Saturday, October 24, 2009

J Street: "The center of American Jewish thought"

Below are two excerpts from a recent Atlantic Monthly interview with Jeremy Ben-Ami, executive director of J Street, which bills itself as "the political arm of the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement." "JG" is interviewer Jeffrey Goldberg and Ben-Ami is "JB".
JG: Are you a Zionist?

JB: I am a Zionist personally. I am deeply committed to a Jewish home, to a democratic home, to a Jewish Israel. I'm deeply committed to that and you know my family background.

JG: Ben-Ami is a Jewish name, I think.

JB: Exactly. My great-grandparents were in the First Aliyah, my grandparents founded Tel Aviv, my father was in the Irgun. I've lived in Israel myself. I have 500 cousins there. I'm deeply committed to the safety, the sanctity and the security of a Jewish home in the state of Israel.

JG: Is J Street a Zionist organization?

JB: Well, we are unabashedly for a Jewish home in the land of Israel, that there should be a Jewish home that is a democracy, that has a Jewish character and a Jewish flavor and where the law of return is a fact -- I know you're having a disagreement with Bernie (Avishai) right now. I don't even know what he said about the right of return.

JG: That he wants it repealed.

JB: Well I don't agree with that, I certainly don't agree with that. I think that the notion is that there should be a homeland that is a Jewish homeland. That is the founding principle of J Street. The question is, how do we preserve it? That's where we seem to be getting attacked. Our view is that in order to preserve this, there just simply has to be an independent state for the Palestinians next door, and that's where they will live. And we live in Israel and we live there and there's always going to be a minority in Israel that is not Jewish and we need to treat them like equal citizens and value their participation in our democracy, but it is a Jewish home. This is the Jewish homeland. ...

JB: J Street officially will not use the term "One-State Solution." That is an oxymoron because it is a one-state nightmare. That is the thing we are most opposed to -- moving in a one-state direction.

JG: A nightmare for practical reasons or a nightmare for moral reasons?

JB: A nightmare for the Jewish people. There would be no more Israel. One state is not a solution, one state is a dissolution.

JG: The thing I'm worried about with the conference is that I think most of your supporters are well-meaning, left-of-center Jews who love Israel and are tortured by the various dilemmas, who do stay awake at night worrying about this. But there are others who are glomming on to you guys as a cover, just using you to advance another agenda entirely.

JB: I hope that we have a very strong left flank that attacks us, that Jewish Voice for Peace and other groups that are consistently upset with us for backing Howard Berman's sanctions plan and for refusing to embrace the Goldstone report and for standing up for the right of Israel to defend itself or for its military aid -- I hope we get attacked from the left because I would characterize J Street as the mainstream of the American Jewish community.

JG: You believe that you're at the center of American Jewish thought?

JB: I believe that we are at the center. The Marty Peretzes and the Michael Goldfarbs and the Lenny Ben-Davids are on the right, to the far right, and there are people to our left, and we are in the middle trying to put forward a thoughtful, moderate, mainstream point of view about how to save Israel as a Jewish home.

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