StandWithUs and J Street Clash on Parameters of American Criticism of Israel

March 13, 2013 1:04 am 2 comments

From left to right, J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami, moderator Mitchell Landsberg, and StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein during a debate at Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles on Monday night. Photo: StandWithUs.

LOS ANGELES - How far should American Jews go in their criticism of Israeli policies they disagree with?

According to the core principles listed on the website of J Street, the self-labeled “political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans,” Israel’s supporters “have not only the right but the obligation to speak out when we think the policies or actions of the Israeli government are hurting Israel’s and the Jewish people’s long-term interests.”

J Street’s emphasis on the “obligation” aspect in the above statement was at the center of a debate Monday night between the organization’s executive director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, and Roz Rothstein, CEO of the pro-Israel education group StandWithUs.

“You feel you know better than the Israelis when to make peace with [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas or Hamas,” Rothstein told Ben-Ami. “I feel that position is presumptuous and I’m sorry to say, it’s insulting to the Israeli people.”

At Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles, Ben-Ami and Rothstein didn’t find much common ground—at least according to Ben-Ami, who said as much in his concluding remarks.

Rothstein noted that J Street specifically opposed a 2011 congressional letter asking President Barack Obama to urge Abbas to return to peace negotiations and to end anti-Israel incitement following the “horrific, inhuman, and brutal attack in Itamar against the Fogel family,” in which two Palestinian men murdered Israeli parents and their three children ages 11, 4, and three months in Itamar. She criticized J Street for putting pressure only on Israel to take steps to resolve its conflict with the Palestinians, and for having a mission that falls short of calling for criticism of Abbas’s “promotion of hate, incitement, and terrorism.”

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Benny Gantz meets with two surviving children of the Fogel family, whose parents and three siblings were murdered by Palestinian men in the March 2011 Itamar massacre. In a debate with J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami on Monday, StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein noted that J Street specifically opposed a 2011 congressional letter asking President Barack Obama to urge the Palestinians to end anti-Israel incitement following the “horrific, inhuman, and brutal attack in Itamar against the Fogel family.” Photo: Israel Defense Forces.

But Ben-Ami said of J Street’s mission, “It is not our mission to criticize the government of Israel or to oppose Israeli government policies. It is simply our right.”

J Street’s core principles further state, “Criticism of Israeli policy does not threaten the health of the state of Israel—but certain Israeli policies (and the silence that too many in the American Jewish establishment choose when vigorous protest of those policies is necessary) do threaten Israel’s future.”

StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein and J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami, who debated Monday night in Los Angeles. Credit: StandWithUs and J Street.. Photo: StandWithUs.

Ben-Ami said he didn’t know where the quote Rothstein read from J Street’s website came from, adding that analyzing the website was not the type of debate he was seeking to have. He said taking an “us versus them, good versus evil, black versus white” approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is what “will make us all end up with zero.” Trying to win the “blame game” with the Palestinians “is not a strategy,” he said, because it doesn’t help American leaders “chart a course out of the mess” that is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Rothstein said that for J Street to criticize Israel “and heap it on when we’re watching the world criticize Israel… I don’t believe that J Street should add to that chorus.”

“I would like to see more evenhanded criticism at the hatemongering that goes on in the [Palestinian] territories,” she said.

“To place the lion’s share of the blame on Israel, as J Street does, in their mission statement, this does not encourage reconciliation,” Rothstein added, explaining that peace “will only come from education and accountability.”

While “any and all criticism is fair game” when it comes to Israel, that criticism should be channeled through debating, writing, and other exercises other than the lobbying J Street does, Rothstein said.

“Feel free to criticize… but to lobby, because you want to get your way over there [in Israel] really does not put a lot of trust in the Israeli people,” she said.

J Street, on the other hand, believes “in the need for outside help” to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Ben-Ami said.

Ben-Ami repeatedly stressed J Street’s stated mission of “mobilizing broad support for a two-state solution because it’s in Israel’s and America’s interest.” J Street believes “the lack of a two-state resolution poses an existential threat to the state of Israel” due to demographic realities, Ben-Ami said. Furthermore, he said that experts who have studied conflict resolution say that in a conflict such as that between the Israelis and Palestinians, a third party such as the U.S. is needed because the last thing that works is to tell the parties to reach a resolution themselves.

