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Can J Street still get away with pretending to be ‘pro-Israel’?

The left-wing lobby’s conference was a reminder that the group isn’t just irrelevant to Middle East realities; it’s also at war with the interests of the people of the Jewish state.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken delivers a speech at the J Street National Conference in Washington, DC., Dec. 4, 2022. Credit: State Department Photo by Ron Przysucha/Public Domain.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken delivers a speech at the J Street National Conference in Washington, DC., Dec. 4, 2022. Credit: State Department Photo by Ron Przysucha/Public Domain.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

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When U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke at the J Street conference on Sunday, he wasn’t addressing the left-wing activists in attendance. He was, rather, firing a shot across the bow of the incoming Israeli government, led by Benjamin Netanyahu.

Nevertheless, his nuanced message—that the prime minister’s antagonists from the Obama administration, who are back running American foreign policy under President Joe Biden, haven’t forgotten the disputes that animated the U.S.-Israel relationship from 2009 to 2016—reportedly didn’t go over well with many in attendance.

Unlike Obama and his second secretary of state, John Kerry, Biden and Blinken aren’t so stupid as to think the Palestinian Authority is the least bit interested in peace. They’re far too focused on reviving a failed appeasement policy on Iran and the war in Ukraine to expend what little political capital they have by trying to resuscitate the dead-in-the-water negotiations with the P.A. leadership. But they can’t entirely quit their addiction to pointless spats with Netanyahu.

Still, to the disappointment of his J Street listeners, Blinken wouldn’t commit to treating Netanyahu’s new government as illegitimate. Instead, he held open the possibility that, by “judging it on its policies,” Israel’s incoming coalition might redeem itself.

By also continuing to promote the land-for-peace myth—which basically means forcing Israel out of Judea and Samaria and parts of Jerusalem—Blinken demonstrated that the administration is still very much in tune with J Street’s agenda. And that agenda has never been as much about peace as about thwarting the verdict of Israeli democracy and muscling the Jewish state into submission to leftist ideology about Palestinian statehood.

J Street may have long called itself “pro-Israel, pro-peace.” But its real purpose has been to work to ensure that Israeli policy is dictated by left-wing Democrats with little love for the Jewish state and even less interest in protecting its security against either terrorists or a nuclear Iran.

Today, in keeping with political fashion, J Street has adopted a new self-description: “pro-Israel, pro-peace, pro-democracy Americans.” The added bit is intended to signal that, like Democratic Party attempts to smear Republicans as not just wrong but “semi-fascists,” those Israelis who don’t agree with J Street’s agenda are similarly anti-democratic.

It’s a talking point that the Israeli left, which was defeated last month in the Knesset elections by Netanyahu and his right-wing and religious partners, is also trying to promote. And, unlike Blinken, they’re engaging in pre-emptive efforts to delegitimize the new government even before it takes office.

J Street’s radical stance on Israeli politics is even more irrelevant than that of the Meretz Party, which won exactly zero Knesset seats on Nov. 1. Yet it is a group with a defined mission: to wage political war on the Jewish state by pushing as hard as it can for Washington to pressure Jerusalem to make suicidal concessions to Ramallah.

J Street came into existence as a cheering section for left-wing Democrats like Obama. He was obsessed with the mistaken belief that America needed to completely re-orient itself away from traditional allies in the Middle East, and appease the radical Muslim world to make amends for Western imperialism. Integral to that aim was creating more “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel, which he saw as a product of colonialism.

That meant outreach to Iran. It also involved a commitment to rolling Israel back to the 1967 borders, and forcing a re-partition of Jerusalem so as to create a Palestinian state.

The Obama foreign-policy team found a willing partner in Iran, which was happy to accept a nuclear deal that ensured Tehran would eventually get a weapon, while in the meantime being empowered and enriched.

In contrast, Team Obama’s efforts to tilt the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians—still stuck in the rigid ideology of their century-long war on Zionism—weren’t sufficient to tempt them to negotiate seriously. Had they been compliant, they would have found the U.S. administration willing to go to any length to force Israel to submit to measures and territorial retreats that would have placed its security in peril. But since Palestinian nationalism is inextricably tied to opposing the existence of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders are drawn, they stuck to their perpetual “no.”

For rational actors, such as those who found themselves in charge of Middle East policy during the administration of Donald Trump, this meant accepting that the Palestinians were a dead-end for diplomacy. Trump’s people opted to embrace reality over the magical thinking that was the foundation of the Oslo Accords and land-for-peace paradigm.

Their doing so led to the Abraham Accords and peace between Israel and Arab and Muslim states that were determined no longer to be held hostage by Palestinian intransigence. It is precisely the sort of reality-based policy that J Street was created to oppose and sabotage.

In order to be pro-Israel, you don’t have to support Netanyahu, the Likud Party or his new government. You can hope for Israel’s defeated left-wing factions eventually to prevail.

You can dream of a two-state solution with a peaceful, progressive and democratic Palestinian-Arab state living in harmony beside Israel (even though, in order to harbor the fantasy, you have to ignore the workings of Palestinian politics and a culture that glorifies the shedding of Jewish blood, and war to the death against Zionism).

But you can’t really be really be considered pro-Israel if, like J Street, you declare that Israel’s voters, the vast majority of whom have long since rejected the land-for-peace myth for the foreseeable future, don’t have the right to decide their country’s future.

You can’t be considered pro-Israel if, like J Street, your purpose is to promote policies that Israelis oppose and to back the use of brutal pressure and the threat of aid cutbacks to get your way.

You can’t be considered pro-Israel if, like J Street, your goal is to promote appeasement of a despotic, terrorist-supporting Iranian regime that has as its stated goal the elimination of Israel.

You can’t be considered pro-Israel if, like J Street, your campus groups and many of your activists make common cause with antisemitic BDS groups whose goal is Israel’s destruction.

You can’t be considered pro-Israel if, like J Street, you support intersectional ideology, which gives a permission slip to antisemitism and depicts Israel as a “white” country that is an “apartheid state.”

Strip away the thin veneer of liberal Zionism that J Street still seeks to maintain, and all you have is a group that exists to wage political war on Israel’s democratic leadership, to force it to bend to policies imposed by Democrats. Ultimately, this makes it too radical an organization to be supportive of a relative moderate like Blinken, in an administration whose lower echelons are composed of doctrinaire leftists far more hostile to Israel than those at the top. J Street is, nevertheless, a dangerous foe that’s in sync with the intersectional progressives who view Netanyahu as the head of an illegitimate red-state nation.

J Street is irrelevant to what is happening in Jerusalem. But with the far-Left on the rise among Democrats, those who are interested in building support for the Jewish state need to regard the organization as a malevolent and treacherous enemy, whose malign influence is a genuine threat to the U.S.-Israel alliance.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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