Will the real J Street stand up… for Israel?

By: Sarah Greenberg

On Thursday, March 27, I spoke at the University of Pennsylvania at a Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia- sponsored event entitled “What It Means to be Pro-Israel.” The event featured a new film called The J Street Challenge and the other speakers were Alan Dershowitz and Charles Jacobs. The following column is based on my remarks that day.

J Street U, the student-organizing arm of J Street, purports to provide a “political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans” on campus. But is the organization true to their slogan? As a pro-Israel, pro-peace student, I have questions.

Anti-Israel activity abounds at American universities. The BDS Movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel) openly asserts its opposition to the existence of a Jewish state and often relies on academic institutions and platforms to promote its cause.

In early December, the American Studies Association voted to boycott Israeli universities. At the University of Michigan last week, pro-Israel students opposing a student government resolution to divest from Israel allegedly received death threats and were called “kikes” and “dirty Jews” by backers of BDS. This resolution represented just one of 67 attempted divestment resolutions at various universities since 2010. During 2014 alone, eight divestment resolutions were introduced.

Anti-Israel groups utilize other hate-filled tactics to intimidate pro-Israel students on campus. This month at Northeastern University, the school’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) posted mock eviction notices on students’ dorm rooms – a tactic used by SJP on many campuses. Allegedly a replica of eviction notices used by Israel, the notices were filled with false accusations including the charge that Israel engages in ethnic cleansing.

Subsequently, Northeastern administration suspended the student group responsible for the evictions, citing vandalism of university property and a repeated disregard for university policy.

In this climate, it becomes increasingly important that students be well versed in the facts about Israel and its history.

Now, more than ever, pro-Israel students needs the support of pro-Israel campus groups to identify and speak out against inaccuracies and injustices that they may witness on campus related to the Jewish state.

But what does it mean to be “pro-Israel” and what role should a “pro-Israel” campus group play? Being “pro-Israel” does not mean that you are in favor of every policy enacted by the Israeli government. It does not mean that you are anti-Palestinian. In simple terms, being pro-Israel means understanding and asserting the Jewish people’s right to self-determination in Israel.

Given the extent of the forces aligned against Israel on campus, you would think that a pro-Israel organization would work to enable and encourage students to stand up against those seeking to delegitimize the very idea of a Jewish state.

While J Street U claims to be “pro-Israel,” unlike other pro-Israel organizations, J Street does not educate or equip students to distinguish between anti-Israel propaganda and fact.

Instead, J Street U partners with some of Israel’s greatest enemies on campus including BDS activists and anti-Israel faculty. In a recent example from March 6, the J Street U chapter at Smith College co-sponsored an event with Students for Justice in Palestine and Faculty for Israeli Palestinian Peace entitled “A Forum on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement.” At Washington University at St. Louis last week, J Street U initiated and hosted an event promoting a speaker from Breaking the Silence, a group that partners with BDS and claims that the IDF systematically “violate human rights.”

When the Gaza war started in 2008, J Street did not distinguish between terrorists trying to murder Israeli civilians and the Israeli military trying to stop the attacks. J Street asserted that the IDF airstrikes would only “deepen the cycle of violence in the region.” While J Street remained silent while the citizens of Sderot were shelled for eight consecutive years by Hamas rockets, on the first day of the Gaza war, J Street immediately called for a cessation of the hostilities.

According to J Street U’s website, “J Street U holds the same policy positions as J Street.” Sadly, J Street seems to focus more on educating its constituents and students about how to defend the agenda of those who seek Israel’s destruction, instead of being honest about the facts on the ground and equipping young people with the tools necessary to stand up for Israel. This is a disservice at best, and a manipulation at worst, of the students who are attracted to J Street’s “pro-Israel, pro-peace” slogan and may sign up to be members of J Street U without knowledge of J Street’s true mission and tactics.

Moreover, instead of informing students about opportunities to support and partner with the multitude of movements within Israel that advocate for peace in the region, J Street encourages students to put pressure on Israel from afar. In a campaign entitled “We Can’t Wait!” on J Street U’s website today, J Street U calls on members of Congress to support the Obama administration’s policies “even when it means publicly disagreeing with both the Israelis and the Palestinians.”

American Jews and students can and should be involved in the conversation on the future of the Jewish homeland, but should this include soliciting American pressure on the democratically elected Israeli government? When is it appropriate for an organization to intrude on a sovereign nation’s right to self-rule? The bar should be very high.

Given what we know about J Street and J Street U, does the organization deserve the support and backing of the pro-Israel Jewish community? BDS, most people agree, should not be included or supported by the Jewish community. An anti-Semitic organization that opposes Israel’s continued existence as a Jewish state falls outside the boundaries of our community and should not be welcomed and endorsed.

If J Street wants to use and have access to the Jewish community’s platforms and institutions, why do they continue to invite BDS activists to speak at their annual conference and co-sponsor events with anti-Israel activists on campus? It is one thing to debate a BDS activist on neutral turf; it’s another thing to lend a “pro-Israel” organization’s name, legitimacy and resources to promote the BDS cause.

Rather than call attention to the challenges and regional threats Israel faces today – including terrorism and an impending nuclear-armed Iran – J Street spends its time lobbying Congress (and asking its student chapters to do the same) against resolutions condemning incitement in Palestinian schools, opposing the introduction of a Senate bill to impose new sanctions on Iran, and endorsing the Palestinian and Arab effort to condemn Israel in the United Nations Security Council.

