Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

J Street/AIPAC Debate

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

J Street/AIPAC Debate

Article excerpt

On June 18, nearly 500 people showed up at Temple Emmanuel in Newton, MA for a public discussion entitled, "Obama and Netanyahu: Hopes for Israel and America." The evening's presenters included Steve Grossman, former president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and Jeremy Ben-Ami, executive director of J Street, Washington, DC's up-and-coming political action and lobbying group.

Founded in 2008, J Street, which now boasts 90,000 members, describes itself as the political voice of the "pro-Israel, pro-peace" movement, committed to promoting an American leadership that will "end the Arab and Israeli and Palestinian-Israeli conflicts peacefully and diplomatically."

The Newton program, sponsored by Combined Jewish Philanthropy, the Jewish Community Relations Council and Temple Emmanuel's Israel Action Forum, was initially billed as an AIPAC/J Street debate. But at the last minute, organizers added Dr. Ken Levin, clinical psychiatrist and author of The Oslo Syndrome: Delusions of a People Under Siege, which criticized the Israeli peace movement for its promotion of the 1993 accords.

Typical of many U.S. programs focusing on Israel, the temple event generated controversy even before it began. In early June a local weekly, The Jewish Advocate, published a vitriolic op-ed accusing J Street of being an "apologist for the madmen of Tehran" and deceptively pro-Israel. "Were American Jews to act like a normal proud democratic people, organizations like J Street would be unwelcome in any conceivable venue," wrote Hillel Stavis, community outreach director for The Davd Project, as well as a free-lance writer from Cambridge, MA. During his brief opening remarks, Nadir Tamer, Israel's consul to New England, told the audience that as a diplomat he had been advised "not to come to such a risky event."

But the evening's topics were hardly risky. Dr. Jonathan Saran, professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University, moderated a tightly orchestrated discussion about the U.S.-Israeli alliance, Barack Obama's leadership, prospects for peace in the Middle East, and the viability of the two-state solution before fielding two questions from the audience-on the Iranian "threat" and the future of Jerusalem.

Notably absent from the conversation was any discussion of Israel's recent assault on Gaza or the emergence of hard-line Jewish nationalist Avigdor Lieberman as Israel's deputy prime minister/foreign minister. Although there were frequent reminders that Judaism meant a commitment to the betterment of humanity, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was analyzed exclusively from an Israeli perspective. …

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