The J Street Challenge; Controversial Film To Have Seattle Premiere

The J Street Challenge: No Balance, No Common Ground

The J Street Challenge will have its Seattle premiere on Wednesday, November 12, 7:00 PM at Congregation Ezra Bessaroth, details here.

By Varda Epstein: Special to The Mike Report

The J Street Challenge, a film that has created a bit of a buzz in the Jewish community, has been described variously as a “hatchet job” and an “exposé” depending upon which side is speaking at a given moment, and where they stand across the divide. The film juxtaposes 12 minutes of footage, excerpts of speeches and statements by Jeremy Ben Ami, the founder and president of J Street, with filmed interviews of a host of experts hailing from the opposite side of the political spectrum.

That is, when it comes to Israel.

Ben Ami founded the controversial organization J Street, in 2008. The organization purports to be pro-Israel, while J Street’s opponents say the group actively works against the interests of the Jewish State. The purpose of the film is clear to the viewer: The J Street Challenge is just what it says it is; a challenge to J Street to explain how it could possibly claim to be pro-Israel based on its actions and aims.

It’s more or less an old-fashioned call to a duel in defense of a wronged damsel (Israel) but with words instead of pistols. The J Street Challenge is Dudley Do-Right to J Street’s Snidely Whiplash.

The experts interviewed are well-credentialed (names linked to their bios), and include Lenny Ben David, Alan Dershowitz, Daniel Gordis, Charles Jacobs, Miri Kornfeld, Richard Landes, Andrea Levin, Samantha Mandeles, Noah Pollak, Roz Rothstein, Ruth Wisse and Rachel Wolf. That means 12 minutes of Ben Ami, with the other 52 minutes dedicated to an overview of the history of Israel, an outline of the case against J Street, and interviews with Ben Ami’s opponents.

In referring to opponents however, we are really talking about people with a variety of viewpoints regarding Israel. The interviewees differ on how/if it might be possible to attain peace between Israel and the Arabs. They differ on what seems like a self-evident fact to this writer: Arabs seek a state of their own on all the territory indigenous to the Jewish people.

They even differ on what constitutes “indigenous Jewish territory” and even when they agree that Judea and Samaria constitute indigenous Jewish territory, they don’t necessarily agree that Israel has a right to live on and build in this territory today.

Take Alan Dershowitz, for instance. He stumped for President Obama during both elections, though Jews on the right were adamant that the President is no friend of Israel. Dershowitz continues to decry the settlements and plug the two-state solution. Prof. Dershowitz is thought to be a brilliant man, so I can’t help but wonder if he has ever looked at a map to see how unworkable the two-state solution is in actuality. The two-state solution would leave Israel only 9 miles wide at its narrowest point. It means that in addition to rockets flying into Southern Israel and affecting the daily life of one million Israelis, the entire country would be under fire.

Screen Shot from the J Street Challenge.

Screenshot from the J Street Challenge.

There is absolutely no reason to think it would be any other way, were Israel to capitulate to Arab demands. And besides, Israel has only this one tiny sliver of land, while the Arabs are land rich and have nearly 2 dozen states. This solution is for the Arabs to work out.

But they won’t. Because it’s not about land and never was. It is about killing the Jews and expropriating their possessions.

And the thing is, no matter how much I want peace, and oh boy, do I ever, it cannot be obtained in exchange for bits and pieces of land. The Disengagement offers ample proof of this. There is practically no one left in Israel who believes the two-state solution is a workable idea.

Daniel Gordis also veers somewhat to the left of my own politics. He would like us to be very, very quiet about the idea that the two-state solution is a total loser of an idea. As Gordis has written, “Reasonable minds can differ as to whether saying publicly that the two-state solution is dead is healthy for Israel’s standing in the international community.”

Actually, I think that it is unreasonable in the extreme for people to hide the truth when it comes to Israel and the Jews. It is realpolitik that created Oslo which has resulted in so much bloodshed on both sides. By pretending we had a partner who wanted peace, we enabled the enemy to kill us in greater quantities than ever before. So with Gordis too, I have a major ideological difference.

The question is whether the producer, writer, and director of the film, Avi Goldwasser, has provided the viewer with a balanced examination of J Street and its policies? I may not agree with Dershowitz and Gordis, nevertheless, I do not doubt that both men care about Israel. On the other hand, I have yet to see J Street say or do anything that can at all be construed as pro-Israel.

