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J Street and Main Street

It was long overdue: the rise of a new Jewish voice in the American/Washington political arena. But first, to those of you who are still in the dark about its existence, here are a few facts: J Street is an organization aiming to bring together Americans who seek a new direction for the American policy in the Middle East, and to broader public and policy debate in the U.S. about ways to achieve lasting peace there. It was founded to promote meaningful American leadership to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict peacefully and diplomatically.

            As for main street, as far as Jewish political adcvocathy is concerened, it would be AIPAC, of course. Here’s an example: I reveived an email message lately about the last annual AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington D.C., held in early May, encourging me to support AIPAC and join the next conference in 2010. To that end the sender quoted Israel’s late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who said, “The support of the American Jewish Community for Israel has an identity card. The name on that card is AIPAC.”

            I beg to differ. This is no longer the case, there’s a new kid in town: J Street. And though it is just over a year old, it is already claiming about 110,000 supporters, and it is certainly making its presence heard. It may not be strong enough yet to have Jewish leaders urging us to support it, but nonetheless it is alive and kicking. And it gives one a choice, to be sure. I wonder, though, about the need to be a “card-carrying” member affiliated with a certain political Jewish lobby, in order to be a true supporter of Israel. The late Yitzhak Rabin, whom I admired greatly and whom I had the privilege of meeting twitch personally, also said that all Israelis who leave Israel to live abroad—in Sacramento, for instance—are  “traitors.” He later retracted this statement, and I’m sure he would’ve done the same with the above-mentioned quote. Just as he did when he decided to negotiate with Arafat and to become a man of peace, rather than a man of war.

            The important thing is: In order to support Israel, you don’t need to be affiliated with this or that party. Your support comes from your heart, and from your core beliefs, manifested by your actions. You’re not a “traitor” if you think that not all of Israel’s actions are justified; if you think that the occupation and the settlement policy in the West Bank and the Golan Heights must end; that it both wrong and corrupting to the Jewish soul and nation; if you think that Israel existence, with its arsenal of nuclear weapons and the strongest army in the Mideast, is not threatened any more; if you think that what’s threatened is the character of the Jewish state; if you think that what’s in question is not if Israel would exist, but rather what type of existents it would it; if you think peace, which demand hard compromises, is better than war.

             All these and more J Street brings to the table of discussion. What’s important is that a debate will occur, in a spirit of brotherhood, and in the profound understanding that if I don’t agree with you, as I often disagree with my fellow on the right, it doesn’t mean I’m your enemy; or that I support the enemy; or that I support and love Israel any less than you do. It just means I see things differently from you.

             Had J Street existed years ago, and had voices of dissent from the Jewish American communities were heard before, it may have been a peaceful co-existence between Israel and all its neighbors by now, saving the lives of many innocent people on both sides in the process, and allowing Israel and its people to prosper further, and to contribute greatly to the world at large, and to truly be a “light to the goyim.” It’s high time for us to have this debate. And with J Street in the picture, and here to stay, main street better get used it.

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