If an organization is never willing to stand up for Israel, should they still be considered pro-Israel? J Street has a right to say and do what it wishes, but if J Street wants to remain part of the pro-Israel Jewish community, shouldn’t it demonstrate willingness to at times stand up for Israel, not just for its enemies? At a time when students need support to speak up for Israel on campus more than ever, shouldn’t J Street equip and encourage students to understand the reality on the ground and at times defend Israel, not only the opposite?

The campus Jewish Student Union at UC Berkeley voted this fall to deny membership to J Street U. The bylaws of the Jewish Student Union stipulate that a member organization must not host speakers who demonize Israel. Jewish Student Union members were uncomfortable with J Street U having invited among other anti-Israel groups, the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement to campus, an organization that calls for the liquidation of the Jewish Agency and Jewish National Fund for encouraging Jewish immigration to Israel.

While student unions have the right to decide who should be in or out of their community, J Street U remains a student affiliate group at numerous Hillel Houses around the country.

Under Hillel International’s current guidelines for campus Israel activities, J Street U cannot be barred from becoming a member. With a stated mission of “pro-Israel,” “propeace,” even if the organization is not true to this mission, it is difficult to ban the organization from Hillel entirely.

J Street takes advantage of this position – attracting students with its tagline, while not being true to its stated goals. It is therefore only through education and the creation of alternative, productive forums to engage progressive pro-Israel voices on campus that students will hopefully come to see what J Street is really about. After all, as Daniel Gordis, Senior Fellow at the Shalem College, observed: “It’s one thing to put pro-Israel in your tag line, and another to be pro-Israel.”

Originally published in The Jerusalem Post


Palo Alto Screening of The J Street Challenge

Contact: Sam Levine                                                         Slevine@ZOA.org                                                                     510-735-9524
WE ARE PROUD TO PRESENT A SPECIAL COMMUNITY EVENT IN COLLABORATION WITH AMERICANS FOR PEACE & TOLERANCE, STAND WITH US, CAMERA, INSTITUTE FOR BLACK SOLIDARITY WITH ISRAEL, THE HOROWITZ FREEDOM CENTER AND RIMON CLUB:
The Bay Area Premiere of the J Street Challenge: The Seductive Allure of Peace in Our Time

The J Street Challenge examines the rise of a well-funded activist organization with a powerful marketing effort and an idealistic message that appeals to many who are frustrated by the Middle East conflict. The film presents commentary and analyses from a wide political spectrum. The film features: Alan Dershowitz, Ruth Wisse, Rabbi Daniel Gordis, Caroline Glick & Bret Stephens!
Thursday, April 24, 2014; 7 pm
Palo Alto JCC
Freidenrich Conference Center (F-401)
3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto, CA, 94303
PANEL DISCUSSION following the film with Charles Jacobs, co-founder of the David Project, and Avi Goldwasser, the executive Producer of the film.
Seating is limited
Tickets: $12 online; $18 at the door
STUDENTS GET IN FREE!
Register Here: jschallengepaloalto.eventbrite.com


J Street’s hypocrisy must be exposed

By: Alan Dershowitz

J Street, the American organization that calls itself pro-Israel and pro peace but that always seems to be taking positions that are anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian, is asking America’s Jewish leadership to have a big tent and to open its doors to J Street. While I generally support that position, it is imperative that J Street’s hypocrisy be exposed. J Street insists that all major pro-Israel organizations be open to speakers who favor opposing views—such as supporters of the BDS movements, supporters of the single secular binational state approach, and those who oppose Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

In the abstract, this open tent policy seems commendable. We should be committed to the open marketplace of ideas in which views prevail on their merits not on the basis of exclusion.

Now let’s see how J Street itself fares with regard to an open tent policy. It has categorically refused to allow speakers like me, who oppose J Street’s policies on Iran and other security matters, to speak to its members at its conventions. I have repeatedly and persistently sought an opportunity to present my perspective—which is shared by many American supporters of Israel—at the J Street convention, or at other events officially sponsored by J Street. When J Street invites BDS supporters and those oppose Israel’s right to exist as the nation-state of the Jewish people to speak at its events, it claims that it does not necessarily support these positions, but it believes in encouraging its members to hear views that are different from its official positions. That is total nonsense. J Street only wants people to hear views to the anti-Israel hard left of its position. It categorically refuses to allow its members to hear views that are more centrist and more pro-Israel, such as my own.

I don’t want this to sound like sour grapes over not being invited by J Street to speak at its convention. Indeed I suspect that this column will generate such an invitation, since J Street will not be able to justify to its members its policy of censoring speakers to the center and right of its official positions. I receive hundreds, perhaps thousands of invitations each year, to speak to pro-Israel groups. I am writing this not to solicit an invitation but rather to set the record straight that from the beginning of its existence, J Street has never invited me, or others who hold my critical views of J Street, to address its members.

And there is a good reason why they have placed this cone of silence over its critics. J Street survives, and even expands, largely as the result of speaking out of two sides of its mouth. It seeks to attract centrist members by advocating the two-state solution, an aggressive stance towards peace negotiations and criticisms of Israel’s settlement policies. These are positions I fully support, and if they were J Street’s only positions, I would have joined that organization many years ago. But in an effort to expand leftward, particularly hard leftward, it has taken positions that undercut Israel’s security and that virtually no Israeli center-leftists support. It placed its imprimatur behind the despicable and mendacious Goldstone Report by bringing Richard Goldstone to Capitol Hill and introducing him to members of Congress. In doing so it undercuts the efforts of the Obama Administration, which was supportive of Israel’s self-defense efforts in Gaza and not supportive of the Goldstone Report.