J Street

I was enthralled with the film. But afterward, I was left wondering what J Street had to say about The J Street Challenge. I looked for and found Jeremy Ben Ami’s statement, “Setting the Record Straight,” in which he did anything but. He begins, for example, by saying that it’s a malicious lie to say that J Street is anti-Israel. He offers as proof of his pro-Israel-ness, his family tree, which doesn’t seem to have any bearing on the subject.

Heck, I don’t care what his ancestors did or where they lived, I care about how HE is hurting my people and my country.

Which he is.

In spades.

At every moment.

Ben Ami offers up the J Street mission statement as “further” proof that J Street is totally committed to Israel: “We believe in the right of the Jewish people to a national homeland in Israel, in the Jewish and democratic values on which Israel was founded, and in the necessity of a two-state solution.”

But actually, if you dissect that sentence, it means:

  1. We think the Jews have a right to a national homeland in Israel, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t give up that right for the sake of peace.
  2. We think the Jews have a right to a national homeland in Israel, but that doesn’t mean they should get to keep all of it for themselves, even if it IS their indigenous land.
  3. We think the Jews have a right to a national homeland in Israel, but hey, tough luck, it just can’t work out because the Arabs feel the same way about wanting a national homeland in Israel and they have rights, too.
  4. We think the Jews have a right to a national homeland in Israel, but Jews are better than that. We should sacrifice our ideals for the sake of peace and commit national suicide, and roll over and die, because the poor Arabs are suffering so. The Jews can go somewhere else.
  5. Moving on to the next part of the statement we come to Jewish=democratic. Because democracy is good and Judaism is good, therefore they are the same thing. Anything we like superficially is Jewish. For instance gay marriage. We think gay people should get married. If you don’t, you aren’t faithful to Judaism. We think abortion should be legal because a lot of women really suffer when they find they are pregnant at an inconvenient juncture in their lives. It’s JEWISH to relieve their suffering, ergo, abortion is Jewish. This is a really special formula that can be applied to anything you like. For instance bacon. Bacon is Jewish because it’s so tasty and God would want us to enjoy everything He created.  I could pontificate on this point for days. But I will spare you, dear reader. I assume you get the point.  
  6. Actually not really different from #5 “the necessity of a two-state solution” means that if Israel doesn’t allow the world to impose upon it the two-state solution deemed by J Street to be an idea that is both Jewish and democratic (though it is neither), then Israel is neither Jewish nor democratic. But weirdly enough, Judaism is the reason the land in question belongs to duh, the JEWS. And in a democracy, government reflects the will of the people (as opposed to Judaism which reflects the will of, ahem, God, who gave the land to the Jews because they were um, CHOSEN). Israel has its own elected officials to represent its interests, as opposed to President Obama, or say, J Street.. The people of Israel no longer believe in the two-state solution. The two-state solution is dead. And this is not Israel’s fault. This is because the Arabs have refused to negotiate the terms. Imposing a failed idea on Israel? Not Jewish. Not democratic. Not no how.
  7. The two-state solution was always antithetical to Israel’s continued existence since it would leave Israel unprotected and open to attack from within. God wants the Jewish people to have Israel. He wants the Jewish people to live in Israel.
  8. The only people who believe in the necessity of a two-state solution are those who hate the Jews, want their land, and wish their destruction, can’t read a map, haven’t thought things through, or haven’t heard of Disengagement. Which is why I can’t understand Dershowitz who I’m told is so smart.
  9. If the people of Israel do not want the two-state solution, it cannot possibly be democratic to force it on them.
  10. Where J Street speaks of “principles on which Israel was founded” Ben Ami is, I believe, speaking not of the principles of the founders of Israel, such as Ben Gurion or Herzl, but of the Transjordan Memorandum of 1922, which set a precedent by which people other than Jews could decide how much of their indigenous land the Jews would be allowed to have and then these same people could come back at a later date and come and give most of it away to someone else because someone else wanted it. A lot.

Wow. All those words and we’re hardly even through one of Ben Ami’s rebuttal points. Not to mention I’ve hardly spoken about the film. 

Let’s just say that I have a similar number of words to apply to every statement that comes from either Ben Ami’s mouth or hand. There is only one good point he makes in his entire defense of himself and that is regarding the fact that Goldwasser didn’t try very hard to interview Ben Ami. Ben Ami states that he received an email in which an interview was requested of him during a short stay in Boston. The invitation did not come from Goldwasser and the agenda of the film was left unstated.

Screen shot challenge.

Screenshot from J Street Challenge.

Ben Ami didn’t have time to include an interview during his trip to Boston and didn’t have enough information about the project to even know that he needed to press for a new date in order to give his side of things.

