Magazine article The Christian Century

The Other Jewish Lobby

Magazine article The Christian Century

The Other Jewish Lobby

Article excerpt

JUST OVER A YEAR OLD, J Street is a lobbying organization in Washington that describes itself as "pro-Israel, pro-peace." It aims to offer an alternative perspective to that of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which for decades has been the dominant voice of American Jews on Mideast issues. The campaigns director for J Street is Isaac Luria, who joined J Street after several years of work in online organizing and consulting. A graduate of Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, Luria lived for a year in Jerusalem as a fellow of the Dorot Foundation.

Tell us about the origins of J Street.

For a long time progressive Jews and their allies have not had a strong political voice. A right-wing, hawkish voice has succeeded in dominating the conversation--a voice we don't think is actually representative of American Jews, who make up one of the most progressive voting blocs in the country's history.

What have you accomplished in your first year?

We developed an e-mail list of more than 100,000 people. Our independent political action committee raised over $600,000 for congressional candidates who share our values.

What is the significance of new media for your work?

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Three major progressive, Internet-driven campaigns have changed the political landscape: Howard Dean's presidential campaign, the MoveOn organization and the 2008 presidential campaign. These efforts show what can happen with new media tactics--your message resonates, and people feel like they can make a difference through you. Without the new media, it would have taken years to build the kind of support we have.

Both J Street and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee claim to be pro-Israel. What does pro-Israel mean?

For a very long time, to be pro-Israel has meant that you have to sign on to whatever the Israeli government does. Pro-Israel often means using the term anti-Israel to slander all sorts of people who are doing good work-work that will make Israel more secure.

It is not "anti-Israel" to vigorously support a two-state solution. The only way forward is to build a Jewish democratic homeland. And everybody agrees on that, except for a few people on the far right and far left. A negotiated, diplomatic end to the conflict is in Israel's best interest. There are many in Israel who believe that time is running out for a two-state solution. Ehud Olmert warned that without it, we could see the end of Israel as a Jewish democratic homeland.

What are your relations with moderate or liberal Christians?

We have worked formally and sometimes informally with Churches for Middle East Peace. I am not going to gloss over some of the problems that the pro-Israel community has had with progressive Christians: issues like divestment campaigns, which we oppose, and being honest about Palestinian obligations in negotiations. I don't pretend that there is perfect alignment. But I think that these issues are worth talking and thinking through. It is only a matter of time until we find more ways to work together.

How does J Street view President Obama's emphasis on ending the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza?

The settlement issue may be topping the headlines right now, but it certainly hasn't been the only focus of the administration. …

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