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Talking to J Street
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Talking to J Street

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

After almost nine years of being ignored by Israel and by most of the mainline leadership of the Jewish community reports are now coming from Israel that a minister in the Netanyahu Government has held meeting(s) with J Street’s Israeli representative. After trying to make J Street into a pariah within the Jewish community, the Israeli Government now believes that J Street might be best able to actively help Israel as it seeks to mount a major response in the States against the growing Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

The extensive connections that J Street has developed on university campuses for their pro-Israel pro-peace cause has given it the best entre to possible forces addressing the growing BDS movement. Its strength has driven the Netanyahu Government obviously to decide that J Street is best positioned of any organization in the States to reach out to the liberal and progressive movement of Jews who might already be considering supporting the BDS movement.  As a left-wing movement, they are also best situated to make the case against those already engaged with the BDS movement.

This decision presents a number of problems for American Jews and none for Israel. As a sovereign state Israel must decide what is in its national interest. If it believes that J Street can best help in the fight against the BDS movement, it can choose to reverse its opposition to J Street.  The Netanyahu Government can select–beyond policy issues like settlements or even the peace process—what it is willing to do for J Street’s support after all the years of opposing its existence; without necessary suggesting a clear quid prop quo.

For example, Israel seek to pressure the Presidents’ Conference to reverse its previous decision and admit J Street to the Conference. The Netanyahu Government also could give J Street the blessing of legitimacy to participate in important meetings with diaspora Jews. It also could publically defend J Street as a totally legitimate pro-Israel group within the American Jewish community.

For American Jews the problems are more complicated. At the behest—subtly and not publicly—of the Israeli Government Jewish groups in the States have fought against J Street’s legitimacy.  Validating them today after years of opposing it, means that AIPAC and all of the major pro-Israel powerhouses will have to eat crow.  As the Israeli Government challenges the ineffectiveness of the mainline community to challenge BDS and engages J Street, AIPAC and all the leaders in the pro-Israel community will need to swallow very hard to accept this decision; even for the sake of fighting BDS.  

More critical, however for both Israel and the American Jewish community is the fact that they will now have to address the major raison d’etre of J Street, pro-Israel and pro-peace; pushing much harder for a two-state solution.  While Israel may well be able to escape this confrontation—at least for a while due to internal political necessities—AIPAC, all the leaders of the major Jewish organizations, and American Jews will not find it so simple. There have already been elements among American Jews who have wanted to shift American Jewish support away from the hard-line, right-wing, policies of the Netanyahu Government. 

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