Daily Israel Report

J Street Backs PA Refusal to Recognize Israel as a Jewish State

Controversial 'pro-Israel' lobbying group comes under fire for once again opposing Israeli position in negotiations.
By Ari Soffer
First Publish: 3/23/2014, 12:16 PM

John Kerry and Mahmoud Abbas meet in Paris, February 2014
John Kerry and Mahmoud Abbas meet in Paris, February 2014
Reuters

US lobbying group J Street has once again thrown its weight behind the Obama administration and the Palestinian Authority, urging Israel to drop demands for the PA to recognize the country as a Jewish state.

Israeli leaders have been adamant on the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, saying that far from being a mere symbolic gesture, the recognition would signal an end to future claims against Israel by the PA and a genuine end to the conflict. Some PA officials have openly declared that from their perspective, any concessions gained by the current talks would be merely a "first stage" in the destruction of the Jewish state.

For its part, the PA has repeatedly refused to recognize Jewish rights to the land of Israel, and as such PA chief Mahmoud Abbas has said he will not agree to recognize Israel as a "Jewish State".

In a statement on the group's blog, J Street CEO Jeremy Ben-Ami reiterated his group's commitment to diplomatic efforts by US Secretary of State John Kerry, including a partition of Israel as part of a "Two-State Solution" to the Arab-Israeli conflict, but noted that talks between Israel and the PA were stalling.

"To keep moving forward, both men now need to give a little, while keeping their eyes on the prize and recognizing that the benefits of resolving the conflict outweigh any short-term political considerations and that the penalties for failure for both peoples are immense," Ben-Ami wrote of Israeli Prime Minster Binyamin Netanyahu and PA Chairman Abbas.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, however, Ben-Ami did not explain what concessions would be expected from the PA, instead branding Israeli demands for recognition as a Jewish state as "unrealistic" and calling on Israel to drop those demands - echoing recent statements by the US State Department and Secretary of State Kerry himself.

J Street - which claims to be "pro-Israel and pro-peace" - has come under fire by pro-Israel groups for its links to radical anti-Israel organizations, including some which call for a boycott of the Jewish state. J Street's critics say it is simply hiding an anti-Israel agenda behind a friendly face.

But peace activist Yehuda Hakohen says the problem runs far deeper, and that J Street undermines both Israeli and Palestinian Arab interests on the ground.

"J Street is essentially the Jewish mouthpiece for American empire in the Middle East," said Hakohen, who directs the grassroots Alternative Action organization. "They promote Washington's foreign policy agenda for the region and work hard to present that agenda as somehow being in the interests of Jews and Palestinians on the ground.

"But the reality is that the policies they advocate only further oppress both peoples and further divide us, making the attainment of genuine peace increasingly more difficult." 

"The two state paradigm is doomed to failure because it fails to address the aspirations and grievances of either people. It simply creates more injustice and oppression for both of us while advancing the agendas of foreign powers in our region," he continued.

"Forcibly expelling Jews from their homes in the cradle of Jewish civilization and forcing Palestinians to live under an American-backed police state is not the way forward towards peace or justice and I honestly have trouble believing the leadership of J Street to be so naive as to genuinely think otherwise."