Analysis: Israeli MKs were wrong to attend J- Street

By Yoav Sivan, October 29, 2009

Ten current and former members of the Knesset from parties on the left and centre-left — Meretz, Labour and Kadima — have just been in Washington to attend the first conference of J Street, a new American-Jewish lobby group that fancies itself as a counterweight to Aipac.

They include such stalwarts as MK Amir Peretz, a former Labour Party chair, and MK Yuli Tamir, a former education minister. It is a contingent to be taken seriously. And other politicians who stayed home, including Kadima leader Tzipi Livni, are praising J Street as a means to bring about change in the Middle East. Ms Livni even sent the conference a congratulatory letter.

Make no mistake: these Israeli leaders and the people behind J Street care deeply about Israel. But the faith of these Israeli politicians in this American organisation as an instrument through which they can influence Israeli politics is deeply misguided.

The nation which knows what’s best for Israel is Israel herself. If Israeli politicians want to change Israeli foreign policy, they must do it through the Israeli political system, not the American one. Appropriate instruments include the Prime Minister and his cabinet, the Knesset, the Supreme Court and the media. Israel is a thriving democracy that does not need to be subverted as if it were a banana republic in desperate need of American political policing.

Labour MKs Peretz and Tamir have joined the coalition led by Likud’s Binyamin Netanyahu. If they believe that the way to advance Israeli interests is to freeze settlements, let them convince the chair of their party, Defence Minister Ehud Barak, to take down the outposts.

It is political cowardice to try instead to convince an American lobbying arm to convince Barack Obama to exercise tough love.

Notwithstanding their years in successive Israeli governments, Mr Peretz, Ms Tamir and their colleagues are also naïve. J Street is a crapshoot tied to the fortunes of President Obama, whose popularity in the United States is declining at the moment and, in any event, is, like that of all presidents, transitory.

Israelis from across the political spectrum recognise that their nation is in a leadership crisis. But for both democratic and practical reasons, the solution cannot be found in Washington.

Israeli journalist Yoav Sivan is attending the Columbia Journalism School in New York City

Last updated: 2:26pm, November 8 2010