Advertise - Print Edition

Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Responding to ‘inaccurate’ attacks on J Street’s views

Published: October 23, 2009
Section: Opinions

In The Hoot’s Oct. 16th edition, Leon Markovitz ‘10 published an article, “A few thoughts on Brandeis ‘progressive’ Zionists: J Street,” a piece that was factually inaccurate and completely unrepresentative of J Street’s views. The first argument in this article insists that J Street believes past lobbying activity has intended to fuel the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Mr. Markovitz then continues, “So this new group has decided to give dialogue, and ‘critical analysis of governmental policies’ another chance.”

Nowhere on J Street’s website or in any of the organization’s literature can one find support for this notion that other lobbies have intended to fuel the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. J Street believes that honest negotiations, fueled by robust American leadership, represent the only way to resolve this conflict. Of course all of the organizations in the American-Israel lobby want to see the Israeli Palestinian conflict resolved! The hint of nuance Markovitz misses is that these groups believe that there are different ways to achieve that goal.

In saying that J Street has decided to give critical analysis of governmental policies “another chance,” does that imply that active citizenship was at some point put on hold? Critical analysis of governmental policies is a pillar of responsible citizenship and true activism. Without critical analysis, citizens simply stamp their approval on any initiative a government presents, regardless of its merits. If Markovitz wishes to move forward without critical analysis, does that mean that it was wrong when Americans opposed the War in Iraq? This is, after all, an example of critical analysis of governmental policies.

Markovitz states that J Street believes that it understands the Israeli-Palestinian conflict better than the Israelis living on the ground, which is completely inaccurate. One will not find J Street outlining policies on final status issues, such as borders or the status of Jerusalem, because the organization recognizes that these are issues to be worked out by the parties involved. This information can be found in the “Policy” section of J Street’s website.

The disapproval of American involvement in Israeli politics included in Markovitz’s piece seems to ignore the amount of support the United States sends to Israel. Israel annually receives an average of $3 billion from the United States in direct foreign assistance. In per-capita terms, this breaks down to $500 per Israeli citizen. The number two recipient of American foreign aid, Egypt, receives $20 per person.

This information is not included to promote a decrease in US aid to Israel, but rather to point out that there is a reason for heavy American diplomatic involvement in Israel, where American leadership is relied upon. No major breakthrough in the name of peace, whether Camp David I and the resultant peace treaty with Egypt or the Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty, has come about without heavy American involvement.

The article includes the claim that J Street does not support Israel’s right to defend itself. This indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of J Street and its positions. At, J Street’s position on “Security and Terror” clearly states, “J Street condemns without question the indiscriminate firing of rockets from Gaza by Hamas and other entities at Israeli civilians – and recognizes the unquestioned right of Israel to take action to answer acts of terror and violence.”

Additionally, there is specific support for J Street among Israel’s military brass and security officials. J Street supporters include the former head of Israel’s internal security service, Admiral Ami Ayalon, retired; Former Chief of General Staff of the IDF Amnon Shahak; 27-year IDF veteran and Brigadier General Israela Oron, retired; former Foreign Minister and Internal Security Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, retired; and former chief of IDF military intelligence Major General Shlomo Gazit, retired. But what do they know about Israel’s security-related interests?

As is highlighted in Markovitz’s article, there are Arab and Muslim Americans, including Iranians, who donate thousands of dollars to J Street. This, the author implies, means that J Street must not have Israel’s best interests in mind.

This nefarious conclusion borders on racism. While I cannot speak for other Israel-advocacy organizations, I trust that they, like J Street, accept support based on the substance of a person’s thoughts, not their regional background or religious beliefs.

The author concludes his piece by stating the importance of Israel remaining a Jewish democracy. I completely agree, and it is for precisely those reasons that Israel desperately needs to pursue negotiations.

According to Arnon Soffer, professor of geography at the University of Haifa, by 2020 there will be more Arabs than Jews in land controlled by Israel. Unless both Jewish and Palestinian states exist within those boundaries, Israel will then be forced to choose between its democratic system of government and its Jewish character. If it chooses democracy, all citizens must be granted the right to vote, bringing about the problem of protecting Jews in a country where they are a minority population. If Israel chooses to maintain its Jewish majority, Palestinians living in the West Bank must be denied their voting rights. This is a ticking demographic time bomb threatening to destroy the state of Israel, one that the IDF cannot combat and can only be defused by the creation of a Palestinian state.

Markovitz also references a statement by Brandeis J Street U member Jeremy Konar ‘10, that “J Street U was not created at Brandeis in order to sling facts and figures back and forth between groups of different opinions.”

He interprets Mr. Konar’s statement as one of pompous arrogance, which could not be further from the truth. Konar meant that J Street U intends to facilitate a civil and dispassionate debate about American Middle Eastern policy among Brandeis students. Markovitz’s smear article, which egregiously misrepresents J Street and J Street U and misinterprets statements from their members, indicates that he may not share the same interest.

Of course reciprocity is needed in negotiations, as Markovitz states at the end of his article. However, a bit of urgency from the Israeli side of the table may be equally critical.