Attending the annual J Street Conference for the first time, I wanted to be proven wrong.
Supporters of Israel within the Jewish community had ridiculed the newly created lobby group for launching harsh and unfair attacks against Israel. As a supporter of Israel who is also firmly opposed to increased settlement building and in favor of ending the Israeli occupation in the West Bank, I believed J Street would be my perfect home.
Unfortunately, J Street’s refusal to honestly showcase the complexities of the current situation in the region and its hard-core student activists make it impossible to feel at home there, at least for someone who values Israel’s pursuit of peace in addition to Israel’s genuine security concerns.
When Jeremy Ben-Ami founded J Street in 2008, he wished to provide an alternative voice within the mainstream American Jewish community for pro-Israel supporters who were also deeply invested in reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians. These aims are important, as AIPAC, the larger pro- Israel lobby group in Washington, often does not focus enough attention on the Palestinian’s plight, alienating a large segment of the young American Jewish population.
However, at this year’s J Street conference I saw a different picture.
At one of the endless sessions on the Israeli occupation, Fatah’s Husam Zomlot exclaimed, “As for the refugee issue, how do you want me to sign a deal with my own hands that would compromise the rights of two-thirds of the nation? Why do I have to compromise? What do the refugees want? Some of them want to return to their original home, but all of them want one thing: full recognition of the nakba [“catastrophe”] that has befallen our people.”
Zomlot’s declaration for the right of return and refusal to compromise on the contentious issue of refugees received sustained and loud applause. Zomlot’s wishing for the right of return, that would allow millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees from 1948 to reenter Israel, would provide the Arabs with a majority within Israel and destroy the Jewish state. This sentiment was received with cheers among J Street’s extremely left-wing activists.
In addition to the accusatory sentiments among many of the participants, the sessions chosen by J Street also reflected a similar bias.
One breakout discussion was labeled “Conquering the divide: racism, exclusion and ultra-nationalism in Israel,” while another condemned Israel’s policy in Jerusalem.
Four sessions included “new or changed” perspectives on the region, with these speakers all being of the same extreme-left political persuasion. Interestingly, there was not one session that focused on terrorism.
Hezbollah, which even the State Department labels a terrorist organization and which has launched scores of rockets at Israel from Lebanon following the Israeli withdrawal in 2000, was barely, if ever, mentioned.
Furthermore, while there were many condemnations of Israeli policies that were perceived to be destroying the peace process, I do not remember hearing even once that Hamas had shot dozens of rockets at Israel this year after Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005.