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Why I Joined J Street
It grasps the importance of two-state
solution for Israel and Palestinians.
recent announcement that I had
joined J Street as a vice president
raised eyebrows among some
of my friends in the Jewish community.
As recently as three months ago, I was a
member of senior management at the Israel
Project, a very different organization.
Interestingly, the response from my many
friends and family members in Israel was
quite different. Almost without exception,
they were fully supportive of my move and
encouraged me to take the new opportu-
nity. By contrast, here at home I
was attacked from the right (by
an unnamed source) as a "Bibi
hater" and from the left as a
Israel has been a central pas-
sion — arguably the central pas-
sion — of my life since I was a
teenager. My parents, especially
my father, are fervent Zionists
who made aliyah almost 30 years
ago, although my father, now 94,
is thoroughly disgusted at the
latest generation of Israeli politi-
I made aliyah myself in 1977 and served
a year in the Israel Defense Forces in 1982.
I met and married my wife in Israel; our
first son was born in Jerusalem. In short, I
am not, and have never been, an armchair
So, in 2010, when the opportunity arose to
join the Israel Project and give something
back to Israel, I eagerly grasped it. I'm
proud of the work I did there; but when the
organization began going in a new direction
this fall, it was time to move on.
I had reluctantly reached the conclusion
that my efforts to improve Israel's image in
the news media were never going to make a
real difference because they were beside the
point. The truth is that much of the report-
ing that many American Jews find distress-
ing is generated by actions of the Israeli
government itself. Take the recent decisions
of the Netanyahu government to announce
the construction of a massive new settle-
ment in a particularly sensitive region east
of Jerusalem known as E-1.
The fact is, Israel's own actions, little by
little, day by day, apartment block by apart-
ment block, new road by new road, sliver
of land by sliver of land, are destroying the
only path the country has that offers the
January 3 • 2013
I Street tries to foster and
encourage a much-needed
conversation within our
community about Israel.
slightest hope of a peaceful future and of
preserving a Jewish democratic majority.
That path is, of course, the two-state solu-
tion — an independent Israel and Palestine
living in peace side by side.
All of which brings me to J Street,
an organization that sees clearly
the crucial importance of the two-
state solution for Israel's democ-
racy and long-term security.
J Street performs several crucial
functions. It provides a forum for
American Jews who love and want
to support Israel without having
to endorse Netanyahu, the settle-
ments or the occupation. Without
J Street, many would simply walk
Second, J Street tries to foster and encour-
age a much-needed conversation within our
community about Israel. Strangely, though
we Jews talk and disagree about almost
everything, it has become almost impossible
to discuss Israel and its policies rationally
without being labeled a traitor, or worse,
a self-hating Jew — as the response to my
appointment has demonstrated once again.
Third, J Street is working to persuade the
Netanyahu administration to launch a new
and serious effort to promote peace between
Israel and the Palestinians. As Israel's
truest friend, the best thing the United
States could do is help the Israelis and the
Palestinians achieve what both sides need
so badly. J Street also provides backing for
members of Congress who support Israel
but who would like the ability to politely
disagree when they see a government acting
against Israel's best interests. Congress does
Israel no favors when it blindly supports
whatever the government in Jerusalem does.
Finally, J Street allows Israelis in the peace
camp to know that they are not alone, that
there are many, many American Jews and
non-Jews who stand with them.
I am proud to be one of them.
U.N. Resolutions Rip
Israel - Yet Again
t's not surprising the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) adopted late
in December nine resolutions on the white-hot topics of Palestinian
rights and the Golan Heights. What's disingenuous, yet again, is that
this supposed champion of global good will continues to put Israel in the
worst possible light.
The Dec.18 resolutions blasted Israel for "the continuing systematic
violation of the human rights of the Palestinian people" and highlighted
"the extremely difficult socioeconomic conditions being faced by the
Palestine refugees" in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. On the first
count, the truth is that Israel has been compelled to maintain a military
presence in the West Bank since the 1967 Six-Day War as a defensive
measure against Palestinian terror. On the second count, Arabs who
live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem may be stateless, but more
so because of Jordan, a legitimate Palestinian state that clearly doesn't
want them, than Israel, a Jewish state next door that some of them or
their ancestors fled amid the Israeli War for Independence in 1948.
One resolution condemned Israel for clutching to the Golan Heights,
demanding they be returned to Syria. Ignored was the fact that Israel
captured the Golan from Syria in the Six-Day War. Successive Israeli
administrations have believed these highlands command strategic
advantage against Syria's crazed Assad regime, which is quite busy
slaughtering its own people, and also against Hezbollah's corps of terror-
ists, who are building a dangerous projectile stockpile in south Lebanon.
"The Middle East peace process is in a deep freeze,"
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at his end-
of-year press conference at U.N. Headquarters in New
He got that right.
It's frozen mainly because neither the governing
Fatah party in Ramallah nor the ruling Hamas terror-
ist organization in Gaza City has shown any interest
in reviving talks with the Netanyahu administration
– even before recent Israel announcements of plans
to build more housing in the E-1 area between east
Jerusalem and the West Bank settlement of Ma'ale Adumim or in the
Givat Hamatos neighborhood of east Jerusalem. As for those construc-
tion plans, Israel has always considered the E-1 corridor part of its gate-
way to Ma'ale Adumim, home to 40,000 Israelis. As for Jerusalem, it is
the undivided capital of Israel – a city 65 percent Jewish, 33 percent
Muslim and 2 percent Christian.
Challenge Israel on its diplomatic blunder in pushing for more housing
just after the UNGA granted the Palestinian Authority's request to ele-
vate the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to non-member observ-
er state status. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could have used the
housing cudgel to try to lure PLO President Mahmoud Abbas back to the
negotiating table before rocking the international diplomacy boat.
But make no mistake: The land on which the new housing would sit is
not in dispute. It falls under Israeli control. The Palestinians claim the land
for a future state, an assumption with no historical or negotiated backing.
U.S. State Department declarations that Israeli building announce-
ments "run counter to the cause of peace" have become hollow. It's as
if the U.S. government places Israel, America's closest Middle East ally,
and the anti-Zionist Palestinian leadership on the same humanitarian
plane. Israel has compassionately helped Palestinians on the street even
as Fatah and Hamas have endangered their own people while also tar-
geting Israeli civilians.
Ideally, a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be
best. So it's still worth pursuing despite no meaningful movement toward
it. There's no reasonable alternative.
Alan Elsner is vice president for communications
at J Street.