M.J. Rosenberg
Israel Policy Forum (Opinion)
April 18, 2008 - 6:22pm

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen young Jews optimistic about anything related to Israel.

I’m not talking about the college activists who, shocked at the anti-Israel sentiment on campus, find themselves joining up with conservative mainstream Jewish organizations to defend Israel to their skeptical peers. Those kids have always been around. I know. I was once one of the best-known campus activists for Israel, battling late 60’s and 70’s anti-Israel radicals almost non-stop.

And I give those kids credit. It’s hard work but utterly ineffective because you can’t defend the occupation and sell Israel at the same time. The only message that works is “Israel, yes. Two-states, yes. Occupation, no.” But the mainstream organizations prefer losing the battle to supporting pro-Israel, pro-peace activism. And so they are losing the campus battle big time.

But I’m talking about young opinion leaders who are turned off by the occupation and identify Israel with settlers there and neoconservatives like Feith, Perle, and Krauthammer here. They hate the paranoid style in which all dissent from the status quo is deemed anti-Israel or anti-Semitic and, generally, have no use for the mindless emotionalism and ethnic sentimentality that characterize so much of the organized pro-Israel community.

As third or fourth generation Americans, they cannot be won over with scare tactics about the Holocaust or Ahmedinejad. They are too smart. And they don’t scare easily.

But suddenly this week, a pro-Israel effort, has caught their attention. The evidence can be found all over the Internet where Spencer Ackerman, Ari Berman, Max Blumenthal, Ezra Klein, Josh Marshall, Laura Rozen, and Matt Yglesias (just to name the most prominent bloggers) have been posting about the J Street Project. Never heard of these writers? Google them some time and you’ll see literally millions of “hits” referring to them, their opinions, their analyses, their take on events. As for their pro-status quo, pro-occupation counterparts, there aren’t any. The Internet generation is not into tired organizational talking points which mix facts and myths in equal measure.

The young people to whom I refer are the future of journalism, academe, and politics in this country. And, without exception, they are Jewish and disaffected from the organized community. But they are all identifying Jews (Yglesias, with his Hispanic name goes out of his way to make sure people know he’s a Jew). Some are synagogue goers. Most are not. All have been to Israel. But none, not one of them, can tolerate the status quo nor the organizations that promote it. And they are appalled by the Arab and/or Palestinian-bashing that these organizations demand of Congress and use to drum up contributions.

The appeal of J Street to these people, to the best and brightest of our community, is one of the many reasons to get excited about J Street.

The J Street Project is a strange name for an organization dedicated to promoting the two-state solution and financially backing politicians willing to stop reflexively supporting the status quo. Until now, there has been no such organization. This is why the organization is called J Street. Here in Washington, every letter in the alphabet has a street named after it except the letter J. There is no J Street just as, until now, there was no organization devoted to supporting politicians who stick their necks out for Middle East peace.

My own organization, Israel Policy Forum, is a policy-advocacy group. Our goal is educating Congress and the executive branch about why both the United States and Israel need an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If it wasn’t for us, the pro-Israel right would have totally won over both the U.S. government and public opinion following the Camp David collapse of 2000. By keeping the facts out there, by exploding the myth that Barak “offered them everything,” we keep hope for negotiations alive.

And that is precisely why IPF was established. In 1993, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin told our founders that he needed a pro-Israel organization that would support Israel’s quest for peace as it would support Israel at times of war. He said that he did not believe the lobby would do that.

So, when he decided to make peace with the Palestinians, IPF was established as a counterweight to the status quo organizations on Capitol Hill, in the community, and in the media. With our allies, we have at long last managed to get across the message that the majority of the pro-Israel community in the United States is not represented by the loudest elements of the so-called Israel lobby. Additionally, through publications like this one, with its huge readership worldwide, we have successfully broken the stranglehold that the right has had on the Middle East debate (i.e., no debate!) in Washington for decades.

But we do not get involved in electoral politics. As individuals, yes, but as IPF we are legally prohibited from endorsing or contributing to candidates, or affiliating with PAC’s such as the J Street project.

J Street will be different. Its goal is to operate as the mirror image of the status quo lobby. It will support candidates who believe that the best way to help Israel is not by being armchair warriors but by supporting peace.

In short, supporters of J Street are going to do what the pro-Israel right has been doing for years. Put their money where their mouth is. It’s about time.

AND NOW: IPF’s Passover Appeal

I hope you enjoy IPF Friday and appreciate the work Israel Policy Forum does. But, as was illustrated by today’s column, our work costs money. And, sad to say, the people who support peace and security for Israel by means of the two-state solution tend not to be as forthcoming as supporters of the status quo. The latter give, and give, and give. That is one reason they have been so effective.

The Passover story is a message of hope and determination which has characterized the history of the Jewish people when faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges. Think of Theodore Herzl who famously said, “If you will it, it is no dream.” Our dream is to help Israel and the Palestinians achieve peace and security so that both peoples “shall live in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make them afraid.” [Micah 4:4]

This is the message we remember this Passover holiday as we pledge to intensify our efforts to achieve a peaceful and secure future for all of those residing in the ancient Holy Land.

This Passover, we ask you to join in our efforts to realize this goal by supporting the work of Israel Policy Forum. You can make a contribution by clicking here.

We also welcome your questions, comments, and participation. To speak with an IPF representative about how you can get involved, contact us.

And keep reading (and responding!)


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