J Street and the New Zionism

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show,Jeremy Ben-Ami, executive director of J Street and JStreetPAC and the author of A New Voice for Israel: Fighting for the Survival of the Jewish Nation, argues supporting Israel means supporting a two-state solution.

Pro-Israel advocacy in the United States has been dominated by the Jewish right. Ben-Ami says this thinking does not represent the thinking of all American Jews on the Arab-Israeli conflict. He’s now out with a new book A New Voice for Israel.

Ben-Ami described J Street as a new voice in American-Israel politics.

[It] is designed to provide a home for pro-Israel but pro-peace and pro-justice and pro-democracy Jewish Americans who care deeply about Israel but are really concerned about the future of the state and whether or not it’s actually going to make it as a Jewish home and democracy.

J Street advocates a two-state solution, but unlike the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), J Street is very critical of the current government of Israel. While the goal of a strong and safe Israel is shared by both groups, they differ in their methods. Ben-Ami said AIPAC and many other organizations tend to follow the governments lead.

So those organizations perhaps didn’t provide full support to Yitzak Rabin when he was pushing for peace, didn’t provide support when Israel pulled out of Gaza, didn’t provide support for Ehud Barak and his efforts to achieve these kinds of two-state solutions.

He pointed to the direction that President Obama laid out as a vision for a solution that his group supports. While some claim the president is failing to support Israel, J Street feels otherwise.

We actually think the president is unbelievably pro-Israel and he’s actually pointing out the path to help save the future of Israel.

 While more conservative Jewish groups claim that J Street is simply advocating for the Palestinians, Ben-Ami explained that their position is completely pro-Israel.

 To favor a Palestinian state and the creation of it on those lines is a fundamentally pro-Israel position, because Israel isn’t going to make it as a Jewish home and as a democracy if we don’t give up part of the land.

The question is under what circumstances Israel can allow that to happen in a way that they feel is safe and dignified. Security is primary for both Israel and America, but Ben-Ami says the current situation is indefensible and not safe. He identified Palestinian groups that mirror his progressive values, such as the American Task Force on Palestine, and the Arab American Institute.

There are plenty of Palestinian American and Arab American voices, who are trying to press for a reasonable, rational, moderate compromise and that really is the only way forward, because otherwise these two peoples are doomed to continue to fight and continue to suffer.

J Street has been criticized for their embrace of left-wing politics in the U.S. by those who feel that the left doesn't respect Israel's right to exist. Ben-Ami said their support of a two-state solution stems from a desire for a safe sustainable Israel.

What we’re trying to do is to articulate a middle ground, and to say you can be pro-Israel and support its right to exist, recognize that the path it’s on is unsustainable, that wee can’t have the Israel that we want if there isn’t a two-state solution, and we need the political space in this country to have that conversation without crossing that line into calling anybody who’s critical of policies anti-Israel or anti-Semitic.

Clearly the situation is much exacerbated by religious extremism on both sides.

If you think that God gave you the land, then it’s going to be very hard for you to compromise. But if you’re a nationalist, and you want to create a homeland for your people, then you can figure out a way to draw a line that allows you to get along with your neighbors, and that’s how you get peace and security for the long term.

Current demographics provide clues to the political future. A higher percentage of younger Jews identify as Orthodox, an identity linked to very conservative views.

Orthodox Jews, just by definition… have more kids, so you are going to have more young people that are orthodox than who are not. And there is a vast difference in politics, there’s a vast difference in world view, there’s a vast difference in the views when it comes to Israel between the Orthodox and non-Orthodox.



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Comments [30]

Louis S from Jersey Shore

I wonder how long our troops are going to die for Israel. Muslims hate Americans for our blind faith in Israel. When VP Biden visit Israel for limiting their expansion, they announce the building of more settlements. So i wonder how munch longer.

Jul. 23 2011 11:16 AM
Nick from Obviously not NYC/Queens/Brooklyn

I enjoyed the segment, and take my hat off to Jeremy for putting up with callers, all of which, were against him. Even when Republican Congressmen are on the air, there are friendlier callers! The more I think about it though, the more it makes sense. Jeremy is probably in a constant state of getting yelled at, ridiculed, and mocked:

1. As a Jew, yelled at by Arabs who are under the impression that all Jews are Occupiers and tyrants, and enjoy slaughtering their children.

2. As a Leftwing Jew, yelled at by Rightwing Jews (as obvious by my count of 17 comments on here and 5 or so callers) that see him as an Arab loving suicide bomber wannabee.

3. As a Pro-Israeli Jew, from our far left who sees any Pro-Israeli Jew the same as the Arabs do. I was suprised more far left Americans didn't call in and yell about him promoting peace for a country that kills Arabs constantly...yada...yada..yada..

