J Street ... and the Rest of the Middle East Peace Community

Tikkun, September/October 2009 | Go to article overview

J Street ... and the Rest of the Middle East Peace Community


WE AT TIKKUN ARE DELIGHTED TO WELCOME J Street into the community of organizations that have been working for peace and reconciliation between Israel and Palestine for the past several decades. We endorse its efforts!

J Street plays a particularly important role as a lobbying group, and with its allied PAC it can raise money for candidates who support Middle East peace.

So you can understand why we are deeply disappointed that its leaders rejected our requests to co-sponsor the conference they are planning to hold in Washington, D.C. What they told us was that other groups with which J Street is aligned had nixed my personal participation and the co-sponsorship of Tikkun and the Network of Spiritual Progressives.

Our first response was to reassure them that we are fully aligned with their stated goals- supporting U.S. efforts to bring about a two-state solution, opposing military solutions, and providing a voice for the many Americans who want to change American policy so that it more fully pushes for peace.

But no reassurances were sufficient. One member of our editorial board spoke to J Street leader Jeremy Ben-Ami and reported back to us, "He acknowledged that you would bring some positives but he is convinced that your involvement would signal that this effort is not the fresh and new approach that he wants people to take as the 'brand' of their conference." That editorial board member reminded us of how the liberals who ended the war in Vietnam often distanced themselves from the radicals who opposed the war from the start. What made the earlier antiwar activists appear "radical" is that a) they had opposed the war before the mainstream was ready to hear that message; b) unlike the later liberal opposition leaders, who said the war wasn't in "the interests of the United States," the radicals had opposed the war in Vietnam because it was immoral for the United States to kill millions of people to achieve American political and economic goals; and c) the radicals had challenged liberals and made them feel uncomfortable by raising these issues, and that discomfort persisted even after the liberals had changed their minds and been forced to acknowledge the strength of many of the radicals' points. The liberals never forgave the radicals for embarrassing them and pointing out the moral inconsistencies in the liberals' previous positions. These same dynamics affected peace activists who opposed the Iraq war (and may account for why none of them were included in the Obama White House or Hillary Clinton's state department). And it was the same dynamic that led many Democrats in the 1940s to remain hostile to and label as "premature anti-fascists" those on the Left who had in the 1930s urged the United States to actively oppose the growth of fascism in Europe when U.S. economic and political elites were still fantasizing that maybe Hitler, if left on his own, would attack and destroy communist Russia, a goal that they would have been seen as far more important than saving the lives of Jews.

Tikkun magazine has been the outspoken pro-Israel critic of Israeli policy toward Palestinians since our inception in 1986. And ever since 1986, when we ran our editorial "The Occupation: Immoral and Stupid," we've been actively challenging the American Jewish community, world Jewry, and Israelis to recognize that the oppression of Palestinians is not only pragmatically bad for the future survival of Israel (and for the way that it has generated increasing levels of anger at world Jewry who have refused publicly to actively distance themselves from Israeli policies and behaviors like the recent re-invasion of Gaza), but it is also ethically unacceptable and a perversion of Judaism. In fact, we've even suggested that the Jewish community has replaced God with a fervent worship of the sanctity of Israel and the Holocaust; abandoned Judaism's firm commitment to "love the stranger" and "justice, justice shalt thou pursue," and replaced it with an idealization of an Israeli-style "tough Jews"; and become "realistic" when the task of the Jews was always to proclaim the need to heal and transform rather than accommodate to the powerful.

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