J Street’s position on Iran has been extremely troubling. It opposes the United States threatening military action, even as a last resort. It deliberately misquoted several former heads of the Mossad as opposing an American strike against the Iranian nuclear program as a last resort. The truth is that these distinguished Israelis oppose only an Israeli unilateral strike against Iran, but favored keeping the American military option on the table as a last resort and as a sword of Damocles. J Street now claims that it is not opposed to keeping the American military option on the table, but it says that in a whisper, while loudly proclaiming to its hard left constituency that an American military attack on Iran’s nuclear program, even as a last resort, would be a disaster to be avoided at all costs.

J Street has also spoken out of both sides of its mouth on the issue of whether the Palestinian leadership should recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. While first appearing to oppose such recognition, it now seems to be saying that this issue should be left to final stage negotiations, but it leaves open the possibility that it will continue to oppose such recognition if and when such negotiations are reached.

Moreover, J Street has accepted funding from sources—such as George Soros—who are openly anti-Israel, and have kept this fact secret so as not to alienate its centrist supporters.

It is easy to understand therefore why J Street doesn’t want me, or others who hold positions like mine, to enter into its tent. It does not want its own members to be confronted with the reality of J Street’s double talk. If I speak at its convention, I will be speaking at the same time to those centrists it seeks to attract and to those hard leftists it wants within its tent. Both sides will be shocked by J Street’s duplicity in telling each what they want to hear.

So here is my challenge: at the next J Street convention, show the film The J Street Challenge: The Seductive Allure of Peace in Our Time to all of its members, invite me to speak to them, allow me to distribute its conflicting position papers and positions and let the marketplace of ideas remain open to its members. Only when J Street opens up its tent to views critical of its own should it be demanding that pro-Israel groups open its tent to them.

Originally published in Haaretz


J Street’s underdog strategy

By: Charles Jacobs

This article was co-written with Avi Goldwasser, executive producer and director of The J Street Challenge

There are few better demonstrations of the power of public relations in this age of social media than the rise of J Street, the lobbying organization that proclaims to be “pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian and pro-peace.” Since its founding in 2008, the organization has sought to compete with and to counter AIPAC, the traditional American pro-Israel lobby.

J Street is the brainchild of communications and marketing expert, Jeremy Ben-Ami, who has an accomplished record of leading public relations firms in Israel and the U.S. To his credit, when it was launched, J Street received sympathetic wall-to-wall media coverage including multiple interviews on television and a major positive story in the Sunday New York Times magazine.

From the start, J Street’s strategy was to position itself as the victimized underdog, bravely challenging the Jewish establishment, and claiming that the voices of many in the Jewish community were not being heard on issues relating to Israel. Ben-Ami claimed that rabbis and journalists are afraid to speak critically about Israel. He challenged the community to be more open to debate about the proper relationship between the American Jewish community and Israel. This strategy has worked well. It enabled J Street to get into the Jewish community’s “big tent.” This, however, did not result in the dialogue J Street claimed it wanted. Instead, critics claim, once inside the tent, J Street could actually block open discussion on its tactics and policies, by invoking the powerful norm of “no criticism of fellow Jewish groups.” Once “inside” and protected from criticism, many believe, J Street is now able to use the principle of big-tent organizational consensus to neutralize or block effective Israel advocacy. J Street has thus been dividing the community and weakening American Jewish support for Israel.

In too many cities there are Jewish leaders who are sympathetic to the simple, idealistic message of J Street and to the seductive allure of peace, and have welcomed J Street to present its message without actively seeking a balanced discussion.

This is especially egregious on college campuses: while pro-Israel groups are engaged in defending the Jewish state on campus, not infrequently J Street undermines their efforts and actually re-enforces the ugly ideological assault heaped on the Jewish state, by blaming Israel for the lack of peace.

It was in this context that we decided to produce the documentary film, The J Street Challenge.

The film was conceived to provide the community and students on campus access to some of the most articulate scholars, writers and activists to engage in a kind of virtual debate with J Street.

The film presents J Street’s views through Jeremy Ben-Ami’s speeches and interviews. (Ben-Ami declined to be interviewed for the film, but his views are extensively presented.) These are discussed and debated by Alan Dershowitz, Rabbi Daniel Gordis, Noah Pollak, Caroline Glick, Ruth Wisse and others who critique J Street and analyze the diaspora community’s relationship with Israel. They also provide a closer examination of J Street’s policies and tactics.

Recently, the well-funded J Street announced a major promotional road show to conduct “town hall” meetings in Jewish communities across America in support of President Obama’s and Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to pressure Israel to accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank.

It is important to understand that J Street’s P.R. efforts are focused on American Jewry rather than the Israeli public precisely because Ben-Ami and company have tried and failed to sell to the Israelis the idea that such an arrangement would be in their interest. J Street’s American focus then would seem a kind of work-around of Israel’s democratic process based on the assumption that perhaps the Israelis don’t know what is in their best interest or that Israeli democracy needs outside intervention. What Ben-Ami is selling is a solution to the thorny Middle East conflict — or at least to the conflict between the Palestinian Arabs and the Jews of Israel. Like any successfully marketed product, J Street’s is well packaged, has seductive messaging, and carries an appeal to the vanity and social status of its targeted consumers.

