The issues are complicated, and neither side of the political spectrum has all the answers, not even most of them. We need a vigorous and spirited debate to work through these problems.
What we don’t need is a demonization of Jews who may not share our political beliefs.
Sadly, that is what’s happening in the case of J Street, the, pro-Israel, pro-peace organization that held its first national conference this week in Washington.
In the days leading up to this conference, efforts were made to marginalizeJ Street. Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, did not attend the gathering.
Critics slammed J Street for taking contributions from Americans of Arab dissent, which led some right-wing groups to question the loyalties of J Street (this despite the fact that the last prime minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert, actually appointed an Arab to his Cabinet).
Lastly, the Zionist Organization of America suggested J Street was pro-Palestinian for inviting to this week’s conference Salam Al Marayati, director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. Marayati has called Israel’s establishment a “crime.”
Notice anything about these accusations? They never deal with the substance of J Street’s position. They only isolate incidents, magnifying them and blowing them out of proportion — a classic maneuver to discredit one’s political opponent.
J Street stands for engagement, not standoff. There’s much to be gained by talking to your enemy; Menachem Begin proved that when he signed a peace treaty with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.
When we talk to our enemies, though, we talk to people who have said and done things in the past that we find distasteful, even outrageous. But that’s the nature of the business. To find peace in the region, Israel must talk to people who are not its friends — that’s the J Street message.
But we need the right wing view in the peace process as well. We need the cautionary message of the ZOA to safeguard Israel’s security; we need CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) to call out the global media when it only reports half the story.
And we need J Street, because peace is not possible without risk. At some point in time, we must be prepared to take that risk.
J Street’s opponents would serve the Jewish community well to engage this new organization in meaningful discussion about Israel instead of slinging mud. Now is not the time to divide the community into warring camps.