J Street’s failures

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J Street’s failures
Saudi Gazette Sunday, June 16, 2013

By Ray Hanania

There is no doubt that Israel has been a major contributor to the collapse of the peace process. Worse though is the fact that “moderate” American Jewish organizations, like J Street founded in 2008 to promote a peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, are failing to move Israel back to the “center.”

Israel’s refusal to freeze settlements is the single most significant obstacle to peace with the Palestinians and the Arab world. That single policy decision to expand settlements and confiscate more Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank, especially around Arab East Jerusalem, has done more to undermine peace than even the violence of Hamas in the beginning of this century. In 1993, there was so much hope that finally, Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs could live together in peace and build a safe and secure Middle East that would have become an economic engine for the Middle East, Asia and Europe.

Instead, less than two years after the agreement was signed, an Israeli extremist from the settler movement and the rejectionist Jewish right murdered Yitzhak Rabin, who dared to extend a hand of peace to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Rabin’s assassination put the entire process in a tailspin that continues till this day. It prompted two very tragic developments in the Arab and Jewish communities. It sparked a new Israeli arrogance of obstinate rejectionism and double-talk that emboldened the rising violence from Arab extremists.

More troubling, and further proof that Israel really does not want peace, is the fact that the number of settlers has doubled during the two decades since the peace accords were signed at the White House between Rabin and Arafat under the auspices of President Bill Clinton.

The turmoil of those two decades pulled the rug out from under the peace movement on both the Palestinian and the Israeli side. Israel’s “peace” movement collapsed, replaced by “peace apologists” of Israelis and American Jewish activists who spend more time defending Israel than helping Israel to correct its errant ways.

Probably the most damaging event that took place in that two decades of disaster since the Rabin-Arafat peace failure was the transformation of the American Jewish peace movement into an organization of Israeli apologists.

Some people including myself applauded the rise of J Street as an alternative to the rightwing, anti-peace Israeli lobby, AIPAC. Yet in the five years since J Street’s creation, all that J Street has accomplished is bringing together the shattered remains of the American Jewish peace movement not as an effective champion of peace but as an organization that has given Israel’s right-wing policies shelter. The proof of J Street’s ineffectiveness is the fact that Israel is as much against peace today as it was in 1995 when the peace process collapsed.

Israel’s government rejects the two-state solution. It continues to confiscate land and expand settlements. In the two decades since the Rabin-Arafat handshake of “peace,” the number of settlers has doubled. That’s not progress.

J Street has given supporters of peace a false hope. The rhetoric sounds good. The conventions are fun. But the results are lacking. They are afraid to appear too critical of Israel, so while they loudly lobby for “peace,” they mute their criticism of Israel’s actions at the very time that strong criticism of Israel’s government is most needed.

While peace is stymied by Israel’s refusal to return land for peace – the fundamental premise of the “two-state solution” — the real obstacle confronting Palestinians is the rising extremism among the Palestinians themselves.

Palestinians can’t control their anger at having failed to achieve anything in the course of 65 years of conflict. What have Palestinians achieved? Not one inch of Palestine has been liberated. The Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip was replaced by a religious occupation.

The one talent Arab and Israeli extremists share is the ability to take frustration and transform it into negative and self-destructive energy. The Palestinians know how to say “No” and how to reject, but they have no concept, no aptitude and no skills to achieve positive results that would move them closer to independence. The Israelis know how to say “Yes” in an empty meaningless gesture that prolongs the conflict in a status quo between war and real peace.

Palestinians have always been their own worst enemies, thanks in a large part to Israel’s rejection of peace, which Palestinians use to excuse their own violent behavior or to blame their failings on Israel rather than on themselves.

J Street’s failure has only served to allow Israel to avoid making the necessary concessions for genuine peace, and to allow Israelis to live in an era of “false peace.” American Jews defend Israel against harsh criticism with knee-jerk reaction, but are silent on criticism based on “principle.”

The issue is “principle.” Palestinians cannot condemn Israelis for killing Palestinians if they can’t also condemn Palestinians for killing Israelis. But that also applies to Israelis and American Jews. American Jews have failed to embrace the fundamental principles of justice.

Principles only mean something if you can stick by them when they are inconvenient. Expanding settlements that are exclusively Jewish on confiscated Palestinian civilian land is unprincipled. Refusing to freeze settlement expansion as a requirement to resume peace talks is also unprincipled. J Street is picking and choosing among principles. J Street does not like to hear criticism, which is apparently an Israeli cultural trait. J Street has not done enough to prevent Israeli extremism or to push Israelis to a principled position of moderation. It’s not enough for J-Street to be the “alternative” to AIPAC. To achieve peace, J Street must return to genuine principles and bring Israelis with them.

— Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist. He can be reached at www.TheMediaOasis.com or follow him on Twitter @RayHanania.

This post has already been read 144 times!

Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and Columnist who began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He covered Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992 (Mayor Daley to Mayor Daley) and has expanded to writing for newspapers around the world focussed on Middle East and American politics.

Hanania loves to write about American Arabs in politics, and focuses on Arab life in America.

Currently, he writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com. He writes on American politics for the Des Plaines Valley News, Southwest News-Herald, The Regional News newspaper and the Reporter Newspapers. He also writes for the online websites TheArabDailyNews.com and NewsAmericaNetwork.com (Illinois News Network at IllinoisNewsNetwork.com).

Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Hanania began in journalism as an activist publishing Chicago’s first English-language American Arab Newspaper “The Middle Eastern Voice” from 1975 through 1977. In 1976, he was hired by the Chicago community newspaper The Southtown Economist (Daily Southtown) and in 1985 was hired by the Chicago Sun-Times and covered Chicago City Hall for both. In 1993, he launched the “The Villager” Newspapers which covered 12 Southwest Chicagoland suburban regions. In 2004, he published “The National Arab American Times” monthly newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East ethnic food stores in 48 American States.

Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media;In 2009, he received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. Hanania has also received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.

Hanania’s writings have been published in newspapers around the world. Formerly syndicated by Creators Syndicate, Hanania also has written news, features and Opinion Columns for Al Jazeera English, the Jerusalem Post, YNetNews.com, Arab News, Saudi Gazette, Newsday in New York, the Orlando Sentinel, the Houston Chronicle, The Daily Star, the News of the World, the Daily Yomimuri in Tokyo, Chicago Magazine, the Arlington Heights Daily Herald, and Aramco Magazine. His political columns are published in the Southwest News-Herald and Des Plaines Valley News, Regional News and Palos Reporter newspapers in Chicagoland. Hanania is the President/CEO of Urban Strategies Group media and public affairs consulting which has clients in Illinois, Florida, Michigan and Washington D.C.

Hanania is Palestinian Christian from prominent Bethlehem and Jerusalem families. His wife and son are Jewish and he performs standup comedy lampooning Arab-Jewish relations, advocating for peace based on non-violence, mutual recognition and Two-States.

His Facebook Page is Facebook.com/rghanania

Email him at: RGHanania@gmail.com