“The J Street Challenge,” is a film about the American Jewish community and its relationship with Israel. The film examines the rise of an activist organization whose idealistic message appeals to many who are frustrated by the Middle East conflict and want peace between Arabs and Jews.
Since its founding in 2008, J Street has attracted controversy. Critics claim that J Street has divided the Jewish community and weakened American Jewish support for Israel.
The film presents J Street’s mission and related actions through speeches by J Street leaders and statements of supporters. J Street believes that it is in Israel’s existential interest to make peace with the Palestinians, and that peace can only come through the creation of a Palestinian state. To achieve a two state solution, Israel must make painful territorial concessions. J Street believes that American foreign policy must take an assertive approach in pressuring Israel and the Palestinians in order to achieve peace.
According to J Street, Israel is mostly to blame for the lack of peace because of its unwillingness to give up land necessary for the creation of a viable Palestinian state. J Street’s lobbying efforts have focused on Congress, and on the American Jewish community, especially on college campuses and within Jewish institutions. These lobbying efforts are mostly designed to put pressure on the Israeli government to accept a Palestinian state.
The film presents comments and analyses from distinguished scholars and writers ranging across a wide political spectrum. These include Professors Alan Dershowitz and Ruth Wisse from Harvard, Rabbi Daniel Gordis of the Shalem College in Jerusalem, Caroline Glick, Managing Editor of the Jerusalem Post, Professor Richard Landes of Boston University, Lenny Ben David, former Israeli diplomat and author, and Bret Stephens, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Wall Street Journal.
J Street’s critics assert that J Street disproportionally blames Israel for the lack of peace and ignores the vicious hatred and incitement promoted by the Palestinian leadership. The critics also question the appropriateness of a political lobby that wishes to circumvent the Israeli electorate and the country’s democracy by seeking to have the U.S government impose a solution that has been rejected by the vast majority of Israelis.
The film investigates the background of J Street and its founders, J Street’s organizational funding, and its alliances with organizations and individuals, some of whom are known to be hostile to the Jewish state.
“The J Street Challenge” adds an important voice to the American Jewish debate about the American Jewish community’s role in dealing with the Arab-Israel conflict.
Although some organizations have tried to deny J Street a voice in the community, J Street’s proactive outreach has been very successful in allowing it to present its view in synagogues and Jewish community centers. Jewish leaders have always valued the exchange of views and vigorous debate within the community, with the understanding that no one has a monopoly on the truth and that the community greatly benefits from free and open discussions that reflect a diversity of views.
As Jeremy Ben- Ami, founder and Executive Director of J street, has correctly noted:
“In keeping with our tradition, we should work through our differences with respect, vibrant discussion, and open dialogue.”
It is in this spirit that “The J Street Challenge” was produced. The film’s goals are to enlarge the discussion and to educate the community about the challenges it faces both from within and from without.