The J Street Crowd and its idiosyncrasies


ZFA Israel Advocacy Update. 3rd October 2013 – Submitted and written by Gabrielle ‘Gabsy’ Debinski. Media and Advocacy Director of the Zionist Federation of Australia……………..

“Peace and security. Nobody should choose between peace and security. The State of Israel doesn’t need to choose between peace and security…. As I’m fighting for peace – and there is a political price for it – in the negotiations room, I’m fighting also for Israel’s security. And I’m here today in order to ask you, this special audience, those who are fighting for peace: In your quest for peace don’t abandon Israel’s security needs.”

Such was the message of Tzipi Livni, Israel’s Justice Minister, in her addresses at J Street’s national conference this week.

J Street, a non-profit organization, held its national conference in Washington DC, and unsurprisingly was full of spirit and controversy.

Livni sent a powerful message to J Street’s progressive crowd, which since its founding in 2008 has come under fire from pro-Israel figures in Washington and Israel for its criticism of the Israeli government.

Indeed, the self-described “political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans” has sparked debate about the parameters and definitions of being ‘pro-Israel.’

Most notably last year American law professor and prominent pro-Israel advocate Alan Dershowitz, accused the lobby group  of “totally undercutting American policy toward Iran,” and of misrepresenting the views of prominent Israelis over thwarting Iran.”

In an interview with the Times of Israel Dershowitz said his own views on Israeli settlement policy and on the two-state solution “are closer to J Street in many ways,” but that the lobby group’s position on Iran had taken it out of the pro-Israel camp.

The national conference featured high profile politicians, thinkers and diplomats, and included addresses from US Vice President Joe Biden as well as Martin Indyk, US special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

So what big issues were discussed, and why all the apparent drama?

Husam Zomlot of Abbas’ Fatah party was met with loud applause for his appeal to the Palestinian law of return and call for official recognition of ‘the Nakba.’

“What do refugees want?” he asked. “They want… four options. Some of them might want to stay where they are. Some of them might want to resettle somewhere else, in a third country. Some of them might want to choose to come back to the state of Palestine. And some of them might want to return to their original homes. But all of them- all of them- want one thing. Full recognition of the Nakba that has befallen our people (sustained applause).” (You can hear the address on a recording posted to sound cloud).

Allowing for a Palestinian law of return is considered a non-starter by Israel and this has been conveyed to successive Palestinian leaders as non-negotiable. This premeditated focus at a ‘pro-Israel’ convention is merely inflammatory.

At the same time, the choice of Zomlot as a speaker is also divisive. The former PLO representative to the UK who last year told +972 Magazine that “resistance, including armed resistance, is a right [of Palestinians]” hardly seems to perpetuate J Street’s ‘pro-peace’ mantra.

A diversity of views should not only be accepted in this context, but should be encouraged. These sorts of conventions should evoke thought and reflection on the conflict and are meaningless if they fail to provide room for consideration of the other.

However, it was the audience’s ‘robot-like’ reception of various speakers and rejection of others, that is causing the most stir.

The Times of Israel reported that when Labor leader MK Shelly Yachimovich said “we believe in a free and democratic Israel with a strong army and secure borders to defend not only our people but our values” she received a lukewarm clapping. And when she paused after adding “this is the true Zionist dream,” there was no applause at all.

If this is the sentiment of a self-proclaimed ‘pro-Israel’ conference, I shudder at the thought of its antithesis.

Social issues also fired up the crowd. Members of Knesset Ruth Calderon (Yesh Atid) and Merav Micaheli (Labor) got heated on a panel on “The Changing Face of Politics in Israel: Will Women Lead the Way?”

Their verbal row showed that they both have a vested interest in a feminist agenda, but disagree on how to go about it.

great article in the Daily Beast  sums up the crux of the panel. It says while the two female MKs agree that the Knesset is “a boys’ club,” Michaeli went on to describe a time when solidarity between the Knesset’s women failed to materialize.

