In Defense of J Street

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Jamie Kirchick wrote this week, under the headline, "Obama's Jews," that the "constellation of far-left 'pro-Israel' organizations put a kosher stamp of approval on Obama's bizarre hectoring and moral equivalence." Well, count me - a genuine warmongering fascist, according to some on the Interwebs - as a person who also puts his kosher stamp of approval on Obama's approach to Israel. I don't think his approach is bizarre or hectoring, or represents an exercise in moral equivalence. If he equated Hamas and Israel, then he would be making a moral equivalency argument, but he didn't. And I don't think there's anything bizarre about an American president asking Israel to end its addiction to settlements. And I don't think there's anything bizarre or marginal about a group of American Jews forming an organization like J Street to press for a different vision of Israel than the one advocated - or acquiesced to - by so-called mainstream groups like AIPAC and the ADL.

I agree with Jamie - J Street has made some dumb mistakes in its brief history; its knee has jerked to the left when it shouldn't have, and it needs to grapple with the Iranian threat in a sophisticated way, and not simply stand in opposition to whatever AIPAC happens to be advocating at the moment. But all knees in the organized Jewish community tend to jerk, and when they do, they jerk in the direction of the status quo, and the status quo is untenable. The Zionist vision of a Jewish democratic state won't survive the demographic and moral realities of the current situation. Some people in J Street, I think, are motivated by animus to the idea of a Jewish state, but most, in my limited experience with them, want to preserve both Israel's democratic and Jewish character. That's more than I can say for some people in the "mainstream" pro-Israel community, who blind themselves to the coming crisis.

I'm not naïve about Arab intentions - or should I say, I'm no longer naïve about Arab intentions. I don't automatically believe that the creation of a Palestinian state will lead to an end of claims, or an end to the conflict. But I know that Israel's continued entanglement with the Palestinians, an entanglement deepened and exacerbated by its addiction to settlements, will eventually lead to the demise of the Jewish state. So I'm glad that "Obama's Jews" support his demand for Israeli self-reflection (are we so wonderful that we couldn't use a little self-examination now and again?), and I'm surprised that people are surprised by Obama's modest demand. He said in his campaign that he would hold up a mirror to Israel, and he is. He's also holding up a mirror to the Arab side, and that's all for the good as well. Time is running out - if Israel doesn't achieve permanent, internationally-recognized borders and diplomatic relations with the bulk of Muslim-majority countries soon, the campaign to delegitimize the very idea of Israel will become even more ferocious than it's been.  In my humble opinion, J Street is trying, in its own way, to prevent this from happening, and this puts it in the mainstream of American Jewish political life.

CORRECTION: Jamie Kirchick's piece was e-mailed under the title "Obama's Jews," but the piece itself is headlined "The Obama Lobby."

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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