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J Street director opens conference without saying "occupation"

At last night’s opening plenary of the second annual J Street Conference, there was one motif that expectedly prevailed: The two-state solution and its critical importance to the future of Israel.

This is not surprising, but the importance of the two-state solution was expressed over and over again by Jeremy Ben-Ami through the statement that a (viable) Palestinian state must be established alongside Israel.

We believe that the Palestinians too must have a national home of their own, living side by side with Israel in peace and security. This is in Israel’s interests. It is in America’s interests. It is right and it is just.

Twenty-thirty years ago, you would not have heard Palestinian and independent state so openly expressed in the same sentence at an American Jewish conference, so sure, it is nice to see that it has become common jargon. But in a way, the importance of the establishment of a Palestinian state, regardless of what exactly it will look like, has gone from being taboo to being overtly emphasized, to the point that it is fetishized, by J Street in its rhetoric.

As we see it, the cause of the Palestinian people – the creation of an independent state of their own – is essential to our cause as well.

From nearly never being declared, it is being declared all too often, and it is being declared as something that is in Israel’s and America’s interests. Ok, geopolitical real politik must be taken into account, but fundamentally, the establishment of a state ought to happen because of a people’s self-determination, and not because it is in a rival countries’ interest. Or more correctly, while this may be true, it should not be stated over and over again by American Jews. It sounds patronizing, and makes a Palestinian state seem willed more by Israel and American Jews than by Palestinians themselves.

Can J Street’s mission and purpose really hinge on if, when and how a Palestinian state is established? Is that really the key to a secure and democratic Israel, or is it in fact a change in Israeli practice and policies, here and now, that can make it that way? What if no Palestinian state is established for a long time, for a variety of reasons? Does this mean Israel cannot be liberal and democratic, unless a Palestinian state is created, according to J Street’s vision? Must Israel wait for this to happen to correct its ways?

Although “Palestinian state” was mentioned a gratuitous amount of times in Ben-Ami’s speech, the word Occupation was not mentioned even once by him. Despite speaking about the importance of telling the truth, how truthful can you really be at a conference on Israel and peace without stating that word loud and clear?

There is something fundamentally flawed about J Street’s constant invocation of the need for the establishment of a Palestinian state, when its focus should really be about the responsibility of representatives in their communities and in their government for continuing to directly and indirectly support the discrimination and occupation of another people.

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    1. I think it is progress that there now a mainstream popular movement in the United States arguing for peace and for a two state solution.

      I’m going to bring up the point about the Northern Ireland peace process. You could say Gerry Adams and Sinn Feins position that the IRA could only put its arms “beyond use” rather than “decommissioned” as flawed. In fact the fact that they refused to say “decommissioned” or anything similar for a long time could be seen as a flawed strategy.

      The reality was that this was a stepping stone towards peace in Ulster. The IRA did eventually put its arms permenantly beyond use and commit themselves towards peace and declaring an end to the conflict.

      Siesmic shifts in these processes simply do not happen so its better for gradual steps to acheive the peace that we all want.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Rabbi Tony Jutner

      Perhaps J Street has progressed to the one state solution. I was encouraged by the youth arm of J Steet, J Street U, to drop the pro-israel moniker from its pro-Peace slogan, because the two are incompatible, as any progressive knows. I think that J Street is under more scrutiny this year because of the Soros kerfuffle, but hopefully next year will be able to pursue an antizionist agenda

      Reply to Comment
    3. Ben Israel

      Why didn’t he use the word “occupation”? Because YOU ASSUME the term means “the occupation that started in 1967”. But to the Palestinians and other Arabs, the “occupation” began in 1948.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Sinjim

      @Prestwick: I don’t have context for the Northern Ireland situation, and I haven’t heard Ben-Ami’s speech, so you may well have a point, that seismic shifts (here defined as a pro-Israel figure using the word “occupation” to describe the occupation) happen gradually. But they wouldn’t happen at all without the pressure that people like Mairav place on the organizations and parties involved.

      @Ben Israel: The answer to your question doesn’t even make any sense.

      But even if it did, I’m sure you’d argue that Palestinians and other Arabs also believe that a Palestinian state must encompass all the lands west of the Jordan River. Yet, Ben-Ami mentioned the words “Palestinian state” several times according to Mairav. How does that square with your logic?

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    5. Majid Jamali Fashi

      The real goals of J Street should be to use thier persuasive powers to convince people to abandon the quest for a jewish state. While external pressure has had some benefit, it has hardened the zionist extremists. It is my hope that J Street will convince the zionist holdouts that not all opponents of zionism are antisemites (what an overused term) and that Jews are also opposed to zionism. I favor a one state solution which will be facilitated by the voluntary outmigration of zionists to make room for Palestinians. The fact that Georg Soros is a major funder of J Street is an encouraging development, because Mr Soros could finance this outmigration which is essential for peace

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    6. Ben Israel

      The Palestinians and the Arabs totally reject the outcome of the 1948 war , even those who have signed agreements with Israel. They view Israel and the Zionist movement as being illegitimate, and the Jews who have come to Israel since 1917 as alien invaders. This is what the charters of HAMAS and the PLO say.
      Thus, as the Arabs see it, the illegal occupation of Arab lands began in 1948. Tel Aviv is an illegal settlement on occupied territory, as the Arabs see it. That is why the word “occupation” is meaningless as used by the Jewish/Israeli Left. They use it to mean only what Israel captured in 1967, but this distinction is meanlingless to the Arabs.

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    7. aristeides

      Ben I: “occupation” and “expropriation” have different meanings in law, but in practice they mean the same thing: Jews driving Palestinians off their land. It is perfectly natural to view the Zionist state as illegitimate, because it is.

      What you overlook is the fact that Arabs are willing to accept some aspects of the Zionist state and thus legitimize it. This is what Egypt and Jordan did when they signed agreements with Israel. The problem is that the Israelis no longer value peace.

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    8. Ben Israel

      Although I am not sure about Jordan, both Sadat and Mubarak made clear that the Egytptian peace agreements with Israel were in the nature of those that Muhammed made with the Meccans, i.e. temporary cease-fires to be honored until they didn’t need them any more. Arafat also said the same about the Oslo Agreements in his infamous Johannesburg speech made just after the Oslo Agreements were announced. In other words, even if there is a “peace agreement”, this only applies in the direct military sphere, otherwise the struggle against Israel and Zionism continues in other spheres, such as Egypt’s efforts to delegitimize Israel in international forums, anti-Zionist and antisemitic propaganda in the domestic media . A good example is the lie the Egyptians told their people about Israel sending “Zionist sharks” to attack swimmers in the waters off the Sinai in order to supposedly damage the Egyptian tourist industry. You know, in order to keep their people on their toes against the Zionist enemy.

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    9. @Sinjim: Thats a point. Things never happen without talking. I like the article because it created a prompt for sane discussion. Thats generally why I like Mirav’s and +972’s work 🙂

      Reply to Comment
    10. Ben Israel

      J-Street is wasting its time. With the freeze in the “peace process” the already strong American support for Israel is INCREASING. This means most Americans (and I also believe this is true of Europeans as well) realize the Arabs are at fault for the lack of peace. This is from a Gallup poll:


      Thus J-Street can try as hard as it wants to turn American Jewish opinion against Israel, but that is just a drop in the bucket compared to the large support from non-Jewish Americans. Note that people who define themselves as “liberal” are also solidly pro-Israel.
      There will never be American public support for an imposed American diktat.

      Reply to Comment