J-Street, the fledgling peacenik alternative to AIPAC, has gotten itself in a crack for, in the eyes of some, seeing a moral equivalence between Hamas firing missiles into Israel and Israel’s bombing campaign against Hamas in Gaza. That’s not quite true, but close enough. Here are relevant passages from its most recent statement:
As friends of Israel, we felt immediate pressure from friends and family to pick a side. Did we think that Israel’s actions were fully justified or disproportionate? Did Hamas bring this on itself by firing rockets and provoking Israel or are the strikes an act of aggression against a people trapped in misery and poverty? Couldn’t we see who’s right and who’s wrong?…
Israel has a special place in each of our hearts. But we recognize that neither Israelis nor Palestinians have a monopoly on right or wrong. While there is nothing “right” in raining rockets on Israeli families or dispatching suicide bombers, there is nothing “right” in punishing a million and a half already-suffering Gazans for the actions of the extremists among them.
And there is nothing to be gained from debating which injustice is greater or came first. What’s needed now is immediate action to stop the violence before it spirals out of control.
For this, J-Street has been taken to task by no less a peacenik than Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism. Unsurprisingly, on the Commentary wing of the Jewish world, Noah Pollak has happily pronounced J-Street “an anti-Israel organization”–for which he’s been properly called out by Matt Yglesias.
But there is a problem here, and it has to do with J-Street’s actual identity. Its self-description admits of some ambiguity on that score. Calling itself “the political arm of the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement” (as opposed to what, the military arm?), it says, in part:
J-Street represents Americans, primarily but not exclusively Jewish, who support Israel and its desire for security as the Jewish homeland, as well as the right of the Palestinians to a sovereign state of their own – two states living side-by-side in peace and security. We believe ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in the best interests of Israel, the United States, the Palestinians, and the region as a whole.
If J-Street is indeed, as it proclaims, a pro-Israel organization, then its arguments need to be based on the premise that its first concern is what’s good for Israel. And there are no shortage of pro-peace arguments to be made on that premise. But if it is equally committed to the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state, then it is operating on premises that may or may not be in Israel’s best interests. J-Street’s refusal to “pick a side” in the Gaza situation suggests not that it is anti-Israel, but that it is not prepared to take its stand with Israel, whatever that means. It’s entitled to adopt such a position, which is hardly a dishonorable one. But many of those whom it would like to represent may decline to go along.