It says:

“MK Hanin Zoabi, a female Arab parliamentarian, had proposed a bill to promote gender parity in Israel’s political parties. To Michaeli’s shock, many of the other female MKs chose not to endorse it. She recalled members of the Meretz party yelling, “How can you possibly not support this legislation?”and one of the members from Yesh Atid—Calderon’s party—answering, “Don’t be so angry, we’re working on a similar bill ourselves, we’re just not going to vote for Zoabi’s legislation.”

Calderon dismissed Michaeli’s claim with two words: “That’s bullshit.” At least they weren’t putting on any pretences for their ‘politically-correct’ audience.

It was also reported that members of the crowd, which was composed largely of self-defined progressives, weren’t very moved when a number of attending MKs discussed rising income gaps in Israel. Pluralism though was a popular subject, and Calderon was greeted by rounds of applause when she mentioned the need for increased religious diversity in Israel.

The J Street crowd’s distinct support for progressive social issues, and seeming disregard for Israel’s right to peace with security, leaves an uncomfortable taste in the mouth.

But hopefully the sentiment of Tzipi Livni will be absorbed somewhat, even if subconsciously.  And Livni can hardly be dismissed as hawkish.

“The Middle East is not… a fairytale  or a Hollywood movie,” she said. “We live in a tough neighbourhood and even after a peace agreement is reached… it will remain a tough neighbourhood. Peace — real peace — will not come in the same moment in which we sign, hopefully, the peace treaty.”

“We cannot just throw the keys over to the other side of the new border and hope for good…. “We cannot afford in our region, to be naive.”


Check Also

From Israel: “Give No Quarter!!”

The world is in horrendous shape.  And yet, yet the focus is on us, here …


  1. JStreet is yet another manifestation of the general malaise that’s hit the USA.
    The rationale for JStreet’s existence and efforts seems to be to find favour in the eyes of Obama and his mob, nothing more.
    And so, in order to win points domestically, they act against Israel.

  2. I wonder whether Debinski actually attended the conference. The report below from my friend Ralph Seliger presents a very different picture:

  3. Well in that case she should read carefully what long-time Zionist Ralph Seliger – who actually attended the conference – wrote, particularly the bit below which totally repudiates a key part of her argument:

    Rank & file attendees noted with some dismay, that a couple of news articles exaggerated applause in the audience for a right of return for Palestinians to what is now Israel. J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami clearly stated, at both the outset and the conclusion of the conference, that refugees would be returning to the new Palestinian state but not to Israel, in a two-state peace agreement (although I’m sure that Ben-Ami knows that a small token number of returnees is a possibility).

    • Your web address is causing your comments to be put in ‘Spam’. It’s not unlike those which are Spam, as these posts come from web sites. Maybe just put your email address which is all that is required

      • I am quite appalled by the following piece at Galus Australis.

        What appalls me more is the fact the writer doesn’t have the courage of his/her convictions to put his/her name to it. To me it shows cowardice.

        If you believe in something then you stand up and fight for what you believe in, not hide behind a curtain of secrecy on some weak pretext.

        They are in dreamland if they think many people support their far left causes. Most of the Community are ‘right’ supporters.

        Their comments are staggering. It’ll be interesting to see if mine is. These Jews are very true to their leftist friends and only publish generally what suits their own agenda.

        For example

        “ZFA offends a large proportion of Australian Zionists”

        “The ZFA is a conservative organisation and their Israel updates are consistently demeaning towards anyone who has critical views on Israel.”

        “I think that if you want to be a progressive Zionist in Australia then it’s worth engaging with Ameinu, or NIF, or UPJ (or Habo/Hashy/Netzer).”

        “There are many active and passionate progressive Zionists in Australia, but don’t expect to find a home in the ZFA.”

  4. Philip

    Reading the compendium of select and intentionally placed quotes from the vast body of conflicting contribution at the Conference, one can distil the KNOWN – without prejudice – stances of each participant.

    Ralph may have attended SOME of the proceedings, but he also mentioned that he was looking forward to following them “online”, just like Gasby or you and I….

