Jewish Organizations Welcome Renewal of Peace Talks

Secretary of State John Kerry

In response to Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement, that Israel and the Palestinian Authority have the basis to resume peace talks, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:

We welcome this apparent progress toward peace, and commend Secretary of State Kerry for his leadership and effort and pledge our support for such efforts as they move forward. We pray that this is the beginning of a process that will lead to a lasting agreement that will bring true peace and stability for a region that has known conflict for thousands of years. We call on both the Israelis and the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table with a true willingness to work for peace and we pray that the vision of the prophets will soon be fulfilled.

JCPA and JStreet comments after the jump.
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs Chair Larry Gold said:

This is an opportunity that for the past two years has been extremely elusive. It grows out of the recognition that peace and security, prosperity and independence, cannot be reached by any path other than direct negotiations between Israel and Palestinians. We have no illusions about the difficulties ahead. The issues that must be resolved are profound. But the status quo is unacceptable. Israel’s future as a secure and democratic nation state of the Jewish people cannot be fully preserved without establishment of a stable, viable, and independent State of Palestine. We encourage both sides to show the courage, flexibility and persistence necessary for these talks to be successful.

JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow added:

This is a great achievement for Secretary of State Kerry who invested so much time and diplomatic effort in finally bringing Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. Last week, we and the American Task Force for Palestine joined together in Washington, D.C. to meet with members of the administration and leaders in Congress to express our support for this effort and for a negotiated peace. Two states for two peoples cannot be achieved without a strong U.S. leadership, and we are thankful to Secretary Kerry and President Obama for their leadership. But the hard work is just beginning. As we move forward, we urge all who want peace to support these negotiations and to encourage reconciliation, not division.

JStreet President Jeremy Ben-Ami said:

Secretary Kerry deserves the recognition of the entire world for his determination and creativity in achieving this breakthrough. We are confident he will remain fully engaged as the parties get down to negotiating. We thank President Obama for making this issue a top foreign policy priority of his second term.

We call on Congress and American Jews to get fully behind this peace effort to give the parties the support they need to make the tough decisions necessary to resolve their conflict.

Achieving a two-state solution is a vital U.S. national security interest and would inject much-needed stability into an increasingly unstable region. It would deal a setback to extremists and terrorists around the world who have exploited this conflict to mobilize support for their violent methods.

Such an agreement is also the only way to secure Israel’s future as both a democracy and a Jewish homeland and would provide Palestinians with a vehicle in which to fulfill their self-determination and national aspirations.

We know that difficult days lie ahead, but we are convinced that with persistence, creative mediation and international support, a deal is within reach. Vocal minorities on both sides can be expected to oppose the negotiations going forward, but must not be allowed to frustrate the desire of clear majorities of Israelis and Palestinians for a two-state solution to end this conflict.

Jewish Leaders Denounce Right-Wing Smear of Occupy Wall Street

We are publicly engaged American Jews who support both Israel and the ideas behind Occupy Wall Street and who also strongly oppose right-wing attempts to smear that movement with false charges of anti-Semitism.

It’s an old, discredited tactic: find a couple of unrepresentative people in a large movement and then conflate the oddity with the cause. One black swan means that all swans are black.

One particularly vile example was a television ad during Sunday talk shows paid for by something called the Emergency Committee for Israel that is organized by William Kristol and Gary Bauer.

It is disingenuous to raise the canard about Jews and Wall Street in order to denounce it.

Occupy Wall Street is a mass protest against rising inequality in America, a fact documented last week by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. Anyone who visits Zuccotti Park understands that it has nothing to do with religion and everything to do “with liberty and justice for all.”

All of us irrespective of party or position should expose and denounce anti-Semitism where ever it occurs, but not tar hundreds of thousands of protestors nationwide because a handful of hateful people show up with offensive signs that can’t be taken down in a public park open to all.

We are pleased that the Anti-Defamation League agrees that some random signs “are not representative of the larger views of the Occupy Wall Street movement.”

