Jewish Voice and Opinion
According to a far-left wing Jewish lobbying group, Israel has no right to demand, from the outset, recognition as a Jewish State by the Palestinians
(that has to be left for negotiations), but the Palestinian
Authority has the right to demand, from the outset, that Israel agree to relinquish all land won during the 1967 Six-Day War, including the eastern half of Jerusalem.
â€œThe Jews must stop all settlement activity immediately, including all building in east Jerusalem, because that precludes
the availability of land for the Palestinians on which to build their state. But to Jews who ask: How can we negotiate with the Palestinians when they donâ€™t recognize us as a Jewish state, we say: We, too, want that recognition, but it will have to come as the result of negotiations,
not a precondition,â€ said Jeremy Ben-Ami, director of J Street, a Washington-based group that identifies as â€œthe political arm of the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement.â€
Mr. Ben-Ami made his remarks as part of a debate held last month at the Princeton
Jewish Center. Facing Mr. Ben-Ami was Dr. Ben Chouake, president of NORPAC, a single-issue political action committee dedicated to promoting strong US-Israel relations.
Making Israel a Puppet
Although he personally disagreed with Mr. Ben-Ami on policy issues, Dr. Chouake did not object to the left-wing leaderâ€™s decision to voice his opinions in venues such as the Princeton Conservative synagogue. The problem, Dr. Chouake said, is that J Street actively tries to convince Congress
to pressure Israel.
â€œJ Street would have you believe that Israel must be pressured
for its own good. This group seeks to make Israel a puppet. J Street believes it is time for America to act like â€˜Big Brotherâ€™ and say â€˜enough is enough.â€™ The group would have Congress believe that the leadership in Israel has not tried hard enough and would be better off if the US forced a solution upon them,â€ said Dr. Chouake.
Dr. Chouake, a physician whose work with NORPAC is purely voluntary, argued that Israel has more than enough enemies trying to influence Congress against the Jewish state.
â€œPromoting pressure on Israel
from America is best left to our enemies. The Jimmy Carters, the Walts and Mearsheimers, and the OPEC oil cartel lobbyists
do a good enough job without our help,â€ he said.
He maintained that â€œgrave damage is doneâ€ when J Street members go to Congress, representing
themselves as pro-Israel activists, only to tell the legislators that Israel is wrong and needs to be pressured to change the policies put into place by its elected leaders.
â€œYou confuse Congress when you do that,â€ he told Mr. Ben-Ami. â€œWhen members of NORPAC go to Congress, we go not as Israelâ€™s accusers, because
there are plenty of them around. Our job is to defend Israel in Congress.â€
According to Dr. Chouake, in contrast to J Street, groups such as NORPAC â€œrespect the right of Israel to self-determination,
and we trust in the integrity
of their society.â€
â€œWe donâ€™t presume to be privy to some higher knowledge
than Israelis themselves, and, because of that, we seek to be a voice and advocate for Israel. We do not seek to manipulate
Israelâ€™s own political workings. Our job is to give our Israeli brethren the ability to stand strong against undue pressure, to allow them to find a solution from a position of strength,â€ he said.
He urged Mr. Ben-Ami to â€œkeep the right wing-left wing debate inside the Jewish community.â€
â€œIt does no good to share it with Congress,â€ he said.
Funded by Soros
A professional Washington insider, who has worked within the Beltway for 25 years, including
a stint as a domestic policy advisor to President Bill Clinton,
Mr. Ben-Ami now heads J Street, a lobby group formed last year by radical left-wing billionaire George Soros, who is also the force behind the often
virulently antisemitic blog MoveOn.org.
J Street, which also enjoys the moral support of groups like Americans for Peace Now, claims to represent â€œAmericans, primarily
but not exclusively Jewish, who support Israel and its desire
for security as the Jewish homeland, as well as the right of the Palestinians to a sovereign
state of their own.â€
The organization was named for a non-existent street in Washington.
The main thoroughfares in the city are named for the letters of the alphabet, but the letter â€œJâ€ is missing.
Gunning for AIPAC
While Mr. Ben-Ami found himself debating Dr. Chouake at the Princeton Jewish Center,
J Street considers AIPAC to be its chief competitor. Mr. Ben-Ami has tried repeatedly to convince AIPAC officials to debate him, but, to date, the Israeli
lobby group has dismissed J Street as an inconsequential marginal annoyance.