4. As a Pro-Peace Jew, our far Right, who for some reason is really gushy and in love with Netanyahu, probably because he likes to fight...alot, and so does our far right (I mean, they gotta make money somehow, bombs are expenisve!).

So, Jeremy, I commend you on trying to be peaceful; to trying to seek an alternative to the insanity that currently is modern day Israel. I think you are frighteningly right in saying that if the Jews of Israel, and around the world, don't start thinking of peace, of a two state system, of some way to pacify the region, they will fall. Year after year, the Israeli Govt are more scared and acting more and more like an Aparteid government...arresting children, bulldozing houses, attacking/killing protesters, and making laws against basic human rights. Good luck elsewhere dude, because it doesn't look like you got many friends in NYC!!

Jul. 22 2011 10:55 PM
anna from new york

"But if you’re a nationalist, and you want to create a homeland for your people, then you can figure out a way to draw a line that allows you to get along with your neighbors, and that’s how you get peace and security for the long term."
OK, I am back. I actually read his statements. So, I can competently state the obvious: "The guy is an exceptional scoundrel."
You can be a be a nationalist, but whether or not you get peace with neighbors depends on you neighbors, their ideology, their nature, their ambitions, etc.
I can assure Jeremy that there were many nationalists in pre-WWII Poland, Czechoslovakia, etc. and yet ... we know. Or at least some of us know.
This guy is pure evil, pure demagogue.
Congratulations on your friends, Brian.

Jul. 21 2011 02:44 PM
anna from new york

"Not sure how this is a topic except as an embarrassingly over civilized talking point for Jews who don't know history."
They are not civilized - they are barbaric.
I was thinking ...
What this guy was saying is actually interesting. He basically said, we don't know history, we don't care about Jewish people, we intermarry, but WE, WE, WE should decide the fate of the Jewish people and the Jewish state.
Interestingly, among them there is a significant number of Israelis. I think we should start talking about new converts. It's a known fact that converts as a rule attack the group they left behind to rationalize their betrayal -they don't say "I am weak, I want to be successful, I am a bastard, etc." They say: "They are bad and that's why, I, the wonderful, left them."
Jeremy Ben Ami, the wonderful, left Israel for Princeton, the charming place of negative eugenics (look it up, Jeremy).
Now, he dictates Israelis what they should do.

Jul. 21 2011 01:38 PM
anna from new york

"Brian, I believe that it's impossible for you and your anti-Palestinian view, to have an un-biased perspective when the subject is Israel"
Bob, it's more complicated. Look at the place he works - the place which is usually called as National Palestinian Radio, incorrectly in my view. I suggest the correct version - National Prostituional Radio. It's not surprising that among its partners is BBC, a notorious antisemitic propaganda machine which continues national wonderful traditions going back to the 12th century Norwich enriched by the 20th century "Mosleyism" and more recent "oil" area attractions (yes, money, money, a lot of money)

Jul. 21 2011 01:29 PM
Bob from Brooklyn

Brian, I believe that it's impossible for you and your anti-Palestinian view, to have an un-biased perspective when the subject is Israel. Automatically you question where in the Palestinian or Arab world are there groups who advocate a peaceful solution to the current problem. Brian haven't you ever heard of....James Zogby...., and I know that at some time he must have been a guest on your program, but I guess that you consider Zogby to be in the camp of those who want this problem to continue.

Jul. 21 2011 01:10 PM
anna from new york

"Israel is illegally occupying Palestine since 1967"
Oh really, Elisabeth. Why don't you check what actually happened in 1967.
And .... what was happening in these territories before ... 1967.

Jul. 21 2011 12:46 PM
anna from new york

"am not Jewish, grew up around alot of Jews, and have alot of respect for Israel and Jews as a people.

But, this allowance for liberal thought, will lead to the fall of Israel. This guy is dangerous, you need a partner to negociate with who wants peace."
John, thank you.
I must admit I don't follow Avenue K activities, but I've encountered a recent Columbia graduate, currently an editorial assistant, who is active in her progressive magazine and Avenue K. She presents herself as a typical young educated American Jew.
Since the time of publications by Die Jugend, Komsomolskaya Pravda and their equivalnent in China, I suspect few publications had so many Orwellian slogans, declarations, manipulations etc. her recent production contained. If she is a typical representative of the Avenue K crowd, I am scared.
I turned the radio too late to judge the expression by the founder, but my general impression was the same "We are brave awangard of the world and we'll save the world; those who oppose us are backward enemies of the people and they will perish. Our Truth (the only truth) will win. Etc. Combined with what looks like utter ignorance of Jewish history and no interest in it whatsoever.
Sounds scary. It is. Just this week, "our partner" (the NYT, the Slim paper) published a "piece" by an Israeli "philosopher" who is also a new Zionist, anti-Zionist, whatever. This piece is strikingly Orwellian with predictable manipulations of facts, firmly in the tradition of yet another anti-zionist - Stalin.
John, I think I should overcome my utter contempt and take a look at this guy.
BTW, the final exchange of two "ashamed Jews" (Howard Jacobson) with their pretensions and complexes (Ben Ami, mon ami) was sickening. Why is this Washingtonian garbage your ami, Brian?
dr anna

Jul. 21 2011 12:34 PM
jonny goldstein from pittsburgh

Very happy to see a group spring up that reflects my views. Thanks for having him on the show, Brian.