The message is simplicity itself. Ben-Ami says anyone, given 60 seconds, “could write down the outline of the two-state solution.” And the message is alluring: Gadi Baltiansky, head of the left-wing Geneva Project and a J Street supporter says about two-state activists: “We will save the future of Israel, and we will ensure the future of the Jewish people.” This message enables progressive Jews to feel good about themselves: they can be both pro-peace universalists and Zionist particularists. They don’t have to choose. They can avoid the pain of feeling disloyal to their own people and at the same time they can enjoy the benefits of their progressive bona fides – all without actually having to deal with the thorny problems of living in a violent region surrounded by societies struggling with modernity and identity. It’s hard to compete against such a psychologically appealing product.

Many progressive Jews have devoted their lives to promoting utopian universalist social justice. Ben-Ami appeals to them when he says, “We do believe that it is our role to repair the world, to seek peace and pursue it and to be a light unto the nations.” Clearly, the Israel that actually exists is not a Utopia. No state can be that. But for those Jews who seek moral purity, the flesh and blood nation-state of Israel – especially the one portrayed in the mainstream media and in college lecture halls — taints them. As Professor Landes notes in the film, tainted and wounded idealists may evince a moral narcissism, “an overwhelming concern about personally being a moral person and really not caring about the consequences outside of one’s own solipsistic concerns.”

To many younger and idealistic Jews, particularly on campus, supporting Israel is not cool. It is politically incorrect. So they seek to reconcile their Jewishness in this anti-Israel environment by becoming, as Samantha Mandeles, a CAMERA campus coordinator who appears in the film, suggests, “the good Jew: the Jew who helps everyone else, the Jew who puts others before themselves, and the Jew who cares more about strangers than they do about family.”

Like so many before them, today’s young Jews struggle with being Jewish. J Street provides them an effective coping mechanism. As Samantha further notes: “If a Jewish student feels that repairing the world and that being a universalist and being progressive is equivalent to being Jewish, then they don’t have to be proudly Jewish and they don’t have to be proudly Zionist. “ They can escape today’s Jewish burdens; they can be cool and they can fit in, and – at the same time – they can feel good about themselves.

The J Street Challenge highlights how J Street’s idealistic message has captivated many Jews young and old, who are frustrated by the Middle East conflict, want peace between Arabs and Jews, and desire to see an end to the hostility toward the Jewish state and its supporters. Everyone in the Jewish community wants peace. The challenge is how to achieve it. Unfortunately, the Jewish utopian impulse has become a mechanism to mobilize certain elements in the Jewish community for J Street’s ultimate purpose – political coercion of Israel to allow the creation of a Palestinian state.

Originally published in The Times of Israel

A dose of nuance

By: Daniel Gordis

A few weeks ago, Jeremy Ben- Ami of J Street and I debated each other in Atlanta. It was labeled a “conversation,” but it was really a debate.

Very civil, more than a bit of humor, rather conversational and all that, but still a debate. (You can find the video on YouTube or Google.) Ben-Ami made his points, I made mine. Mine were very simple: He and I both want the same thing. He wants (I was willing to assume for the sake of the argument) a secure and Jewish State of Israel. So do I. He wants (no question about this one) a Palestinian state as a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and I would be happy to see such a state (and would vote for significant territorial compromise) if it would mean an end to the conflict.

Though we disagreed about many things, there was one major point of contention that was more significant than all the rest. He’s convinced that a deal for a two-state solution is within reach, and I was, and remain, almost entirely certain that it’s utterly impossible.

So, for a good portion of the time, I laid out my case for why Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will not make a deal. He’ll never give up on the right of return. His refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state is a symptom of the sad fact that the Palestinians hate Israel (and let’s be honest, the Jews, too) far more than they care about themselves.

There’s the problem of Hamas and Gaza, and Abbas’s worry about Hamas potentially taking over. There’s the unpleasant fact that even if Abbas did agree, what happens when he or his successor is overthrown? What happens when Ramallah turns into Tahrir Square? Where will we be then? Nothing new in all these arguments – just a summary of what most people who think already know.

And then I sat down.

Then it was Ben-Ami’s turn to respond, and he made the most important comment of the entire evening. “I just find that so depressing,” he said. In not so many words, he was just saying that he cannot accept a world in which the options are so bleak – so he chooses to believe that there is a way out.

Because my view is depressing, it must be wrong.

It was the most significant comment of the evening, I thought, because it was also the most honest. What defines Israel’s position in the world today is a division not so much between those who care about Palestinians and those who don’t (though there are sadly many of the latter), not between those who tolerate the Jews and those who can’t stand them (though there are tragically a growing number of the latter), and not between those committed to a secure Israel and those who would be happy to see Israel crumble (though there are many of those, too).

The real divide is between those who can accept reality for what it is (with all the sadness thereunto appertaining), and those who cannot tolerate that bleakness – and therefore opt for delusion.

