J Street and the challenge of debate

By Bruce S. Rosengard

Alan Solomont’s op-ed in the Times of Israel on May 15 accuses The J Street Challenge of “distortions, smears and personal attacks” and criticizes the JCC of Greater Boston for showing it. Better could have been expected from the Dean of Tufts College of Citizenship and Public Service and a former US Ambassador.

We appreciate that Dean Solomont and the two other members of J Street who co-authored the op-ed dislike the film. Given the likely reception that the policy positions J Street advances would have, if fully understood in the American Jewish community, we can easily understand that they wish the film would not be shown. We, too, would prefer that it not be shown were we members of J Street. Still, we would have thought that in taking a public stand intended to stop the JCC and other Jewish organizations from showing the film or to dissuade members of the Jewish community from viewing the film, the Solomont signatories would have detailed at least a few examples of the “distortions, smears and personal attacks” that so offend them. Then, readers of the article could judge for themselves whether or not The J Street Challenge is “a one-sided screed” and that the mere act of showing the film in an open forum constitutes an act of sinat chinam (baseless hatred), or just the opposite.

Let’s consider the mirror-image situation. J Street considers itself a “Pro-Israel” organization. Having observed J Street since its inception, we, like many in the Jewish community, would regard that statement as a distortion. This is a position held broadly regardless of political inclination, and includes scholars like Professor Alan Dershowitz, whose progressive bone fides are unassailable. As Dean Solomont must know, Professor Dershowitz, whose writings on the topic are rigorously researched and annotated, has been an outspoken advocate for the two-state solution and an opponent of settlement activity.

Professor Dershowitz has said and written that J Street is not Pro-Israel. However, we regard Professor Dershowitz’s views just like our own views and those of other J Street critics in the Jewish community, as opinions, not incontrovertible fact. We are confident that most people, and particularly Professor Dershowitz, would not criticize the JCC just for showing a film synchronized with the J Street message, as long as viewers were free to criticize and/or debate its content and the accuracy of its sources. When Walt and Mearsheimer authored The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, which was as upsetting to Pro-Israel activists as The J Street Challenge is to J Street members, Professor Dershowitz did not respond with a call to ban the book or a suggestion that people refrain from reading the book. To the contrary, he offered a 44-page detailed rebuttal of specific assertions made in the book and challenged Walt and Mearsheimer to debate the subject openly.

We urge Dean Solomont and other members of J Street to stop characterizing opinions held by other Jews that disagree with them as “divisive”. Although a community can be divided in its opinion on a matter, it need not create “disunity or dissention” (Merriam-Webster). Not only is describing contrary opinion as divisive antithetical to Jewish tradition and values, the very use of the word signals that the argument of the one making the charge lacks content.

Nothing stopped Dean Solomont, his co-authors, and others sharing their views from attending the showing at the JCC and engaging in the discussion that followed. Indeed, attendees of the screening that raised questions about specific items in the film were answered clearly and respectfully by the individuals on the podium. Every purported distortion was rebutted and the audience was free to judge whether the rebuttal was sufficient.

Our country was founded on the notion that people benefit from exposure to differing, opinions. On many occasions, people modify their views in response to a well-presented contrary opinion. None of that happens if opinion is suppressed. We are confident that Dean Solomont and his co-authors know that. We would be saddened that if because of their own discomfort with the exposure The J Street Challenge gives to the particulars of J Street’s brand of Pro-Israel advocacy, suppression was their intent.

Bruce R. Rosengard, M.D., F.R.C.S.
Brookline, MA
Member, Temple Emanuel, Newton, MA

Harvey E. Bines, J.D.
Lexington, MA
Member, Temple Emunah, Lexington, MA

Originally published on The Times of Israel


J Street U: A Third Of Hillel Int’l Board Should Be Students

By Gabriel T. Erbs

Our community has seen astonishing shifts around what kind of conversation is “allowed” when we talk about Israel. Last month, over 300 students gathered at the first ever J Street U Student Town Hall to discuss this shifting landscape. We invited Eric Fingerhut, Hillel International’s CEO, to join us. Though he originally committed to attending, he canceled due to scheduling issues.

The Town Hall was a missed opportunity for Fingerhut to engage with Jewish leaders of the next generation, many of whom also serve as Hillel student board members and participants. That meant he didn’t get the chance to address a primary concern of American Jewish students, no matter their political stripe or organizational affiliation. We are excluded from meaningful participation in the shaping of our communities, which has led many to turn away from the centers of Jewish life.

We needed Eric Fingerhut to demonstrate that there is an alternative to leaving Hillel altogether, as Jay Michaelson suggests, by providing students a serious seat at the table.

I am lucky. In Portland, Jewish students do not have to make the tough choice between participating in Jewish life and remaining committed to a more peaceful, secure and democratic future for Israelis and Palestinians. Jewish Federation of Greater Portland CEO Marc Blattner supported our work advocating for the two-state solution by generously funding J Street U Portland State students attending the Town Hall.

Due to the support of our Jewish Agency Israel Fellow, we also enjoy a fantastic relationship with our campus Hillel. Despite widespread communal hand-wringing about the future of traditional Jewish institutions, young Jews are partners in the conversation about the future of Jewish communities in Portland.

