Those who have been hoping that J Street would develop into pro-Israel lobby free of many of the objectionable features of AIPAC should think twice. J Street’s Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami has just released a statement on Iran which I will reproduce in full: “J Street supports the thoughtful and nuanced approach to Iran sanctions legislation articulated yesterday by Chairman Howard Berman. We agree that it is a vital interest of the United States, Israel and the entire Middle East to ensure that Iran does not obtain nuclear weapons. Further, we agree with the Chairman’s stated policy preferences for achieving that objective. J Street’s first choice – as it is for President Obama and Chairman Berman – is to resolve the nuclear issue through diplomatic means. We too strongly support the Obama Administration’s efforts to engage Iran and hope for promising follow-through to the first round of talks held in Geneva on October 1. However, should engagement not produce the desired results, we too believe that the United States should seek hard-hitting multilateral sanctions through the United Nations Security Council. If that course of action proves impossible, then the U.S. should work to build the broadest possible international coalition to back such steps. The imposition of unilateral sanctions, without UN approval or the support of allies, should be, as the Chairman himself says, a last resort. J Street supports the Chairman’s intention to mark up the bill on October 28th and to give the President further time to pursue our preferred options. As we have said before, J Street does not oppose the imposition of sanctions per se. We prefer, as do Chairman Berman and President Obama, attempting to achieve the desired result through diplomatic engagement and multilateral action.”
Describing Congressman Howard Berman as “thoughtful and nuanced” regarding Iran is to say the least generous and many have noted that his house bill is basically an act of war. Supporting “hard-hitting multilateral sanctions” will only end any hopes for a negotiated solution and will strengthen Iranian hardliners, as J Street well knows. There is in fact little difference between J Street’s position and that of AIPAC.
I attended a J Street sponsored event about a month ago with retired Israeli Major General Danny Rothschild. The general was being introduced around Washington because he openly advocates a two state solution with the Palestinians, though he also reiterated standard Israeli talking points about ”Islamofascism” and Iran, i.e. that there is no use talking to those people and that Iran intends to develop a nuclear weapon to destroy Israel. He advocated a military solution to the Iran problem. It seems to me that J Street has been drifting closer to the hardline positions that it once seemed to criticize and, if I were being cynical, I might wonder if that was the program right from the beginning. I believe J Street is holding something like an annual conference in Washington in about two weeks. It will be interesting to see who attends and what comes out of it.