To solve the conflict, Ben-Ami laid out a two-state proposal with the negotiation of borders starting at Israel’s pre-1967 lines (with some adjustments), a Palestinian capital in eastern Jerusalem, a Jewish capital in western Jerusalem, the Temple Mount and its surrounding holy sites as an international zone, Palestinians earning the right of return to “Palestine” but not to Israel, and a demilitarized Palestinian state with an international presence on its border to ensure the security of both parties.

“I find it fascinating that you have a plan like that,” Rothstein reacted, asking if Israelis on the ground who “actually matter” would agree with Ben-Ami’s plan.

“My solution is that people need to come to the table,” Rothstein said. “Why do I need to provide a solution when the Israelis and the Palestinians need to sit and talk?”

Ben-Ami acknowledged that while “the world’s pressure does need to be on both parties,” J Street recognizes that “at the end of the day, we live here, and the Israelis live there, and the decisions need to be made there.”

Rothstein and Ben-Ami disagreed sharply on Abbas’s current suitability as a peace partner for Israel. When asked if a two-state solution is possible and worth advocating for, Rothstein said what needs to be asked first is, “Is now the moment?” for that solution, and of Abbas, “Is this the man? Is this the time?”

“This is the man and this is the time,” Ben-Ami said.

The Palestinians under Abbas, Ben-Ami said, have limited terror in the West Bank, have “built the institutions of statehood,” and have “done everything that the critics have asked them to do.”

But Rothstein detailed a visit she made to the Dheisheh Palestinian refugee camp, whose cultural center featured pictures such as a Palestinian child throwing a Molotov cocktail and of a suicide bomber depicted as a hero.

“That’s incredible to me, and that’s a moderate town,” she said. “That’s scary.”

Ben-Ami countered that because Jews and Palestinian are longtime enemies, hate speech and incitement should come as no surprise.

“You make peace with your enemy, not with a friend,” he said.

Asked if Jewish communities beyond the 1967 Green Line pose an obstacle to peace, Rothstein said they do not because they comprise only 1.7 percent of the West Bank’s territory. Displaying the wide gap between the J Street and StandWithUs leaders, Ben-Ami said Jewish communities beyond the Green Line actually comprise 60 percent of the West Bank’s territory when sidewalks, gardens and other factors beyond the housing structures themselves are taken into account. Rothstein maintained the 1.7 percent figure, but acknowledged that the percentage does increase to 5.7 percent when Israel’s security fence is included.

“It is impossible believe, that 5 percent, when you know there are going to be [land] swaps [in an agreement], is the obstacle to peace,” she said.

The West Bank Jewish communities, Ben-Ami said, are a symptom of the underlying problem that is the lack of a border for Israeli and Palestinian states. He asked Rothstein where she would draw a border at the start of negotiations, particularly if she would draw that border at Israel’s pre-1967 lines. Rothstein answered that she would let Israelis and Palestinians determine the starting point for their own talks, typifying the philosophical differences between J Street and StandWithUs that were apparent throughout the evening.

“I am not going to be negotiating this,” she said.

2 Comments

  • richard sherman

    J Street suppports the sociopath Muhammad when he personally decapitated 900 unarmed.Jews at Quarayza.

  • Jstreet is not a real Jewish organisation. It is paid by the notorious antisemite Soros and it tries to destroy Israel.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Music US & Canada Lady Gaga Accepts ADL Award: ‘Your Philosophies Are So in Line With Ours’ (VIDEO)

    Lady Gaga Accepts ADL Award: ‘Your Philosophies Are So in Line With Ours’ (VIDEO)

    Pop superstar Lady Gaga on Thursday accepted an award from Jewish human rights group the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) on behalf of her Born This Way Foundation, which strives to combat bullying among young people. “Your philosophies are so in line with ours,” she said of the ADL upon accepting the Making a Difference Award in a videotaped message, which was shown at a ceremony in New York City. “We want to help young people know that their feelings and who they are on [...]

