- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 3, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

“They hate us. They want to kill us. So what are we going to do about it?”

These are not the words one would expect to hear about Palestinians at the Oct. 25-28 first annual conference of the left-tilting J-Street, let alone from a left-wing rabbi who has worked extensively for Palestinian human rights.

Rabbis for Human Rights Executive Director Arik Ascherman, though, believes that delusion serves no one’s interests, least of all those who genuinely want peace. His love for his adopted homeland of Israel was unmistakable, and he admits that his criticisms of Israel are because he’s a “Jewish racist” who’s “going to expect more of Jews.”

While he was careful to clarify that he wasn’t necessarily speaking of most Palestinians and adding that Israel’s own failures have played a role in fostering this hatred, Rabbi Ascherman was adamant that excuses should not be made for Palestinian terrorism.

Unfortunately, he was mostly alone - both in his passion for Israel and his willingness to assign some blame to the Palestinians.

Excuses abounded at the J-Street conference for Palestinian terrorism and the popular support it enjoys.

In all, the event’s notion of “pro-peace” meant an almost exclusive focus on Israel’s misdeeds and the steps the Jewish state should take. This, presumably, is the “pro-peace” part of the slogan of J-Street, which was established early last year as “pro-Israel, pro-peace,” seemingly to act as an alternative to “pro-Israel” groups that support the democratic will of Israel.

One panel, featuring left-wing Israel politicians Ami Ayalon and Haim Ramon, carried the basic message that the path to peace was paved with the removal of settlements.

“Palestinians want something very simple: The end of the occupation,” said Mr. Ayalon, a Labor Party member of Knesset. Ending the “occupation,” he explained, would magically transform a Palestinian society that has long tolerated and even embraced attacks on Israeli civilians through rockets and suicide bombings. “If they [the Palestinians] see the peace process is working, they will reject terrorism.”

Nowhere on the official program was anyone who gave more than lip service to the problems created by Palestinians’ continued force-feeding of anti-Jewish, anti-peace propaganda. Children learn from textbooks that might make Nazis blush. Jews are “pigs” who have “raped” the “land of Palestine.”

One could make the case that poisoning children’s minds hurts the prospects for peace. But not at J-Street. Asked about the implications of Palestinian propaganda, J-Street’s Israel-based consultant Colette Avital, herself a former Israeli legislator, responded, “That doesn’t matter. You can go to Israeli schools and not see some very nice things. It’s not easy on either side.”

If anything, the J-Street consultant appears to believe Israel is primarily responsible for Palestinians’ radicalized society. “If you would live under occupation, you wake up and see Israeli soldiers everywhere, you have to go through checkpoints to go to school or to the hospital, would you love Israelis?” she rhetorically asked.

What Ms. Avital couldn’t answer, though, is how exactly her reasoning applied in practice given that a non-occupied Gaza population is far more radical than their brethren in the West Bank. Nor would her logic answer why much of the Islamic world hates Israel even more than most Palestinians do.

Her comments, though, were in keeping with the overall theme that it’s all about Israel. Very little seems to be expected of Palestinians, who are either seen by conference attendees as either tragic victims of Israel’s stubborn rejection of “peace” or mere bystanders who happen to be neighbors.

Many, perhaps most, of the 1,500 J-Streeters in attendance firmly oppose pushing around the Iranian leadership, yet have no qualms about strong-arming Israel’s democratically elected leaders.

Missing from this conference was the palpable affection so common among Jewish and Christian Zionists alike, who speak of Israel the way Francophiles discuss Parisian culture or cuisine. The love, in short, was not in great supply.

Applause and passion were on display, however, whenever a speaker spoke of the dignity of Palestinians or of Israeli “oppression” or “occupation.” The love was also shown to speakers who talked about uprooting settlements.

One of the chilliest receptions was given to left-leaning Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, who condemned the United Nations’ Goldstone Report on the conflict in Gaza for assigning most of the blame to the Jewish state. Attendees gave little indication that they agreed with his call “to reject the trap of false moral equivalence.”

Minutes later, J-Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami dished out the very type of moral equivalence Rabbi Yoffie warned against: “Actually believing that one has that monopoly [over morality and what is right and wrong] is what leads to the endless wars and the conflict, the sadness and the bloodshed.”

One should wonder how to apply Mr. Ben-Ami’s logic to rather major tenets of the platforms of Israel’s enemies, such as driving Jews into the sea or “wiping Israel off the map.” Does it actually inspire “endless wars,” “conflict,” and “bloodshed” to believe yourself morally superior for rejecting those ideas as wrong?

Joel Mowbray is an investigative journalist living in New York City.

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