Take all the ostensibly fair-minded people who argue that Abbas’s refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state is legitimate, indeed noble, because he is seeking to protect that status of non- Jews in Israel. It’s a clever argument, but also malevolently dishonest. Israel has defined itself as a Jewish state since the Declaration of Independence was adopted in May 1948, and a Basic Law of 1985 added the notion of “Jewish and democratic” (interestingly, the Declaration of Independence says nothing about Israel being a democracy, but that’s an issue for another time). But has that stopped Israel from appointing Arabs to the Supreme Court? From having three Arab parties represented in the Knesset? Does it stop Beduin women from becoming doctors in Israel? There is obviously much about the status of Arabs and other non-Jewish citizens of Israel that can and must be improved, but does anyone seriously believe that Abbas is holding out to accomplish that? Anyone fair-minded understands that Abbas will not recognize Israel as a Jewish state because once he does, he undermines the argument that the refugees must be returned. And he needs the return of the refugees to destroy Israel.

But that means that there’s no deal to be had, because Abbas won’t give up the fight, and Israel will not commit suicide.

Which is depressing for those who want a deal more than they like reality.

So now US Secretary of State John Kerry is telling Israel that it should give up on that demand. Why? Because it’s easier, and less depressing, for Kerry to tell Israel to be flexible – even at the risk of its very raison d’être – than to admit that he is going to fail.

Masks and pretense were for Purim, but Purim is behind us.

The world in which we live is an increasingly bleak place. But that does not mean that the solution is to pretend that matters are other than what they were. The US pretends that it is going to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, but it is clear that it will not.

The international community pretends that it has the willpower to stop Russian President Vladimir Putin’s expansionist drive (the end of which one cannot even begin to imagine), when it is clear that America under US President Barack Obama is under a full-speed retreat from leadership. And the international community insists that if Israel budges just a bit on one issue or another, the Palestinians will make a deal, when it is clear that this is utterly myopic.

There is much that Israel has done wrong in recent years, and Israel’s administration has undoubtedly contributed to the Jewish state’s lonely place in the world today. But let us be honest about at least one thing, even in the face of the sobering – yes, depressing – reality we face.

The prime reason that Israel is so maligned is that it, alone, simply refuses to be part of the charade.

Originally published in The Jerusalem Post


Goodbye J Street, you lost me

By: Jonathan Segall
Dear J Street ,
It’s time I said “Goodbye”.
Why? Because I am not sure that you represent my values anymore.
Over the years, I have been to various events, went to see such speakers as Jeremy Ben-Ami, and Bradley Burston (both very good discussions), blogged my support at Daily Kos and at my own website The Progressive Zionist, and supported J Street with donations. I no longer feel that I can do that and furthermore don’t really understand how anyone who would consider themselves both “Pro-Israel”, and  ”Pro-Peace” could stay in the organization given what is about to happen.
While I agree with most of J-Street’s policy statements (support for reasonable Two State solution, Anti-BDS, Pro-Civil Rights) regarding Israel, giving activists who support BDS, and spread messages of hatred toward Israel an active platform is a step too far. When did this happen? Well here it is.
J Street is hosting a discussion with author David Harris Gershon regarding a book that he wrote wherein he talks about his path to dealing with having his wife being harmed in a Terror attack and how he has tried to reconcile that to his life. Harris-Gershon took the unique step of actually meeting with the family of the terrorist in order to understand just what made that person plant a bomb in a school cafeteria and then to forge some kind of closure to the incident.
All that would be fine and good except for the fact that Harris-Gershon trades heavily in anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic memes.  Now these are pretty serious allegations and I don’t make these lightly nor do I make them without proof. But here are some of the quotes from a man that J Street says:
“J Street DC Metro, the DC Public Library and Americans for Peace Now are proud to sponsor Harris-Gershon’s discussion, which will be followed by a Q&A and book signing.”
“Proud” to sponsor a discussion from a person who regularly uses his twitter account to “re-tweet” messages from Ali Abunimah of Electronic Intifada, Stephan Walt and Max Blumenthal amongst others? I mean nothing says that someone “loves” Israel like “re-tweeting” known anti-Semites and anti-Zionists. Right?
Or how about this gem that Harris-Gershon “tweeted”:
 If you think the world should boycott Russia over occupation, but Palestinians should not via-a-vis Israel, you have some explaining to do.
Now this is a particularly interesting tweet because Harris Gershon has been turned away from speaking in a few Jewish organizations because of his support for the anti-Semitic BDS Movement something that Mr. Harris-Gershon denies that he supports. Interestingly enough this denial came when he began his book / speaking tours to Jewish organizations. But that said, aside from his constant support for those who do favor BDS here are David’s exact words with regards to BDS:
“And I think about Israel’s inability to stop the occupation on its own, about how the only way to stop it may be for outside pressures (emphasis mine) to bear down upon the country I love.
Sanctions. Boycotts. Divestments. (BDS)….
…. And so we come to the confession, to the coming out: as an American Jew invested deeply in Israel’s success and survival — which in turn drives my investment in stopping one of the greatest moral challenges of my generation: the occupation – I have no choice but to formally endorse and embrace BDS…. (emphasis mine)
…. However, I know this for a fact: those who claim in Israel that there is no occupation have only one goal in mind: a single-state solution, a Jewishly-controlled Israel stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.
And it’s an unworkable, unsustainable goal that will be realized — one state — unless outside forces are brought to bear.”
Yes, because what says “I love Israel” more than asking the world to Boycott, Sanction, and Divest from you?
Now… if this is not bad enough.. Harris-Gershon also engages in rhetoric that is reminiscent of the horrible Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Here is his commentary in an article at Daily Kos February 4th, 2013 where Harris Gershon unleashes the old anti-Semitic canard of “dual loyalty” with these two comments:
“The reason for this disproportionate, obsessive focus on Israel with no regard for U.S. troops in Afghanistan? Simple: AIPAC and the “pro-Israel” lobby’s ill-founded concern about the Hagel nomination coupled by the lobby’s disproportionate influence on our representatives to echo that concern.”(emphasis mine)
And
“But when the hawkish, “pro-Israel” lobby in America can influence our representatives to sound as if they – well – are representing Israel’s citizens more than our own? (emphasis mine)
We have a problem. A problem that must be discussed openly and honestly.”
Straight out conspiracy theory saying that America’s representatives are controlled by “Zionist Interests”… Where have we heard charges like that before and from whom?
SO… with that, I say “goodbye”, “so long”, “Shalom”, to J Street. Why would I support an organization that gives a platform (and is proud of that) to a person who espouses both anti-Zionism and in my opinion borderline anti-Semitic memes? Just as I would not belong to an organization that gave a platform to Gilad_Atzmon nor can I see my money or support going to an organization that would support and be “proud of” and having David Harris Gershon.
I cannot in good conscience support J Street IF this is the type of programming or this is the kind of speaker that they will sponsor. I wish things were different because I do support J Street’s general principles. However, when you give a platform to people like Harris Gershon. What are you really supporting?
Shalom,
A former friend.
Originally published on The Times of Israel