List of co-signers follows after the jump.

  • Stuart Appelbaum, President, RWDSU*
  • Jeremy Ben-Ami, founder and President, J Street
  • Richard Brodsky, former Assemblyman, New York
  • Richard Cohen, Washington Post
  • Danny Goldberg, President, Goldve Entertainment
  • Mark Green, former Public Advocate for New York City
  • Elizabeth Holtzman, former Congresswoman and District Attorney (Brooklyn)
  • Rabbi Steven Jacobs, founder, Progressive Faith Foundation
  • Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Executive Director, Rabbis for Human Rights-North America
  • Madeleine Kunin, former Governor, Vermont
  • Jo-ann Mort, CEO, ChangeCommunicaitons
  • Eliot Spitzer, former Governor, New York State
  • Andy Stern, President Emeritus, Service Employees International Union
  • Hadar Susskind, Vice President, Tides Foundation
  • Margery Tabankin, President, Margery Tabankin Assoc.
  • Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers

*Institutions for identification purposes only.

Ackerman Turns On J Street

Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY 5)

After learning of J-Street‘s current public call for the Obama Administration to not veto a prospective UN Security Council resolution that, under the rubric of concern about settlement activity, would effectively and unjustly place the whole responsibility for the current impasse in the peace process on Israel, and — critically — would give fresh and powerful impetus to the effort to internationally isolate and delegitimize Israel, I’ve come to the conclusion that J-Street is not an organization with which I wish to be associated.

It is not Israel that is refusing to enter final status negotiations. It is not Israel that has refused again and again to make unilateral gestures of good faith (recall the hundreds of West Bank security checkpoints and roadblocks removed, and the 10 month settlement freeze). It is not Israel that is now trying to force the peace process back in to the same dead-end from which the Obama Administration has spent the past month trying to extract itself. But astonishingly, it is Israel that J-Street would put in the stocks in the public square.

The decision to endorse the Palestinian and Arab effort to condemn Israel in the UN Security Council, is not the choice of a concerned friend trying to help. It is rather the befuddled choice of an organization so open-minded about what constitutes support for Israel that its brains have fallen out.

America really does need a smart, credible, politically active organization that is as aggressively pro-peace as it is pro-Israel. Unfortunately, J-Street ain’t it.

Congressman Gary Ackerman is the Ranking Democratic member of the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia.

See J-Street’s response after the jump.
— J-Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami

J Street deeply regrets and objects to Rep. Gary Ackerman’s statement today. It reflects a misunderstanding of J Street’s position and of the UN Resolution in question.

J Street hopes “never to see the state of Israel publicly taken to task by the United Nations,” as we said in our statement last week. In fact, our statement outlined how both Israel and the United States can help to avoid this issue coming to a vote at the United Nations – first, by Israel acting in its own self-interest to freeze settlement activity over the Green Line and, second, by the Obama Administration asserting “clear leadership in a serious effort to reach a two-state resolution of the conflict.”

In the absence of either of these, it should not surprise Representative Ackerman or other friends of Israel that the issue is brought to the United Nations and the broader court of world opinion. Without a two-state solution to the conflict in the near term, pressure on Israel in international fora will increasingly be the norm and not the exception.

As supporters of Israel, the fact that we have reached this point pains us deeply, and so does the Congressman’s misrepresentation of our position and of this resolution.

First, we do not “support” UN condemnation of Israel or endorse this resolution. We have urged the United States to consider withholding its veto from a resolution criticizing Israeli settlement activity – a resolution that closely tracks the policy of the United States under the last eight administrations.

Second, the resolution expresses support for a two-state solution and stresses the urgency of achieving a just, comprehensive and lasting peace. It calls on both parties to improve the situation on the ground, build confidence, and create conditions necessary for promoting the peace process. The resolution does not, as the Congressman implies, place the ‘whole responsibility for the current impasse in the peace process’ on Israel – and neither does J Street.

