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J Street and Zion Square engage 'Pro-Israel' question

I write a lot about the term “pro-Israel,” since it is a highly-charged and problematic term used often with impunity. Regardless of what I think it means, it is clear that it is a subjective term that is often attempted to be passed off as an objective one. Even just saying that a working definition of “pro-Israel” is support for the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state is unclear and debatable and thus demands qualification. So it is important to be critical of its usage and continue to ask the questions: what does it mean to support Israel? Is it support for a state, an idea, a government, a specific party in the government, etc.? (The same applies by the way for the question of what it means to be “pro-Palestinian.”)

So I was happy to discover that J Street has started a campaign asking people to go on camera and state what being “pro-Israel” means for them. While I have issues with J Street and have certainly been known to criticize them on this site, I appreciate the fact that they are at least asking the question, and allowing members of the community to express themselves. Here are a couple of the videos – they are slated to be presented at their upcoming annual conference at the end of this month. (Its still unclear whether Ehud Olmert will give their keynote address since they aren’t confirming it on their website yet).



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The new “Zion Square” blog started and edited by Peter Beinart on the DailyBeast is also grappling with the “pro-Israel” concept. They just launched this week, and have already published a post by cartoonist Eli Valley that I love. It pokes fun at the recent “scandal” involving the New York Times‘ new Jerusalem Bureau Chief Jodi Rudoren, attacked for being biased against Israel for having tweeted with Ali Abunimah and Phil Weiss. Valley proposes a series of tweets Rudoren could upload that would be perfectly acceptable to the “pro-Israel” crowd, such as:

I think it’s super smart to have started out this blog with a little tongue-in-cheek attitude that shows it won’t take itself too seriously, laughing at the absurdity of where we have come to when it comes to Israel’s image and role. While it is certainly bold to launch a blog called “Zion Square,” and on an American site no less, it has promise. At least if you do not outright reject the right of people to still engage the question and merits of Zionism.

I’m sure it will be easy to levy criticism of the site – and I do already feel a conflict between its stated mission of transforming “Jewish discourse” and challenging “liberal Zionism” and at the same time constituting a platform for Palestinian and Iranian bloggers that criticizes Palestinian behavior – but this amusing commentary on the notion of what is “acceptable” behavior regarding the discussion on Israel is certainly a great way to start.


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    1. XYZ

      Saying “Israel has a right to exist” does not make one “Pro-Israel”. Being “Pro-Israel” has policy implications. Israel has a democratically-elected government. One may oppose certain policies of that government but to completely delegitimize the right of that government to make decisions regarding the security of the citizens of the country removes one from the ranks of the “Pro-Israel”. Also, the Zionist ethos of the country is accepted by a large majority of the Jewish population in Israel. To delegitimize that Zionist ethos is also to remove one’s self from the “pro-Israel” ranks.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Richard Witty

      Peter is a character.

      He is sincere at the question, and considers it important to clarify.

      There are two possible consequences to clarification of one’s goals and attitudes.

      1. Doubt
      2. Certainty and commitment

      My sense is that Peter is seeking the second, that his understanding of Israel’s interest and of supporting Israel, is to help it be clear and focused, not distracted and confused.

      And, that he considers current Israeli trends to be largely distracted and confused (messianic and nationalist expansion vs confidently enough)

      Reply to Comment
    3. Bill Pearlman

      I guess since they hung Julius Streicher at Nuremberg you go with what you have i.e. mondoweiss.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Ellen

      FYI, this has been up on the JStreet site for a while – certainly sounds as though Olmert is on the program. http://conference.jstreet.org/gala

      Reply to Comment
    5. Rusty

      What frustrates me about P.B. and J-Street is that they adamantly refuse to answer questions about their bottom line. Say Israel makes an offer to the Palestinians they (PB/JS) find acceptable and it’s refused. Say the Palestinians are adamant about right of return. Say a peace is signed but the rockets keep flying into Israel and the Palestinian government isn’t able to stop them (which, under international law, is an act of war – see Taliban/Al Queda). They SEEM to say that Israel would have to endure the current cycle (occupy[not settle], withdraw, endure attacks, go back on offensive) endlessly until the Arabs get it right. Otherwise what are they saying?

