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Knesset Hearing on J Street Is Viewed as Israeli Interference in U.S. Jewish Community

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
August 2011

Israeli lawmakers held a hearing in March to determine whether J Street, an American Jewish organization that bills itself as “pro-Israel, pro-peace,” should be declared anti-Israel.  
Convened by Danny Danon, the Likud Party chairman of the Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs parliamentary committee, the hearing came at a time when right-wing Israeli politicians have accused human rights groups in Israel of aiding an international campaign expressing concern about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.  
Many see the move against J Street as an extension of the effort to oppose criticism of Israel from within its own ranks. But J Street is not an Israeli organization. Founded three years ago, J Street says its 170,000 American Jewish members seek an outlet for their support for Israel without necessarily endorsing the policies of the Israeli government.  
Writing from Jerusalem, Washington Post correspondent Janine Zacharia noted that, “The new model is considered treasonous by those in Israel who think the American Jewish community’s role should be to back the Israeli government’s positions.”  
J Street has been pressing the administration of President Barack Obama to push more aggressively for a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Israeli lawmakers who came out against the group were particularly critical of its opposition to President Obama’s decision to veto a U.N. resolution this year condemning Israel’s illegal settlements. J Street pointed out that the U.N. resolution was restating traditional U.S. policy on settlements, and that it made little sense to veto it.  
Speaking of J Street’s American members as if they were Israelis in exile, Kadima Party Knesset member Otniel Schneller declared: “This is a dispute between those who care what non-Jews will say and those who believe in being a light unto nations, between the mentality of exile and that of redemption ...”  
In a Washington Post (March 31, 2011) column headlined “Israel’s Touch of McCarthyism” Harold Meyerson noted that the hearing was held “to determine whether an American Jewish organization that favors a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conundrum could call itself ‘pro-Israel.’ If that sounds bizarre — a committee of Israel’s Knesset presuming to instruct an American Jewish organization on how it should characterize itself — well, that’s because it is. At the risk of telling the committee how it should characterize itself, it might consider changing its name to the Knesset Un-Jewish Activities Committee.”  
Israel’s opposition to any criticism of its policies, Meyerson argues, rejects the most fundamental Jewish traditions: “If the Old Testament were purged of its prophets’ attacks on the Israeli people for failing to live up to their ideals, it would be about half its length. In the Book of Isaiah, Israel is described as ‘a sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evil-doers.’ In Jeremiah, the Jews are ‘a foolish people’ who ‘have eyes and see not, that have ears and hear not,’ Maybe the Knesset Un-Jewish Activities Committee should hold hearings on Isaiah and Jeremiah. Pretty subversive stuff, if you ask me.”  
The Knesset’s interference in the affairs of American Jews has even caused a reaction from groups that rarely criticize Israel, regardless of its policies. The American Jewish Committee and Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, both criticized the undue interference in American Jewish organizational life.  
New Yorker editor David Remnick, a respected Jewish journalist, echoes the view of more and more Jewish Americans when he writes that, “The occupation — illegal, inhumane, and inconsistent with Jewish values — has lasted 44 years ... For decades, AIPAC and the Anti-Defamation League and other such right-leaning groups have played an outsized role in American politics, pressuring members of Congress and presidents with their capacity to raise money and swing elections. But ... these groups are hardly representative and should be met head on, Obama won 78 percent of the Jewish vote; he is more likely to lose some of that vote if he reverses his position on, say, abortion, than if he tried to organize international opinion on the Israeli-Arab conflict.” •

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