    Read more →
  • Music Personalities At 80, Singer-Songwriter Leonard Cohen’s Jewish Roots ‘Very Much Intact’

    At 80, Singer-Songwriter Leonard Cohen’s Jewish Roots ‘Very Much Intact’

    JNS.org – Eighty years young, Leonard Cohen fits many descriptions—singer, songwriter, poet, novelist, monk. From his Jewish upbringing in Canada to the present day, Cohen has always explored his spiritual side. This month, the singer-songwriter released the CD (May 12) and iTunes (on May 8 of this year) formats of his latest album, Can’t Forget: A Souvenir of the Grand Tour, which features live recordings from his world tours in 2012 and 2013. Last year, Cohen’s Popular Problems was voted by Rolling Stone [...]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports FIFA Head Says Israel Should Not be Booted From World Soccer Association

    FIFA Head Says Israel Should Not be Booted From World Soccer Association

    JNS.org – Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) head Sepp Blatter said during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that contrary to Palestinian complaints, Israel has not violated any FIFA statutes and should not be suspended from international soccer’s governing body. “We should not come to one federation saying we will exclude them,” said Blatter, the Jerusalem Post reported. “If the national association is fulfilling its obligations then there is no need to intervene,” he said. “I’m on a [...]

    Read more →
  • Featured Middle East Sports Jewish Rights Group Slams Palestinian Attempts to Suspend Israel From FIFA

    Jewish Rights Group Slams Palestinian Attempts to Suspend Israel From FIFA

    Jewish human rights group the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) said on Tuesday it was “appalled” by a Palestinian Football Association initiative to suspend Israel from FIFA, calling it another “front waged in the context of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign.” “We are appalled at the temerity of the Palestinan Football Association (PFA) demand that FIFA suspend Israel at your forthcoming Congress in Zurich,” wrote the group’s international relations director, Dr. Shimon Samuels, in a letter to FIFA President Joseph [...]

    Read more →
  • Theater US & Canada Star of Auschwitz Thriller Says ‘God Was Holding the Hand of Every Jew in the Gas Chamber’ (VIDEO)

    Star of Auschwitz Thriller Says ‘God Was Holding the Hand of Every Jew in the Gas Chamber’ (VIDEO)

    The lead actor in Son of Saul, an Auschwitz thriller featured at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, told the UK’s The Guardian that he believes God was “holding the hand” of each Jew who died in the Nazi gas chambers during the Holocaust. “I do not for one nanosecond like to pretend that God is off the hook. He could and should have stopped it at a much earlier stage,” Géza Röhrig, 48, said. ”But I would not be able to get [...]

    Read more →
  • Music Backstreet Boys Singer Howie D Gushes Over Masada During Israel Trip

    Backstreet Boys Singer Howie D Gushes Over Masada During Israel Trip

    Backstreet Boys singer Howie Dorough took to Instagram on Tuesday to marvel about climbing the famed Masada fortress with his band during their visit to Israel, where they will perform this week for the first time. The group’s second day of sightseeing in the Jewish state included the Masada hike, and taking a mud bath at the Dead Sea. A picture from the band’s official Twitter page shows the five singers covered in mud. While relaxing in the Dead Sea, [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews US & Canada ‘Arms and the Dudes:’ New Book, Film Detail How Ex-Orthodox Yeshiva Guys Became Top Suppliers for Afghan Army

    ‘Arms and the Dudes:’ New Book, Film Detail How Ex-Orthodox Yeshiva Guys Became Top Suppliers for Afghan Army

    A new book and its upcoming film adaptation tell the true story of how three former yeshiva students who habitually smoked marijuana scored a $300 million contract from the U.S. government to supply weapons for the Afghan Army, the New York Daily News reported on Sunday. Arms and the Dudes details how the Miami Beach potheads became “the most unlikely gunrunners in history,” according to the book’s author, investigative reporter Guy Lawson. The tale begins with Efraim Diveroli, nephew of [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Theater Natalie Portman: Israel-Themed ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness’ Not Political

    Natalie Portman: Israel-Themed ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness’ Not Political

    JNS.org – Natalie Portman, who directs and stars in the new Hebrew-language film adaptation of author Amos Oz’s A Tale of Love and Darkness, says that despite Oz’s record as a vocal left-wing critic of Israel, her film is not political. Like the book on which it is based, Portman’s film is about a young boy at the time of the founding of the state of Israel. “I think the movie is very much about this very particular, specific family story. Of [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.