Jul. 21 2011 12:14 PM
Realistic Jew

If J Street is trying to be loved they can forget it.

Anti-Zionism is code for one thing, and it ain't pro-freedom!

Switch to Christianity/Islam, or be prepared to do battle. It's the problem of Judaism along with the nobility of it.

Jul. 21 2011 11:58 AM
Elaine from Baltimore

Your words mean nothing if you don't back it up with any facts. You are not giving a response to any of the facts stated by jgarbuz ot wb2bmh.

Jul. 21 2011 11:55 AM
Claudette from Westchester

Ben Ami is the breath of fresh air I've been waiting for. Thank God for his good sense.

Jul. 21 2011 11:52 AM

wasn't there a war fought over this? Didn't Israel win, over and over?

Not sure how this is a topic except as an embarrassingly over civilized talking point for Jews who don't know history.

Who cares what the rest of the world thinks -- isn't that the freedom Israelis, Americans and others fought for in the first place?

Jul. 21 2011 11:52 AM
John from Office

I am not Jewish, grew up around alot of Jews, and have alot of respect for Israel and Jews as a people.

But, this allowance for liberal thought, will lead to the fall of Israel. This guy is dangerous, you need a partner to negociate with who wants peace.

Jul. 21 2011 11:51 AM

As always, please keep comments civil and brief. Thank you.

Jul. 21 2011 11:50 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

So what if 80% of American Jews assimilate out of their tribe? So what? All Israel needs is 1 million more Jews from the US to form a stable 7-8 million Jews, a distinct majority. Jews were never meant to be a large people, or we would have a larger homeland.The loss of 80% of American Jews from the tribe does not mean that Israel is increasingly endangered. 7-8 million Jews in total is all that Israel needs to survive and thrive.

Jul. 21 2011 11:50 AM
Anna N from New York

What is Brian saying when he asks where is the Palestinian corollary to Mr. Ben Ami? I would guess that there are MORE people on the Palestinian/Arab side who are advocating a peaceful, non-radical 2-state solution. They are just not being given a forum to air their views, the way their Israeli/Jewish counterparts are.

It's also a reflection of the demographics in the media world. There are many Jewish people in the press, on radio, in TV, so it's natural that they would be more attuned, more knowledgeable of Jewish issues and people.

I promise you that there is just as much vibrant, pacifist discussion on the Palestinian side. Brian, this is a call to you as an American Jew to reach out to (or search for) the middle-ground, level-headed Palestinians!

Jul. 21 2011 11:49 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

"J Street is, at best, a group of naive misguided leftists at worst, clever enemies of Israel"

Hmm, as non Jewish person, who can actually be objective, it's clear that Israeli political elite, especially on the right, have had the American Jewish community in their back pocket by holding the perceived security of Israel hostage.

Similar tactics used by so-called black leaders over the years - "if you don't support us, you are betraying your race"

Jul. 21 2011 11:49 AM
el from nyc

as a supporter of Israel, I thank you for having JSTREET on your programs. We need AMERICANS FOR PEACE NOW and JSTREET to become better known to the general public.

Jul. 21 2011 11:48 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

This guy is a snake.
I sincerely doubt his concern about "the best interests of Israel".

"Ben Ali" was the correct choice, Brian.

Jul. 21 2011 11:47 AM
Mr. Bad from IL

The problem Israel isn't the fact that it is a Jewish state, the problem is that it is essentially a European colony in the middle east - with the same political ties and cultural mores. Justifying a neo-colonial settlement on "biblical" land claims will never be acceptable to some people.

Jul. 21 2011 11:47 AM

Israel is illegally occupying Palestine since 1967. It is responsible for vitriolic reaction and subsequent violence. Isreal needs to de-occupy.

Jul. 21 2011 11:45 AM
Gary from queens

PM Abbas has stated in front of cameras to arab audiences that he will NEVER accept a jewish state in palestine.

Take this man off the show. he has no credibilty whatsoever

Jul. 21 2011 11:43 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Your guest continues to REFUSE to accept the reality that it's the Muslim rejection of the very concept of a Jewish State that has always made compromise impossible!

