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Rhonda Spivak and Mira Sucharov

Michael Oren

Photo by Rhonda Spivak

Former Labour MK Colette Avital,employed by J-Street. Photo by Rhonda Spivak


Mira Sucharov and Rhonda Spivak

Dear Mira,

Israel's ambassador to the U.N., Michael Oren, recently criticized the left-leaning new Jewish lobby group in the United States, J-Street as being “ significantly out of the mainstream." Speaking to a synagogue convention, according to the  New York Jewish newspaper The Forward, Oren said, "This is not a matter of settlements here [or] there. Oren continued: "We understand that there are differences of opinion. But when it comes to the survival of the Jewish state, there should be no differences of opinion. You are fooling around with the lives of 7 million people. This is no joke."

Do you have any concerns about J-Street, and the fact that the Obama administration has been meeting with the group regularly?


Dear Rhonda,

I've been personally buoyed by the rise of J-Street, and am glad you asked about it.

By accusing J-Street of being out of touch with the "mainstream," Oren is attempting sociological obfuscation rather than dealing with the main issues. What's more, his statement is simply wrong. Let's start with the second point first. Seventy- eight percent of American Jews support a two-state solution, according to a June-July poll commissioned by J Street. Sixty-four percent of Israelis do, according to a June poll conducted by the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel, and 67% of all Americans do, according to a Zogby International poll. That's  hardly not mainstream. Seems that Oren is missing the mark.   J Street is the Israel lobby that has the vision that best points to a two-state solution outcome -- and a way out of the mess in the Middle East.

Now onto the issues.  J Street supports a Palestinian state alongside Israel, shared sovereignty over Jerusalem -- with the city remaining Israel's capital, and a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem that would see refugees being settled inside the Palestinian state rather than inside Israel.

These general principles have been widely agreed upon in successive peace process attempts by the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority. J Street is the mainstream. In his refusal to consider the tough concessions necessary for peace, it is Oren who is out of touch.


Dear Mira


I am not so sure that Oren is out of touch as much as Obama and J Street supporters have been out of touch in believing that conditions are ripe right now for  an agreement to be pulled out of a hat magically. What exactly has George Mitchell accomplished yet, in terms of coaching Abbas even to get to the negotiating table?


I agree with you in general that a two state solution is the only possible way out of the impasse, but that is essentially what former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered Abbas. Olmert  offered  a division of Jerusalem, (even a regime for the Old City where Israel would have had only 1 out of 5 representatives). After all of that Olmert didn’t get any positive response from Abbas as the gaps between their positions were too wide.


My instincts tell me that the Obama administration is not going to get very far if it listens to J Street in place of  Michael Oren, who much more accurately represents the mainstream of Israeli society. In that respect, while I see that you are busy reading various polls, I urge you not to forget the one  poll that really counts when it comes to Israel-which is the results of the last Israeli election, in which the Israeli left ( Labour and Meretz) were resoundingly defeated. Look at the Israelis who appeared at the J-Street convention: Ami Ayalon, Colette Avital, Amir Peretz, Shlomo Ben-Ami, Yuli Tamir, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak . Not only did they not succeed in garnering the support of the Israeli electorate, but many are considered “losers” even within their own parties.


 I also refer you to a very insightful article by Lenny David, “Showdown on J Street” ( who notes that even those on the Israeli left have had difficulties  with J street positions. As David wrote, “ Labor MK Ophir Pines-Paz spoke to a Washington gathering sponsored by J Street's co-founder, Daniel Levy… When Pines-Paz was told he was wrong in "assuming that everyone on the left is aligned on Iran's nuclear capabilities and threat, [and in agreement] with Israel's assessment," he exploded. "Wake up!" he shouted.”

David also details how “one tenth of J Street's budget of $3 million, or $300,000” is contributed by Arab donors. “Why do so many Arabs contribute to an organization that purports to be "pro-Israel?," he asks.

Jeffrey Goldberg on The Atlantic’s website has chastised Jeremy Ben-Ami, J-Street’s executive director, for not “renouncing” support from Stephen Walt, co-author with John Mearsheimer of a book that blames the “Israel Lobby” for the war in Iraq.

And don’t think that there weren’t people at the J-Street convention who were to the left  of Peace Now, and don’t  support a two state solution at all, but a one state solution which would mean the destruction of Israel. They are along for the ride and J-Street hasn’t closed its doors to them, something that better be done sooner than later. Wouldn’t you agree?

Dear Rhonda,

While it’s heartening that J Street attempts to reinvent the “pro-Israel” label by calling itself “pro-Israel, pro-peace,” I think it’s healthier to think about the outcomes we’re aiming for, than to focus on the so often unhelpful “pro” prefix. Pushing for a meaningful and viable two-state solution – including attempting to engage the U.S. administration towards this end – should be a goal of both Jews and Arabs. The fact that 10% of J Street’s budget apparently comes from Arabs and Muslims is something I think we should applaud. Finally there’s a lobby that is focused not only on winning the media war and scoring points for one side at the expense of another, but on forging ahead towards more beneficial outcomes for all.

As for Professor Stephen Walt, coauthor of The Israel Lobby, it is not in the least surprising to me that he would support the aims of J Street. Walt has good reason to have been troubled by the direction of U.S. policy in the Middle East over the last decade. The war in Iraq, brinkmanship towards Iran, and blindly allowing settlement building to proceed in the West Bank have done little to further Israeli-Palestinian peace. J Street promises a new vision, and gives legitimate voice to Americans (and peace stakeholders worldwide) who wish to see U.S. policy shift course.

As for the two-state versus one-state solution debate: I think J Street has made it quite clear that a two-state solution is the only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian quagmire. Neither continuing the Israeli occupation of the West Bank nor allowing Israel to dissolve within a one-state solution would be acceptable to J Street’s leaders and core support base. I also think that many of those who advocate for a one-state solution have been doing so out of sheer frustration that the occupation has continued – while settlements continue to materialize and Palestinian freedom of movement is curtailed – for so long. By not “closing its doors” to those on the “far left,” as you put it, I think that J Street has the potential to bring these critics (back) to the two-state fold, with hope for a renewed form of peace advocacy.

Finally, while it’s true that the last Israeli election represented a shift to the right, the role of Diaspora Jewry – as I see it – is not simply to provide uncritical support to every Israeli policy. Sure, the Israeli public is tired of what they see as aborted attempts at peace talks. And Hamas rocket fire has shaken their confidence in the willingness of Palestinians to lay down their arms. But a smart and committed peace advocacy organization should not simply give in to the hopelessness. J Street is trying to support policies that will re-engage the actors, not simply allow them to languish in another decade of fear and bloodshed.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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