In lecture, J Street founder Ben−Ami advocates for two−state solution
Published: Monday, November 22, 2010
Updated: Monday, November 22, 2010 07:11
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.