For too long now, when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other issues of war and peace in the Middle East, the mainstream media and too many politicians in the US have deferred to the most extreme right-wing positions represented by organizations such as The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and Christian Zionist communities.
In fact, there is a far more open and dynamic debate about the peace process in Israel than in the US. (For example, over 64 percent of Israelis favor direct talks with Hamas.) But a new lobby organization and PAC – J Street – aims to end the right-wing monopoly and give voice to the substantial number of Jewish and non-Jewish Americans with more moderate views on these issues.
Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami told me last week, “The important thing is that there’s a diversity of opinion in the American Jewish community. There’s no monolithic view… there’s an argument. And that’s what J Street’s about – it’s about the fact that we deserve representation too in this debate. We understand that there are a substantial number of American Jews who hold very right-wing positions when it comes to Israel and they should have a voice in the public policy process. But there’s also a very substantial number of American Jews who hold very moderate views on Israel and they also need a voice, and we should have that argument just like we do on any other public policy issue without resorting to name-calling, without labeling one side antisemitic or self-hating Jews and all of that. We should discuss the merits.”
Ben-Ami finds the knee-jerk reaction to people expressing views that differ from organizations such as AIPAC troubling and an anomaly in Jewish culture and the intellectual tradition. “If you have three Jews over for brunch on a Sunday and you say, ‘What flavor bagels should I buy?’ you’ll end up buying 10 bagels because people will have all sorts of different opinions,” he said. “[But] if you ask, ‘What do you think about Israel?’ you’re only allowed to give one opinion? It’s just not Jewish. It’s not part of the fabric of our society – that we don’t argue, that we don’t have different opinions, that we don’t see the nuance. I mean, that’s what it means to be Jewish, right?”