    Then the farcically conceived balancing act of Ben Ami of accepting Shoah as a legitimate cause for the establishment of the Jewish State is proven perfunctory by the immediate introduction of the “legitimacy” of Palestinian demands in the current climate.

    You do point out that Ben Ami states, indeed, that “….Palestinian would not be returning to the Israel…”.

    The tenure of Ben Ami’s fundamental position indicates that Ben Ami considers that the denial by Israel of a Palestinian right of return must be seen as a fait accompli, a decisive outcome of Israeli IMPOSITION by denial of THE”right”.

    If Ben Ami would have genuinely considered the official Israeli position as just and inevitable, he would have said that the Palestinian “SHOULD” not be allowed to exercise the particular “right”. But he didn’t and what he said is a reflection of compassionate sentiments, empathy for the Palestinians in an inevitable outcome, as I said.

    The mere acceptance by your Zionist friend, Ralph Zeliger of the term “Nakba”, even within the perfunctory concept of historical relativity that the Arabs at the time of the Nakba should not have opposed certain conditions etc., resolves itself, once again, within the concept of acceptance at THIS decisive juncture of the Palestinian stance that the 1948 events constituted a “NAKBA” where by Zeliger even introduces the notion of a necessary Jewish “guilt” in relation to the Nakba”.

    I would like to remind you that the fallacy of ” what could have happened if……” is superbly covered by Sir Isaiah Berlin in his work ” Historical Inevitability” ( London NYC Oxford University Press, 1954 ). Zeliger’s “romanticism” emphasises his sympathy for the Palestinian revisionist and not so hidden visceral inimical, anti Zionist interpretation of the same.

    In the same context of transparent duplicity, Avishai adopts a farcical concern for Zionist causes while abandoning with aplomb any hope for balance when suggesting a preferred “International Status for Jerusalem”, a well known non sequitur to the current Israeli stance at the “negotiations”.

    All in all, the Conference had, if anything, engrossed the well crystallised opinion that JStreet has NOT altered at all its ideological opposition to the “virulent” Zionism displayed by Israel. The merely descriptive, non substantive fact that a more diverse list of participants included known ANTI JStreet activists , cannot possibly be conducive to a notion that JStreet had also ADOPTED the views of those who were invited to object to its agenda.

    If anything the inclusion of known Arab critics of Israel, even if citizens of the Jewish State, among the participants underlines JStreet’s veritable profile as an NGO consciously determined to oppose Israel’s current position vis-a-vis the Palestinian known policies.

  5. I think J Street , NIF and Progressive Jews are the best advocates the Palestinians have at their disposal .

    • ….and the same we should dispose of !!

      • These Lost Jews have the right to their views if only the Palestinians , Arabs and Muslims had so many similar type Jewish Israel advocates amongst their flock.

    • Please don’t tar all “Progressive Jews” with the same brush, Michael.

      • Hilary

        you are absolutely right and I would suggest a brief interlude regarding the distinct “ideological” strands within the generic of Progressive Judaism.
        I am sure Shirlee would be amiable to the idea, not least because we could detect right here the potential for making it interesting………………..

  6. Michael, in other words when and if the jackal will be a poodle….

  7. I’m totally puzzled that a conference that is supposedly Zionist would invite Husam Zomlot of Abbas’ Fatah party, which insists on the right of return, not to a new Palestinian state, but to Israel, in order to destroy Israel. It’s also quite clear that any group that regards the legal establishment of the State of Israel as ‘the Nakba’ harbours hostility at the very least.

    Since Kerry’s initiation of the ‘peace process’, there has been an increase in terrorist attacks on Israelis, the latest on a 9 year old. Yet J Street is strangely silent on the Palestinian atrocities and their ongoing incitement against Israelis.

    While I’m all for hearing both sides, J Street’s choice of Zomlot as a speaker is like inviting a KKK speaker to an anti-racism conference.

