Chicago’s annual J Street Lunch was held today. Over 325 people packed the ballroom of one of Chicago’s oldest historically-Jewish institutions, The Standard Club, to support J Street. The political guests included Senator Durbin, about half of the Illinois Democratic Congressional delegation, and numerous state and local politicians.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about the event was the content of the program (not to mention the quality of the food – which was excellent). Normally, luncheon speakers provide perfunctory praise for the host organization and stock language. But not so today.
Senator Dick Durbin led off. He is the Minority Whip and talked about the Iran Vote process. He described it as the most difficult vote he has every worked on. He described the tremendous personal effort the President put in – including individually calling 21 Congresspersons to answer their questions about the deal and to offer to get them any information or arrange for meetings with any experts they felt they needed to. The Senator then described what he felt was the pivotal meeting where several of the P5+1 ambassadors addressed on-the-fence Senators. At that meeting, the ambassadors told the Senators in no uncertain terms that the idea that there was a “better deal” to be had was nothing but a fantasy. The Senator went on to emphasize the important work J Street did in supporting the deal.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky followed and expressed how important J Street has been in opening up space in Congress for people to take positions they could never have before. She also mentioned the support that she has personally received from J Street. Jan was one of the first people to strongly come out to support the deal and took a lot of heat for it. She has been with J Street from the beginning and has become one of our staunchest supporters. Of course, I’m biased. She is my Congresswoman and a personal friend.
Jeremy Ben-Ami got up and as usual gave a measured, yet forceful, speech condemning Palestinian incitement – but then going on to talk about the necessity of putting the current violence in the context of the Occupation and the lack of progress in the peace process since PM Rabin was assassinated 20 years ago. Of course, he tied that into the importance of what J Street has been doing and what it needs to continue to do to fight for the two state solution despite the current situation.
Although it would be unheard of at events sponsored by most other organizations, the featured speaker, Jonathan Alter, didn’t necessarily agree with Ben-Ami’s framing of the situation. Alter emphasized the irresponsibility of the Palestinian leadership but didn’t bring up the context. And while he called the Iran deal an historic victory – he then went on to argue that clamping down on Iranian “bad actions” was the most important thing to do now. While J Street agrees with forceful enforcement of remaining restrictions – it feels that it is equally important to be cognizant not to derail the deal before it has a chance to even start.
To me, having Jonathan Alter express divergent opinions is an illustration of one of J Street’s greatest strengths: the principle that open, civil debate based on facts over emotion is part and parcel of our mission. J Streeters can handle listening to someone who doesn’t agree with them. As a matter of fact, it really encourages honing, strengthening and fine tuning J Street’s positions.
When the event finished, the positive buzz in the room was palpable. I spoke with several of the most long-standing and venerable leaders of the Chicago Jewish community who expressed how important it was that J Street is here, and that it is strong. They went on to specifically praise Jeremy for his leadership: informed, intelligent, steadfast and calm.
The take away is this: J Street’s work remains even more critical today than ever – even as the challenges are greater. J Street should take heart that, contrary to what many of its critics say, it has strong and growing support within the Jewish community.
An Israeli. A former security chief. Not a self-hating Jew. Not an Israel hater. Meir Dagan is worried about Israel’s future.
Dagan spoke at a “Israel Wants Change” anti-Netanyahu rally in Tel Aviv last night. As quoted by Haaretz (here):
Dagan also criticized Netanyahu. “As someone who has served the country for 45 years in security posts, including during some of its hardest hours, I feel we are at a critical period for our future and security,” he said. “I have no personal interest in the prime minister, his wife, his expenses and his way of life. I am talking about the policy he leads. It is a destructive policy for the future and security of Israel. And as someone who raised children here and is now raising grandchildren here, and who believes with all his heart in the Zionist dream, I feel there is a danger to the continued existence of this dream, and that is why I will come to speak.”
Will #Bibi mention this in Congress? Khamenei agrees with Congress: No deal better than a bad deal http://t.co/P8yzZNXIAd via @AlMonitor
— Mark Zivin (@Beyondzs) February 13, 2015
from Twitter http://ift.tt/1A2eLnA
February 12, 2015 at 08:42PM
Meetings Last Week with Members of the Knesset About the Current Situation in Israel and Operation Protective Edge
Last Wednesday, our group of J Street leaders from the United States and J Street U students spending the summer in Israel, met with four members of the Knesset to get their perspective on the war – or “Operation” as it’s referred to here. One was from Hatnua (which is Tzipi Livni’s party and part of the government), one from Meretz, and two from Labor.
From Labor and Hatnua, we heard a message of support for the war. That it was necessary and needed to be fought. While the fighting is going on, this type of position is not surprising even given the brutal way that Israel has been conducting the war. I think that they all perceive the tunnels as a very real strategic threat that needs to be destroyed and they have no illusions about the nature of Hamas as a terrorist group actively planning to attack Israel.