But I worry about my fellow students at other colleges, such as the University of Pennsylvania. Recently, Hillel of Greater Philadelphia (HGP) co-sponsored a screening of the anti-J Street smear film “The J Street Challenge” on Penn’s campus, despite the fact that J Street U Penn is housed under Penn’s Hillel umbrella.

Continue reading here

Originally published on The Jewish Week


J Street bars critical student journalist from National Summit

By William A. Jacobson

On April 28, 2014, I wrote about how J Street issues media Fatwa against its toughest pro-Israel student opponent:

[Daniel] Mael has been a relentless critic of J Street and its college chapters….

One of Mael’s articles even is featured in the trailer for the J Street Challenge….  Considering that The J Street Challenge is one of the biggest thorns in J Street’s side, it’s not much of a guess to believe that Mael’s affiliation with the movie is not popular at J Street…

I noted that J Street had issued a press statement requesting that media and bloggers “distance themselves” from Mael after an incident at Brandeis University, where Mael is a student.  Mael alleged that a J Street U member verbally abused him, a claim which was denied.

For whatever its reason, J Street corporate headquarters through its communications team got involved in this local dispute (emphasis added):

…  we ask that others in the Jewish community and media – even those who don’t agree with us politically – will distance themselves from this blogger and others with a history of conduct driven by malice and deceit.

While J Street and J Street U remain deeply committed to a vibrant and respectful campus conversation, there is a line that cannot be crossed. Unfortunately, some questionable bloggers and campus figures have consistently and consciously crossed that line. We will not tolerate harassment of our student leaders, and we see no reason for us to have any further interaction — on the Brandeis campus, online or in other venues — with those peddling in slander. We hope others will make the same determination.

Since then, two things have happened.

 

First, Mael’s prominence has risen, including an appearance on the Kelly File.  His criticism of J Street has not ceased.

Second, relations between J Street and its critics have frayed even further, with J Street losing a vote to join the influential Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Just this week J Street’s Executive Director, Jeremy Ben-Ami wrote a column in The Times of Israel defending J Street and attacking critics:

Over the past six years, J Street has been subject to an unrelenting campaign of attacks grounded largely in lies, innuendo and guilt-by-association aimed at discrediting the organization and those who work for, fund and support it.

Rather than focus debate on substantive disagreements with the policy positions we take, some of our opponents have sought to discredit us personally and organizationally. We have, of course, made an occasional personal or organizational misstep, which has not helped, and all of us at J Street are acutely aware that, given the scrutiny we’re under, we have less than average margin for error.

A prominent Christian Zionist student, Chloe Valdery, wrote a response to Ben-Ami, also in The Times of Israel:

Ben-Ami claims to see many of the Israeli government’s policies as “counter to Israeli interests,” and thus rebukes them. Fair enough. We in the pro-Israel community see many of J Street’s policies as counter to Israeli interests as well.  Yet, when one rebukes them, one is bullied and personally attacked by Ben-Ami.

In this back and forth, and continuing recriminations, J Street has not forgotten its desire to isolate Mael.

After initially granting Mael press credentials on behalf of Truth Revolt to J Street’s June 2014 National Summit in San Francisco, the credentials not only were revoked, Mael also was told he was barred completely from the National Summit.

Here are emails provided to me by Mael reflecting J Street’s position as expressed by its Communications Director, Jessica Rosenblum:

From: Daniel Mael [xxxxxxx@______] Date: Fri, Apr 18, 2014 at 4:14 PM
Subject: Press request for summit
To: summit@jstreet.org

My name is Daniel Mael and I am a reporter for TruthRevolt.org. I was wondering if you are issuing press credentials for your upcoming summit. Please let me know, as I’d like to attend and cover the event.

Chag Sameach,
Daniel

———————–

From: Jessica Rosenblum [xxxxxxx@______] Date: Thu, Apr 24, 2014 at 5:01 PM
Subject: Re: Press request for summit
To: [xxxxxxx@______]

Daniel,

We will grant you a press credential to cover our national summit in June.

All individuals with press credentials will be held to professional journalistic standards. Please note that J Street reserves the right to remove anyone whose behavior disrupts the proceedings.

Jessica Rosenblum

——————–

From: Jessica Rosenblum [xxxxxxx@______] Date: Fri, May 16, 2014 at 2:23 PM
Subject: Re: Press request for summit
To: Daniel Mael [xxxxxxx@______]

Daniel,

I wanted to circle back with you in order to make sure it is clear that what we wrote in this statement, particularly the parts about distancing ourselves from you and seeing “no reason for us to have any further interaction… with those peddling in slander,” also covers your request for credentials to attend the 2014 National Summit in San Francisco.

Sincerely,

Jessica Rosenblum

——————–

Fri, May 16, 2014 at 3:34 PM, Daniel Mael [xxxxxxx@______] wrote:

Hi Jessica

Are you only denying me press credentials or are you also barring me from the actual Summit?

Shabbat Shalom,
Daniel

——————–

From: Jessica Rosenblum [xxxxxxx@______] Date: May 16, 2014 at 16:49:15 EDT
To: Daniel Mael [xxxxxxx@______]

Subject: Re: Press request for summit

Hi Daniel,

I am doing both.