    • Leon Poddebsky

      You have used the phrase “right of return.”
      There is no such thing: there is only a demand of return. The Arabs have misappropriated legitimate Jewish terminology in their propaganda war.
      They have no right of return because in 1947 they initiated a war against the Jews and lost.
      Most of the so-called “refugees” were no such thing, anyway, since they left of their own accord even before their militias started their war of aggression . The Jewish Agency appealed to them to remain, but they preferred to heed their own leaders’ exhortations to them to leave.

      • Who used the phrase “right of return’ by the way?.
        Even if there were genuine refugees in 1948, by now very few would be alive today and one cannot be a refugee if born in another country.

      • Leon Poddebsky

        Pam used the phrase, but not inside inverted commas.

        • Not intentional if used by Pam

          You really need to get on over to GA. It’s really sickening

          • Leon Poddebsky

            Of course it’s not intentional.
            I don’t want to sound condescending, but I sometimes get the impression that some Zionist advocates suffer from a form of semantic Stockholm Syndrome, using the enemy’s terminology.
            This happens probably because much of the media saturates the environment with enemy terms such as “occupied territories”and they seep into Jewish minds, too.

          • On my own blog, I use inverted commas, or preface enemy terminology with the qualifying words “so-called”. Sometimes both! And I nearlyt always refer to Judaea and Samaria rather than “the West Bank”. BTW – as far as I’m concerned, it’s “the so-called Palestinians”, since there is no-such thing as a “Palestinian people” other than the Jewish People.

          • You didn’t sound condescending at all. I was curious who said it without going through the whole lot

            I am taking the ‘Talking about Israel’ course for the 2nd time as a great a deal has changed. Interesting to note they say we should never refer to the land as Palestine, as it was called pr-1948,we should say the ‘Land of Israel’ I always felt uncomfortable when my father said he grew up in Palestine

      • I rarely use the words ‘West Bank’ if I do I try to call it “The West Bank of Jordan” Definitely 99.99% of the time Judaea and Samaria.

        I also say “the so-called Palestinians”, not only becasue there is no such people as Palestinians, but also becasue there is no such country. Prior to ’48 it was Palestinian-Arab/Jew/Christian etc.

  8. JStreet is delusional in believing that they would encompass comprehensive positions in the political stratosphere, that they would represent a complete forum of positions, the more conflicting the better. They would see themselves as the facilitators in the meeting of contradictory stances, evidently in matter Jewish, Israeli in politics etc. Like all purveyors of political philosophies ( I would like, though, to see a coherent set of guiding principles !) they would believe that JStreet has surpassed all other orgnisations, communal bodies, Congresses etc. , thus purporting to represent the “ultimate” in rational Jewish voices.
    Up themselves, but, most definitely, not down to earth !

  9. Quotation from the “Galus Australis” article:
    “The ZFA used its weekly ‘advocacy update’ to slander the largest progressive Zionist body in the world”

    And my question(s): by whose definition? Who says they are the LARGEST “progressive Zionist ” body in the world? And what is the definition of “progressive Zionist” anyway?
    Is that anything like “progressive Judaism” – ie. throw away anything that is inconvenient and not sufficiently Politically Correct to find favour with the “modern” atheist, so-called “universalist” Loony Left?
    By what criteria do they call themselves (a) progressive (b) Zionist?

    • Shimona I saw your reply. Mine is waiting moderation and knowing Alex Fein that’s where it will stay!

      Since she took over as Editor a few months back, anyone with an opinion other than hers, and those of the loony left gets binned. There are a good few names for her going around. Not for publication.

      Just like the all the pro-Palestinian sites they only publish what they want to hear, any other point of view is not for publication.

      This, which Otto posted on J Wire is terrific. All I can say is that J Wire must be getting pretty short of followers, otherwise why would Henry cross post to GA of all places?

      “JStreet is unhappy with EVERYTHING Zionist and “Galus Australis” would be the ideal hosts for any putrid and noxious stuff undermining genuine Zionist views.

      Otherwise, Alex is doing Fein and vice versa.”

