J Street, the American organization that calls itself pro-Israel and pro peace but that always seems to be taking positions that are anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian, is asking America’s Jewish leadership to have a big tent and to open its doors to J Street. While I generally support that position, it is imperative that J Street’s hypocrisy be exposed. J Street insists that all major pro-Israel organizations be open to speakers who favor opposing views—such as supporters of the BDS movements, supporters of the single secular binational state approach, and those who oppose Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
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In the abstract, this open tent policy seems commendable. We should be committed to the open marketplace of ideas in which views prevail on their merits not on the basis of exclusion.
Now let’s see how J Street itself fares with regard to an open tent policy. It has categorically refused to allow speakers like me, who oppose J Street’s policies on Iran and other security matters, to speak to its members at its conventions. I have repeatedly and persistently sought an opportunity to present my perspective—which is shared by many American supporters of Israel—at the J Street convention, or at other events officially sponsored by J Street. When J Street invites BDS supporters and those oppose Israel’s right to exist as the nation-state of the Jewish people to speak at its events, it claims that it does not necessarily support these positions, but it believes in encouraging its members to hear views that are different from its official positions. That is total nonsense. J Street only wants people to hear views to the anti-Israel hard left of its position. It categorically refuses to allow its members to hear views that are more centrist and more pro-Israel, such as my own.
I don’t want this to sound like sour grapes over not being invited by J Street to speak at its convention. Indeed I suspect that this column will generate such an invitation, since J Street will not be able to justify to its members its policy of censoring speakers to the center and right of its official positions. I receive hundreds, perhaps thousands of invitations each year, to speak to pro-Israel groups. I am writing this not to solicit an invitation but rather to set the record straight that from the beginning of its existence, J Street has never invited me, or others who hold my critical views of J Street, to address its members.
And there is a good reason why they have placed this cone of silence over its critics. J Street survives, and even expands, largely as the result of speaking out of two sides of its mouth. It seeks to attract centrist members by advocating the two-state solution, an aggressive stance towards peace negotiations and criticisms of Israel’s settlement policies. These are positions I fully support, and if they were J Street’s only positions, I would have joined that organization many years ago. But in an effort to expand leftward, particularly hard leftward, it has taken positions that undercut Israel’s security and that virtually no Israeli center-leftists support. It placed its imprimatur behind the despicable and mendacious Goldstone Report by bringing Richard Goldstone to Capitol Hill and introducing him to members of Congress. In doing so it undercuts the efforts of the Obama Administration, which was supportive of Israel’s self-defense efforts in Gaza and not supportive of the Goldstone Report.
J Street’s position on Iran has been extremely troubling. It opposes the United States threatening military action, even as a last resort. It deliberately misquoted several former heads of the Mossad as opposing an American strike against the Iranian nuclear program as a last resort. The truth is that these distinguished Israelis oppose only an Israeli unilateral strike against Iran, but favored keeping the American military option on the table as a last resort and as a sword of Damocles. J Street now claims that it is not opposed to keeping the American military option on the table, but it says that in a whisper, while loudly proclaiming to its hard left constituency that an American military attack on Iran’s nuclear program, even as a last resort, would be a disaster to be avoided at all costs.
J Street has also spoken out of both sides of its mouth on the issue of whether the Palestinian leadership should recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. While first appearing to oppose such recognition, it now seems to be saying that this issue should be left to final stage negotiations, but it leaves open the possibility that it will continue to oppose such recognition if and when such negotiations are reached.
Moreover, J Street has accepted funding from sources—such as George Soros—who are openly anti-Israel, and have kept this fact secret so as not to alienate its centrist supporters.
It is easy to understand therefore why J Street doesn’t want me, or others who hold positions like mine, to enter into its tent. It does not want its own members to be confronted with the reality of J Street’s double talk. If I speak at its convention, I will be speaking at the same time to those centrists it seeks to attract and to those hard leftists it wants within its tent. Both sides will be shocked by J Street’s duplicity in telling each what they want to hear.
So here is my challenge: at the next J Street convention, show the film The J Street Challenge: The Seductive Allure of Peace in Our Time to all of its members, invite me to speak to them, allow me to distribute its conflicting position papers and positions and let the marketplace of ideas remain open to its members. Only when J Street opens up its tent to views critical of its own should it be demanding that pro-Israel groups open its tent to them.
The author is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard, a practicing criminal and constitutional lawyer and the author, most recently, of “Taking the Stand: My Life in the Law.”