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J Street Challenges AIPAC Over Flotilla Letter

Relatedly, senators are inundated with mail

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J Street has not openly warred with AIPAC—the more conservative Israel group whose dominance J Street was partly founded to counterbalance—in awhile. As far as energy sanctions against Iran are concerned, the two groups have actually been on the same team (which has not necessarily been the Obama administration’s team). But now, a letter AIPAC is circulating for signatures is drawing a direct challenge from the newer, smaller, “pro-Israel, pro-peace” outfit.

The AIPAC letter calls for U.S. support for Israel in the face of international condemnations of the flotilla incident and calls for an international probe. “Israeli forces used necessary force as an act of self-defense and of last resort,” it argues.

“These letters,” responds J Street head Jeremy Ben-Ami, “have been drafted primarily for domestic political consumption rather than to advance the U.S. interest in peace and security in the Middle East.” (I received his letter in a press release, but haven’t seen it online yet; I’ll post it after the jump.) “J Street urges members of Congress to seek changes to the letters currently circulating before signing—or to write their own.” Among other things, Ben-Ami argues (in—what else?—a letter to legislators), the other letters do not sufficiently recognize the suffering of Gazans.

A J Street spokesperson clarified for me yesterday evening that the “letters” Ben-Ami refers to are the AIPAC one in the House, which has been lead-signed by Reps. Gary Peters (D-Michigan) and Ted Poe (R-Texas); and the one signed by Senate Majority and Minority Leaders Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), which urges the State Department to put IHH, the Turkish charity behind the flotilla, on the official U.S. terrorist list. I’ve received a letter from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations urging senators to sign on to that one.

Now you know why your congressperson didn’t answer that letter you sent them about the pothole on your block: They get quite a few!

Members Defend Israeli Flotilla Action [Ben Smith]
Reid-McConnell Letter: Consider IHH for Terrorist List [JTA]

After the jump, J Street’s letter.

The Honorable XXX
XXX House Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Representative XXX,
J Street – the pro-Israel, pro-peace lobby – is not supporting sign-on letters to the President now circulating in the [House/Senate] regarding the Gaza flotilla. As is far too often the case, these letters have been drafted primarily for domestic political consumption rather than to advance the U.S. interest in peace and security in the Middle East.
With tensions in the region already high and vital American and Israeli interests at stake, J Street urges members of Congress to seek changes to the letters currently circulating before signing – or to write their own.

The window of opportunity for a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is closing rapidly, and statements like those now circulating in Congress only push the window down harder. J Street fears that, in the years ahead, lawmakers will come to regret the failure of the United States to exercise real leadership toward ending the conflict. Failure now to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict dooms the region to further violence and puts at risk the very Jewish and democratic home in the state of Israel that lawmakers are purporting to support so deeply.

We would ask lawmakers to demonstrate real courage and leadership at this critical moment to call on the President to turn crisis into opportunity and to make ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a central priority of his foreign policy. The test for Congressional statements should not be their acceptability to any one lobby group (including J Street) but whether they advance the American, Israeli and regional interest in ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and achieving a two-state solution before it is too late.

The sign-on letters now circulating in the House and Senate, while expressing strong American support for Israel – a position we endorse – fail to address the impact of the present closure of Gaza on the civilian population, the deep American interest in resolving this conflict diplomatically, or the urgency of moving forward with diplomacy before it is too late. By ignoring these critical issues in favor of a simplistic statement that supports Israeli policy and actions, Congress is serving neither the best interests of the United States or of Israel.

We urge Members of Congress to step back from the letters currently circulating and to express more nuanced views of the situation that emphasize the urgency of American leadership to end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

