By Ari Bussel
Last week, we heard from Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President, and Antony Blinken, National Security Advisor to the Vice President, at the J Street Conference. There, Valerie reiterated the President’s iron-clad commitment to Israel and Antony repeated the President’s call for a two state solution that provides “a secure, Jewish state of Israel that lives side by side with an independent Palestinian state.” White House Office of Public Engagement Weekly Update, April 3, 2012
I am an educated, affluent, liberal American. I am a Democrat, and yes—I am Jewish. AIPAC, the Jewish lobby on Capitol Hill, does not speak for me. It does not represent my values. AIPAC’s positions are not my own, its voice is not my voice. The words they speak do not resonate with me. I hear them, but I do not identify with their core beliefs.
Those at AIPAC say: “Congress has been a bedrock of support for the U.S.-Israel relationship by supporting aid, helping stop Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability, supporting Israel’s right to defend itself and reinforcing American policy that peace will only be achieved through direct negotiations.”
We say: I am a Zionist, and I deeply care about Israel. For Israel to survive, it has to be a democracy with Jewish character. Israel should be much like the United States, a country that was founded on Christian principles and allows every person to flourish.
The Jewish Lobby has kidnapped center stage and is focused on Iran, promulgating fears of a Second Holocaust. In the background, the song and dance routine is familiar: “U.S. aid commitment to Israel is vital.” “Aid enables Israel to confront emerging threats.” “Robust foreign aid helps promote American values and interests.”
Behind AIPAC’s “Enhance U.S.-Israel Security Cooperation,” one can almost hear the war drums beating, getting louder with every passing minute: “We must attack, we must pre-empt, Iran is an existential threat. We have no option but to act. The U.S. has to enable Israel and pay for these (mis)deeds – for our own sake!?”
We believe: For the sake of Israel, America and the whole world, we must do everything possible to bring about Peace in the Middle East, and the real obstacle for peace is Israel’s Occupation. It makes Israel become what it is not, an Apartheid state. It makes Israelis do horrible things that stand contrary to our very being as Jews.
We allege: The Occupation corrupts. Israel faces the danger of becoming what the Nazis were. At all costs, we must make sure this does not happen. We cannot afford to have the world point the finger at us and say: You are the new Nazis!
I must now ask, “Who will protect Israel from itself? Who will speak for American Jewry?”
It is believed by many that J Street has gained immense momentum as a grassroots organization that aspires for (and inspires) Peace in the Middle East. It is the true “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace” organization, although Peace Now (and its American counter-part, Americans for Peace Now) is the true think-tank that will help usher in the desired and so badly needed peace.
Doesn’t AIPAC see that those recently gathered in Doha, Qatar, for the International Conference on Jerusalem were filled with awe of the daring courage Jews of America now show as they support J Street?
They – the self-anointed “loudspeaker” of the Jewish people in America – say (with worried apprehension) that all Jews must sing from the same sheet, we say not. The fact that each of us sings a different tune is a sign of a healthy society, of strength from within. Remember, AIPAC DOES NOT SPEAK FOR ME. The world needs to know there are other, more rational and constructive voices. The world needs to hear our voices as well.
We say: Israel must cease all settlement activities and end the Occupation immediately. Israel must withdraw from Occupied Territories if it ever wants to usher in peace and live in tranquility with its neighbors.
There are alternatives to AIPAC, for even the staffers on Capitol Hill resent being bullied and pushed around by the Israeli lobby. They often do not know where to turn for real facts, to ask questions that bother them. It is vital our voice is heard, more important than ever to announce that AIPAC is not the only Jewish voice.
For instance, AIPAC says—supposedly on behalf of the American Jewish community—we have to go to war with Iran, adding, “Listen to what the Iranians themselves say, calling to ‘Wipe Israel off the Map!’ Jews during WWII were not much different, but the world has forgotten.”
APN says, “We need more time and diplomacy. There are tremendous sanctions in place. It is time to bring serious diplomacy to our aid. The international community is working together toward that end.”
For Netanyahu, mentioning Iran is equal to mentioning the Holocaust. His recent speech at AIPAC was all about the Holocaust. He lives under a genuine existential fear of another Holocaust. We at J Street and APN do not share his fear as describing or emanating from today’s reality.
And thus we truly believe we have the advantage over the other side: “We are right!” Our positions and policy recommendations are clear, reasoned, sophisticated and based on analysis and not slogans. The facts support our argument. We only need to package them so they look useful and present them at the right time. Ours is the speech that should be heard, not AIPAC.
Our message to President Obama is “start preparing now for reengaging” (assuming you are re-elected). We do not have the luxury of slow re-engagement. We must hit the metal while it is seething hot. We know you cannot publicly answer us now, for fear you will be maligned even further by the extreme-Right. But we anticipate a plan is already in place, waiting to be executed.
We are waiting for the Presidential elections, and if things continue the way they are today, President Obama will be back in the White House for a Second Tour-de-Force. He won the Noble Peace Prize once. Imagine what he can achieve well into his second presidency!
This is the rhetoric I hear from J Street and its counterparts.
J Street urges the President to prepare now, formulate his plan now, and show his wrath immediately when the second term starts. This sounds very worrisome to some.
It sounds as if an American Jewish contingency is the mouthpiece for Israel’s enemies. “Occupation. Settlements as the root-cause of all evil in the Middle East. Israel’s eagerness to go to war. The American Jewish “Not Speaking for Me!” Lobby is war-mongering.” Not a single thing that Israel does which is positive, exemplary, deserving of one’s attention.
Is anyone surprised that there are voices that tell us that 9/11 was a Mossad-orchestrated event? That the 2nd Persian Gulf War was fought by a US President FOR ISRAEL’S SAKE!? That Israel is the only OBSTACLE FOR PEACE!? Or that there are many who today take it a step further, turning words into action, boycotting Israeli goods and services, institutions and companies, calling to divest and sanction Israel?
Does AIPAC truly speak for the Jewish people, or do we live in a new era, where a grass movement like J Street is the answer, the horn, and the hammer?
I just hope the President will not use a Jewish-made hammer to hit Israel into a place from which it will be unable to move, that this hammer that supposedly speaks for “us” will not be the hammer that nails the coffin on Israel’s short existence as a modern democratic country.
This article, other than its ending (the conclusions are all my own), was inspired by the words of Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now, based in part on a presentation she recently gave in Los Angeles. She is not alone. A leading commentator in the American version of Yedi’ot, Israel’s leading daily newspaper, constantly voices similar if not identical opinions.
I feel both proud and most comfortable when I know AIPAC stands and acts for Israel.