Shabbat Shalom,
Jessica

Mael provided the following statement:

They granted and then revoked the credentials with no intervening communication. It amazes me that an organization that prides itself on dialogue is willing to viciously attack a student and function so childishly. The spin-machine that is J Street never ceases to amaze me. Although their dishonest organization has been rejected by mainstream Jewish Community.  I would welcome any J Street member into my Jewish community. It is leftist J Street that attacks members of the community to no-end. From Hillel president Eric Fingerhut to Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents, they are simply disrespectful and thuggish. I would love to engage in open dialogue with Mr. Ben Ami or a J Street U student. I think it would be tremendously productive and encourage open debate.

I have not yet received a response to my request for J Street to identify any other persons barred from the National Summit, and for it’s position on barring Mael.

Originally published on Legal Insurrection


When it comes to pro-Israel advocacy, keep it above the belt

By Larry Gellman

Last month’s rejection of J Street by the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations has revealed an upsetting pattern within the Jewish community: many of our leaders prefer to silence and exclude those they disagree with, rather than debate them respectfully on the substantive issues.

The Conference vote, which has been roundly condemned by wide sections of the community, has finally ignited a much-needed conversation about who belongs in the communal tent. But the problem goes beyond mere exclusion.

Some on the right feel they have the right to engage in slander and intimidation against pro-peace activists in a way that flies in the face of Jewish values and ethics. If we are serious about promoting a healthier and more open Jewish dialogue, we need to confront this epidemic of bullying and intimidation used to silence critics every day, in synagogues, college campuses and online forums.

J Street’s advocacy for US-led peace efforts even inspired an hour-long “documentary” called The J Street Challenge, funded by Charles Jacobs of the ironically-named Americans for Peace and Tolerance. Jacobs’ film slings a host of smears and personal attacks at J Street staff and supporters, accusing them of being naïve, malicious and worse.

Continue reading here

Originally published on The Jerusalem Post


J Street’s Bigotry & Intolerance: A response to Jeremy Ben-Ami

By Chloe Valdry

On Tuesday, May 13, Jeremy Ben-Ami, president and co-founder of J Street, published an article in the Times of Israel discussing the positions his organization takes on major issues. According to Ben-Ami, many in the pro-Israel community have been deluded about J Street’s mission and so he decided to go about “setting the record straight” with his article.

The crux of the piece was a call to refrain from issuing baseless personal attacks against J Street and to instead engage in a more intelligent debate about the substance of the organization’s arguments. I agree with this approach. Unfortunately Ben-Ami’s article was dismally lacking in upholding the very standards he claimed to advocate. Instead it was replete with contradictions, half-truths, and snide remarks against those who disagree with J Street’s positions.

Ben-Ami began his piece by claiming that J Street is pro-Israel. To illustrate this point, he began by talking about his family history, of how he is the “descendant of four generations of Israelis,” and how his ancestors “are buried in Israel on the Mt. of Olives… .”But such an assertion is entirely irrelevant as to whether one is pro-Israel or not. One’s claim to be pro-Israel is not contingent upon where (s)he comes from but rather the principles (s)he espouses. My ancestors come from Africa and I consider myself to be as Zionist as the next pro-Israel advocate.

Ben-Ami further suggests that the pro-Israel community dislikes J Street because they believe that one must “agree with all the policies of the government of Israel.” But this is disingenuous. We in the pro-Israel community do not oppose J Street because it rebukes the Israeli government. One of the pillars of open and free debate is, of course, the practice of questioning policies to ensure they are steadfast and reasonable. The problem we have with J Street is that its leadership does not actually permit open and free debate.

 Ben-Ami claims to see many of the Israeli government’s policies as “counter to Israeli interests,” and thus rebukes them. Fair enough. We in the pro-Israel community see many of J Street’s policies as counter to Israeli interests as well.  Yet, when one rebukes them, one is bullied and personally attacked by Ben-Ami.

For example, many of us believe it is fundamentally contradictory (and downright duplicitous) to claim to oppose BDS and support Israel, while simultaneously giving a platform to those who support BDS and who call for the destruction of Israel. (Shocker, I know.) Yet, when we voice these concerns, BenAmi describes us as “conservative” or part of the “establishment,”as though such terms were “dirty” words or even remotely applicable to the topic at hand. He even suggests that those who disagree with him are not “sophisticated” enough to really “get it.”

So, not only are those who disagree with Ben-Ami ideologically inept, but he would have us believe they’re also stupid.

Another example of Ben-Ami’s wrath against those who disagree with him comes later in his article. He describes those who believe in the fundamental right to live in the heart and soul of the homeland of the Jewish people as engaging in “nationalist extremism” and suggests that they are a threat to Israel and the “soul of the Jewish people.” This is intellectual hypocrisy at its worst. There is perhaps no more effective way to silence debate then by describing your opponent as a monster while claiming that you’re the one being bullied because he disagrees with you.

But Ben-Ami’s shtick wears thin. In suggesting that those who challenge J Street’s positions are intellectually incompetent, he does not live up to the very standards he purports to promote. He does not debate the substance of arguments. Instead, he smears his opponents by calling them names so he won’t have to address the issues. Ben-Ami portrays those who object to his musings as evil people who must be censored and whose ideas must not be considered.  He imagines that his own opinions are inherently superior and displays prejudicial intolerance for the views of others. This is fascism and it is unacceptable.