Third, the resolution calls on both parties to continue negotiations on final status issues.

The status quo in the Middle East is untenable. The future of Israel, as both a democracy and the homeland of the Jewish people, hangs in the balance without progress toward a two-state solution.

At a moment crying out for leadership, what’s needed now is not the politics of yesterday that the Congressman offers with this attack, but the courage to put on the table the tough steps that are needed to end this conflict. We do Israel no favors by offering a pass from facing the consequences of counter-productive actions and policies.

J Street has never excused Palestinian intransigence or signaled that the Palestinian leadership need not meet its obligations as well. We have called on the leaders of all parties to help bring about a reasonable, negotiated two-state resolution to the conflict.

We urge Congressman Ackerman to take a closer look at J Street’s statement, the UN Resolution and the situation on the ground. Saving the two-state solution will require leaders with courage and vision, both of which are sadly lacking in the Congressman’s statement today.

Heated Debate Between Dershowitz Ben-Ami

  • Dershowitz: J Street contributes to atmosphere of delegitimizing Israel
  • Ben-Ami: Dershowitz drives young, liberal Jews away from Israel

Sparks fly in an often contentious, always interesting evening of discussion centered on the question “Who Speaks For Israel?” featuring Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, recognized by many as America’s most articulate centrist defender of the State of Israel, and Jeremy Ben-Ami, founding president of J Street, the relatively new Jewish lobby on Capitol Hill that seeks to bring US pressure to bear on Israel to move the Middle East peace process forward.

More after the jump.
From the start of the discussion, neither Dershowitz nor Ben-Ami is timid in expressing criticism of the other. The evening is a marked contrast from an earlier debate the two participated in at New York’s 92nd Street Y, when moderator Elliot Spitzer tried to steer the conversation toward areas of agreement. In this exchange, Shalom TV President Mark S. Golub helps the speakers clarify the ways in which they support Israel from very different perspectives.

Although Ben-Ami begins the discussion by saying that both the Israelis and the Palestinians have contributed to a lack of peace in the Middle East, and “there is more than enough blame to go around; both sides have committed their fair share of errors,” the J Street leader refuses to say that he would tell college students that “Israel is not the problem.”

Citing J Street’s refusal to condemn the Goldstone Report, its secretly taking money from George Soros, and its criticizing Israel’s human rights record out of context, Dershowitz contends that J Street adds to current efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel and permits college students to think of Israel as an apartheid or Nazi nation.

“All human rights is comparative,” insists Dershowitz. “Nobody is better than a C+ or B-. But no country in modern history has had a better human rights record faced with comparable threats than the nation of Israel. Not the United States, not Great Britain, not France. I will not let Israel be a scapegoat for divestment, for boycotts, for delegitimization, for demonization, for being singled out as human rights violators–and J Street contributes to that atmosphere.”

Dershowitz also accuses J Street of failing to cite the positives in Israel’s human rights record, pointing to the sterling record of Israel’s Supreme Court.

“Let’s look at Israel’s Supreme Court compared to the United States’ Supreme Court,” says Dershowitz. “I would trade the two supreme courts in thirty seconds. The Israeli Supreme Court is much more sensitive to civil rights than the US Supreme Court. You wouldn’t know that listening to J Street.”

Ben-Ami counters with a claim that Dershowitz is distorting J Street’s nuanced message and makes a point of saying he believes one of the travesties of the United Nations is its obsession with Israel’s human rights record vis-a-vis the rest of the world. Ben-Ami also blames Dershowitz for pushing young people away from Israel by labeling anyone who dares to disagree with Israel as being anti-Israel or a self-hating Jew.

“You, and [your] manner of advocacy, are part of the problem, which is why so many younger, liberal Jews are walking away from Israel. You are creating an atmosphere where it is very difficult for us to feel comfortable coming forward and discussing very difficult and very troubling issues.”

