An Exchange between Friends on J Street, Israel and Its Security

Mitchell Clair and I have been having friendly arguments about Israel for years. Here is a recent email exchange:

To: Lee Bender
From: Mitchell Clair
I know you read Jeffery Goldberg. I would say that his editorial, Goldblog is a Pro-J Street Blog, pretty closely reflects how I feel about J Street.

Extract: Ordinarily, I would not be so vociferous in the defense of J Street, but the hearing last week in the Knesset held to determine whether or not J Street is a pro-Israel organization….

Let me be clear about something: There are many things about J Street I dislike. I think some of its members actually don’t like Israel very much, and especially don’t like the idea of Israel. I think many J Street supporters are cringing Diaspora Jews who are embarrassed by displays of Jewish muscularity…. There is much about J Street policies that I don’t like; I think J Street believes that settlements are the root cause of the Middle East conflict…

But: J Street is still a Zionist organization. …The Knesset is debating whether or not J Street is Zionist. This is a farce. The prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, refuses to meet with J Street. This, too, is a farce. The Prime Minister, in fact, will meet with Sarah Palin (whose politics are favored by a tiny minority of American Jews) but he will not meet with J Street. He should argue with J Street, yell at J Street, grapple with J Street, but most of all meet with J Street.

To: Mitchell Clair
From: Lee Bender
Thanks. While this is a very spirited defense of why J Street should still be in the pro-Israel tent, it is real hard to believe they really deserve to be based on so much of what they espouse, who they are funded by and how antagonistic they are to Israel’s security needs, and their blind faith in Palestinian politics, intentions (see PLO, PA and Hamas charters, let alone incitement in media, schools and mosques) and terrorism. J Street wants Israel to bargain away its security to Hamas, who rules Gaza.

Really, is that being pro-Israel?  

More after the jump.
If Netanayhu and Knesset members don’t want to talk to J Street, so what?  It is clearly their prerogative, after all Israel is a democracy.

Frankly, this is really all a small part of the recognition, finally by Israel, that there are many NGOs out there, funded by many anti-Israel sources, especially Europeans and European governments, who are meddling in Israeli politics.

In the US, we have a statute since 1930s, Foreign Agents Registration Act, that mandates disclosure of funding by groups lobbying the U.S. Government if they are funded by a foreign entity or government. Israel is finally trying to do the same, and J Street is one of those organizations that is coming under its purview. Israel Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren, a very intelligent, deliberate articulate scholar would not meet with J Street recently due to is very disingenuous positions on Israel.  I disagree with Goldberg here that Rabin would have too; in fact, the Zionist Organization of America’s (full disclosure, I am a Vice President of the Greater Philadelphia District) positions on Israel and any two-state solution mirror Rabin’s. Israel’s security must be paramount-period.  Otherwise, what is the point?  

When Palestinians demonstrate true readiness for peaceful co-existence and recognition of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, then we can talk.  Read Khalid Abu Tomeah, a very respected Palestinian Arab journalist who writes frequently for Israeli newspapers; he argues the Palestinians are not ready for peace, don’t want it with Israel, are corrupt, and in disarray politically (between Gaza and West Bank).  Now is not the time. Pressure must be on them. Israel has extended its hand for peace consistently, Palestinians have not.

J Street wants Israel to basically give it all up and be vulnerable and defenseless — for nothing, no guarantees. And frankly, many of the at J Street are real ashamed to be Jews or that Jews have demonstrated a strong will to be alive in their own state.  They want to birth the 23rd Arab state no matter what, no matter that it will be a failed state, a terrorist launching pad at Israel’s heart.

Need proof:  Gaza.  

Those are just a few of my very quick thoughts.

