Point of View: Why I Am A Member of J Street

April 17, 2012 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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By Raanan Geberer
Brooklyn Daily Eagle

BROOKLYN — More and more, it seems like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, now (in its present form) more than 40 years old, polarizes people, with little room for moderation.

On one side, you have the “cheerleaders” who think that Israel can do no wrong, who will tolerate no criticism of Israel, and who see Israel mainly as the bastion of western values against Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas. They fear that any compromise Israel makes will merely be exploited by these forces, and that moderate Arabs are, at heart, no different than Hamas. If you mention international law and Israeli violations of such law, they will either ignore you, insult you or give you a verbal song and dance. These people include the Christian right, many members of the Orthodox Jewish community, and, unfortunately, many U.S. elected officials and many leaders of American Jewish organizations.

On the other side, you have many so-called “progressives” who believe that Zionism is a racist philosophy, that a moderate Israel or moderate Zionism is an impossibility, and that the only real solution to the Mideast conflict is the replacement of Israel by a “secular, democratic state” (as if any of the Arab states are secular or democratic). Even any gesture of conciliation by Israel is regarded by them as being sinister in nature — for example, they might say that Rabin and Peres started the Oslo peace process merely to make it look like they were making peace, while in reality they were trying to strengthen their stranglehold over the territories. People who hold this view include many professors (most of whom probably rarely socialize with anyone outside of their academic ghetto), college students, and members of extreme left groups. While many of the Israeli human rights violations they cite are, unfortunately, true, these people ignore similar rights violations by the Arab states and Iran.

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Happily, a third way now exists between these two extremes. That way is the organization J Street, a Jewish organization that describes itself as “pro-Israel, pro-peace.” J Street recognizes the historic ties between the Jewish people and the land of Israel, but believes in a two-state solution — a Jewish democratic Israel and an independent Palestinian state — based on the 1967 borders with equal and mutually agreed territorial exchanges and opposes the West Bank settlements. Although this is not part of its official policy, many of its members also criticize laws that discriminate against Arab citizens of Israel and the increasing number of privileges given to the ultra-Orthodox. It is supported by more than 700 rabbis and cantors, 44 locals and 38 campus chapters across the U.S. Survey after survey show that J Street’s views are basically those held by the majority of American Jews.

This writer is a member of J Street and went to its last two national conventions in Washington, D.C. During the first convention I attended, I went to a panel of five Congress people who endorsed J Street’s views. I was impressed that these officials were not intimidated by members of Jewish right-wing organizations who sometimes have reportedly threatened to blackball any official who accepts J Street’s endorsement. I saw young members of what used to be called “Labor Zionist” youth movements in their uniforms — the same type of movements that my parents belonged to in their teens. I saw members of many, many organizations giving out literature. This year, I attended a panel made up of rabbis and rabbinical students. And I heard from both Israelis and Palestinians who praised J Street’s views (although they didn’t always agree with the organization 100 percent) — a hopeful sign. Finally, I heard a speech by famed Israeli writer Amos Oz, who said, “J Street, where have you been all my life?” to thunderous applause.

I have, among my many books, a photo book my parents bought in 1947, before either I or the State of Israel was born, called Palestine: Land of Israel. The photos portray a hopeful, youthful group of people — children growing up on kibbutzim, workers irrigating the soil, a Saturday night concert on a kibbutz, the beach at Tel Aviv, children picking flowers, the printing plant for the Jerusalem Post, doctors at Hadassah Hospital. There are some negative things in the book — the Arabs are portrayed in a stereotyped fashion — but hopefully, nations as well as individuals can learn from their mistakes, and one should not throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Many times, I, in despair, have wondered whether the type of positive energy pictured in that book can ever come back to Israel. I can’t say for sure, but J Street is definitely a start in helping it to move in that direction.

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