I was impressed with the energy, spirit and depth of J Street’s second national conference in Washington, DC, from the evening of Feb. 26 through Feb. 28. JJ Goldberg’s column in last week’s Forward provides some reason for pause, but I found most of his observations about its dynamics overly critical. All in all, this was a successful and stimulating event which drew over 2400 participants, nearly 1,000 more than the overflow crowd that attended in October 2009.
Allow me to share this from a British Jew, Hannah Weisfeld, who offered “five new guidelines for the pro-Israel camp” upon her return from the conference:
… I maintain the position that as supporters of Israel it is possible to defend Israel against unfair criticism or when Israel is held up to double standards…. The pro-Israel camp needs a new lens through which to view this debate. Applying old and out-dated notions of what support for Israel looks like can only result in the mud slinging that has been sent in the direction of J Street since their conference. I think this new framework must include the following guidelines:
One: we must unashamedly acknowledge that whatever unfolds in Israel has a direct impact on global Jewry. Pretending that what happens in Israel has no impact on the Diaspora and vice-versa is not a tenable position. We must be confident in our right to have an opinion.
Two: those whose opinions we do not agree with should not be dismissed as giving succour to our enemies, or selfishly articulating positions simply to allow them to feel more comfortable at a dinner party. Our enemies have all the succour they want and anyone who is willing to stand on a public platform that unashamedly calls itself pro-Israel is hardly an embarrassed supporter of Israel. In fact it seems that those who would rather conduct the debate privately are the ones that are embarrassed. The pro-Israel, pro-peace camp is publicly declaring its love for Israel – warts and all.
Three: We must acknowledge, as painful as we find it, that we cannot dismiss all criticism of Israel as part of a worldwide attempt [to] delegitimize Israel. No country… is immune to international pressure or demands for safeguarding human rights and democracy. Even if we believe there are times that Israel’s shortcomings are highlighted more than those of her neighbours, this should not be an excuse to not engage.
Four: If we are to create a new generation of Jews who feel a great sense of attachment and responsibility towards Israel, we must understand that we cannot expect this generation to be content with a democracy that has a bit ‘shaved off the side’ to fit our current vision of a Jewish state. We need, with our partners in Israel, to create a vision for what a truly democratic Jewish state would look like.
Five: We must create better advocates for Israel. These advocates will not look and feel like what we are used to. They will not stand up and explain or defend every action of the Israeli government if they do not believe them to be in the best interests of the Jewish people. They will be articulate, passionate and well informed. They will be able to distinguish between unfair criticism and deep concern for human rights and democratic freedom. They will be happy to defend Israel in pubic and they will also articulate a vision for Israel that may at times be at odds with the current government of the day.
Ms. Weisfeld’s entire post can be read online by clicking here.
I also recommend two fine letters to the editor on what transpired at the conference: One in the NY Jewish Week, by Edmund Mander, argues that J Street’s “call for an end to the occupation is moderate, not left wing, and very pro-Israel.”
The other is by a freelance journalist from southern Florida, Marsha B. Cohen, maintaining that the Jewish press service, ” JTA’s criticism of J Street for not having had more speakers from a right-wing perspective is unfair and misdirected.”
I sent a message several days ago, about the BDS panel at the J Street conference, but have not seen my comments on the web. I was the person deemed “unruly” at the end of the discussion because I asked that the JVP director answer the question posed from the floor.