Now when the Left was in control of the government and institutions, they shied away from the concept of "Jewish state" because they were mostly socialists whose pioneering parents had hopes for a SOCIALIST state, mainly for Jews. They didn't even like the word "Jewish." Too nationalistic or possibly too "religious" for them! But with the rise of the nationalist Right after Menachem, Begin, and with the continuous rejection of reasonable compromise and acceptance of Jewish national rights in the land, more ISraelis see the truth. That the Arabs do not accept the permanence of Jewish sovereignty in the land.

Jul. 21 2011 11:41 AM
Gary from queens

OMG!!!! Conservatives are more pro Israel than liberals!!!!

Is THAT what makes this newsworthy?! liberals worried that conservatives are more pro israel?

You fooled me. I thought the news angle to justify this segment was the fact that BL admits that liberals have abandoned israel, and here is ONE liberal who breaks that mold.

Mand bites dog, if you will.

Jul. 21 2011 11:38 AM
Gary from queens


As you can see, there is a lot of wisdom among your listeners from the genuine zionists, knowledgable about the history of the mideast and Jewish diaspera.

Yet your selection of guests continually betrays an anti zionist bias. There is never any counterpoint from the zionist right wing. You only select pro palestinian advocates, and politically moderate Jews or moderates on the politics of the mideast.

This is very similar to your intolerance of critics the public policy on state compulsory vaccination laws, and responsible critics of the medical practice itself.

You can learn something from your colleague, Leonard Lopate on the latter issue.

Jul. 21 2011 11:20 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

to wb2bmh

You are absolutely correct, except for one small but important point. There never was any "historic Palestine." During the 400 years (1516-1917) of Ottoman Turkish rule, the area was divided into four districts (sanjaqs): The sanjaq of Beirut; sanjaq of Acre; sanjaq of Nablus; and the sanjaq of Jerusalem. In other words, it wasn't even a single territorial unit in the Ottoman empire. It was primarily Europeans who used the Roman label "Palestline" in their maps. There are no Ottoman maps with the name "Palestine" written in Turkish. Since the Romans were Europeans, it was the Europeans who mainly used that term, and the Arabs took "Falastin" from them.The ARabs can't pronounce "p" so they use "f" instead.

Jul. 21 2011 11:04 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

J Street is, at best, a group of naive misguided leftists and, at worst, clever enemies of Israel pretending to be pro-peace supporters.

Ask Ben Ami why their annual meeting this spring featured BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) speakers. These are the actions of people trying to weaken and eventually destroy Israel, not persuade them.

Ask Ben Ami why J Street repeatedly denied Soros funding, when everyone knew about it and it was eventually revealed? What were they afraid of?

When the J Street leadership traveled to Jerusalem in May, Daniel Gordis said it best when he called them out (Jerusalem Post, May 27,2011) during his meeting with them (Ben Ami asked the first question) by challenging them on their "...arrogance of the worst sort. Does your distance from the conflict give you some moral clarity that we don't have? Are you smarter than we are? Are you less racist? Why do you assume with such certainty that you have a monopoly on wisdom?"

Does Ben Ami acknowledge Israel as the national homeland for the Jewish people....yes or no?

Jul. 21 2011 11:03 AM

The 1947 division was the SECOND two-state division. The first one was in 1923. Jews had been living continuously in historic Palestine and other Middle East and north African countries for 2,700 years. In 1923 the British lopped off 75% of historic Palestine to form an Arab Palestinian Nation of "Trans-Jordan. This became the independent nation of Jordan in 1946. The Palestinian Arabs now had THEIR homeland and evicted all Jews from the Jordanian lands. Further pieces of Palestine were given to Syria and Lebanon. Today's Israel is 17% of historic Palestine. All the countries of the Middle East are modern constructs with the following dates of creation: Saudi Arabia - 1932, Syria - 1945, Jordan - 1946, Lebanon - 1946 and Israel - 1948. In the 20th century, more than 700,000 Jews had to flee their homes from these countries and northern Africa (such as Egypt and Yemen). Many settled in Israel while others fled abroad (South American, the USA, Europe, etc.)

Jul. 21 2011 10:54 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

It was the Arabs who rejected a "two state solution" back in 1947, when it was proposed by the UN General Assembly, and still reject Israel as the Jewish state. If Israel is not the Jewish state, the what is it? A hot tiny, sandy version of Canada? Indeed, UNGAR 181 of 1947 specifically authorized a "Jewish State" back then, not an "Israeli state." The fact that the Arabs even today will not accept ISrael as the national state of the Jewish nation only proves their insincerity in desiring to end this conflict. Why should they end it? After all, the Muslims outnumber Jews by over 100 to 1, and they believe that time is on their side. And they are not punished for their various aggressions against Israel since 1948. So why should they accept the permanence of a Jewish state? This why this conflict can never be resolved, but only managed. There is no incentive for the Muslims to recognize and accept a Jewish state.

Jul. 21 2011 09:40 AM

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