J Street engages in the tactics its founders claim to eschew. This is why we have an aversion to the organization. We are less concerned with its official policies (regardless of how utterly ludicrous they are) and more disturbed by its members’ deliberate feigning of victimhood all while they harass those who disagree with its policy prescriptions. The notion that J Street alone possesses all the right answers and that dissenting naysayers are to be perceived as a threat to the Jewish people illustrates just how hot the air is that fills all of Ben-Ami’s sanctimonious talk about refraining from “calling us [J Street] names because one doesn’t agree with us.”

We have a phrase for your scam, Mr. Ben-Ami.  Pot. Kettle. Black.

Originally published on The Times of Israel


Drawing the line on J Street

By Farley Weiss

The Conference of Presidents’s rejection of J Street’s membership application was the right decision. During the nearly yearlong after J Street applied for membership in the Conference, there was no change in J Street’s outspoken criticism of Israel. Clearly acceptance of membership would have led to a legitimization of J Street’s positions and actions, and in our view to significant long-term damage to the pro-Israel movement in America.

Even many of the Conference members that supported J Street’s membership application openly stated that they disagreed with many of J Street’s statements and actions. Their arguments in favor came down to the fact that J Street has many members, including young members, and that the Conference should have a “big tent.” In our view, membership numbers have little relevance. If the Neturei Karta had many members, including young members, should it be considered for membership? I think not. As it relates to a big-tent approach, where is the line drawn? Can anyone with many members join the tent? All the critics can cite is J Street’s support for a two-state solution.

However, their rejection had nothing to do with J Street’s apparent support for a two-state solution, and everything to do with its statements and actions on the issues of the day.

Alan Dershowitz is an ardent supporter of a two-state solution and yet he wrote that he could not find anything pro-Israel in the statements and actions of J Street. J Street initiated one major Congressional letter and it was a letter only critical of Israel and its actions in Gaza. When the Goldstone Report was published and Israel and the US Jewish community were outraged at the falsehoods and slander of the report, J Street was attempting to get former South Africa judge Richard Goldstone, who headed the UN’s fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict, appointments with members of Congress. Eventually Goldstone himself disavowed his own report, and yet J Street stood by it. If J Street had been a member of the Conference at that time its actions would have caused significant damage.

J Street vocally called on the US administration not to veto a UN Security Council resolution critical of Israel. The Conference of Presidents supported a veto and fortunately the Obama administration did not listen to J Street and vetoed the resolution.

Just a few days before the Conference of President’s vote on J Street, it became public that US Secretary of State John Kerry had been quoted as saying Israel could become an apartheid country, and that J Street defended Kerry’s remark. Abe Foxman of the ADL, who supported J Street membership, condemned Kerry’s remark and observed that even Secretary Kerry himself later expressed regret for the use of the term apartheid – but not J Street.

One of the most critical issues today is preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Alan Dershowitz points out that J Street has opposed strengthening sanctions, and even opposes a US military strike if the Obama administration feels it is the only way to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. J Street called for Israel to end its military incursion into Gaza, when Israel could find no other way to protect its citizens from missiles. The Obama administration stood with Israel and supported it when the IDF went into Gaza – but not J Street.

The importance of the vote by the Conference of Presidents is it avoided a situation in which AIPAC would be lobbying Congress to support issues that would be beneficial of Israel and J Street would lobby in the opposite direction. Such a situation would confuse members of the House and Senate as to the position of the Jewish community. If J Street would have been invited to join the Conference of Presidents, it would give the impression that it is an accepted voice within the national leadership of the Jewish community. I believe that this would, over time, be devastating to Congressional support for Israel and ultimately the security of Israel.

We decided to be outspoken in our position because of what we saw as the critical nature of the vote. J Street has, in essence, attempted to destroy the ideal of what it means to be pro-Israel.

Pro-Israel means standing up for and with Israel on the most critical issues facing its survival and security.

J Street has failed that test. The vote of the Conference of Presidents was a resounding affirmation that J Street’s actions should not be legitimized by membership. The Conference decided correctly.

The author, an attorney, is president of the National Council of Young Israel, which is a member of the Conference of Presidents.

Originally published on The Jerusalem Post


J Street Shows Its True Colors on Brandeis Campus

By Elliot Hamilton

On an early Shabbat morning, Daniel Mael was walking back with a friend to his dorm room at Brandeis University. Upon seeing a group of his peers passing by, he kindly said, “Shabbat shalom.”

What resulted from his kind gesture of peace and tranquility was a war of words between a well-known Zionist activist (Mael) and a board member of Brandeis’ J Street U, Talia Lepson. Talia Lepson used the opportunity to tell Mael, “Jews hate you,” and subsequently called him a “sh*t bag.”

While Mael could have reacted, he took the high road and reported this case of verbal harassment to the university police. What resulted from this incident was an outpouring of support from friends and colleagues, and even an article posted in The Washington Free Beacon titled “J Street U Brandeis’ Talia Lepson Harasses Pro-Israel Student.”

