J Street—the lobby group that claims to be “pro-Israel” and “pro-peace”—is anything but “open” to centerist 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 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 on false pretenses. The key to J Street’s success in increasing its membership roles 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 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.
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.
My chance meeting with Dina
My chance meeting with Dina on Ovadia Street changed my life. At 2:00 on Friday afternoon, Shabat is around the corner. I am part of the wave of shoppers and storekeepers abandoning the shuk. In the summer the space is now devoid of people. I compare it to a balloon with it’s air sucked out.
Of course the shuk doesn’t collapse, only all of it’s gates come down with a rattle. It’s air and replaced it with argon light. In the hours before Shabat, as they leave the city, the encroaching light trails after the exilled shuks’s shoppers. whose arms are laden with packages. In contrast, those like myself who live in the city center, often begin to meander these same uncluttered streets in no particular hurry. I’m tempted with my free hands to wave to the last of the commuters.
On that particular relaxing Friday my stride was blocked but not by any last minute shoppers. So what was bringing my steps to a halt? I had reached a very slow walker. Why a blockade now? The narrow alley, called a simtah in Hebrew, Ovidia Somach, could accommodate but two walkers, one in each direction and Dina was careful to place her cane across the open side lest anyone consider overtaking her. She waved the cane off the ground cautioning me to stay back and wait for further orders. Each step seemed a struggle for her, like climbing a precipitous hill cautiously without the reward of a downward carefree ride at the end.
I only know Dina in the context of the soup kitchen where I sometimes volunteered and where she dined.
Her white hair and pale face revealed her Ashkinazic origins. In a neighborhood of overwhelmingly close knit Sephardi families, this made Dina stand out. Sefardy women of all ages, 60,70,80 and onward have black hair. Either via Henna or the bottle.
She was out on an aggressive mission with ambitions for me. Maybe she allowed others to pass. I would be aggressively abducted to escort her. Protesting was a useless persuit.
I, thankfully, have never relied on gifts of food for Shabat or anytime, except after my parent’s passing. During Shivah. The gifts were comforting. They were brought by close friends. Dina had a trail to follow. Or maybe her senses were so attuned that she knew exactly which families to visit, which ones carried many bags and wagons home from the shuk on the day prior that surely they would not miss her portion. which women were her loyal donors.
Clearly, when I saw the plastic containers that she carried I could only reach one conclusion. She was out to visit as many families as she had the strength to muster, to gather food for her Shabat table. It was this end goal that fueled her exertion.
I just happened to be behind her as she approached one of her hosts. I’ll call it Hashgaga Pratis. Not only was I walking behind her, but I was walking slow enough for her to pace herself. I reached her and simultaneously we intersected her first destination. Now that’s timing. Her gait was laborious. She had an agenda for both of us. I was recruited to join her, physically with her cane. Not subjected to a polite request.
As so happen often to me in Israel, situations arise and they get played out. It’s like a free ride. Almost always for the better. The situation of me willingly getting taken in without arguement, brought up memories of my mother ensconcing herself in Manhattan decades ago. She, too was the recipient of an anonymous person’s generosity. Only in mom’s case, she paid for frozen meals that were not free or home-made.
Mother’s meals came off an assembly line. Rather ordinary. She held her breath for the treats that I brought, fresh fruits and vegetables. Mother asked advice. Requested that I get her mail, and bring some special treats , “next time.” Now I was being told over Dina’s shoulder, “come and walk with me.” Hardly a polite request.
I was not sure what she wanted from me. I spoke Hebrew, “It hurts to walk”? To be honest, the sacrifice on my part of escorting her a few steps home would not be a burden. She looked steady enough, only about 5 feet tall with a low center of gravity. She didn’t appear to need help. She didn’t hold out her arm.
I then began to see the broader picture. Very efficient in her motions, she stopped and signaled to the tiny courtyard and I turned into it. She waved her cane upwards. It was now a cattle prod rather than an aid for support. She caught my eye, shook her head and yelled “Sarah”, giving me the impression that she wanted the name repeated. I walked slowly to the courtyard hoping that someone would respond after my first yell.
Dina stood impassioned, eager, at the entrance to the courtyard, leading me to believe that there was a Sarah and she was waiting for Dina. Above. Of-course I was needed up the long flight of stairs. Dina would not be able to manage the stairs.
Around the corner after the set of stairs was visible a compact smiling lady and she promptly waved me on. Short introductions. She had no spare time. She was standing hovering over a kitchen table, in a kitchen intended for cooking, and eating, but was now a porch and sleeping area as well.
With slow deliberate movements, the same way a housewife claims choice produce at her green-grocer, Sarah yielded tenderly 4 homemade burekas covering a diner plate. Hardly enough for a whole shabas. I dutifully brought the plate down to Dina and I was immediately waved back up. This was beginning to feel like a recue operation.
Sarah saw me and shook her head and pursed her lips and dove into several pots drawing up portions of rice and potatoes. She deftly dropped them into into plastic containers. She topped the basics off with a container of Zhoug, no cover. Quite a knack Sarah had.