We would support a letter to the President that:
• Affirms strong U.S. support for Israel, its security and its right to self-defense;
• Affirms the American interest in achieving a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, resulting in two states for two peoples living side by side in peace and security;
• Acknowledges the gravity of the situation in Gaza – where residents live on approximately 25 percent of the volume of goods from outside the territory as they did in 2005. The U.S. Government-funded charity American Near East Refugee Aid reports that Israel permits, on average, 171 trucks of food and supplies per week into Gaza, while 400 per day are needed just to meet the population’s basic nutritional needs. The World Health Organization reports that 95% of Gaza’s water fails water quality standards, leaving thousands of newborn at risk of poisoning, while 48% of Gazan children under the age of 5 suffer from Anemia;
• Affirms Israel’s legitimate interest in preventing arms and weapons from entering Gaza and condemns the use of violence by Hamas and other organizations in Gaza.
• Calls on Hamas to immediately release Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, and to renounce violence, abide by past agreements and recognize the State of Israel’s right to exist;
• Recognizes that the current blockade has not necessarily made Israel more secure but has rather strengthened Hamas’ hold on the territory. Gazan civilians blame Israel for any deprivation they now suffer while Hamas continues to ship arms through tunnels, along with food and building materials whose distribution it then controls for its own benefit;
• Welcomes Israel’s announcement of an investigation of the flotilla incident and echoes the White House’s call on the government of Israel to ensure that the investigation be impartial, independent, rapid and transparent;
• Urges the President to continue his active diplomatic engagement aimed at ending the conflict and to explore ways to advance a broader push for comprehensive regional peace;

On behalf of the over 150,000 supporters of J Street and the many Americans – Jewish and non-Jewish – who believe ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an essential interest of the United States and an existential need of Israel’s, I ask you to add your name only to letters that advance the cause of peace and security in the Middle East and to refrain from signing those designed simply to satisfy the perceived imperatives of domestic politics.
Jeremy Ben-Ami
J Street

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Garry says:

If J Street existed during World War II, it seems certain that they would have opposed the bombings of Dresden and Hamburg. After all, Germans were suffering needlessly. Yeah, Jeremy, keep tikkuning the olom while Israel is in the worst danger its been since its creation. But that’s OK. You and your leftist supporters will make a lot of money out of this.

Ed null Greene says:

While I appreciate the need for a more moderate voice, J Street is over the edge.

The Flotilla was a challenge to the security and existence of Israel which I will not compromise.

howard young says:

This is a good moral question to ask of J street. Would they have been opposed to the fire bombing of Dresden or the Atomic bombing of Hiroshima when thousands of civilians were killed .

Annette Smith says:

To compare this situation to WWII is ludicrous.

I am sure that while J Street wishs to advance the cause of peace, they are comeing at the proble from the wrong direction. They need to put them selves in the position of Israel and the people who live within range of the rockets that have been hammering them for years. How would you feel if you were afraid that the next rocket will take out your home, family, friends, etc. My guess is that you would not like that very much, but if the thought of a rocket slamming into your home and killing your family,does not bother you, then you are a idiot, and should be taken out of the gene pool, before your stupidity breeds more stupidity. The blockade of gaza is the only defence that Israel has, short of turning the whole place into a parking lot. When the people of Gaza relize that their leaders are the cause of the blockade, and get new leaders that will work with Israel, the blockade will cease, not before. Or perhaps you perfer the parking lot senario for Gaza

Elliot says:

Israel is being demonized around the world. The one place that will stand up for Israel is the US Congress. J Street chooses to stand in the way.
I call on all J Street members to tell Jermie Ben-Ami that he is WRONG on this one.
The policy decisions about the Gaza blockade are subtle and complex and being debated in Israel at this time. A big piece of the strategy is to support the PA in its stuggle with Hamas. Jeremie in his egotism is inadvertantly choosing Hamas as his partner for peace. Nuanced? Give me a break. And tell him!

Stephen says:

I disagree with the comments linking this situation to WW2. Go ahead check your liberalism when it comes to this singular situation but I won’t . The people on that
Flottilla boat were obviously looking for trouble but this does not mean this situation was not handled with total incompetency by Netanyahu govt. J street is totally right , and I count myself a supporter !

In my opinion J Street should get out of the way and not work to errode the few friends that Israel has left at this most sensative and critical moment.
I suggest that they review the film shown on the Honest Reporting web site and read Thomas Friedman’s Opinion Page article in the 16th June issue of The New York Times.

