Ron Kampeas has written a new JTA piece in which he uncovers a supposedly major story about the disconnect between the Israeli and American Jewish left on sanctions. The purpose, whether intentional or unintentional, is to point out to readers that J Street is out of touch with the Israeli left on the issue of Iran; and that a dovish pro-diplomacy strategy has no support on the Israeli left.
The article makes a few fundamental mistakes like this one:
Israel’s highest-ranking female soldier, Brig. Gen. Yisraela Oron…at the tail end of a U.S. tour for the left-wing pro-Israel lobby [J Street] [ had a] conversation with a group of reporters th[at] turned to Iran and its nuclear potential, and Oron was unequivocal: yes to engagement, but on a timetable that would be tied to punishing sanctions.”The thing that worries me and that worries other Israelis is that it is not limited in time,” Oron said as the faces of her J Street hosts turned anxious, adding that “I’m not sure I’m expressing the J Street opinion.”
She was not. J Street explicitly opposes a timetable and has reservations about proposed additional sanctions.
The awkward moment pointed to a potential split between left-wing pro-Israel groups and the Israeli constituents for whom they claim to speak. Unlike the Israeli-Palestinian issue, little dissent exists among Israeli politicians over how to deal with Iran.
Kampeas, a veteran Jewish journalist, has the same press releases I have which made clear that J Street is an AMERICAN JEWISH organization. Unlike Aipac, it does not pretend to represent Israeli political opinion or parties. It represents the views of American Jews and seeks to impact U.S. policy on that basis. Of course it is helpful if there are Israelis who support the views that J Street espouses. That’s why Oron came to the States. But on no account should J Street’s positions be judged on whether there is support or opposition to them within Israel.
Equally important is that there essentially is no organized Israeli left within Israeli electoral politics. Labor’s Knesset faction is minuscule compared to the ones it fielded in past Knessets. Meretz is down to 3 seats I believe. This is a pitiful showing and indicates the traditional Israeli liberal (not “left,” Ron) parties are virtually dead. And one of the reasons they are is because they long ago stopped representing an alternative in Israeli politics. Their endorsement of sanctions against Iran is yet another example of their problem. The Israeli liberals outdo themselves to represent the left of the Israeli nationalist movement. They ape the Likud in a liberal guise because they have no program of their own.
So for Kampeas to make the claim that the Israeli left endorses punitive sanctions against Iran is a misnomer. Again, Kampeas should know this being an experienced reporter in dealing with Israeli politics. Does Ehud Barak support a sanctions regime? Yes. Is he the Israeli left? Hardly. Maybe the left wing of the Likud governing coalition, but that hardly constitutes being on the left.
I’m very sad to say that if the American Jewish peace movement waits for its Israeli liberal counterparts to revive and develop their own effective political agenda we’ll be waiting till God tells Elijah at the gates of Rome the time has come to welcome the Messiah. That’s why it’s important that J Street be an independent American Jewish organization that collaborates with Israelis when possible, but doesn’t coordinate or officially join with any Israeli counterpart.
To put this in other terms, J Street’s endorsement of diplomatic engagement is good policy, period. The fact that one Israeli general or the Labor party believes differently has no bearing on whether diplomacy is the best policy for the U.S. government to pursue.
Kampeas also mischaracterizes U.S. policy in this passage:
…The administrations of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama are virtually on the same page on the need to confront Iran, and soon.
Pres. Obama has talked about the need to revisit U.S. policy in the fall if diplomacy fails. But he has never said explicitly that the U.S. “needs to confront Iran, and soon.” That is Kampeas’ interpretation of statements Obama has made. And it exaggerates those statements to make Bibi and Barack appear to be on the same page when they aren’t. Not yet and hopefully not ever.
Here Kampeas creates a hypothetical to again falsely make J Street appear to be a group without a mandate:
“If Iran engages and the Obama administration argues that a deal has been made, the Israeli government will be very wary,” [Yossi] Alpher said. “This could immediately create a whole world of suspicions.”
Under those circumstances, the vast majority of American Jewish voters who backed Obama last year would be faced with the first either-or U.S. vs. Israel issue in decades, and groups that describe themselves as pro-Israel and pro-peace will find themselves for the first time speaking for virtually no one in Israel on a critical issue.
First, the idea that Obama will accept a deal that Iran proffers and that Israel will reject it and that all Israelis will fall into line and accept the rightist Netanyahu government’s view on the matter is wildly speculative. Second, the idea that American Jews will also fall into line behind Israel because there will be no American Jewish groups besides J Street supporting the U.S. administration’s deal is also arguable. If 80% of Jews voted for Obama they aren’t all (or even most) going to abandon him because he has a disagreement with Bibi. Even over an issue as important (for Israel) as Iran.
The reason Kampeas’ reporting is especially pernicious is that Israel is engaging in a massive campaign here in the U.S. that would lay the groundwork for a massive Israeli attack on Iran. Articles like this attempt to weaken those forces working to avert such an Israeli attack. I’m not saying that this was Kampeas’ conscious intention. But that’s the effect it has and that’s why it’s especially important to rebut these media hit pieces that take aim at the one group that might slow down Israel’s march toward war.