In fact, Dr. Chouakeâ€™s presence
on the program in Princeton
was the result of the determination
of some members of the Princeton synagogue not to allow Mr. Ben-Ami to speak unopposed.
As a well-known pro-Israel PAC, NORPAC was asked to present its policies and strategies for Jewish political advocacy, and Dr. Chouake volunteered.
While J Street has made many public statements condemning
Israel, especially its efforts last winter to stop the missiles from Hamas-controlled Gaza (J Street called Operation Cast Lead â€œdisproportionate to the threat and escalatory in nature, and will be seen, with time, as counterproductiveâ€), Mr. Ben-Ami said he and J Street are not anti-Israel.
â€œWe want Israel to be a country we can be proud of, embedded with the values we were raised with in terms of what it means to be a Jew. We want to protect Israelâ€™s future by ensuring that it stays in touch with the values with which it was founded,â€ he said.
He compared Israeli leaders to â€œdrunk driversâ€ and said that, as a friend of Israel, J Street feels it is important to do whatever is necessary to stop them.
Calling that position â€œdemeaning
and arrogant,â€ Dr. Chouake
pointed out that while J Street claims to be pro-Israel, its actions and policies have been praised by many strongly anti-Israel activists, including James Zogby, head of the powerful
pro-Arab lobby group, the Arab American Institute.
The Arab Position
It is no wonder Mr. Zogby
finds J Street so appealing.
One of the organizationâ€™s highest priorities, according to Mr. Ben-Ami, is to convince Congress to force Israel to evict hundreds of thousands of Jews from their homes in Judea, Samaria, and the eastern
part of Jerusalem. While J Street does not deny that Iran and its proxies, Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, are threats to the Jewish state, J Street would like to see Israel deal with the problem not militarily but through â€œa negotiated settlement.â€
â€œIran is not the real threat to Israel. The real threat is Israelâ€™s borders, which are being determined by settlers,â€ he said.
He accused the Israeli government of not standing up to the settlers, which is why, he said, his group wants Congress to force Israel to do it.
In addition, said Mr. Ben-Ami, J Street wants Israel to be forced to negotiate with Hamas â€œif the Palestinians succeed in forming a unity government between Fatah and Hamas.â€
â€œItâ€™s worth pressuring Israel to get them to sit down at the table,â€ said Mr. Ben-Ami.
Dr. Chouake countered by stressing that Israeli leaders can be trusted to do what they think is best for the country militarily, strategically, and politically, without undue pressure.
â€œItâ€™s not our job to tell Israelis what to do or when and with whom to negotiate. Of course, they sometimes make mistakes; theyâ€™re a young country. They have plenty of critics around the world ready to jump down their throat. They have very few advocates, which is what the pro-Israel community should be,â€ he said.
He stressed that NORPAC would advocate
for Israel while the Jewish stateâ€™s leaders decide whether or not to negotiate.
â€œI have confidence in the ability of Israelâ€™s people and leaders to reach a solution regarding how, when, and with whom to negotiate. Maybe they can do it now. Maybe theyâ€™ll decide this is not the right time and they have to sit it out for awhile. We can have all sorts of good internal debates about this within the pro-Israel community, but when we go into the halls of Congress, we had better do it with one voice,â€ said Dr. Chouake.
Who Is the Representative?
While Dr. Chouakeâ€™s approach is the one that has been adopted by virtually all mainstream Jewish organizations, Mr. Ben-Ami claimed that his group now represents
the opinions of the vast majority of American Jews, especially young Jews on American campuses. He dismissed the so-called consensus organizations as being â€œout of touch with the times.â€
While a recent poll commissioned by J Street tried hard to show that most Americans agreed with its positions, Dr. Aaron Lerner, a polling expert with the Jerusalem-based IMRA news agency, said the questions were skewed to lead responders to the position favored by the left-wing group.
â€œThe poll promoted pressuring Israel in general, imposing a program without regard to the Israeli democratic process, threatening
sanctions against Israel to force it to accept J Streetâ€™s program, and suggesting that American support for Israel promotes antisemitism,â€ said Dr. Lerner.
He said, in general, the poll promoted
arguments geared to eroding support for Israel.
â€œJ Street certainly has every right to express its support for and argue the merits
of what they consider to be an Arab-Israeli â€˜peace plan,â€™ but it is one thing to participate in the debate of ideas and another
to promote sanctions against Israel that force it to adopt J Streetâ€™s ideas,â€ said Dr. Lerner.
