Wednesday, October 21, 2009

J Street and Israel’s cold-shoulder

Bradley Burston has posted his latest article in Ha’aretz, which has been reprinted on the HuffPo to the delight of the audience there.

Basically, Burston is bemoaning the reaction of Israel’s government to J Street, a much popularized and notarized organization claiming to be “pro-Israel, pro-peace.” That sounds like a good philosophy, so what’s Netanyahu’s problem?

If I might offer a possible explanation, take a look at this one excerpt from the article in which Burston quotes a Jewish leader:

"their prime objective is to pressure the U.S. government to use 'tough love' against Israel -- a euphemism for demanding that the Jewish state make further unilateral concessions to neighbors pledged to its annihilation." [the former chairman of the Governing Board of the World Jewish Congress, Isi Liebler]

I'm not going to pursue that "annihilation" strawman any further, but the 'tough love' thing is hugely important for understanding the reaction to J Street.

What exactly is “tough love?” It’s what parents use on their children when the child doesn’t want to do something, but the parent knows that in the end, it’s good for him or her. The trouble is that America isn’t a parent, and Israel isn’t a child.

So let’s reiterate: The J-streeters are Americans, who do not live in Israel and are not put at risk by Israel's decisions. Nor (one can assume) are their families and close friends going to be put at risk either. But they are telling Israel what is "good for it" and what they should be doing. They are acting like know-it-all parents, and treating the Israelis like petulant children who don’t know any better. And then they are surprised when Israel doesn't roll over and plead with them for more of their esteemed advice? No country likes being told what to do!

Of course, that is assuming that J-Street is wrong and that Israel’s government isn't so mired in its own conservative ideology that it won’t listen to reason. Maybe J-Street has every right to be telling Israel what to do, since Israel isn’t smart enough or moral enough to do it themselves.

But consider this: Israel (in general) used to be very left-wing and very willing to hand out concessions. In many ways they still are. But in the post-Oslo years, even the Israeli left has come to realize that simply giving the Palestinians what they want doesn't lead to peace: It leads to more violence. Ha'aretz has printed articles about this phenomenon before.

J-Street, the HuffPosters, and the American left, on the other hand, seems to be a bit behind the times. They are still thinking in a pre-Oslo way, and want Israel to repeat the actions that it has made a decade ago. Actions that, from the Israeli perspective, accomplished nothing. And of course, the Americans won't be the ones getting blown up if the whole thing falls apart. And yet they don't see the irony in their indignation when Israel blows them off.

So is Netanyahu’s government making the right move by ignoring J-Street? I’m not sure. I can certainly see where they are coming from. In many ways, I can see a parallel between J-Street and Netanyahu’s party line (both have the same goal, but have different ways to accomplish it) and the differences between American parties and political movements. For them, as for us, speaking to each other and not getting into an “I’m right! You’re wrong!” shouting match should be the way to go.

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