The Jewish Press: ‘Safe Hillel’ Wants the Jewish Campus Group to be Safe for All

By: Lori Lowenthal Marcus

There’s been some attention paid lately to a largely unsuccessful effort to portray the Hillel on campus model as a “closed” environment, one that paints Hillel as an inflexible enforcer of unreasonable allegiance to the Jewish State. This effort calls itself “Open Hillel.”

The reason the Open Hillel effort has garnered some notoriety recently is that two Jewish campus groups affiliated with Hillel International voted to reject the Hillel International guidelines, declaring themselves Open Hillels.

Those guidelines include a lot of positive, supportive language for all kinds of ways of expressing one’s Jewishness.They also state that Hillels will not partner with, house, or host organizations, groups, or speakers that as a matter of policy or practice: Deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders; Delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel; Support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel; Exhibit a pattern of disruptive behavior towards campus events or guest speakers or foster an atmosphere of incivility.In other words, Hillel students are permitted to say and do whatever they want, they just can’t provide a Hillel platform to Israel haters.

Hillel International responded to the groups who declared themselves Open Hillels like the good uncle it is, lauding the students for expressing their views and for being passionate.

The bottom line message, however, is that if a Hillel-affiliated campus group violates the Israel guidelines by, for example, offering a platform within Hillel to a proponent of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sactions Movement, that group will lose its affiliation to Hillel, along with the right to use the Hillel name, and to avail itself of Hillel resources.

The second step has not yet happened, even on the two campuses, Swarthmore College and Vassar College, which declared themselves Open Hillels.

But along now comes a student-founded and run group calling itself “Safe Hillel,” which takes a different approach to the situation.

SAFE HILLEL

The founder of Safe Hillel, Raphael Fils, is a Boston University sophomore from California. Fils told The Jewish Press that he and several of his friends joined together to take a stand in support of Hillel as a “safe place” for pro-Israel students, after seeing that those who were agitating to take Hillel in the opposite direction began to receive media attention.

“Hillel should not have to change its mission in order to accommodate those who don’t agree with it,” Fils said. “Hillel is the one place students are supposed to feel entirely comfortable in their support of Israel. If that makes some people uncomfortable, there are plenty of other places to go just to hear attacks on Israel,” he continued.

The mission of Safe Hillel is for Hillel to be a safe place where Israel supporters are able to express that view openly, and where Jews of every Jewish denomination are able to practice their Judaism freely.

“Why do students feel the need to ruin Hillel?” Fils said many of his friends were asking.

“Those are the people who are trying to make a lot of noise, but the majority of Hillel students don’t feel it is right to appease the opponents of Israel who want to transform the Jewish campus organization into a battle zone.

“Open Hillel is not really ‘open,’ it’s only being used to accommodate people on the left, those who are harshly critical of Israel’s every move. It is the people on the so-called ‘right’ who are being marginalized,”Fils continued. He also said that he despises those terms anyway, and considers himself someone in the center.

“How has it happened that people are trying to turn Hillel into a place that is more accommodating to those who want to bash Israel, rather than those who just want to learn more about, and to support, Israel?”

Fils explained that part of what is happening is that the majority of students are being silenced by the activists. He also said there are places where the Hillel leadership respond to, and sometimes identify with the bullies, rather than trying to discern what the majority wants.

Safe Hillel will not only have a website and a Facebook page, but it will also have an anonymous tipline which will be set up so that students can report incidents that make them uncomfortable at their own campus Hillels, where a minority of students are pushing to provide platforms for speakers or partnerships which are anti-Israel. All of these tools will be active by mid-March.

The information from the tipline would be provided to Hillel professionals, and the professionals would decide whether action needs to be taken or not, and if so, what kind.

“Right now there are students on campuses who are afraid to speak and who are not feeling supported,” Fils explained. “We want to keep Hillel safe, it is the last safe place on campus for pro-Israel students, and we don’t want that taken away.”