So no. Not exactly fair. But on the other hand, can you blame Goldwasser for not wanting to come straight out and say, “Hey Dude. Can we like interview you to rip you a new one on camera?”

And truth be told, it served Goldwasser’s purpose to have Ben Ami decline to be interviewed. No, it’s not fair and balanced, but 1) Understandable and 2) Probably a mitzvah not to let Ben Ami talk. The man damages Israel.

At any rate, I did reach out to Goldwasser through a mutual acquaintance to ask him whether Ben Ami was truthful in characterizing the manner in which the invitation for an interview was extended. Goldwasser said, “When Jeremy visited Boston, we requested an interview with him. He (his PR person) turned [us] down- we have the email exchange. We would be glad to interview him anytime. J Street has had sufficient time to respond to the film-which contains about 12 min of Jeremy and other J Street spokespersons.  So we certainly feel that J Street’s point of view was well represented in the film.  I am not aware of anything that is significantly relevant that we left out of the film.

As for the film itself, it was an absolute pleasure to hear intelligent people say the things I think about all the time, framed in words I don’t necessarily have. I didn’t have the advantage of a higher education and I’m not some academic in a think tank, but rather a staff writer for a car donation program (yeah, yeah, the one with the funny name and obnoxious jingle, Kars for Kids). And so I confess that I sometimes have college-envy.

J Street

Here, so many of the interviewees were eloquent on the subject of the liberal left and the self-abnegation of the Jews who insist on pleading the side of the enemy in some twisted version of Stockholm syndrome. I think of this as an absolute pathology.

I think of this as Jews who really don’t want to be like THOSE Jews. You know, the Jews that everyone hates?

So they try to disavow their people and their heritage and take up the cudgel of the enemy against their own, like some sort of self-perpetuating guppy that should be separated from the others to prevent it from eating its young. Only there’s so many of them you can’t find them all.

In particular I liked this from Richard Landes:

“One of the dimensions of the problem is what a number of people have called ‘moral narcissism’ which is this, it’s an overwhelming concern about personally being a moral person and really not caring about the consequences outside one’s own solipsistic concerns.”

In other words, Israel has to give the disputed territories to the Arabs because that’s more important than being right or alive.

And Ruth Wisse: “They align themselves on the Arab side in the lopsided Arab war against the Jews. Do they have a right to align themselves on the Arab side? Every right in the world. What they do not have a right to do is to pretend that they are on the Jewish side.” 

The film neatly lays out the case against J Street, the deception about what it claims it supports and about its financials, the one-sidedness of its censure, the pressure the organization has placed on the United States government as a means for bypassing Israel’s democratic process, the way J Street has worked to insert itself as a wedge to weaken support of American Jews for Israel.

Benamidebate

Ben Ami really failed to set me straight on any of this in the position paper cited earlier above. Instead, he only confirms what this film says about his own organization. Take Iran, for instance, The J Street Challenge, talks about the way J Street tried to undermine the sanctions against Iran. Ben Ami says, in effect, not true, they only tried to delay the sanctions, because it wasn’t the best time to apply them.

And in trying to delay the sanctions, J Street attempts to give Iran more time to develop a nuclear weapon with which to attack Israel, Iran’s oft-stated goal.

In what sense could that EVER be construed as pro-Israel???

I mean. SHEESH.

It is the great misfortune of the Jewish people that today, so many do not recognize the gift to the world that is Israel. Israel is the jewel in the crown of the Jewish people. It’s the unifying factor that we can all get behind if only we weren’t so starkly polarized. Has it always been this way? Or did we once have common ground? I seem to remember a time when no matter where we stood across the divide, we would all do anything for Israel.

We gave pennies during the Depression, though our children went hungry. We planted trees. We lobbied in Washington. We endured.

Now we are fragmented, torn. We are berated for helping Jews instead of Arabs. We no longer see the gift—the great gift of Israel. And we don’t know it’s our sight that’s impaired.

The J Street Challenge will have its Seattle premier at Congregation Ezra Bessaroth in Seattle, WA on November 12, 2014 @ 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm

For details go to: http://thejstreetchallenge.com/screening/seattle-wa-congregation-ezra-bessaroth/ , Admission free, suggested donation $10. Reserve your seat here: http://tjscseattle.eventbrite.com

Note: The producer, writer, and director of The J Street Challenge, Avi Goldwasser, will be on hand via a live feed, to answer all your hard questions. J Street? Bring. It. ON.

 

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