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Pro-Peace. Pro-Israel. Different Perspectives
Rabbi Mark Dov Shapiro, Sinai Temple
Published in The Jewish Ledger, April 6, 2012


I have just come home from my second conference on Israel. At the beginning of March, I attended the national convention of AIPAC (The American Israel Public Affairs Committee).
At the end of March, I attended the annual convention of J Street.

Here’s what you need to know: AIPAC is a very large and successful pro-Israel lobby that has been active across the United States and in Washington since 1953. AIPAC is an ardent single-focus organization. For example, when I attended its convention four weeks ago, there was virtually only one item on the agenda: how to combat Iran in its attempts to develop nuclear capability.

How interesting, then, to spend time at the J Street conference. Iran was on the agenda, but the specter of nuclear attack was not the central issue for J Street. At this second pro-Israel conference, almost every presentation had to do with the prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

One representative session had this title: Palestinian and Arab Israelis, the Peace Process, and A
Two-State Solution. Another session was called: One-State, Two-State, Green State, Blue State.
A third session that featured the former US Ambassador to Israel, Daniel Kurtzer, was entitled:
Can America Still Help to Resolve the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict – and How?

Why was there this difference between the two conventions – especially in light of the fact that each meeting was organized by people who passionately love Israel?

One reason for the difference is that AIPAC has a tradition of always supporting the incumbent Israeli government. AIPAC speaks to the US Congress on behalf of Israel and if the current government of Prime Minister Netanyanhu is not first and foremost pursuing the peace process, AIPAC also sets the peace process aside.

J Street has another approach. In fact, J Street is new to the American political scene and was founded in 2008 as a very definite alternative to AIPAC. Rather than always represent the Israeli government’s position on Capitol Hill or to the American Jewish community, J Street maintains that Israel’s security and future require unceasing efforts to work for peace with the Palestinians. J Street’s mantra is that in order to remain Jewish and democratic, Israel has to pursue separation from the Palestinians. An independent Palestine has to come into being as a matter of self-interest for both sides and as a matter of justice.

Is this crazy? Is J Street dangerous? Should J Street be silent?

These are the exact questions I wanted to answer for myself by going to the J Street convention.

And having now made the journey, I have three responses to my questions.

First, I have learned that J Street is not made up of irresponsible, naïve people. Some J Street supporters do stand too far to the left for me. But the majority are concerned Jews who believe what Israel’s Declaration of Independence says: Israel was created with a commitment to “freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel.” Israel must offer “equality of social and political rights [for] all its inhabitants.”

Secondly, although the arrival of J Street in Washington may mean that members of Congress
now hear more than one message about Israel, that doesn’t mean that Congress will reduce its necessary support of Israel. In fact, it is perhaps just as likely that members of Congress will be impressed when J Street insists that working for peace and justice are its top priorities for both Israelis and Palestinians.

Third, I am quite sure that many, many American Jews who already believe in a two-state solution will be invigorated by the perspectives J Street brings to the Israeli conversation.

Should members of our Pioneer Valley community join J Street? Should they join AIPAC?

Here’s a thought: Don’t worry about joining either organization yet. First, learn about them.
Read what they say. Embrace the broad conversations they engender. Israel is alive, and so is the conversation all of us ought to have because we do and should care so much about Israel.

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