To: Lee Bender
From: Mitchell Clair
I have, as does Goldberg, many of those same concerns about J Street. I think the bigger issue is whether there is a  secure peace from the left that might work better than the belligerence we see from the right. The settlements are not the cause of the conflict or the reason there is no peace, but they are political if not moral and legal obstacle (and I mean the settlements, not the neighborhoods). 1967 borders are not workable, neither is the settlement in Hebron

To: Mitchell Clair
From: Lee Bender
Right now, this is the best “peace” Israel has and will have for foreseeable future with Palestinians. Do you want them to control territory overlooking Ben Gurion Airport, technically in Judaea and Samaria, which they want for their state?  I’ll never trust them to secure Israel’s borders and peace, and neither will Israel, rightfully.  If Jews are not permitted to live anywhere they want, including in communities (they are not settlements), then anyone who argues such is making a racist argument.  Why are Palestinian Arabs, then, allowed to live where they want, or in Israel itself? If that is the case, then move everyone both ways over borders. That’s not going to happen. But I am real sick and tired of hearing that Jews are not permitted to live where they want. Jordan did not permit Jews to live in the West Bank (from 1948-1967), nor in Jordan for that matter, though that land was part of the British Mandate and envisioned for a Jewish state.  What gives the Palestinians the right to demand Jews to be moved from these areas?  

“Settlements” are NOT immoral; the deliberate targeting, rocketing and murdering of innocents are, and that is Palestinian policy and doctrine. How about starting there first?

To: Lee Bender
From: Mitchell Clair
There is not much that you said that I disagree with. We have to find a way to disengage. As Sharon said “occupation is not good for them or us.” The status quo is not sustainable.

To: Mitchell Clair
From: Lee Bender
Leaving Gaza was a horrible, terrible move, and not what Sharon sold it as or envisioned the move would be, and he would probably express regret if he had the physical capacity. It has provided them with a launching pad for terror on Israel’s doorstep; per Sharon’s plan, there would be no justification for Palestinians to fire at Israel once Israel removed every single Jew from that territory, and retaliation would be swift and punishing. That has obviously not been the case and they are emboldened now to wage yet another war. And Hamas took over Gaza completely, something also not envisioned- Israel’s “peace partner”, the corrupt Palestinian Authority, was supposed to be in charge. Gaza is the best example of what Israel will face with another Palestinian state in its midst, in Judea & Samaria, on the high ground, with a dagger at Israel’s heart.

By the way, polls consistently show that Palestinians given the choice, want to be inside the security fence on the Israel side, not the Palestinian side.

To: Lee Bender
From: Mitchell Clair
Yes, they are bad. Complaining and punishing them is not the answer — that just feeds the problem. Another solution must be found.  Wishing we could just kill them all is not a productive answer.

To: Mitchell Clair
From: Lee Bender
I did not say kill them; contain them until they respect our rights to live as human beings in peace, dignity and co-existence. They turned down a state of their own in 1933, 1948, 1967, 2000 and 2008.  So what is your answer?  Right now, status quo is best for protecting Israel.

To: Lee Bender
From: Mitchell Clair
I would do two things.

  1. I would stop protecting the outpost settlements. If they want to stay they can–but they send a terrible signal and are too expensive to protect.
  2. I would do everything possible to build up the West Bank economy–people who are happy and earning a living don’t want to fight.

I think that example and stability is best chance to bring prestige to the PA and make them more attractive to the Gazans.  We need the people in Gaza to feel inspired by the Egyptians, Tunisians and Libyans.

To: Mitchell Clair
From: Lee Bender
How do you deal with Hamas, who is ruling Gaza and if not for IDF (Israel Defense Forces) would swamp the PA in West Bank? Do you advocate that Israel give up the Jordan River Valley?  In fact, NO Israeli leader has stated that Israel would do so in any deal for a two-state solution with the Palestinians.  Do you think Palestinians would go for that — IDF patrolling border with West Bank and Jordan?  I agree building up West Bank economy is great. In fact over the past year that area has experienced amongst the highest growth rate of any economy in the world.  Has that changed their tune, from their leaders, what they preach in Arabic in media, TV, text books, schools and mosques, about Israel and Jews?  Hardly.  The brainwashing, especially since Oslo Accords in 1993, has poisoned a generation of Palestinians, who are not at all prepared for peace, unlike Israel’s curriculum which has indeed, and miraculously a large segment of Israelis were prepared to separate and give them a state; but they have lived through Gaza, Lebanon and are rightfully and understandably skeptical.

Note:
Lee Bender and Mitchell Clair are attorneys and members of the Men’s Club of Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El and share a healthy, friendly rivalry.

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