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In lecture, J Street founder Ben−Ami advocates for two−state solution

Published: Monday, November 22, 2010

Updated: Monday, November 22, 2010 07:11


Jodi Bosin / Tufts Daily

Jeremy Ben-Ami, the founder and president of J Street, addresses attendees in Cabot Auditorium.

Jeremy Ben−Ami, the president and founder of J Street, spoke Thursday night in Cabot Auditorium about U.S. foreign policy and the Israeli−Palestinian conflict.

Ben−Ami's lecture, titled "Fork in the Road: Decision Time for Israel on Peace, Democracy and its Jewish Character," was part of The Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy's Charles Francis Adams Lecture Series.

J Street, founded in 2008, bills itself as a "pro−Israel, pro−peace" nonprofit advocacy organization that works toward a two−state solution to the Israeli−Palestinian conflict, among other policy prescriptions.

Ben−Ami in his lecture said that J Street takes a somewhat unconventional position on Israel from a Jewish perspective, differing from the more hawkish views that have traditionally been associated with supporters of Israel.

"We are challenging the traditional notion about what it means to be pro−Israel, the traditional guardians of the pro−Israel gospel," Ben−Ami said. "For decades, they have set the terms of debate on Israel in the United States."

"They have required what has amounted to often blind support for Israel, right or wrong," he continued. "More often than not, that voice hasn't spoken for me … and it hasn't spoken for a large portion of the American Jewish community."

Ben−Ami said that most Jewish Americans' opinions align more with J Street's position.

"The overwhelming majority of Jewish Americans favor a two−state solution to the Israeli and Palestinian conflict," he said.

Ben−Ami called on what he called "passionate moderates" to work toward Middle East peace and to reject a more hard−line approach.

"Israel needs now not unquestioning love, but the firm hand of friendship helping Israel to save itself from a future of never−ending conflict," Ben−Ami said.

J Street advocates for U.S. foreign policies that will facilitate a two−state solution and for attempts to foster dialogue within the American Jewish community, according to Ben−Ami.

He called the Obama presidency a pivotal moment in the Middle East peace process and said his diplomatic decisions in the coming months will have a significant impact on the future of the region.

"This moment in time … will eventually come to be seen as an epic fork in the road when it comes to the history of the Middle East," Ben−Ami said.

He warned that a successful outcome would require continued effort.

"The window for American action by this president in this administration is brief," Ben−Ami said. "The question for the president now at this critical moment in these coming weeks … is whether this is an issue in which he is really going to continue to invest the time and the energy."

A major consideration, he said, is whether Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is committed to a two−state solution and making the necessary concessions to achieve it.

After the lecture, Ben−Ami said the intellectual environment at Tufts is conducive to constructive debate.

"Unfortunately, on too many campuses there's really polarized discussions that are not thoughtful and not helpful," Ben−Ami told the Daily. "I just find here there's a lot more intergroup work and a lot more intelligent conversation."

J Street Boston and J Street U Tufts co−sponsored the lecture. J Street U Tufts is the Tufts chapter of a network spanning colleges and universities nationwide and will officially begin operating next semester, according to senior Robin Socol, one of the event's organizers and one of the group's founders.

"I feel like lately on campus … there's been a much broader discussion — many more perspectives on the conflict," Socol said. "So on a personal level, it's great to be involved with J Street so that I know that my personal views are finding a voice and being expressed."

Brandeis senior Noam Shouster, who attended the lecture, thought Ben−Ami failed to adequately consider the Palestinian perspective.

"I think that there is a little bit more recognition of the Palestinian side that needs to be made by J Street because it's very Israel−centric and very centered on what Israel needs and the future of Israel," Shouster told the Daily. "It needs to be somewhat more realistic in terms of what's going to happen to Palestinians."

Junior Emma Oppenheim, one of the event's organizers who is also involved in the J Street U effort, was disappointed that Ben−Ami did not delve deeper into the details of the conflict.

"I was really happy we got him to come. I think I was hoping he would be a little bit more specific, and it seemed like he gave a more general lecture," Oppenheim said. "I was hoping he would go a little bit more into policy and into the elections."

Despite this, Oppenheim was pleased with how the event went.

"I thought it went really well, I was really happy with the turnout, and we definitely fill a void on campus — an opinion that isn't being expressed — and we have that now," she said.

