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August 12, 2022 3:40 pm
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J Street’s Losing Strategy Is Neither Pro-Israel Nor Pro-Peace

avatar by Jeff Mendelsohn

Opinion

AIPAC CEO Howard Kohr speaking at the annual AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., March 2, 2020. Photo: AIPAC.

Before losing a defining primary last week, J Street increased the volume of its rash, partisan attacks against AIPAC and the broader pro-Israel community — taking cheap shots that weaken our nation’s longstanding bipartisan consensus on the US-Israel relationship. These shameful attacks are as corrosive to the US-Israel relationship as are J Street’s misguided policy stances.

Bipartisan organizations that work to build support for one specific issue should put that issue before partisan politics, and endorse candidates based on their positions on that issue. The US-Israel relationship is not a proxy for other issues – something that some partisans have trouble understanding.

J Street’s broadsides against the very notion of bipartisan support for the US-Israel relationship is not only a dangerous and short-sided strategy —  it’s a losing one.

Enraged by AIPAC’s support for Haley Stevens, Shontel Brown, and Glenn Ivey, among other Democrats, J Street resorted to its usual playbook of cheap partisan shots, falsely attacking pro-Israel organizations for being “right-wing,” and outrageously accusing them of racism even in races where they were backing candidates of color.

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Moreover, if an organization’s policy positions are reflected in the candidates it endorses, then J Street cannot possibly call itself pro-Israel.

Last week in the MI-11 Democratic primary, the pro-Israel community backed Congresswoman Haley Stevens, who trounced J Street-backed Rep. Andy Levin by 20 percentage points. J Street, which calls itself a “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization, supported the obviously less pro-Israel candidate in the race.

Rep. Andy Levin is Jewish and labels himself a Zionist, but his policies work against a strong US-Israel relationship. For example, he introduced the flawed J Street-endorsed “Two-State Solution” bill in the House last year, which was criticized by pro-Israel Democrats for its lopsided narrative that ignores Palestinian rejectionism and terrorism. The bill would impose unnecessary political restrictions on security aid to Israel, and put into law positions advocated by the Palestinian Authority but opposed by Israel.

Levin further defended a colleague, a member of the “Squad,” who compared Israel and the United States to the Taliban. In contrast, Haley Stevens has unequivocally supported critical security funds for Israel, and helped introduce the 2021 resolution to provide $1 billion in supplementary funding to replenish Iron Dome after some of the very members of Congress defended by Levin sidetracked the funding needed to replenish the defensive system after heavy rocket attacks by Palestinians.

The MD-04 primary in July provides another example of J Street choosing the less-pro-Israel candidate. The group endorsed former Rep. Donna Edwards, who, during her time in Congress, refused to support a policy affirming Israel’s right to self-defense in response to attacks from Gaza in 2009. Similarly, Edwards opposed a 2009 resolution criticizing a deeply flawed, biased UN report (known as the Goldstone Report) that unfairly denigrated Israel — so much so that its namesake ultimately expressed regret for the report’s erroneous conclusions.

Meanwhile, her main opponent, Glenn Ivey, a fellow progressive Democrat, voiced his support for Israel’s right to defend itself when attacked, pledged to support continued military assistance to Israel, acknowledged the benefits of the Abraham Accords, and denounced the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Ivey ultimately defeated Edwards by over 15 percentage points.

These races both showed crystal clear policy differences on the US-Israel relationship, and those differences matter when a pro-Israel group decides who to endorse and support in elections.

That’s why J Street’s choices are so incredulous. In these races, like many others, J Street deliberately endorsed, fundraised for, and spent funds trying to elect the candidate likely to be less supportive of the US-Israel relationship and also less likely to call out Palestinian terrorism and rejectionist positions.

For further proof, let’s look at the upcoming Democratic primary in New York’s 16th congressional district. J Street has endorsed Rep. Jamaal Bowman, a Congressman who has gone out of his way to regain the support of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), one of the most overtly anti-Israel groups on the political landscape. The DSA actively supports the BDS movement, whose goal is to end Israel as a Jewish state, seeks to end US military assistance to Israel, and opposes normalization with Israel.

Bowman’s trip to Israel earlier this year (with J Street, ironically), his vote to replenish Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, and his hedging on support for BDS, enraged the DSA. In an obvious attempt to placate the group, Bowman removed his endorsement of the Israel Normalization Act, legislation widely supported by both Democrats and Republicans in Congress but opposed by DSA, that seeks to encourage greater integration of Israel into the Middle East. Moreover, Bowman recently co-sponsored Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI)’s biased, one-sided “Recognizing the Nakba and Palestinian Refugees” resolution. The resolution attempts to rewrite history by ignoring that Palestinians launched a war of annihilation and that Arab nations invaded Israel to thwart Israel’s declaration of independence.

How can J Street call itself a pro-Israel organization when it endorses candidates like Jamaal Bowman?

J Street continues to believe that it knows better than the democratically elected government of Israel by ignoring the on-the-ground realities for both Israelis and Palestinians alike, and trying to force Israel to accept unrealistic policies that only appeal to J Street and its cadre of political supporters. By putting partisanship first and supporting candidates who are clearly not the pro-Israel choice, J Street works to undermine the very foundations of the US-Israel relationship. It’s a reckless and losing strategy, and certainly not “pro-Israel” nor “pro-peace.”

Jeff Mendelsohn is the executive director of Pro-Israel America.

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