What nobody expected next was a statement from J Street itself. On April 27, on the eve of Yom HaShoah, J Street published a statement titled: “J Street and J Street U Have Zero Tolerance for Harassment of Student Leaders.” I read the title and immediately thought that it would have condemned Ms. Lepson’s inappropriate comments to Mael. However, I was gravely mistaken.

Instead of calling out Ms. Lepson for her blatantly harassing comments, they started pointing fingers at Daniel Mael. The statement said the following: “It is another [thing] to conduct a campaign of personal intimidation and harassment, which is the pattern of behavior that Daniel Mael … has established in relating to J Street U leaders.” Talk about a sweeping generalization and a quintessential example of libel.

How is it fathomable that J Street would defend its own student leader and turn its crosshairs on her victim? They did the unthinkable and the unforgivable by directly turning on a fellow supporter of Israel. J Street prides itself as being “pro-Israel, pro-Palestine, and pro-peace,” yet they fabricated lies against a Zionist activist in order to defend the actions of their own student leader.

Sure, Daniel Mael has been rather critical of J Street, J Street U, and Jeremy Ben-Ami himself, but so are many in the Zionist community. Even I have co-authored a blog post for the Zionist Organization of America with my friend and colleague, Tatiana Becker, in which we stated that Ben-Ami uses the term “pro-Israel” incorrectly when describing J Street’s mission.

However, there is something called accountability that was never played out in the minds of J Street. Instead of saving face and apologizing to Daniel Mael for their student leader’s grave misconduct, they did the opposite and have lost even more credibility because of it.

With the screenings of The J Street Challenge and countless articles that are questioning J Street’s legitimacy as an interest group bent on supporting Israel’s right to exist, the least they could have done was say sorry. Instead, J Street may as well align themselves permanently with Max Blumenthal and other anti-Zionist Jews who have a penchant for demonizing not only the Jewish state, but also the activists who truly embody the pro-Israel mission. Ben-Ami and his organization threw Mael under the bus and fed him to the anti-Zionist dogs.

What makes this entire incident even more atrocious is the timing of this statement. How could a supposedly “pro-Israel” organization slander a Jewish Zionist activist on the very day the Jewish people ought to come together in unison?

Yom HaShoah is supposed to be the day where the Jewish people remember the six million European Jews who were systematically murdered by the Nazis for their beliefs. We are supposed to acknowledge that flagrant propaganda can transform the minds of an intellectual civilization into a genocidal machine. And yet, J Street’s Jewish board member had the audacity to slander a fellow Jew on that day. In my opinion, this is the definition of morally disgusting.

J Street had the chance to turn its distasteful image around and force the Zionist community to reconsider its portrayal of the organization. However, it fell to its own pride.

Elliott Hamilton is majoring in economics at Brandeis. He is the president of Claremont Students for Israel, a Jewish Identity Chairman of Alpha Epsilon Pi Chi Chi, and is the campus activist project liaison for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. This piece was originally published in the CAMERA blog in Focus.

Originally published on the Algemeiner


Columbus’ Jewish community divided over Israel policy

By JoAnne Viviano

A rift within the national Jewish community has made its way to Columbus, where a local activist plans to show a controversial movie that criticizes the liberal J Street organization.

Described by some as more dovish than many of its leftist counterparts, J Street calls itself the “political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans” and supports the two-state solution advocated by Secretary of State John Kerry.

Larry Levine, a member of Congregation Tifereth Israel on the Near East Side, disagrees with J Street’s assertions and thinks that much of the group’s work does not support the Jewish nation and creates division within the Jewish community.

Levine is sponsoring the showing of The J Street Challenge: The Seductive Allure of Peace in Our Time at the Drexel Theatre at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.

Levine said the creation of a J Street chapter in Columbus this year prompted him to react. He was concerned that Cantor Jack Chomsky at Tifereth Israel was an initial co-chairman of the group, a connection that he said could imply that J Street was endorsed by the congregation.

“The (Jewish) community is upset because they feel like they’re being divided over this,” he said. “A lot of us feel very strongly that it was inappropriate for clergy to take a position.”

In a statement, Chomsky declined to comment on Levine’s concerns. He said the congregation seeks to welcome everyone and “be a place where people feel comfortable expressing a diversity of opinion.”

Senior Rabbi Michael Ungar declined to comment.

Levine countered that he thinks that the congregation was censoring opinion when it did not allow him to distribute fliers about the film or to hold a screening there.

Local Rabbi Cary Kozberg said he, too, feels as if there has been a concerted effort by some local Jewish organizations to silence debate.

“The sore point is the lack of desire to have an open discussion,” said Kozberg, who works in the Columbus Jewish community but asked that his workplace not be printed because of the controversy.

“We’re going to disagree. We’ve always disagreed. It’s part of the Jewish culture that we argue, we discuss,” he said. “When you say, ‘We’re not going to allow a discussion about this,’ that’s just not part of our tradition.”

Local J Street leaders say their goal, too, is to foster discussion. Their concern is that the film makes unfounded accusations against J Street, said Isaiah Shalwitz, co-chairman of the Columbus chapter. He said the group has not tried to silence opinions and welcomes Levine and others to attend J Street events.

“These are great events about discussion and education,” he said. “There definitely have been a lot of questions and concerns, and we embrace that because that is what we’re here for, why we created the group, to talk about these issues.”

