I have been following with interest the exchange between Phil Weiss and Dan Fleshler on J-Street, the alternative Jewish lobby. Phil has been disappointed, though hardly surprised, by some of J-Street's positions, just as he has been disappointed, though hardly surprised, by some of Obama's statements on Israel. Phil's fate in life is to be disappointed, though hardly surprised. We are in the same club, here. From the moment I jumped on the Obama bandwagon, I had zero expectations from him on Israel-Palestine. True, the news that Rob Malley and Dan Kurtzer, were involved with Obama's policy team, was encouraging. But how far can Obama go, when he accepts, fundamentlly, the Israeli-Zionist narrative – a narrative that has been accepted by every president since Truman and Kennedy? Will J-Street go past the Zionist consensus and reach-out to Jews who are disaffected with political Zionism? Hardly.
Fleshler says that Weiss is wrong on J-Street, but Weiss didn't say he was opposed to J-Street, only that he thought that its positions weren't that far from those of AIPAC. I think he's right, but I don't mind building coalitions with the Zionist Left over such no-brainers as freezing settlements. Neither does he. And it doesn't hurt to have people to the left of J-Street pushing it a bit on the issues, just as it doesn't hurt to have people to the left of Obama pushing him a bit on the issues.
Don't get me wrong. I deeply admire anybody who spends a lot of time trying to get Israel-Palestine out of the mess it is in – if they are effective. But it seems to me that the successes of the liberal Zionists have been miminal, especially during and after the breakdown of Oslo, and they have been slow at drawing lessons from the failure of Oslo – repeating the mantra of peace will not get you very far. On engaging with the democratically-elected Hamas parliament they have been lukewarm at best. Still, the spread of liberal Zionism a la Peace Now and Brit Tzedek ve-Shalom may help provide political cover for nervous politicians (J-Street's goal) and prepare the ground for people to begin to rethink the conventional wisdom of liberal Zionism. But as long as the discourse in America is almost exclusively Zionistic, there is little hope for an even-handed approach to Israel-Palestine. Will J-Street join with AIPAC in opposing politicians like Jim Moran?
There is another important role for progressive Zionist groups, and that is to support the efforts of the human rights NGO's in Israel/Palestine. The emergence of the discourse of human rights, and international humanitarian law, is one of the most encouraging developments in sixty years of the Jewish state. (The emergence of effective spokespeople for the Palestinians is another hopeful sign.) When Dror Etkes left Peace Now's Settlement Watch for Yesh Din, the message he was sending was that there are immediate problems of human rights violation that need to be addressed and publicized. To my knowledge, the American progressive Zionists have been, on the whole, very supportive of the NGOs, from the New Israel Fund, to the smaller groups. Not all – it seems to be that Jeff Halper's Israel Committee Against House Demolitions is still outside of the Zionist consensus, but maybe I am wrong here. If Progressive Zionists join Palestinians and non-Jews in supporting the NGO's then dayyenu – it will be sufficient for us.