Because all of those we spoke with are on the center left, it is not surprising that they emphasized the importance of strengthening President Abbas so that he could be in a position to gain enough political power to execute a deal with the Israelis. They felt that one of the not so obvious benefits of this war is that it opened the eyes of many, not only in the government, but in the general population as well, to the fact that they have someone that they can deal with on the other side. All of a sudden, Abu Mazen has gone from being the “Partner we can’t Trust” to being ‘not so bad’ compared to the alternative. Amram Mitzna, former General and Mayor of Haifa and Yeruham, feels that the Operation will help more people understand that there is no better option than the two state solution. There is no military solution to the conflict because Hamas is more than a military organization – it is a state of mind. Israel can destroy all of the rocket caches, blow up the tunnels and kill all of Hamas leaders, but Hamas’ “death to Israel” message will simply be adopted by new leadership.
But the most surprising and most upsetting thing we heard about is what has been going on in Israeli society. Over the past several years, there has been a steady and significant increase in overt racism in the country. This extreme hatred is now being projected against those who oppose the war. Whether it is at physical protests where marchers have been beaten up and forced to disperse – or online bullying which has gone to the extreme of calling out death threats to those posting pieces against the war – we heard about an ugly atmosphere of hate that is getting stronger and stronger. These MKs were concerned that the Cabinet Ministers have remained silent on denouncing these racist attacks. Rather, said one, Ministers are often actually the ones inciting this conduct. Virtually everyone we spoke with was extremely concerned about the increase in societal hatred – even the American Consul General in a separate meeting. Although the tragedy of the death and destruction from the war is heart wrenching, what hits me the strongest is the changing nature of Israeli society. There is something going on here that is abhorrent and rotten. No one drew any links directly to the Occupation, but it is clear that in order to enforce the Occupation, there is a need to dehumanize the Palestinians as “the other”. And once a society labels one group that way, it is a short hop to applying the same attitude to any other group. This trend is taking Israel further and further away from what most of us consider to be our Jewish values.
Along these lines, we also heard about the deterioration of conduct within the Knesset. Of course, it reminded us of home, seeing that Congress continues to set new lows in obstructionism and lack of decorum. One characterization of the way bills are pushed through the Knesset was “violent”. Not a term that one expects to hear describing legislative functioning. Just as in the U.S., we got the sense that there is a general breakdown in decorum and long-standing unspoken rules of how to relate to your political opponents. Whether this reflects the trends of more explicit and blatant religious, ethnic and, now, political hatred, or leads those trends, isn’t clear. But what was being communicated to us by the MK’s was that this was a serious, serious problem.
Finally, all of the MK’s expressed their appreciation for J Street leaders – particularly the J Street U students – for being in Israel at this time of war, and caring enough to reach out to see and hear what was going on so that we could bring what we saw back to those in the U.S.
An uneventful day. Thank god.
Arrived at Ben Gurion Airport about 5PM. The flight from Newark was 60% full. Not much English being spoken. There is always something magical to me when I first spot the green fields – a product of modern irrigation technology – poking through the clouds that always seem to be hanging over the coast line. I am not sure what it is – but there is some energy in the air that is special. It makes people want to be in this land. And to possess it.
This time, we approached from the North. To avoid any potential rockets from Gaza of course. The lines for Foreign Passport Control were non-existent. The cabby complained that “there are no tourists. Now, I have to wait three hours at the airport for a fare.”
I look for signs of the war – but frankly, here, there aren’t many. The beach is still filled with bathers, folks are jogging along the Tayelet, and the matkot players are still smacking the balls back and forth. But there is a noticeable quiet. Traffic is light. The hotel lobby is empty. The people are still.
I am here with a group of J Street leaders to show our support for Israel in this time of war. To try to support all of those suffering during the latest chapter in this long conflict. We also want to connect with those Israelis who we really are working for and with – those who see that there is no military solution to this conflict. That the only way to break the cycle is with a negotiated agreement ending in two states for two peoples. Then, perhaps, there will be a chance for real security.
We heard over dinner from Gadi Baltinski, Director of the Geneva Initiative, that 85% of Israelis support this operation. They support the military and the government (for the time being – nothing like a war to increase an incumbent’s popularity), BUT they also don’t think that this will solve the ultimate problem. Never the less, they back the government because they see this war as being the fault of Hamas. And, now, all of a sudden, people are seeing Abu Mazen as the “good” guy. Where were they when he really needed support during the negotiations? “No partner for peace…”
Akiva Eldar, writer for Haaretz and Al-Monitor and, ironically, head of the first annual Haaretz Peace Conference held July 9 just as the rockets began firing, told us that the only solution is a regional one. King Faisal of Saudi Arabia actually wrote a piece in Haaretz a few weeks ago reiterating that the Arab Peace Initiative is still on the table. He implored us to go back to the US and talk with politicians and tell that nothing is more bi-partisan than ending this conflict. After all he said, the idea that ending this conflict was in America’s best interest really took root when George H.W. and James Baker challenged Yitzhak Shamir on building settlements. That was hundreds of thousands of settlers ago.
Tomorrow we head to Jerusalem to hear the take of several MK’s, meet with the US Consul General, and visit some victims of the violence in Hadassah hospital.
So far, no sirens. But last night, I was told, they came about 2 AM.