He called it a â€œwaste of timeâ€ to argue about the morality of J Streetâ€™s poll. â€œAs good lefties, they no doubt firmly believe that the ends justify the means,â€ he said, identifying
the group as â€œa withdrawal advocacy groupâ€ rather than â€œa peace group.â€
â€œThere is no discernable connection
between the policies advocated by J Streetâ€”namely, withdrawalâ€”and true peace,â€ he said.
While J Streetâ€™s poll showed that 69 percent of American Jews support active American engagement in bringing about Middle East peace, â€œeven if it means publicly
disagreeing with or exerting pressure on both Arabs and Israelis,â€ and a similar percentage want the US to work to bring unity between Hamas and Fatah so that the two groups can negotiate with Israel, an ADL poll released just a few days after the debate between Dr. Chouake and Mr. Ben-Ami showed that 47 percent of American Jews believe the Israelis and Palestinians need â€œto solve their own problems,â€ with the US playing merely the role of facilitator.
Only 44 percent believe peace between
the parties depends on continuing US leadership and involvement.
According to the ADL poll, by a margin of 73 percent to 2 percent, American Jews believe that Israel is doing more to bring peace to the region than is the PA. Some 74 percent believe Hamas is not interested in peace, but 52 percent said PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas is interested.
While J Streetâ€™s poll indicated that, by a 76 to 24 percent margin American Jews support a two-state, final-status deal between Israel and the PA along the lines of the agreement reached eight years ago at Camp David between then-Prime Minister
Ehud Barak and President Clinton, the ADL poll found that only 61 percent support the future creation of a Palestinian state in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza.
Support for Military Action
Other results from the ADL poll further contradict the tenor of the J Street survey. For example, according the ADL poll, 74 percent of American Jews approve of Operation
Cast Lead (Israelâ€™s military action in Gaza), and, by a margin of 66 percent to 28 percent, support the statement that Israelâ€™s military response was â€œappropriate
and not excessive.â€ The J Street poll found that while 66 percent of American Jews rallied behind Israel and approved of Operation Cast Lead, 59 percent felt that the military action had no impact on Israelâ€™s security (41 percent) or made Israel less secure (18 percent). Forty-one percent felt it made Israel more secure.
According to the ADL poll, 73 percent of American Jews support Israelâ€™s right to close the borders to Gaza to prevent the resupply of arms to Hamas â€œeven if it slows down humanitarian relief.â€
The ADL poll also showed that approval
of Israelâ€™s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, which resulted in 10,000 Jews evicted from their homes and communities, is on the wane. In January 2009, 63 percent of American Jews supported the â€œdisengagement;â€
by the end of April, that number had dropped to 54 percent.
Americans Support Israel
A recent Gallup poll released in April showed that the average level of sympathy for Israelis among Americans in general has risen since 2000 from 41 percent to 53 percent, while the average sympathy for the Arab side in the conflict rose from 13 percent to 16 percent.
As opposed to the complicated J Street questions, Gallup simply asked: â€œIn the Middle East situation, are your sympathies
more with the Israelis or more with the Palestinians?â€
Some 63 percent of Americans viewed Israel favorably, while only 16 percent viewed the PA favorably. A full 78 percent
of Americans said they â€œfavor one side over the other,â€ while 22 percent expressed no partiality. Fourteen years ago, Gallup found that 43 percent had no preference in the dispute.
According to Gallupâ€™s experts, Americans have â€œclearlyâ€ moved from the â€œno preferenceâ€ columns on the issue into the â€œpro-Israelâ€ column.
Making an obvious reference to the J Street poll, ADL national director Abraham Foxman said his groupâ€™s survey demonstrates that â€œcontrary to certain reports that American-Jewish support for Israel is waning and that American Jews would welcome pressure by the US on Israel, American Jews continue to support Israel overwhelmingly and advocate direct negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians as the best path to peace.â€
Not an Israeli Priority
In Israel, support for J Streetâ€™s policies are nuanced at best. According
to a poll by the Dahaf Institute and Irish scholar Colin Irwin, while 78 percent of the Israeli respondents support a â€œtwo-state solutionâ€ between Israel and the Palestinians, nearly the same numberâ€”77 percentâ€”oppose dividing Jerusalem so that the PA can use the city as its capital.
While almost 100 percent of Palestinians polled said all Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria should be destroyed,
only 26 percent of Israelis agreed.