      Reply to Comment
    6. aristeides

      What an arrogant statement from Rusty. “The Arabs get it right” = “What’s right for Israel and not Palestinians.

      Reply to Comment
    7. RUSTY

      Aristeides, you COMPLETELY misunderstand that line. I, like PB/JS, would put immense pressure on Israel to pull back most of the settlements and offer the Palestinians a peace along the 2000 lines, but with somewhat more favorable terms for the Palestinians. I don’t know what your personal terms are, but I’ll assume it’s something short of Israel giving up sovereignty. Heck, let’s say for the sake of argument that we think Israel should offer to return to the 1949 borders w/ compensation but no right of return.

      The point is that whatever deal is reached, the consequences for the Palestinians/Arabs breaking that peace has to be immense, not just a return to the cycle of the last 40 years. Otherwise eventually the Arabs will “get it right” and destroy Israel. This is what Yasir Arafat was talking about when he likened the Oslo Agreement to the Treaty of Humbadiya. Military superiority doesn’t last forever. It is this question that PB/JS refuse to talk about and I’m calling them out on it.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Mairav Zonszein

      Thanks @Ellen. Ya, apparently he’s not the keynote, but a “special guest.” Somehow that makes it worse.

      Reply to Comment
    9. aristeides

      Rusty – and what about the consequences of Israel breaking that peace? The assumption is always in that direction, not the other. You don’t see that as a problem?

      Reply to Comment
    10. The disparity of power between Israel and the Palestinians makes negotiation a non-reality, even if it is (curiously) not treated as a non-starter. A “just and lasting peace” (UNSC-242 (1967)) must be imposed. And Israel’s irrepressible and increasingly bad behavior in the matter of occupation will tend to bring such imposition about sooner rather than later. Or so I hope.

      If you doubt what I said, look at how the Holocaust was finally stopped: not by Jewish action, not by Jewish power, not by German-Jewish negotiation, but by imposition of outside power.

      To be clear, I am not comparing Israel to Nazi Germany, just illustrating what an absolute disparity of power means. And recall: “all power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Israel is too powerful vis-a-vis the Palestinians. and the settlers are too powerful vis-a-vis any Israelis who may desire a “just and lasting peace” as imagined in 242.

      Reply to Comment
    11. aristeides

      The problem is finding the force able and willing to do the imposition.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Richard Witty

      Just to go back to Norman Finkelstein’s argument that the rule of law should be the basis of political discussion, and practically.

      Resolution 242 affirms Israel’s right to security, as well as Palestine’s right to be free from occupation (not the same as self-determination, yet).

      It is a two-state approach.

      To the extent that dissent advocates for a single state, they disavow the legal and moral principles that underlie resolution 242.

      I don’t know if you advocate for a single state, but it if so, it is incongruous to advocate for resolution 242 and a single state at the same breath.

      Israel needs in the US what its got, a sincere mediator. Israel needs in Israel what it doesn’t have, a well-meaning leadership affirming the direction of a well-meaning electorate.

      It takes electoral on the ground persuasion in both Israel and among resistance, to reinforce the importance of both law and ethics as primary (nucleus) social norms, to realize either “justice” and/or peace.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Steve

      What most people think of as “pro-Israel” I think really is pro-Likud. Likud and Netanyahu have successfully put over on many, and certainly the press, that they are the living embodiment of Israel. Just like when Bush was president, the press rolled over for the notion that he was living embodiment of the United States of America, and any criticism of him meant you hated America. Funny how that doesn’t apply to Obama.

      As to the settlements, there are plenty of Arab citizens within Israel. Why not say to the settlers, go ahead, but when the Palestinian state is established, you are going to be a Jewish minority within that state?

      Reply to Comment
    14. Rusty

      ARISTEIDES – I have no problem with harsh consequences going both ways. If a peace is signed, Jewish extremists start bombing the new Palestine, and Israel can’t stop it, they don’t deserve a state either. But remember my point: it’s that J-Street and Peter Beinart have, to the best I have seen, refused to even discuss these issues.

      Reply to Comment