J Street: Sometimes fans do more harm than good

The disagreement between J Street and other pro-Israel groups continues.
February 12, 2015

This essay is part of a continuing dialogue on the nature of pro-Israel activism. 

The disagreement between J Street and other pro-Israel groups continues. 

In a recent op-ed, J Street’s Alan Eisner contended that Israel needs “fans, not cheerleaders,” arguing that American pro-Israel groups mindlessly root for Israel while fans would be more judicious, criticizing it for the occupation and the settlements.

That is the rub. J Street is fixated on blaming Israel for failed peace efforts and wants the United States to pressure the Jewish state to unilaterally bring about the two-state solution. But that view ignores dangerous realities.

It is not cheerleading to respect Israel’s right to require that a two-state solution does not turn into a repeat of the Gaza withdrawal, with Hamas taking over and escalating attacks against Jewish civilians, and that Israel’s ability to protect its citizens from terrorism is ensured.

It is not mindless cheerleading to point out that anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement pervades Palestinian society. Terrorists are glorified, town squares are named in their honor and the Palestinian Authority continues to reward with handsome salaries Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails who have been convicted of terrorism. The greater the crime, the higher the salary.

It is not mindless cheerleading to emphasize that Israel offered precisely the two-state solution that J Street advocates but that Palestinian leaders rejected in 2000, 2001 and 2008. Those who do not hold the Palestinian leadership accountable are infantilizing them and perpetuating obstacles to peace.

It is not blind cheerleading to stress that Israel has reason to be cautious in an increasingly unstable and threatening region. The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is spreading — recent reports indicate that it has followers in the West Bank and Gaza. Hezbollah is staking out positions in the Syrian Golan and openly threatens Israel. Hamas is repairing relations with Iran, remains pledged to the murder of Jews everywhere and the obliteration of Israel, and has resumed building cross-border terror attack tunnels. Islamist extremists are gaining footholds from Yemen to Libya. And Iran continues its genocidal rhetoric against the Jewish state, even as the outcome of negotiations about ending its nuclear weapons capability remains uncertain.

It is not cheerleading to counter the dangerous anti-Israel propaganda of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS) that seeks to defame and delegitimize Israel. Although J Street opposes BDS, it prioritizes criticizing Israel and highlighting its shortcomings, which adds to the chorus of condemnation.

Eisner and J Street ignore these realities more than do pro-Israel groups who bring the issues to public attention.  

J Street’s mission contradicts the decades-old policy of a bilateral, negotiated solution to the conflict. J Street hopes to marshal popular and official American support for the U.S. to impose a specific solution. J Street disparages existing pro-Israel groups, charging that they have worked against American and Israeli interests and against peace, earning the praise of Stephen Walt, co-author of the discredited and frequently anti-Semitic “The Israel Lobby.”

J Street drew a moral equivalence between Hamas and Israel during the 2008-9 war, and a prominent J Street member attempted to facilitate Judge Richard Goldstone meeting with congressional leaders about the discredited Goldstone Report that accused Israel of war crimes — before Goldstone himself recanted. During last summer’s Hamas-Israel war, as Hamas barraged Israel with more than 4,000 rockets and Hamas’ cross-border attack tunnels were exposed, J Street refused to participate in a Boston solidarity rally for Israel.

J Street opposes bipartisan legislation for renewed sanctions against Iran, demanding that Congress wait for the outcome of negotiations, even though many argue that this legislation would help the negotiations, and Israel views Iranian nuclear weapons capability as an existential threat and supports such a measure. And why would J Street have endorsed many 2014 congressional candidates known for their anti-Israel views?

J Street and Eisner feel it is important to criticize Israel’s policies but they don’t seem to feel the same need to criticize the Palestinian leadership, which has refused to make peace, continue negotiations, do the hard work of state building or denounce terrorism. One-sided criticism of Israel will not build up the Palestinians or bring us closer to peace.

It is not cheerleading to highlight Israel’s extraordinary accomplishments in re-establishing the Jewish state as a robust, pluralistic, progressive democracy, and in turning a third-world economy into a first-world economy on the cutting edge of innovations that benefits the world. That does not mean agreeing with all of Israel’s policies, but it does mean countering the anti-peace extremism and factual distortions that are now invading mainstream discourse. The Jewish state deserves no less as it navigates how to survive and thrive in a very dangerous neighborhood. 

Roz Rothstein is the CEO and co-founder of StandWithUs. Roberta Seid, Ph.D., is the education and research director of StandWithUs. 

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