“J Street” is the name of a new lobbying group and political action committee that says it will represent the interests of liberal American Jews. Its premise is that sensible mainstream of pro-Israel American Jews have been ill-served by the main pro-Israel lobby in the U.S. — the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). J Street regards AIPAC as pushing a right-wing agenda. By contrast, J Street’s “sensible mainstream” agenda includes having the U.S. negotiate with Hamas.
As James Kirchick demonstrates, however, AIPAC is not out of step with mainstream (i.e., liberal) American Jewish sentiment. Rather, AIPAC’s skepticism about a negotiated Middle East settlement in the near future is consistent with American Jewish thinking. Thus, nearly three-quarters of American Jews do not believe that Israel can “achieve peace with a Hamas-led, Palestinian government.” Indeed, 55 percent believe that even negotiations between Olmert and Abbas “cannot lead to peace in the foreseeable future.” And 82 percent agree that “the goal of the Arabs is not the return of occupied territories but rather the destruction of Israel.”
Moreover, AIPAC is not dominated by political conservatives. Steve Grossman, AIPAC’s president from 1992 to 1996 and later the chairman of Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign, told Kirchick that the notion that AIPAC is a right-wing organization strikes him as ridiculous.
In reality, it is J Street, not AIPAC, that’s out of step, to the point that it can fairly be characterized as a fringe group (the fact that even Barack Obama won’t advocate negotiating with Hamas is a give-away). Kirchick notes that one of the most prominent Israelis involved with the group, Avrum Burg former speaker of the Knesset, has said that “to define the State of Israel as a Jewish state is the key to its end.” He has also compared contemporary Israel to pre-Nazi Germany. Another key J Street member, Henry Siegman, has compared Israel to apartheid South Africa, accused Israeli leaders of having the U.S. government “in their pockets,” and claimed that the 2000 intifada “was not planned by Arafat, but a spontaneous eruption of Palestinian anger.” It’s enough to make you wonder whether the “J” in “J Street” stands for Jimmy Carter.
There’s nothing wrong, of course, with Carteresque Jews forming a lobbying group. But it would be nice to see a little bit of truth in their advertising.