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Another Obama Test on Israel

Gabriel Schoenfeld

J-street is a new Washington, DC-based Jewish lobbying group that is seeking a place at the table alongside more venerable organizations like the American Jewish Committee and the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee. Started only a year ago with generous “seed money” from the financier George Soros, its first national conference begins this Sunday. The keynote speaker — if he shows up — will be National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones.

The “if” is an important question, for there is a chance, if the White House pays attention to the controversy it would be stepping into, that Jones won’t show. Among the growing list of notables who’ve already dropped off the program’s “honorary host committee” are New York’s two senators, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand. The reason for such distancing isn’t difficult to fathom. J-Street has been engaged in a bit of pretense. It bills itself as “pro-peace” yet is anything but — except, perhaps, if its policy recommendations were ever followed, the peace of the grave.

Consider the Goldstone report, recently approved by the United Nations Human Rights Council, which denounces Israel for committing “crimes against humanity” when it acted decisively in Gaza last winter to defend itself against Hamas rockets being lobbed daily into its territory. J-Street has issued two statements on Goldstone. Neither contains an iota of criticism of a report that even The Economist, not exactly friendly toward Israel, calls a “thimbleful of poison” and the product of “willful blindness.” Instead of condemning this UN travesty, J-Street has treated it with respect, calling upon Israel “to credibly address [its] full range of charges and findings.”

Then there’s the Iranian effort to acquire nuclear weapons, where J-Street has staked out a position to the left of the left. Last year, it launched a petition drive against a congressional resolution calling for tougher inspections of air and sea cargo heading for Iran, calling it “provocative” and “saber rattling.”

More recently, J-Street has applauded the administration policy of “engagement” with the mullahs. There’s nothing especially controversial about that. But J-Street has also adamantly opposed setting what it calls “artificial deadlines” in the talks now under way. Even the administration, as it goes the extra mile in diplomacy to probe Iran’s intentions, is aware that time is an important factor in facing up to the Iranian bomb program. Indeed, the administration has set just such an “artificial deadline” in case Iran is using the negotiations to run out the clock.

J-Street calls itself “pro-Israel,” but on one issue after the next — from the administration’s call for a total freeze on “natural growth” in settlements to its advocacy of direct Israeli talks with Hamas — it embraces positions overwhelmingly rejected by the Israeli public. It even has endorsed staging the play “Seven Jewish Children,” by the British playwright Caryll Churchill, which draws a “direct line” as The New Republic’s James Kirchick has observed, connecting “Nazi Germany’s mass murder of Jews to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.”

It is difficult to see how the term “pro-Israel” applies. A better term might be “pro-squeezing Israel.” J-Street favors a US policy that would force Israel to take steps long favored by the American and Israeli left that Israel’s democratically elected government has considered time and again and deemed severely wanting.

As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama spoke of how the US alliance with Israel is based on shared interests and shared values. “Those who threaten Israel,” he said, “threaten us.” Israel, he continued, “has always faced these threats on the front lines. And I will bring to the White House an unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security.”

Yet as president, Obama has been sending more than a few mixed signals and creating doubts about where he really stands. Jones has thus far kept a low profile as Obama’s national-security adviser. Giving a keynote address to the phony “pro-peace” and “pro-Israel” J-Street convocation, if it proceeds, will be a revealing test of the administration’s true intentions.

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