Why is the right afraid of J Street?
Next week’s J Street conference can already be deemed a success. That is because it has caused the organizations and individuals who constitute the old pro-Israel lobby to drop any pretense of tolerating deviation from the status quo.
For instance, StandWithUs, which was created to smear J Street, has been urging senators and House members to take their names off the J Street “host committee.” That is a listing of some 150 members of Congress who are publicly welcoming J Street’s upcoming conference in Washington.
A host committee, of course, is pretty insignificant. The legislators did not pledge to attend the event. They simply endorsed the idea of the event.
Nonetheless, that is too much for the hard-liners who are doing everything they can to ensure that the J Street conference fails.
But here is the ironic part.
In recent years, several books and articles have been published that argue that the pro-Israel lobby effectively stifles debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the halls of Congress, in academia and even in the media.
Every time that claim is made, the lobby goes ballistic, with virtually every organization identified with the lobby arguing that such charges amount to libel. The organizations claim they would never try to stifle dissent.
But now those tactics are being employed against J Street by the very people who insist that no such tactics have ever been used.
J Street itself does not accept the thesis that there is a concerted effort by the lobby to stifle dissent. But its own experience seems to demonstrate that there is.
Clearly, the stalwarts of the lobby don’t want J Street’s message to get out. But what is the message they’re so afraid of?
It is that negotiation, not war, is best for Israel. Even worse in the lobby’s eyes, J Street is telling President Barack Obama and Congress that being pro-Israel requires supporting diplomacy, not thwarting it.
And that has caused the pro-Israel right to declare war.
The latest tactic is to examine the personal history of everyone associated with the J Street conference in an effort to discover that a participant is not 100 percent kosher on Israel (for instance, that he or she supported Yitzhak Rabin’s Oslo peace process).
The lobby even enlisted a psychiatrist, Kenneth Levin of Harvard University, to analyze the psychological motivations of those who support J Street and the two-state solution.
In an interview in the right-wing blog FrontPageMag.com, Levin said Jewish dissenters from the Israeli government’s positions are “ignoring or rationalizing the genocidal agenda of Israel’s enemies and even, in many instances, siding with those enemies.” And why? To separate themselves from a community under siege.
“Inevitably, some elements of the besieged group will embrace the indictments of the besiegers, however bigoted or absurd. They will do so in the hope of thereby extricating themselves from the wider group’s dire predicament,” Levin said.
J Street’s critics claim that the organization’s supporters want all the Jews dead or, to be precise, all the Jews except themselves. The non-Jews who support J Street are just anti-Israel (which is the same as being anti-Semitic).
The bottom line is that the attacks on J Street are becoming increasingly strident and ridiculous. And that is because J Street’s critics are terrified.
What are the pro-Israel lobby’s stalwarts so afraid of? They’re afraid that J Street’s success will strengthen Obama in his determination to achieve “two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.” And then what would the right-wingers of the lobby do?
MJ Rosenberg is a senior fellow at Media Matters Action Network. He previously served as director of policy analysis for Israel Policy Forum. He was also the editor of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s Near East Report.