment

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