David Star says:

Where in the JStreet letter is there any mention of the IDF special forces who were ambushed and very severely wounded on the Turkish ship sponsored by that nation’s government.
Those who castigate Israel troops for killing those who would kill them earn the total contempt of real human beings.
None of the other ships in the flotilla offered any resistance and were treated with utmost courtesy, and their supplies were sent to Gaza where they were refused by Hamas at the Karni crossing.
As to Annete Smith and confused Stephen I would like to quote the most obnoxious but greatest American general of World War II.
General Patton addressed a group of GI’s who were about to enter combat thusly. “It not is not the job of you poor bastards to die for your country. It is the job of those other poor bastards to die for their country!”
Six severely wounded IDF men resulted in the deaths of nine Turkish would be murderers plus many others wounded. I say col hakavod and Ken Yirboo!

Bryna Weiss says:

I think Jeremy Ben Ami’s arrogance and self-importance has gone to unacceptable lengths. AIPAC has the same rights his organization does- to petition the Congress for redress or action when they believe it is warranted. I am a liberal, and proud of it, but when it comes to Israel, I am appalled at the anti-Israel bias in the world to which JStreet contributes. It’s disgraceful. See him for what he is- an opportunist seeking his own personal agenda, whatever that may be- power? money? attention? Who knows, but for my money he is no leader.

debbiej says:

Not for long, I hope every day. Does anyone have a clue to what AIPAC is? A criminal syndicate. A foreign agent. There are many gov docs that state the espionage, selling, steakling, sharing of US classified security information. The FBI has been investigating for years. Problem we have is, the public officials seem to derive a sense of clout, status prestige from bowing to the mob. I don’t listen to the official US gov propaganda. I urge ppl to do the research, don;’t passively except the heavy brainwashing.

Honest Broker says:

When it comes to Israel too many Jews would defend Israel even if and when it behaves like the South or Central American dictatorships of 70’s and 80’s and would expect the US to support it the way supported Argentina, Chile , and El Salvador. It is sad but true but when it comes to Israel people check all but their armed survival paranoia at the door.
War crimes are committed by all nations not only the losers the firebombing of Dresden was a war crime as was the second atomic bomb on Nagasaki. Whether there “extenuating ” circumstances is up for debate–but war crimes they were.

I encouraged my Congressman to sign the AIPAC letter. If you feel the same, let your member of Congress know. That is your real opportunity.

The AIPAC letter is the one which has bipartisan support, which “has been lead-signed by Reps. Gary Peters (D-Michigan) and Ted Poe (R-Texas); and the one signed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), which urges the State Department to put IHH, the Turkish charity behind the flotilla, on the official U.S. terrorist list.”

Phyllis Mandel says:

I support J Streets response to AIPAC. As an American Jew whom, like most of us, lost many relatives in the Holocaust, and have relatives, however, distant, in Israel, I believe that Israel’s current policy towards the Palestinians works against Israel’s survival, and does contribute to the thousands of years of antisemitism world-wide.

I believe that the very first goal must be the establishment of the Palestinian State according to the borders established for Israel at it’s inception in 1948 and that this MUST happen not a year from now, but six months from now! The situation is dire!

I believe 3 things CAN be negotiated to happen simultaneously:

1) The establishment of the State of Palestine.
2) The removal of the clause in the Hamas declaration that Israel cannot exist,
3) that UN emissaries escort all prisoners of war back to their own country.

We will wait forever, if we keep insisting that one take precedence over the others.

I believe both countries have a right to defend themselves. However, given the enmity that exists between two peoples who have been displaced from their homeland, one 2000 years ago, and the other in 1948, it will be necessary to have a UN peace-keeping force on the border between the two states for some time to come.

I thank Jeremy for his program broadcast on-line of yesterday. It was helpful and erudite.


Phyllis Mandel
Richmond, CA

I think this is an excellent idea to help stem the tide in the middle east. While I do not agree with all the points I do think that it is important to create a Palestinian state, over there.

Ryan says:

Plenty of Rabbi’s and Jews protest the violence and hypocrisy of Israel’s policies regarding Palestine/gaza/westbank. Blocking food from the civilians stomachs has nothing to do with principle, Religion, or terrorists. If you want to compare this with WWII you need to read a history book. And if you so passionately believe in half of the things you are saying, then most of you need to turn off Fox News, CNN, and NBC and visit Palestine. Visit the middle east, visit Libya, visit China, visit Albania, visit Israel, experience whats really going on and then formulate your opinion and subtract the regurgitated squabble from your vocabulary. Humanity people, HUMANITY.


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J Street Challenges AIPAC Over Flotilla Letter

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