One of the most dramatic moments occurs when Dershowitz suddenly reveals large blowups of frames from a J Street video grouping him with Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh in the “Chorus of No” on the two-state solution, and in opposition to President Obama, General Petraeus, Secretary of State Clinton, and the “Chorus of Yes.”

“Jeremy knows I’ve been opposed to the settlements since when he was still in diapers,” says Dershowitz as he asks for an apology from Ben-Ami.

Ben-Ami responds by saying Dershowitz owes him an apology for saying that J Street had “gone over to the dark side” in a piece Dershowitz wrote for the Huffington Post. In the end, neither man apologizes to the other.

In a most telling interchange, Dershowitz declares, “I am J Street’s nightmare because I am a liberal, Democratic Jew who strongly opposes the settlements, who strongly favors a two-state solution, who supports Obama, who supports Hillary Clinton, who supports Petraeus; but who does not support J Street. You have to create the illusion that anyone who opposes J Street is a member of the right and the Sarah Palin/Rush Limbaugh group. You can’t explain me, Irwin Cotler, Elie Wiesel–who agree with your positions but who don’t agree with the fact that you always emphasize your criticism of Israel and not your support of Israel; that you have many members of your organization who are virulently anti-Israel.”

Ben-Ami: Name one! You always say we have many members of our group who are virulently anti-Israel. Name one.

Dershowitz: Students at Berkeley who refuse to include “pro-Israel” in their name.

Ben-Ami: That makes then virulently anti-Israel?

Dershowitz: Absolutely. Why would you not have pro-Israel in your name?

Ben-Ami: This is why we view the way in which you advocate for Israel as “the nightmare” for J Street. It is true. It is because people like you, and the way in which you advocate, act as a chilling factor for people to get involved with Israel in the first place.

The two men also disagree on Iran. Ben-Ami argues that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would diminish Iran’s strength and its desire to develop nuclear weapons. Dershowitz strongly disagrees and contends that Ben-Ami is positioning Israel to take the blame if Iran develops nuclear capability.

Dershowitz is especially critical of J Street’s failure to condemn the Goldstone Report even though Ben-Ami confirms that he does not believe its conclusions which charge Israel with purposely plotting to kill civilians in Gaza and contends there is no proof that Hamas used human shields or fired from civilian areas.

“You know why you didn’t criticize the Goldstone Report?” asks Dershowitz rhetorically. “Because too many of your members would have quit–because [J Street] members voted [in favor of] the Goldstone Report without reading it!”

Ben-Ami responds that Dershowitz distorts J Street’s position, pointing out that J Street criticized the report as biased and urged the US to oppose any acceptance of the Goldstone Report in the UN Security Council. Ben-Ami also claims that the suggestion that J Street facilitated a meeting between Goldstone and members of Congress is a media lie perpetrated by a biased Washington Times.

Explaining J Street’s lobbying philosophy, Ben Ami says, “We are American citizens and we have a right to influence American policy, especially in matters regarding Israel, because, as Jews, we have a stake in what happens in that country. We have a right to tell Israel the truth–that the path Israel is on is leading it off a cliff and is not securing the Israeli future as a Jewish and democratic home. And it is the most Zionist thing we can do.”

Dershowitz summarizes his position by saying, “Criticize Israel. But tell college students both sides of the equation. Don’t let them come away with the impression that Israel is a unique human rights violator. Put it in context–that’s all I ask you to do.”

The Dershowitz/Ben-Ami debate was sponsored by the Harold Hoffman Memorial Lecture, a free annual event open to the public at Temple Beth El in Stamford, Connecticut. This year the event drew an overflow crowd of more than 1,100 people who were split in their support of Dershowitz and Ben-Ami.

The entire debate will begin airing for four weeks on Shalom TV as free Video On Demand, the Jewish network available on cable systems throughout the United States and in Canada. The program may also be viewed online by clicking here, or at under “Watch Complete Programs.”