Originally published in The Jewish Press


J Street, Marginalized in D.C., Leeching into the Hillels

By: Lori Lowenthal Marcus
The controversial organization J Street had its first annual conference in 2009. The organization initially snagged a large number of members of congress to speak at the conference, and an even larger number to merely allow their names to be used as “co-sponsors” of its Gala. But when word got out that despite its self-description as a “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization, most pro-Israel folks – including the actual Israeli government – had quite the opposite view of the organization, many congressional members beat a hasty retreat.
J Street has had its public ups, and even more public downs, with Americans who believe themselves to be pro-Israel. There was the revelation that while J Street said the virulently anti-Israel George Soros was not a donor, in fact J Street’s tax records proved that not only he, but members of his family were bankrolling the organization. There was also the J Street claim that the vast majority of its donors were American Jews, when it was later revealed that there were quite a few non-Jewish donors, and actually the largest donor for at least one year was neither Jewish nor American. The list goes on.
J Street has recently been reduced to publicly crowing not about how many members of congress were willing to speak at its conference, but instead how many were willing to take its money. Imagine that! your biggest achievement is that a politician was willing to take your money.
But as J Street was slowly eased out of its comfort zone in Washington, D.C., it proved itself to be very adaptable. It oozed out into the countryside, where it was harder to mobilize a critical mass of knowledgeable critics. At least in part because of that diffusion, J Street found homes at the municipal level. The Big Tent approach of most mainstream Jewish Federations was a tremendous boon, even more so are the fecund, ultra-liberal, anti-authoritarian pastures known as university campuses.
While some Hillels were initially wary, others were welcoming.
One Hillel which initially responded to J Street’s approach very gingerly was the Hillel of Greater Philadelphia, a Hillel whose campuses include not only the University of Pennsylvania, but also Temple University, Drexel University, Bryn Mawr College, Haverford College and Swarthmore College, as well as some smaller schools.
J Street approached HGP and asked to have the roll-out of its local J Streets hosted at the University of Pennsylvania Hillel, on Feb. 4, 2010. The roll-out was going to be webcast to 20 other cities across the country. The HGP leadership, anticipating the objection of at least some board members, extracted a firm commitment from J Street Chief Jeremy Ben-Ami. That commitment was an element of an agreement to rent the space to J Street as part of a business transaction. It was affirmatively not an ideological vote of confidence.
Not to worry, said J Street to the local Hillel leadership: “We promise not to mention that we’re using your facility, and to make clear in our written and oral statements that Hillel does not endorse us.” That condition was agreed upon—it was “not just a promise, it was an agreement”—according to Rabbi Howard Alpert, the executive director of all the Philadelphia area Hillels. On the strength of that essential agreement, Hillel went ahead and rented J Street its space.
And then? Within seconds of beginning his welcome to the live audience in Philadelphia and to all those listening and watching through the livestreaming, J Street’s Ben-Ami said exactly what he’d promised not to say—that he was speaking “here at Penn Hillel.” He failed to say a word about what he’d promised solemnly to make clear: that Hillel does not endorse J Street or its message.
Not only did J Street explicitly violate its firm commitment, it did so with breathtaking audacity.
Within hours of the event, J Street sent out thousands of releases and emails urging everyone who was not present at the launch to go to its website and watch the video. While the video of Ben-Ami’s remarks is no longer – four years later – still up on the website, it was for many months. In fact, the text of the statement still is on the J Street website. You can see it for yourself.
For some reason, perhaps because they did not want it known they had been duped so completely, the Philadelphia-area Hillel leadership chose to not publicly remonstrate with Ben-Ami over his calculated lie at Hillel’s expense. But because J Street’s brazen deception was not shared with other Hillels, other campus organizations, and other Jewish organizations, were denied an early opportunity to know about the deception and to raise the honesty bar before J Street. The bar itself seems to be lost.
In fact, anecdotal evidence from college students around the country raise concerns that J Street has not only been embraced by the Open Tent of Jewish communal organizations on campus. Now there is a danger of it becoming the owner of the tent.
Just one example of that comes from an op-ed which recently appeared in The Jewish Press. It described a Brandeis University campus event at which J Street U members entered late, shouted at the speaker and disrupted the event. What is even more galling is that after the event, a J Street U student criticized the other students, claiming J Street U was shut down because its views are “unacceptable.” The views were not the reason there was criticism, it was the behavior displayed by J Street U students that was.
And now word comes that J Street is again setting up shop in various cities across the country, this time to have what it is calling a Town Hall. The goal of the Town Hall is to continue banging the drum for its obsessive goal of creating a Palestinian State. And J Street is hosting one of its Town Hall events in Philadelphia, at the University of Pennsylvania Hillel!
The University of Pennsylvania Hillel seems to enjoy playing the losing end of the game “Heads I win, Tails you lose.”

There still are members in those big tents, especially the Jewish-built ones on campuses, who see real peace in the Middle East as the only acceptable goal of the Middle East Peace Process. This distinguishes them from organizations such as J Street, whose sole goal is the immediate creation of a Palestinian State. Maybe what you see as the goal of the peace process is a legitimate litmus test to use for groups who enjoy the benefits of being in the Big Tent.Originally published in The Jewish Press


Candidly Speaking: J Street is not a ‘pro-Israel’ organization

By: Isi Leibler

At its fifth annual national conference last week, J Street advanced its objective of gaining recognition as a mainstream Jewish organization with the inclusion of a wide range of prominent American and Israeli political figures among its speakers.

These included US Vice President Joe Biden, Special Envoy Martin Indyk, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and representatives from most Knesset parties. Israel’s ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, in one of his last acts prior to retiring, conveyed greetings by video. Even prominent Likud MK Tzachi Hanegbi and Shas MK Yitzhak Vaknin participated.