Chomsky is no longer a co-chairman of the local J Street chapter.

J Street, with about 180,000 supporters nationwide, is viewed by some conservatives as being counter to Israel’s safety and security.

The organization was recently rejected for membership in the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

The film is a production of Americans for Peace and Tolerance, a group that describes itself as a promoter of peaceful coexistence in the ethnically diverse U.S. Harvard University’s Alan Dershowitz and Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal appear in the film.

Attending Tuesday’s screening will be Avi Goldwasser, the film’s executive producer, director and writer, and national political writer Noah Pollak.

J Street leaders will not attend the screening. The film does not further discussion but maligns and attacks the group, Midwest field organizer Timna Axel said.

“We’re happy to have real discussion about policy, about serious issues that affect the Jewish people,” she said.

Information from Religion News Service was included in this story.

Originally published on The Columbus Dispatch


Column One: A sad Independence Day

By Caroline B. Glick

Yom Ha’atzma’ut, Israeli Independence Day, is a joyous holiday. In Israel, every year, from Eilat to Metulla, from Tel Aviv to the Jordan Valley, everyone across every spectrum – secular, religious; rich, poor; left, Right, Ashkenazi, Sephardi – is out celebrating.

The reconstitution of the Jewish state, and its growth within three generations from a third world economic and military basket case into a prosperous and powerful country, is among the most astounding success story in human history. Certainly it is the greatest story of Jewish success since Joshua led a nation of former slaves in conquering and settling the land of Israel some 3,500 years ago.

And today, three generations after the enslavement and genocide of European Jewry and the expulsion of the Jews from Islamic lands, the Jewish people in the Land of Israel have built arguably the most dynamic society in the world.

For the Jews of the Diaspora, Israel’s success should be a source of enduring pride and joy.

Independence Day should be celebrated by Jews throughout the world. But in recent years, associations of Israel with joy have become increasingly rare.

As one Jewish student activist put it, the celebration on his campus was nothing more than “a bunch of kids eating cake.”

And at the same time, he explained, many students were posting statuses on their Facebook pages talking about how the day was “bittersweet because of the Nakba.”

The situation was all too similar in campuses throughout North America. Yom Ha’atzma’ut, the celebration of the greatest act of Jewish will in modern times, was marked with a shrug, and small clumps of students eating felafel and humous, and cake.

No doubt, part of the problem is the distance.

It may be that you have to live in Israel to understand how amazing it is. But then again, thanks to programs like Birthright, far more young American Jews have visited Israel in recent years than had visited in previous generations. And previous generations of American Jews felt far greater joy in Israel’s accomplishments than young American Jews feel today.

Part of the problem is ignorance. With steadily decreasing levels of Jewish education and religious affiliation among non-Orthodox Jews in the US, young American Jews don’t know almost anything about their Jewish identity.

They are unfamiliar with their history. Their religious education – if they had any – generally came to a grinding halt immediately after their bar mitzvas. And their Zionist education, such as it may have been, was filtered through the media and then, once they arrived in college, through the rants of their anti-Israel professors.

And part of it is that they are intimidated.

Hate groups like Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voices for Peace harangue Jewish students for uttering even the mildest defenses of Israel.

When students are willing to stand up to these hate groups, they are beset by J Street U members telling them that there is nothing anti-Israel about being anti-Israel, and that being anti-Israel really means being pro-Israel.

The ignorant Jews shrug their shoulders and walk away because Israel is just too much trouble.

Or they stay and become convinced that they can be pro-Israel by being anti-Israel.

A poll of Israeli Jews published on Independence Day by Tel Aviv University found that 80 percent are optimistic about Israel’s future, and 85% are optimistic about their own future.

Eighty percent of Israelis wouldn’t want to live anywhere but Israel.

Israelis are most concerned about domestic issues. Forty-seven percent are most concerned about the divide between the wealthy and the poor. Twenty-one percent are most concerned with skyrocketing housing prices. Only 8.7% think the most urgent challenge is to make peace with the Palestinians.

For most American Jews, these Israeli priorities are incomprehensible. Over the past 20 years, and at an accelerated pace over the past five years, they have been browbeaten by the mantra that Israel is all but synonymous with the peace process, and that without it, the Jewish state will be lost.

This mantra, which denies Israel an existence independent of the Palestinian conflict, was created immediately after Israel embarked on the peace process with the PLO in 1993. It was bad enough from the outset. But it has become gravely exacerbated by the appearance of J Street on the American Jewish scene.

Before J Street, ignorant American Jews could defend Israel because it is pro-peace. But since J Street arrived at the scene, the fact that Israel has always sought peace with its neighbors is increasingly denied and replaced with lies about Israeli culpability for the pathologies of the Palestinians and the wider Islamic world.

J Street is an anti-Israel, pro-Iranian and pro-Palestinian lobby run by American Jews.

Since its founding six years ago, J Street has lobbied against US sanctions on Iran. It has lobbied for US support for anti-Israel resolutions in the UN Security Council. It lobbied in favor of the libelous Goldstone Report and then lied about its actions when they were exposed.

J Street opposes US strategic ties with Israel. It opposes efforts to defeat the campaign to delegitimize Israel. It hosts openly anti-Semitic speakers at its conferences. It raises money to defeat pro-Israel members of Congress.