Nearly two-thirds of Israelis
also reject meeting the PA demand that Israel must return to its 1949-1967 borders.
â€œThis means, in effect, that Israelis support a PA state only in principle,â€ said Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu in Arutz Sheva.
Virtually all Palestinian Arabs said that a PA state and the right of foreign Arabs to move back to Israel (the Palestinian
â€œright of returnâ€) are â€œtop priorities,â€ but for Israelis, the creation of a PA state ranked only 11th among their priorities, well behind issues such as the economy, the threat from Iran, and security in general.
Virtually all Israeli political
leaders as well as the vast majority of Israeli citizens rejected
the demand that Arabs, who used to live in Israel, as well as their descendants, have a â€œright of returnâ€ to their homes in Israel proper.
In Princeton, Mr. Ben-Ami justified his groupâ€™s activities because,
he said, the organizations which favor a Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria have been much more active among American
Jews for a longer time.
Those groups, he said, have â€œinvested millions to promote their agenda on campus, cultivating
unquestioning support of Israel and getting to the leaders of tomorrow early.â€ His group, he said, now has to catch up.
Nevertheless, he insisted that the American-Jewish rank and file is much more liberal than is its leadership. His job, he said, is to get these people organized and â€œinto the process.â€
He did not find many would-be followers at the Princeton Jewish Center. The audience became especially heated when Mr. Ben-Ami tried to equate the Israeli and Palestinian school systems when it comes to teaching
The fracas began when a member of the audience asked Mr. Ben-Ami how he thought Israel could begin negotiating as long as Palestinian children are exposed to books and television programs that demonize Jews.
Mr. Ben-Ami agreed that Palestinian textbooks leave a great deal to be desired regarding peace education and the need to see Jews as negotiating partners rather than enemies.
â€œHowever,â€ Mr. Ben-Ami continued, â€œyou should see what Jews are being taughtâ€”â€
Suddenly besieged with howls of â€œhow dare you?â€ he did not get any further.
Obviously caught, Mr. Ben-Ami tried to backtrack, explaining that, of course, there is none of the â€œobvious hatred or prejudiceâ€ in the books used by Israelis.
He did, however, accuse the authors of the Israeli textbooks of omitting any mention of the â€œPalestiniansâ€™ narrative.â€
It was too much for some members of the audience. While some simply left; others stayed to argue.
â€œNo one understands the history of the Palestinians better
than the Israelis,â€ said one woman.
Dr. Chouake agreed, calling
the current generation of Palestinian children â€œa population
being bred to grow up with hatred,â€
Happier with Obama
Mr. Ben-Ami admitted that J Street is much happier with the new left-wing administration in Washington than it is with the new nationalist government in Israel, which Mr. Ben-Ami came close to accusing of being
Dr. Chouake, took exception
to the notion that any government
in Israel is opposed to peace. â€œWho wants peace more than the leaders and citizens of Israel?â€ he said, reminding his audience that at the age when Jewish youngsters in the US are starting college, their counterparts in Israel go off to the front lines of battle and terrorism.
He pointed out that, despite all of Israelâ€™s efforts, which included
offering the Palestinians more than 90 percent of their demands, the Palestinians have responded with violence.
â€œTo claim that Israel has not taken desperate measures to strive for co-existence, is a terrible lie,â€ he said.
Mr. Ben-Ami indicated that Israel is culpable for not realizing that â€œit must give the Arabs all the land they are demanding.â€
â€œThis is part of the Saudi peace plan, too, which President
Obama has endorsed,â€ said Mr. Ben-Ami.
When reminded that the Saudi plan also requires Israel to allow millions of Palestinians
to stream back into Israel as part of the Arab â€œright of return,â€
Mr. Ben-Ami seemed to think, on this issue, there was room for negotiations.
The Saudis, however, have already insisted that their plan is not open to negotiation, alteration,
or modification. Israelâ€™s choice is to take it or leave it. Thus far, Israeli leaders have soft pedaled their criticism of the plan, but even the more left-wing Kadima coalition did not accept the Saudi Plan as it was offered.
Most members of NORPAC, too, do not like the plan, but, Dr. Chouake indicated, the group would accept it if the Israeli government, unpressured by the US, decided to adopt it.
While Mr. Ben-Ami tried to paint groups such as NORPAC
as reactionary and â€œneo-conservative,â€ Dr. Chouake explained that his lobby group is determinedly bipartisan.