Vaknin introduced a comic element when he boasted to participants that he was urging Shas rabbis to recognize non-Orthodox streams of Judaism and cease protesting against gay pride parades.

Hanegbi also played up to the crowd, justifying his participation on the grounds that despite disagreeing with many of its views, J Street was a “pro-Israel” organization toward which he felt an obligation to engage in “dialogue.”

He endorsed a two-state solution and opposed the Arab right of return, but astonished participants by stating that he favored handing over Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods to the Palestinian Authority, stating, “we will not be sovereign in the places where our people were born, in the places where Jewish kings and prophets used to live centuries ago.” He also referred to the duplicitous Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as a “genuine peace partner” and was quoted by the JTA as describing Iran’s diplomatic overtures as “the fulfillment of our dreams.”

Of course Hanegbi is neither naïve nor a fool and would be aware that the issue relating to his participation is not about “dialogue” but over whether red lines should apply to providing legitimacy to organizations systematically engaged in undermining Israel from within the Jewish mainstream.

With J Street, the issue is not merely its views but its preposterous actions. Hanegbi must be conscious of how ridiculous it is to describe as “pro-Israel” an organization which actively lobbies the US government to undermine the policies of the democratically elected government of Israel.

The audience response to other speakers at the conference was quite revealing. Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich received enthusiastic applause when she expressed support for gay rights but encountered a chilly silence when she stated that “we believe in a free and democratic Israel with a strong army and secure borders to defend not only our people but their views… the true Zionist dream.” Minister Livni received a similarly cool response when she condemned “the process of delegitimization against Israel” and demonization of the IDF.

Consistent with J Street’s recent promotion of a Congressional petition urging Obama to accept Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’ s proposal regarding Iran’s nuclear ambitions, applause was muted when Vice President Biden spoke of sanctions against Iran.

Yet, attendees were unequivocal about their allegiances.

They applauded Fatah’s spokesman Husam Zomlot’s call for Israel to give “formal recognition of the Nakba” and offered sustained and enthusiastic applause when he demanded the right of return of Arab refugees to their former homes in Israel.

J Street leaders castigated Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu after his United Nations General Assembly address for concentrating on Iran rather than the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

Such displays provided further evidence that J Street’s claims that it is “pro-peace” and “pro-Israel” are disingenuous, if not outright absurd. Virtually the entire Israeli political spectrum passionately yearns for peace.

During Operation Cast Lead, J Street described Israel’s action as an “escalation” that was “counterproductive” and “disproportionate.” It ascribed moral equivalency to Israel and Hamas, stating that it found difficulty in distinguishing “between who is right and who is wrong” and “picking a side.” One J Street leader described the operation as being an “unjust and even criminal act” and claimed that Gaza represented a “mythic threat to Israel.”

In 2011 J Street urged the White House not to veto a one-sided United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israel. It called the behavior of IDF commandos on the Mavi Marmara Gaza flotilla ship “cruel brutality.” It encouraged the US administration to force Israel to freeze residential construction in the east Jerusalem Jewish suburbs. While the liberal media gushes over a Jewish organization which constantly condemns Israel and defines it as moderate organization, J Street remains a magnet to the anti-Zionist chic.

J Street’s approach is arrogant and paternalistic. Its leaders have the chutzpah to claim that they know better than Israelis what is good for Israel. Out of touch with or indifferent to the existential threats Israel faces, ignorant of history and unwilling to grapple with the complexities of our situation, they compare us to drug addicted children who require “tough love” for our own welfare.

The tone is set by J Street’s leadership, which manipulates history and reality with dangerous rhetoric.

Founder and president Jeremy Ben-Ami refuses to recognize Israel as a “Jewish state,” referring to it as a “Jewish democratic home, in the state of Israel.” Co-founder Daniel Levy has described Israel’s creation as “an act that went wrong.” It is noteworthy in this respect that Ben-Ami was also proven to be a serial liar when despite his repeated denials, the anti-Israeli George Soros was exposed as one of his major contributors.

In contrast to AIPAC whose charter explicitly states that it supports the policies of the Israeli government holding office, J Street actively lobbies the US government to undermine policies that are enacted by Israel’s democratically elected government. It continuously fiercely disparages AIPAC and has gone to the extent of fanning anti-Semitism by warning that AIPAC’s “blind support” for Israel will give rise to hostile feelings that American Jews harbor dual loyalties.

In presumably turning a blind eye to Tzachi Hanegbi’s participation in the J Street conference, Netanyahu has effectively provided credibility and given a green light to Jewish organizations to lobby their lawmakers to pressure the democratically elected government of Israel to change policies which it considers vital to its security.

In the past, Labor leaders, including Yitzhak Rabin, considered it unconscionable for Jews living outside Israel to publicly meddle in issues impacting on Israeli security, the life-and-death consequences of which would be borne by neither them nor their children.

That such an erosion of the Zionist ethos was sanctioned during the term of office of a government purporting to represent the national camp reflects its dysfunctionality and failure to maintain collective responsibility.

With the current unprecedented global escalation of anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism, we must divorce ourselves from the enemy within. There is plenty of room in the Jewish tent for legitimate dissent and freedom of expression. But “pro-Israel” Diaspora Jews are morally barred from intruding and in particular from lobbying governments to pressure Israel to take actions which impinge on its national security.

Originally published in The Jerusalem Post