Opinion: Why the 'Israel Loves Iran' Movement is Essential for Peace

Wednesday, March 28, 2012 - 10:44 AM

An Israeli man wrapped in the national flag stands next to cameramen at the Israeli army navy port in the southern Israeli town of Ashdod on May 31, 2010. (MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty)

At this week's "Making History" conference put on by J Street—a "pro-Israel, pro-peace" advocacy and lobbying organization that seeks to give progressive Jewish Americans an alternative to the hawkish approach of AIPAC—speaker after speaker spoke critically about the Israeli settlement policy and the necessity for a peaceful approach to a two-state solution.

During a Gala dinner keynoted by Israeli human rights activist Anat Hoffman, one speaker struck a notably different tone: Israel's Deputy Ambassador to the United States Barukh Binah. Binah not only played his role as government representative by defending policies that had been targeted through the conference, but made no hesitation to reprimand J Street for being critical of the Israeli government, suggesting that "pressures on the elected government of Israel can present us with a problem."

The audience sat silently. Some were stunned and others visibly bothered by this rhetoric. I wondered why we were giving 20 minutes to a message that was antithetical to the premise of the conference.

There was the politics of it, of course. This was the first time an Israeli Ambassador has come to J Street, a point that former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert celebrated when he took the stage later that evening. To be recognized at all is important for the organization and its cause.

And, in a way, while his position was opposite that of the organization's purpose, his presence reflected a central belief of the movement: that dialogue, even and especially among conflicting viewpoints, is critical for peace. If we are to argue that the players in the region need to speak and listen, and that to be a democratic state Israel needs to heed its own dissidents and allow its own factions, then we need to be willing to hear what we don't like as well.

We recoil against the claim that criticizing the Israeli government equates to opposing Israel, just as we reject any insinuation that it's unpatriotic to criticize our own government in America. Cherishing America means acknowledging where we fail and pushing our country to be better; these challenges strengthen our democracy. The same is true of the many J Streeters who want Israel to live up to its own democratic principles.

So we sat in a room hearing words we disagreed with because we believe that's part of the bargain for them to hear us as well.

Communication between countries, parties and leaders in that region is essential for progress toward peace. And where the elected leaders refuse to communicate, citizens are trying to fill the void. The recent Youtube-based movement called "Israel Loves Iran" is giving citizens of the two countries the chance to speak to each other, to ask questions, to articulate an alternative to saber-rattling rhetoric, to do what the internet has done for so many users already: connect them with someone new; give a stranger a human face and voice.

As we approach Passover, many Jewish Americans know it's a holiday that lends itself to discussion and argument—"What's the real lesson of the Exodus?"…"What meaning does the haggadah hold today?"…"Why is this seder so long?"—without leading to family food fights. Debating something you don't like, but continuing to sit at the table, is the spirit of Passover; it's the fact of being part of a family, a long Jewish tradition and the hallmark of democracy. You talk so you don't have to fight.

Hopefully that's the lesson "Israel Loves Iran" can help citizens of both countries remind their less communicative leaders, as well as a message we bring back to our own national discourse.


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Comments [7]

Chuck Sheiko from San Francisco

IMO it is incredibly racist for secularized American Jews to show particular interest in Israel, let alone to particularly preach to it. Karl Marx was kind of secularized, and he studiously avoided preaching to Jews, and instead did any ad hominem work for them on a private, discreet basis. These predators should kick the "elitist and domineering" attitude.

Jul. 03 2012 07:51 AM
Harrison Bergeron from NYC

"... speaker after speaker spoke critically about the Israeli settlement policy and the necessity for a peaceful approach to a two-state solution..."

I'm happy to hear this.

If the people who were gone for nearly two thousand years can come back and make a new country, then what can be the justification for denying the dignity of a country to the people who stayed there all those years? I don't understand.

"... dialogue, even and especially among conflicting viewpoints, is critical for peace ... we need to be willing to hear what we don't like as well ... give a stranger a human face and voice ... You talk so you don't have to fight."

All well said. Peace brother.

Apr. 03 2012 09:51 PM
Nick from NJ

Listener: I agree that Democrats should be more critical of the President. I voted for him and I am on the fence about voting for anyone. There shouldn't still be in Afghanistan, and Iraq should have been ended the minute he stepped into office. Guantanamo should be closed, and this ridiculous drone campaign ended. I don't agree, however, with your comparison of the DNC vs the RNC to be anywhere near the same idea as Iran vs Israel. The two committees exist to hate each other. And you know you can't blame the democrats for that.

BigBang, I don't have Facebook, so I can't verify what your link claims. Again, I think what Justin was saying is that there is an existence of Iranian People and Israeli people that are totally against attacking each other. The governments are the primary aggressors, and I will agree, Israel is much more agressive than Iran.

Mar. 29 2012 04:42 PM

If it is a sign of affection to be a harsh critic of Israel and the USA, why cannot Democrats attack their own party's extreme excesses as a sign of cherished affection? What becomes of Democrats who are vocal and effective critics of the Democrat leadership and their policies? Any DNC loves the GOP videos in the works to "bring back to our own national discourse" in an election year? Didn't think so.

Mar. 29 2012 11:02 AM
beforethebigbang from Hong kong

Why is this rather insignificant movement over-exaggerated and talked about repeatedly on the mass media?
Read more:

Mar. 29 2012 10:57 AM
Nick from NJ

They should not have invited Olmert. Binah was a good idea, but not Olmert. Olmert is lucky he isn't in jail or waiting for the noose after Operation Cast Lead. It is actually good that Binah did what he did. Now J-Street knows firsthand what kind of arrogant filth they are dealing with. I am a little upset at the reaction though. Surely there must have been food on the table, throw it at him!

Mar. 29 2012 09:18 AM
Importantly Trivial from Tel Aviv

Very interesting opinion. I completely agree and would love to share with you my blog post about it.
- Importantly Trivial

Mar. 28 2012 12:14 PM

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