      • I daresay they’ll delete my reply once they realise where I’m coming from 😉

      • There are a couple that don’t agree with her point of view. Everyone is talking about the site. It was always middle Left now it’s Far Left. Like I said in my piece ‘The Enemy within’ they are our very own ‘Australians for Palestine’

        Otto is banned!! Wonder why? I was warned, but I don’t know if what I wrote is genuinely waiting fro moderation, or if I too am banned.

  10. This topic is drawing a good deal of attention from somewhere. It’s had a very large number of hits today. Shame people don’t see fit to comment, but then it’s the same on every site. It’s always the same people. Replies do no justice to the number of views.

  11. Under their fascist like heavy handed and light minded management , any selfrespecting person should be proud to be banned by Galus. Statistically Galus reflects its pathetic “impact”. Between Sept. 15 and Oct.3, they posted ten topics – some taken ad literam from other sites – and have attracted no less than NINETEEN comments all up. One of the house held names is Larry Stillman. Say no more…………………..

    • Hey Otto

      Don’t forget she forbids double posting!!!

      What makes me laugh is they are exactly like the pro-Palestinian blogs and sites. They only post what is favourable to them, yet they are the first to scream they are being denied their freedom of speech.

  12. Liam Getreu was an AUJS Chairperson, you cant get anyone more Left Wing than him.
    Gertreu is now head of the far left wing Arabist NIF in Australia.

    • Maybe you should put that on GA seeing as to how the anonymous author seems to think he has issues.

      This is such a load of crock too………….

      The ZFA essentially decided it would be a good use of community resources to write an article that suggest that J Street supporters are parochial, naïve and don’t really have Israel’s best interests at heart.

      This little twerp needs to know that the ZFA didn’t decide anyone should write anything. The young lass who wrote it is in a paid position as the Media and Advocacy Director

  13. I see that on the GA thread under discussion Larry Stillman says:
    “Should we be at all surprised that the writer feels the need to remain anonymous, rather than being labelled and vilified for decades to come?”
    The same sort of fear is applicable to the right as well, fearing repurcussions from the Left.
    When a certain Aussie Jewish academic mentioned some years ago in an interview with the AJN that large-scale Muslim immigration to Australia of the kind seen in the UK would pose a threat to advocacy for Israel since governments would be bound to consider the greater voting clout of the Muslim community, he was vilified by a group of Aussie leftist Jews who – I kid you not – actually wrote to the head of his academic department and to the vice-chancellor of his university deploring the fact that a person of such a viewpoint was employed by them. (The respective heads were bemused, incidentally!)

    • I think the writer of that article on GA should have the courage of his/her conviction and publish his/her name. If you feel strongly about something than stand up for it, don’t hide behind the anonymous tag.

      The Editor of GA is a hypocrite in my eyes for not publishing my post.
      The Left are the first to jump a up and down in protest where there freedom of speech is denied, yet they are the first to deny me mine.!!

  14. Shirlee, nil desperandum

    There are various ways disturbed dispositions manifest themselves.
    In the parapolitical field , private individuals assume stances of farcical importance. In today’s IT environment anyone can demand a place in the market-place of ideas. Yet, we can dustinguished between the fair minded enthusiasts and those who have the urge to destabilise respectable entities. They would use high moral terms, pretend fairness and “middle ground” arbitration of conflicting stances, but, in easily detectable fact, will marshal abuse, corrupt truth, strafe, impose autocratic norms, all in the interest of promoting views others would not entertain or simply ignore in disgust. GA are the best example of such minuscule minds, aspiring to the disproportionate effect called “impact”.
    Part of their necessary discipline is denying fair comment upon their enterprise.

    Impeccable spineless non-entities.

  15. Wise words re J Street from the great “I.J.”
    What a loss to Australian Jewish leadership his making aliya was. A man widely feared, but greatly respected, and that rare type of person, one truly deserving of the epithet “charismatic” in its Weberian sense of one who leads by sheer force of personality.