American Jews who speak softly on Iran and peace
Israeli author addresses J Street conference, says there’s more than one way to love Israel
Yitzhak Benhorin, Ynet news
WASHINGTON – Israeli writer Amos Oz said Saturday that “there is more than one way to be a Zionist and more than one way to love Israel” stressing that no once can be allowed to take ownership of Zionism. Speaking at the J Street Making History Conference, Oz said that “compromise is the basis for life and where there is compromise there is life.”
The author listed Israel’s greatest achievements and declared that if it achieves peace with the Palestinians and enhances social solidarity it would be “heaven on earth.” He said that there is a majority in favor of the two-state solution among both peoples but that leaders are afraid to take the necessary action.
Other Israeli speakers who addressed the conference on Saturday were social protest leader Stav Shafir and Yeruham Council head Michael Biton. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is set to speak on closing night. Other participants include MKs Avishai Braverman, Raleb Majadele (Labor) and Zehava Gal-On (Meretz) as well as various former senior IDF officers and social leaders.
The Israeli Embassy in Washington, who had previously boycotted the event, sent Deputy Ambassador Baruch Bina. Some J Street members have in the past backed the Goldstone Report, which accused Israel of committing war crimes, and called on US President Barack Obama not to veto a Security Council resolution on settlements.
The US administration sent senior advisor to the president Valerie Jarrett and national security advisor to the vice president Tony Blinken.
By Helene Cooper, NY Times
WASHINGTON — Memo to Congress: Not all American Jews support a military strike on Iran, either by Israel or by the United States.
Members of J Street, the dovish pro-Israel group formed four years ago in part as an alternative to the more hawkish American Israel Public Affairs Committee, made that point on Tuesday when they descended on Capitol Hill as part of an effort to convince lawmakers that supporting Israel does not mean agreeing with everything advocated by the country’s conservative prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
“There’s a myth that the so-called Jewish vote is a monolithic vote in favor of a militaristic position in support of Israel,” said Elaine Tyler May, a professor at the University of Minnesota, who came to Washington for J Street’s annual conference and met on Tuesday with Representative Keith Ellison and Senator Amy Klobuchar, both Minnesota Democrats. Instead, Ms. May maintained, “the vast majority of American Jews believe the United States should take a leadership role on a peace agreement, even if it means disagreeing with the Israeli leadership.”
Some 700 J Street members turned up to meet with 225 Congressional representatives, or their staff members, from both sides of the aisle. But in numbers and in political clout, the J Street contingent was dwarfed by Aipac’s annual conference three weeks ago.
Whereas 2,500 people attended the J Street event this week, a record crowd of 13,000 people showed up for Aipac.
J Street conferencegoers mingled with a handful of Obama administration officials — including Valerie Jarrett, a White House senior adviser, and Antony J. Blinken, Vice President Joseph R. Biden’s national security adviser — and a former Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert.
In contrast, the Aipac crowd was addressed by President Obama; Mr. Netanyahu; the House Republican leader, Eric Cantor of Virginia; the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky; and three Republican presidential candidates. Aipac conference leaders scheduled a record 530 meetings with lawmakers over about four hours, with delegates fanning across Washington bearing talking points, the biggest being the dangers inherent in Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
But J Street leaders seemed determined this week to add their own, softer voice to the debate.
“There is more than just one way to be a good Jew,” the Israeli author Amos Oz told the crowd during the conference’s opening night on Saturday. “Let us all be united, but why unite under the militant, hawkish, extremist manner of Aipac?”
Stav Shaffir, a leader of the social protest movement in Israel that has been called the Israeli Spring, directly took on Mr. Netanyahu, who during his own speech to Aipac [firstly] compared Iran to Nazi Germany and [seondly] his trip to Washington to garner support for a tougher line against Iran to a plea from the American Jewish community to President Franklin D. Roosevelt to bomb Auschwitz during World War II.
Roosevelt denied the request, Mr. Netanyahu reminded the Aipac conference, and justified his decision with arguments that Mr. Netanyahu said were similar to those used today by people who object to a military strike against Iran. “None of us can afford to wait much longer,” Mr. Netanyahu said.
Ms. Shaffir disagreed. “A month ago, my prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, came to Washington and shamefully compared our lives to those of our grandparents who lived in the ghettos,” she said, “as if we were doomed to live under permanent, intractable threat, as if Israel were the modern incarnation of the ghetto.”
“We don’t want this,” she added.
With Israeli leaders warning of an existential threat from Iran and openly discussing the possibility of attacking its nuclear facilities, J Street has been sprinting to impress on members of Congress their argument that more hawkish groups like Aipac and the Emergency Committee for Israel, which push for tougher action against Iran, do not speak for all Jews. The clear fissures that have emerged demonstrate the divisions within the American Jewish community.
Brad Pilcher, the communications director at a synagogue in Atlanta, came to the J Street convention and met on Tuesday with Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia, and staff members from the offices of Georgia’s two Republican senators, Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss.
“We have 180,000 supporters across the country — this is not a marginal movement,” Mr. Pilcher said in a telephone interview. He acknowledged that J Street could sometimes appear overshadowed by Aipac, but that that would not stop the group from knocking on doors in Congress.
“They may have a head start in Aipac, but we’re not in competition with them,” Mr. Pilcher said. “We’re bringing the majority of the American Jewish people behind us.”