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4 comments Log in to Comment

Tue Nov 23 2010 11:44
Sorry again guys, I can't restrain my racism and islamophobia, and I've found a forum where people get even angrier than ACB!!!
Mon Nov 22 2010 18:15
J Street reminds me of Amnesty Int -- a wolf in sheep's clothing.

"June 06, 2005, 9:28 a.m.
Amnesty’s Absurdity
The United States needs to reclaim the language of international human rights.

Amnesty International’s deliberate use of the word “gulag” to describe U.S. actions at Guantanamo should not have been a surprise. As has been widely reported, Irene Khan, the secretary general of Amnesty, used the description in the foreword to the organization’s 2005 annual report. According to Khan, “The detention facility at Guantánamo Bay has become the gulag of our times….” It is only the latest in a multi-year slide by the organization away from universal human-rights standards toward a politicized and anti-American agenda.

The change became abundantly clear at the U.N. World Conference Against Racism that took place in August and early September 2001. The final declaration of the forum of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) said Zionism, or the self-determination of the Jewish people, equals racism and went downhill from there. On the final day prior to the adoption of this declaration, international NGOs, including Amnesty, deliberated about their position as one caucus. As a representative of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists I was about to enter our meeting place along with the president of Amnesty, Irene Khan, when the chief representative of Human Rights Watch, Reed Brody, turned to me in the presence of the others and told me I was not welcome and had to go. Said Brody, to the objection of no one (although I had worked professionally with many of them for years), I represented Jews and therefore could not be trusted to be objective.

At Durban, Amnesty led the international NGO assault on universal standards. According to Khan, what mattered were “the voices of the victims.” In her words, “The victims of racism and related intolerance have described their own realities of racism and related intolerance as they experience it…This Declaration and Programme of Action is an inclusive text which enables our various perspectives to be presented at the World Conference.”

However, despite the rhetoric of “inclusiveness,” the Amnesty International chief sat on her hands when a motion to delete the voices of Jewish victims of racism was put to the vote and adopted. Every Jewish NGO from around the world walked out. Amnesty and company stayed.

Durban ended three days before 9/11. It is no surprise that the cowards and hate-mongers of Durban should be on the wrong side of history in the war against the violence that racism and intolerance breed. International human-rights organizations, with Amnesty at the helm, have cast the war on terror on one side and protection of human rights on the other. The preferred phraseology in U.N. lingo is “the protection of human rights while countering terrorism.” Mere lip service is paid to the rights violated by terrorism: There are no detailed global reports emanating from Amnesty International on the abominations of terrorists. Searching Amnesty’s website for “terrorism” elicits 25 reports — all on violations by those combating terrorism.

Amnesty International’s spokesman, William Schulz, responded this past week to criticism of the Soviet “gulag” comparison by saying, “The administration never thinks Amnesty International is absurd when we criticize Cuba, China, North Korea…” In other words, the fact that Amnesty is quoted sometimes means the group should be above criticism always. This is the arrogance of an international human-rights organization — and they are not alone — that for years has operated without serious accountability. How sad that the strengths of a major civil-society organization have been progressively diminished by overreaching, ever-increasing claims of expertise, and an irresponsible belief in their infallibility.

Amnesty is, however, correct in one important respect. For far too long Americans have ceded the language of international human rights to just about everyone else on the planet. The failure to make the case for key elements of American foreign policy in human-rights terms has left the field wide open to the haters of America and of democracy, allowing them to appropriate and subvert the political currency of human rights. Every American kid on campus knows that the local human-rights club is an America-bashing hangout. If they are caring, compassionate, and full of energy to assist their brothers and sisters in all corners of the globe, they have nowhere to go — at least until they take the pledge of non-allegiance. Maybe Amnesty’s absurdity will help sound a long overdue alarm bell."

Tufts Alum
Mon Nov 22 2010 15:09
I think it is an absolute shame that J Street is finding an audience at intitutions such as Tufts. A mere cursory review of J Street's funding sources (which the organization has lied about repeatedly) and the public comments of Ben-Ami reveal the orginization's true nature: a sham that either does not understand, or simply does not support, Israel's interests.

It makes me truly sad that naive college students who lack a sense of history are buying what this disgusting organization is selling. Spend one week in Israel talking to actual Israelis and you'd know that Ben-Ami does not speak for them.

Mon Nov 22 2010 13:40
"Here [at Tufts] there's a lot more intergroup work" -Ben-Ami

I thought Friends of Israel and Hillel refused to cosponsor anything with Students for Justice in Palestine...?

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