J Street supports the BDS movement. It defends BDS activists against their Jewish victims on US college campuses. It hosts them at its conferences and cosponsors events with them.

J Street’s purpose is twofold. First, as an anti-Israel lobby that acts in support of the Iranian regime and Palestinian terrorist organizations, it seeks to diminish to the point of ending the US’s alliance with Israel. To this end, as Richard Baehr noted this week in Israel Hayom, J Street is working to wrest the Democratic Party away from Israel and so make supporting Israel a partisan issue in American politics.

Second, as the recently released documentary on J Street, The J Street Challenge, demonstrates, J Street strives to make it difficult if not impossible for the American Jewish community to support Israel in any coherent fashion.

In a speech at the New America Foundation, J Street executive director Jeremy Ben-Ami explained that the organization’s goal is to destroy the power and influence of the American Jewish community.

In his words, “I think we’re taking on much more than AIPAC. I think that it is the Conference of Presidents. It’s the American Jewish Committee. It’s the lobbying structures of the Federations. It’s the network of JCRCs, the Jewish Community Relations Councils.”

He then employed classical anti-Semitic imagery to explain the magnitude of the challenge and of the danger allegedly posed by these groups.

“It’s a really multi-layered, multi-headed hydra. This monopoly, this many-headed monopoly, has been trying to squash us.”

The most effective means that J Street has employed to date to accomplish its destructive task has been joining the big communal tents.

In these efforts it has been most successful on college campuses.

After decades of living with the perception of Israel as inextricably linked to the “peace process,” most American Jews are extremely supportive of peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

J Street exploits this popular position to undermine Israel. Falsely presenting itself as a “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization, the anti-Israel lobby has entered into the big tent of Jewish communal life at campus Hillels to both undermine support for Israel, and render it all but impossible for Jews on campuses and in larger communities to voice a coherent Zionist message. They accomplish this by falsely arguing that strong pro-Israel positions undermine prospects for peace and that Israel itself undermines peace.

To be clear, J Street is to Zionism what Jews for Jesus are to Judaism.

Jews for Jesus call themselves Messianic Jews.

They dress like observant Jews and prey on the religious ignorance of young American Jews to convince them to convert to Christianity.

In J Street’s case, its members present themselves as pro-Israel and pro-peace, or simply as pro-peace, to exploit the ignorance of American Jews and subvert their capacity and willingness to support Israel.

Last week, J Street’s strategy of penetrating mainstream Jewish organizations hit a brick wall. The Conference of Presidents, one of the “heads” of the Jewish “hydra” that Ben-Ami declared J Street seeks to destroy, rejected J Street’s application for membership.

Partly due to the strong support J Street receives from the leftist media in the US, partly due to the rise of radicals to leadership positions in many major American Jewish organizations, J Street’s application for membership was a cause for concern. Many activists were convinced that it would be accepted.

So the fact that J Street failed to muster not only the two-thirds majority necessary to become a member, it failed to win even a simple majority of the votes, is a major triumph for the community and a cause for hope that the battle for Zionism in America has been joined.

And it must be joined, and won. As far as J Street is concerned, its bid to join the Conference of Presidents was merely one battle in its war against American Zionism.

Immediately after the votes were counted, J Street moved to Plan B. It mobilized its supporters in the Reform and Conservative movements to bludgeon the Conference of Presidents for daring to reject the membership application of an anti-Israel group whose leader publicly pledged to destroy the Conference of Presidents.

J Street exists to fight. Its goal is to destroy.

The tools it employs are demoralization and deceit. That is why the reticence American Jews feel about celebrating Yom Ha’atzma’ut is not merely sad. It is dangerous.

Israel is the most extraordinary collective achievement of the Jewish people in thousands of years. It is the embodiment of the dreams, faith, blood, sweat and tears of the Jewish people today and throughout time in both spiritual and physical terms.

Israel is something that every Jew should celebrate and be thankful not only on Yom Ha’atzma’ut, but every day of the year.

Israelis know this and that is why we are so content and optimistic.

It is J Street’s purpose to hide this truth from the American Jewish community. So it is the task of the American Jews to build on the decision of the Conference of Presidents and ensure through education, travel to Israel and aliya that J Street goes down in time as the great failure it deserves to be. Doing so will ensure that next year, instead of being reduced to the sad spectacle of “a bunch of kids eating cake,” Yom Ha’atzma’ut celebrations worldwide will be the unbridled expressions of joy that they are in Israel.
Originally published on The Jerusalem Post


Taking issue with Yochai Benkler on J Street, Israel, and American Jews

By David Bernstein

I’ve never met Harvard Law Professor Yochai Benkler, but I’m guessing that if we sat down and had a conversation about Israel, we’d find a lot to agree on.  Like him, I support a two-state (or maybe three state) solution, and am concerned by the rise of ultra-Orthodoxy in Israel–not because I have anything against the ultra-Orthodox, among whom are some of my favorite childhood teachers, but because their leadership tends to lack respect for liberal democracy.

