Israel's ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, has been invited to address the J Street conference that begins October 25. Evidently, he is not attending
. Israeli President Shimon Peres
declined the invitation but is sending a written message.
There are good arguments for Oren attending the conference, but there are better ones for shunning it. There is also, inevitably a bad, farcical and unreasonable argument. Let's dispose of that one first. In Haaretz (where else?) Anschel Pfeffer declared that Michael Oren has no right to snub J Street.
That declaration makes no sense. Oren is the ambassador of a sovereign state, and Israel and its ambassadors have the right to address any organization they like, and to snub any organization they don't like, whether that organization represents one Jew or all Jews, one Arab or all Arabs.
Anschel Pfeffer and Jeremy Ben-Ami and Haaretz have the right to their opinions on the matter, but they don't get to decide what rights our ambassadors have. It is not a political question nor a question of how many Jews support what policies in the United States. The majority of American Jews might decide to support Hamas or to support Meir Kahana's policies. That is their right, but the Israeli Ambassador doesn't have an obligation to meet with any particular group. Ha'aretz's writers are often an arrogant and self-satisfied bunch, but this time they crossed a line. J Street
is not any Zionist's favorite organization and Oren's reluctance, is understandable. J Street spokespersons have demonized and trivialized anyone who dares to disagree with their positions as superannuated Yiddish speakers or neoconservative reactionaries. This is the organization that endorsed the showing of the anti-Semitic play, "Seven Jewish Children" by Theater J, which is also participating in the J Street conference. Poet Josh Healey was excluded from the conference
, but only because he likened Guantanamo prison to Auschwitz, not because he wrote that
, no JEW
S ("the chosen people") are doing what the Nazis did to Jews. It did not occur to J Street leaders that such sentiments are not appropriate to a conference of a Jewish organization, let alone an organization that is pro-Israel. Rather, J Street guru Jeremy Ben-Ami noted that:
We are sorry for any distraction that this issue may cause for those interested in working with us to advance the cause of peace and security for Israel and the Middle East.
Presumably, Ben-Ami would consider Mein Kampf to be only a "distraction" for those interested in working to better German - Jewish relations in the 1930s.
However, one could argue that the invitation to Oren provides an opportunity to present Israel's case and open a dialogue. It would allow Oren to address J Street supporters, many of them college students, and explain why J Street policies are not "pro-Israel" and are in fact harming Israel, and why (if it needs explanation) comparing IDF soldiers to Nazis is not "pro-Israel." At first glance, I also held the view that addressing J Street is an opportunity for dialogue.
Those who think that Oren's refusal was due to "Washington politics" or pressure from other Jewish organizations are probably mistaken. Nor was it due to a reluctance to undertake dialogue. The reason why this view is incorrect is revealed by none other than Josh Healey. Healey explained:
"I had a conversation with 'J Street' staff, and they explained that they are playing the game - Washington politics, and seeking legitimacy. [emphasis added]
Oren was not invited for a cup of tea and an exchange of views. He was invited as the official representative of the state of Israel, in order to give legitimacy to J Street as a "kosher" pro-Israel organization. J Street has made a career of playing on the confusion between several different types of Jewish organizations. Anyone can form a Jewish organization, as J Street did, with generous funding from Arab sources and support from the American Iranian Council. Whether we Zionists like it or not, "Jewish" is not synonymous with pro-Israel. Jews have a right to form Jews for Muhammad organizations and Jews for Ahmadinejad and Jews for Hamas. Or they might be organizations of Yiddish speakers or people who like to eat bagels and lox, with or without any political goals. Or there might be an organization of alumni of Jewish summer camps, lovers of Jewish music etc. There is nothing wrong with that, is there? These groups will get recognition and support from people who support such causes and activities. J Street is probably that sort of organization, but it refuses to admit it. A second type of Jewish organization might be a Zionist or genuinely pro-Israel organization that organizes charitable donations for Israel, teaches Hebrew or otherwise is active in the Zionist cause. J-Street does not pretend to be that sort of organization. They aren't going to help build kibbutzim or raise money for a new wing in Chaim Sheba Medical Center. J Street wants to be legitimized as a third very special type of organization - a Jewish organization that claims to represent Israeli interests to the United States government - a Jewish Lobby. That is is their claim. But the Israeli government, and not J Street (or Haaretz or Anschel Pfeffer), is the one who has the right to determine what is in Israel's interest, and Ambassador Oren determined that the policies J Street advocates are inimical to Israel's interests. Oren, and not Anschel Pfeffer or Ha'aretz, is the representative of the democratically elected Israeli government, so Oren has the right and the duty to determine what is in Israel's interest in the view of the Israeli government, and the duty to act accordingly. J Street should not get recognition or legitimation as representative of Israeli interests because to some extent, they seem to represent interests of the Hamas and the American Iranian Council, not Israel.
J Street is not just a Jewish organization. They are not seeking legitimacy as just another Jewish group, but rather as a "legitimate" "pro-Israel" view. Once they are "legitimate" than they bring Mr. Healey and similar Israel haters out of the closet and make their views "legitimate" as well. It will then be "OK" to liken Israeli soldiers to Nazis as part of "Israel Advocacy."
Oren's attendance, no matter what he would say, would be viewed by American politicians as a signal that it is OK to support the anti-Israel initiatives of J Street, because the Israeli government approves of the organization. Indeed, Oren's refusal to attend entrained the cancellation of appearances by roughly a dozen congresspersons. The message is, and should be, "If you want Jewish voters to support you, don't support Hamas and don't support policies that allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. Support peace, but don't support one sided pressure on Israel to bow to impossible Palestinian demands."
If J Street were really interested in "dialogue," they could invite any number of Israelis who do not hold official positions to address them, or they could invite American pro-Israel advocates like Abe Foxman, or they could hold dialogues with Oren and others on an informal basis. I personally believe that it is urgent to have such dialogues, not just once a year, but on an ongoing basis. It is not the "establishment" that is trying to cause a split in American Jewish political action, but rather J Street. It is not AIPAC or Abe Foxman or any other nemesis who is demonizing J Street, but rather the other way 'round. J Street needs to learn that contrary to their assertions, "traditional" Israel advocates in the US are not all Yiddish speaking old people in homes for the aged or neo-conservative warmongers.
Those sincerely interested in an exchange of views will find the appropriate venues and settings and persons for doing so. This invitation was about legitimizing J Street as an address for "pro-Israel" policies, not about dialogue.
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Replies: 3 Comments
Mr Oren was wise not to meet with the evil J Street. Israel must learn not to share the diplomatic stage with her enemies. By sharing her space with the wicked, all Israel is doing is allowing her enemies to move closer in order to harm her. Keep the gate closed and let the dogs bark all they want on the other side of the fence- but do not share the stage with your enemies
James Just, Tuesday, October 27th
It should be recalled even progressive Israelis who attended J-Street functions spoke out forcefully against its stand on Hamas and Iran. No true pro-Jewish or pro-Israel organization would want to legitimize forces who oppose peace and support a country on record as advocating Israel's destruction. Yet that is exactly for what J-Street has stood. And that is why the Israeli government does not want to confer on such positions any respectability. And the more people learn about J-Street and its real views, the more of them stay away from it. It is the exact opposite of an organization committed to the freedom of the Jewish people and Israel's security.
NormanF, Thursday, October 22nd
Sorry, but I am guilty of condemning Hamas as a terrorist organization. Am I defaming them? I don't think so. They don't shrink from kidnapping, torture and murder and anyone who sympathizes with them is in my thinking nearly in the same category. Thus J Street derserves only my derision and contempt.
Howard Wolf, Wednesday, October 21st
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