J Street -- the lobby group that claims to be "pro-Israel" and "pro-peace" -- is anything but "open" to centrist views that are critical of its policies. It has invited several prominent anti-Israel speakers to address its national conference, including Saeb Erekat, one of the Palestinian Authority's chief negotiators, who has repeatedly accused Israel of war crimes, and committing massacres in the West Bank. It has also invited speakers who are generally pro-Israel but who strongly oppose the current Israeli government. The one group of pro-Israel advocates who never get invited to J Street conferences are those of us who are somewhat critical of J Street, particularly with regard to its policies toward Iran and other issues involving Israel's security. I know this because I have repeatedly sought an opportunity to address the J Street conference. I have personally implored Jeremy Ben-Ami, the head of J Street, either to allow me to address the conference, or to sit down with me for a public conversation in front of the group's members. He has adamantly refused. We have publicly debated and discussed our differences in front of non-J Street audiences, but he has never allowed me to engage him in the marketplace of ideas in front of his own followers.
This is more than ironic. It is hypocritical, especially in light of J Street's demands that other organizations, such as Hillel and AIPAC, be open to speakers who are critical of Israel. What's good for Hillel and AIPAC, is apparently not good for J Street -- at least by J Street's own standards.
Why then is J Street so determined to deny its members the opportunity to hear divergent views from center-leftists like me? Because its leaders are afraid that if I were allowed to address its conference, I would tell its members the truth about J Street -- a truth they try hard to conceal, particularly from college students who are lured into the J Street fold under false pretenses. The key to J Street's success in increasing its membership rolls is its ability to speak out of both sides of its mouth. To those on the hard left, it offers anti-Israel and pro-BDS speakers, support for the mendacious Goldstone Report, and opposition to keeping the military option on the table as a last resort in preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
To the soft left, it focuses on its opposition to Israeli settlements and its support for a two-state solution -- positions with which I and many supporters of Israel agree. But it hides its controversial, hard left positions that endanger Israel's security -- positions with which most supporters of Israel disagree. It also hides the financial support it has received from anti-Zionists such as George Soros, as well as the anti-Zionist statements made by some of its founders and activists.
Two summers ago, I spoke to a mixed group of pro- and anti-J Street people in the Martha's Vineyard Hebrew Center. When I read from some of J Street's positions on Israel's security, some of the J Street supporters were shocked. They were unaware that J Street has expressed opposition to any use of military force against Iran, even as a last resort in preventing Iran from developing or even deploying nuclear weapons. This is even weaker than the position of the Obama Administration, which has refused to take the military option off the table, if all other options fail to stop Iran's quest for nuclear weapons.
Zehava Galon, a far-left Israeli politician, addresses the 2013 J Street Conference. (Image source: J Street video screenshot)
Without distinguishing between an Israeli and an American military attack, J Street mendaciously claims that "top Israeli security experts and former officials warned about the inefficacy and disastrous consequences of a military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities" and that "many in the American and Israeli intelligence and security establishments believe that a strike on Iran would fail to end Iran's nuclear program and may even accelerate it...."
While this may be true of a unilateral Israeli strike, it is untrue of an American or joint attack, which many of these experts acknowledge would wreak havoc on the Iranian nuclear weapons program. Many of these same experts have explicitly called for the United States to maintain its military option as a last resort. But J Street, on its website, expressly "oppose[s] legislation authorizing, encouraging or in other ways laying the groundwork for the use of military force against Iran." Such legislation refers exclusively to an American, not an Israeli, attack. But "laying the groundwork for the use of military force against Iran" by the United States is precisely what is needed to deter Iran from going forward with its nuclear weapons program, regardless of whether or not a deal is struck. By credibly laying such groundwork, the United States reduces the chances that it will actually need to employ its military option. By undercutting the threat of employing the military option, J Street increases the likelihood that it will have to be used.
J Street, in addition to undercutting mainstream Israeli and American policy toward Iran, has also mischaracterized the views of those it cites in support of its position, including former Mossad chiefs Meir Dagan and Efraim Halevy. It cites these two Israeli security experts as opposing an American strike and an American threat to strike. Both Dagan and Halevy have repeatedly said, however, that the American military option "must always be on the table." Indeed, the vast majority of Israeli security experts, as well the Israeli public, wants the United States to maintain the military threat against Iran. J Street, which purports to be pro-Israel, wants the United States to eliminate that deterrent military threat. But many centrist J Street members are not aware of this hard left position, because its leadership will not allow critics of this and other J Street positions to tell its members the truth.
Finally, J Street is now calling for an end to bipartisan political support for the government of Israel, telling Democrats, including the woman at "the forefront" of the Democratic Party, that "everyone is now going to have to pick a side."
So I call for "open J Street." Let its members hear all sides of the issues, not only those carefully screened and vetted by its leaders.