â€œWe have members of the Jewish community, from the most committed Democrats to the staunchest Republicans, all coming together on this one issue: the survival of Israel. We meet and work out the most sensible agendas compatible with a strong America and a strong Israel, and find common ground to promote the US-Israel relationship. We understand that Israel has few friends in the world, and that the hearts and minds of the leaders of our great nation are the judge and jury we need to appeal to,â€ he said.
The groupâ€™s current main concern is the threat of nuclear genocide from Iran.
Doing Its Job
NORPAC not only supports the USâ€™s foreign aid bill, it has encouraged energy independence and joint research between the US and Israel, such as the US-Israel Energy Cooperation Act. After being largely responsible for the billâ€™s introduction in the first place, NORPAC members then helped shepherd it until it was signed into law.
At Princeton, Dr. Chouake gave another example of how NORPAC members support Israel.
In 2002, the Bush administration,
as part of the Foreign Aid Package, approved a measure to give Egypt the Harpoon 2 missile. This weapon system, guided by a GPS, could knock out the Israeli power grid from a distance of 50 miles off-shore. There is no adequate
defense against it.
From across the country, the Jewish community registered its objections with the executive
and legislative branches of government.
A NORPAC contingent met with then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to discuss
the problem. According to Dr. Chouake, Mr. Armitage gave the NORPAC group â€œvague assurances
that something would be worked out.â€
Better in Congress
In Congress, the group did better. Dr. Chouake especially recalled the help NORPAC received from then-Sen. (now Vice President) Joseph Biden, who was serving as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.
The request for the distribution
of the system had to be submitted from the White House to Mr. Biden as the Senate
â€œAside from the threat the missiles represented to Israel, we pointed out that Egypt could become a fundamentalist state overnight, and that this weapon
could hit the Capitol, the White House, the Pentagon, or any of a number of nuclear power plants,â€ said Dr. Chouake,
who recalled that Mr. Biden was â€œvisibly moved by our presentation.â€
According to Dr. Chouake, Mr. Biden pledged to help resolve
the problem and went on to meet with the President, officials at Boeing, and other experts. Eventually, the missile system was downgraded so that it worked accurately only ship-to-ship and not over land.
â€œThrough quiet and effective
diplomacy, we helped to cement our relations with some of Americaâ€™s most important
leaders, and ameliorated a major threat to Israel,â€ said Dr. Chouake.
Grass Roots Group
NORPAC was founded in the early 1990s in the wake of then-Secretary of State James Bakerâ€™s and President George Bushâ€™s remarks condemning the â€œIsraeli lobby.â€ A few people in Englewood, led by Rabbi Menachem Genack of Congregation
Shomrei Emunah, realized
that the influence of the anti-Israel lobby had reached into the White House and that the Jewish community was going
to have to become more active to be effective.
In the past ten years, NORPAC
members have hosted more than 200 members of Congress in their homes, including the majority of the Senate. The group works with Democrats and Republicans, and its events are split evenly between the two groups.
On May 20, NORPAC will lead its annual mission to Washington. Last year, the group brought 900 members from the New York metropolitan
tri-state area, who met with 500 Congressmen, Senators, and their staffs, including 90 percent of the House and 97 percent of the Senate.
Adults are welcome to join the mission as are children over 12. Those under 18 must be accompanied by a parent. Each adult can bring no more than two children.
There will be buses leaving bright and early in the morning from Teaneck, West Orange, Edison-Highland Park, and Riverdale.
For more information, call 201-788-5133.
â€œOur main thrust is to support
incumbents with a proven track record of US-Israel relations,â€
said Dr. Chouake.
J Street, by contrast, although it, too, claims to be bipartisan, gave 90 percent of its donations to left-wing Democrats.
â€œYou canâ€™t call yourself bipartisan when you do that,â€ said Dr. Chouake.
Mr. Ben-Ami said his group gives financial support only to those political leaders that endorse
J Streetâ€™s positions. Often that means rebuffing undeniably
pro-Israel incumbents in favor of their more left-wing challengers.
â€œWe have the right to disagree
with the way other lobbying
groups operate,â€ said Mr. Ben-Ami.
He argued that when Israel had a left-wing government, right-wing American Jews protested
vociferously. Dr. Chouake did not deny that passions have led to divided opinions, but, he pointed out, right-wing pro-Israel American groups did not seek to punish left-wing Israeli leaders
by taking their grievances to Congress to ask that funds be withheld from the Jewish state.