Nevertheless, I’m disappointed in his recent article in The New Republic on J Street, Israel, and American Jews.  Here are several quotes I take issue with:

(1) “If organized American Jewry cannot find a place for J Street’s form of young, liberal, humanistic Judaism it is dooming itself to shrinking through attrition …”  JStreet is a political organization funded initially by George Soros and a mysterious Phillipina resident of Hong Kong, neither of whom have ties with the organized Jewish community. Meanwhile, the organization explicitly denied taking money from Soros, whose name was generally anathema among mainstream pro-Israel folk.  J Street’s founders and leadership have strong ties to the Democratic Party.  While J Street purports to be “pro-Israel and pro-peace” in practice its modus operandi has been to try to join the anti-Israel far left with Zionist peaceniks in an alliance against the Jewish establishment and Jewish intellectuals that fit neither description.  (To get a sense of the attitude JStreet represents: A right-leaning Jewish student activist at Brandeis recently wished the head of Brandeis’s J Street U. campus affiliate a friendly “Shabbat Shalom” (good Sabbath).  She responded by calling him a “shit bag” and telling him that “Jews hate you!”) If this is the sum of American Judaism, it deserves not only to shrink but to die; liberal Democratic politics isn’t Judaism, and vice versa, and when you ally with the enemies of k’lal yisroel (the Jewish community) against Jews you happen to disagree with politically, you’ve gone against some pretty basic Jewish principles.

(2) , “The 2013 Pew survey suggests that no more than 10 percent of American Jews are Orthodox of any kind, and the trend is toward less orthodox identification.”  Compare what the page Benkler himself links to says: “Though Orthodox Jews constitute the smallest of the three major denominational movements, they are much younger, on average, and tend to have much larger families than the overall Jewish population. This suggests that their share of the Jewish population will grow.” (Perhaps TNR will issue a correction?)

Maybe five percent of young American Jews are both left-wing enough on Israel and politically involved enough to care that J Street thrives.  By comparison, 25% or so of American Jews under 18 are growing up in Orthodox households, and the Orthodox are far higher percentage if you define the Jewish tent to include only those who are actively involved in Jewish life instead of casting a very broad net as Pew did. That’s where much of the future lies, for better or worse, and the constant complaining by liberal Jewish intellectuals that the highly skewed sample of young left-wing Jewish intellectual types they happen to know are unhappy with Israel and the Jewish establishment because they are insufficiently in tune with left-liberal politics doesn’t actually make that group demographically terribly significant. In fact, even excluding both Orthodox Jews and Jewish day school graduates, young American Jews are more attached to Israel than is the previous generation.

(3) “The territory that occupies the space between Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt is home to about 6.1 million Jews and about 6.1 million Arabs, of whom almost 1.7 million are citizens of Israel living within the 1967 borders and the territories around Jerusalem annexed by Israel after 1967, and the remaining 4.4 million are Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza, or Judea, Samaria, and Gaza. If the Jewish state is to govern the whole of that area, without dividing the space with an independent Palestinian state, then it must either stop being Jewish or stop being democratic.”  I’ll put aside the issue of whether the population figures are accurate. Benkler neglects the fact that Israel is not governing Gaza; it has not a single soldier, civilian, or administrator living there, except for a handful of undercover agents, and has no desire to return there.  So Israeli Jews are a clear majority of the population of areas still under dispute, Israel and the West Bank.  But Israel doesn’t want to govern 1.5 million or so West Bank Arabs indefinitely (and indeed the vast majority of them are currently governed day-to-day by the Palestinian authority), as occupied population or as citizens.  If the peace process reaches a dead end, Israel will unilaterally withdraw from populated Palestinian areas in the West Bank, evacuate isolated settlements, and annex the rest.  Gaza is the precedent.  That might very well be disastrous, for all the reasons Gaza hasn’t gone well.  But it might be less bad than the available alternatives, and there’s no reason to pretend that (a) Israel is currently governing as many Arabs as Jews; and (b) that there is no other option besides either permanent occupation or a peace deal.

(4) “The Israel I grew up in was a secular democratic state whose self-image was captured by Paul Newman’s image in Exodus…” If you want to know why the Israeli left has consistently lost elections since 1977, Benkler has accidentally summed it up right there.  The Ashkenazic elite, of which Benkler is a member, thought it was their country, and that Israel should naturally be like them–Eurocentric in culture and fashion, social Democratic, and secular.  But when Benkler was growing up, over 50% of the Israeli population were Mizrahim, Jews from the Middle East and North Africa.  Most of them weren’t Orthodox, but they weren’t secular, either. Rather, they considered themselves “traditional,” respectful of Jewish tradition and of leading Sephardic rabbis without being Orthodox.  They were treated in a generally contemptuous, high-handed manner by elite Ashkenazim.   Imagine, for example, assuming that even religiously traditional dark-skinned Mizrahim agreed that the blond-haired, blue-eyed, secular European Newman character from Exodus represented the essence of Israeliness.  Menachem Begin managed to tap into the Mizrahim’s resentment by emphasizing his constituents’ common Jewishness rather than the secular elite’s version of Israeliness, and the Israeli left has never recovered.

As I’ve written before, I hope that J Street evolves to become a true pro-Israel, pro-peace group that spends at least as much time defending Israel from its very real enemies on the far left as it does promoting a left-leaning but Zionist agenda.  Im Tirzu, ein zo agadah?

Originally published in The Washington Post