April 19, 2014

Middle East Media Sampler for March 27, 2012


1) Today's conference is brought to you by the letter "J" and the number "4" but not by the Washington Post or New York Times

Four years ago, next month, a group of liberal Jews kicked off "J-Street."

Neil Lewis, who most recently criticized Jews who criticize the coverage of Israel by the New York Times, covered the announcement U.S. Jews Create New Lobby to Temper Israel Policy.

Underlying the formation of the group is a fundamental question that has long vexed the American Jewish community: What is the most effective way to support Israel? Many people involved in Aipac have long argued that American Jews have limited standing to criticize Israel’s policies because they are not themselves facing difficult questions of safety and survival.

Aipac would not comment on the formation of J Street. But some people involved in Aipac noted with satisfaction the vast difference in the size of the two groups: J Street is planning for an operating budget of about $1.5 million, compared with Aipac’s $100 million endowment, membership of more than 100,000 and annual lobbying expenditures of about $1 million.

Michael Abramowitz reported for the Washington Post, Jewish Liberals to Launch A Counterpoint to AIPAC (h/t Israel Matzav).

A controversial essay in 2006 by two eminent academics, Harvard's Stephen Walt and the University of Chicago's John Mearsheimer, argued that a powerful pro-Israel lobby that includes Jewish groups, evangelical Christians and others has actively served to steer U.S. policy in a pro-Israel direction, often against the U.S. national interest.

The essay, a precursor to a 2007 book, triggered an angry debate among supporters of Israel and beyond, and even those who have been critical of groups such as AIPAC, the most influential pro-Israel lobbying group in Washington, said the thesis was either wrong or overdrawn.

"The genesis of this is really the frustration on the part of a very substantial portion of the American Jewish community that despite the fact that there is broad support for a peace-oriented policy in the Middle East, there doesn't seem to be the political will to actually carry it out," Ben-Ami said. "We have not been effective at transmitting the message that there is political support for these positions in the American Jewish community and their allies."

Remember Ben-Ami's assertion about a "a very substantial portion of the American Jewish community."

Then in 2009, Dan Eggen of the Washington Post reported Year-Old Liberal Jewish Lobby Has Quickly Made Its Mark:

"It certainly exceeded our expectations," said Jeremy Ben-Ami, J Street's executive director. "We didn't know what level of success we would have. But we think this is a message whose moment has come."

Riding alongside the ascent of President Obama and other liberal Democrats, J Street blends old-style politicking with a media-savvy approach aimed at altering the U.S. political debate over Israel and other Middle East issues.

J-Street is nothing if not media savvy, but the media weren't especially savvy in covering J-Street. For example, Eggen didn't do any digging to show that a large portion of J-Street's fund raising prowess was attributable to Soros largesse.

A half year later at J-Street's first convention, Neil Lewis and Mark Landler declared Moderate in America’s Jewish Lobby Causes a Stir:

The issue of how much any American administration should press an Israeli government to make concessions for peace is at the heart of delicate and long-unresolved questions among American Jews. At the least, say the traditional supporters of Israel, any disagreements should not be aired publicly.

At the height of the American-Israeli disagreement in June, Aipac was able to get more than 300 members of Congress to sign a resolution that in effect urged that disagreements between Israel and the United States be dealt with privately.

J Street officials have said one of their principal beliefs is that any administration, Mr. Obama’s included, should have some room to disagree with Israel’s government in order to become a more effective broker in the region.

There are a few more articles about J-Street in the New York Times and Washington Post, but what's noticeable is the absence of any coverage of this year's J-Street convention. J-Street was mentioned a few weeks ago in an article about efforts towards containing Iran.

Apparently, Ben-Ami's "substantial portion" of the American Jewish community isn't that substantial, or the Obama administration and mainstream media wouldn't have lost interest so quickly.

2) Two more vs. Beinart

Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch of the Steven Wise Free Synagogue devoted his Sabbath sermon to Peter Beinart.

Elder of Ziyon has the video and the text, including:

First: What he calls a settlement – any Jewish apartment beyond the 1967 borders – is not understood as such by practically every Israeli and most fair-minded international observers. Many so-called settlements are considered neighborhoods of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Most of the people who live beyond the Green Line live in proximity to the Green Line, and all two-state solutions that have been discussed assume that these areas will be within the new borders of Israel proper.

Second: There is not one word in Beinart’s piece about the role and responsibility of the Palestinians. Many Israeli settlements are still there because the Palestinians have still not demonstrated a politically-realistic willingness for peace.

Even if you were to concede that Israel has made mistakes, surely it is not Israel’s fault alone that there is no peace. After all, it takes at least two to make peace. You cannot make peace only with yourself. Often people talk about how Israel should do this and Israel should do that as if it is in Israel’s power alone to shape events.

Daniel Freedman has reviewed Beinart's book, at the Wall Street Journal:

The book's theme is a rehash not only of shopworn complaints about Israel but also of Mr. Beinart's own complaints about Israel—"The Crisis of Zionism" grew out of an essay that he wrote in 2010 for the New York Review of Books. That piece drew attention mostly for its novelty: A Jewish former editor of the staunchly pro-Israel New Republic magazine was attacking the Jewish state. Two years later, the novelty is gone.

Beinart and Jeremy Ben-Ami are both entrepreneurs. They know that there's a market for anti-Israel Jews; there always has been. They allow some to say, "See, I can criticize Israel without being antisemitic." Their message is fraught with self-contradictions and ends up being cynical, not enlightening. In the end, Beinart and Ben-Ami will make their money, achieve a level of fame (or notoriety) and eventually fade from relevance.

About Daniel Goldstein

Daniel Goldstein is a media critic and recovering blogger. He has been critiquing media bias against Israel since his first letter to the editor in 1987.