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J Street Has Its Logic Backward

‘Peace’ should come before ‘Israel,’ argues commentator

Ari M. Brostoff
October 20, 2009

There’s something wrong with J Street’s branding—or there will be in a week, after the left-leaning Zionist lobby’s first national conference raises its profile in Washington, Bernard Avishai, a liberal commentator on Israeli affairs, argues on Talking Points Memo. Right now, the group’s motto, and apparent underlying ideology, is “pro-Israel, pro-peace.” There’s an implied “therefore” between those terms, says Avishai (a member, by the way, of J Street’s advisory panel) that only makes sense for a limited constituency—i.e., some Jews—that takes support for Israel as a given and reasons politically from there. That’s not going to fly if J Street succeeds in becoming a real political force: “One cannot just assume that Congress will care what Jews want. One has to start with America’s foreign policy strategy and then apply its logic to the Middle East,” he writes. And that’s where AIPAC, the conservative Zionist lobby that J Street developed as an alternative to, is a useful model, he says: the group “actually became influential in Washington because it defined itself at a critical time not as ‘pro-Israel, pro-(well,) toughness’ but as ‘pro-freedom, (therefore) pro-Israel…. You can say that AIPAC was misguided, that it’s even become a pernicious force, but you can’t deny that it got its strategic premises ordered properly.” J Street would be a worthier opponent of AIPAC if it got its political logic straight, he argues: “pro-peace, pro-Israel.”

Ari M. Brostoff is Culture Editor at Jewish Currents.