J Street, founded in 2008, markets itself as kind of left-wing AIPAC. From the very beginning the group went out of its way to emphasize its motto of “pro-Israel, pro-peace.” One of the key questions raised by the documentary is what it means to be “pro-Israel” not necessarily on a personal level, but in the perspective of the political lobbying and advocacy, which tries to shape public opinion about the Israeli-Arab conflict. A conflict that Harvard Professor Ruth Wisse describes as a partial fiction:
There is no such thing as an Arab-Israel conflict, there is an Arab war against Israel, there is an Arab war against the Jewish people’s right to a state.
As the film examines J Street’s record, it becomes hard to dispute Professor Alan Dershowitz’s assertion made toward the end of documentary that J Street is “neither pro-Israel nor pro-peace.”
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The J Street Challenge uses the organization’s own words to deliver a thorough introduction for anyone who has not delved into the group, what the group means by “pro-peace,” and the rhetorical sleight of hand the group uses to promote its position, namely, J Street is always right and Israel is always wrong. Shalem Center scholar Daniel Gordis highlights the J Street arrogance:
None of us know what’s going to bring peace, none of us know what’s going to get the Palestinian side to make accommodations, the minute you’re absolutely certain that you have a monopoly on wisdom I think you stop listening.
The movie explains that to J Street the only reason for the “Arab-Israeli” conflict is land. The viewer is introduced to the organization’s position that if Israel would give return to the 1949 armistice lines, all would be right with the world. A position nicely slapped down by Professor Wisse who explains the failure of the group’s logic, “Since that so-called occupation was the consequence of the war against Israel, it cannot retroactively have become its cause.”
Part of explaining a group’s purpose is discovering the people funding its message. The J Street Challenge, pulls together all of the funding information discovered over the past six-years and lays it out for those who haven’t been intimately following the group. Much of J Street’s money comes from critics of Israel, like the hedge-fund billionaire and progressive “sugar daddy” George Soros, and Genevieve Lynch, a board member of the pro-Iranian regime, National Iranian-American Council. Each has donated significant sums to the organization.
Although J Street says it is opposed to the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, J Street maintains close ties with those who advocate collaboration with the BDS movement in targeting West Bank settlements, such as writer Peter Beinart and corporate lawyer Kathleen Peratis.
The movie touches upon the role the Obama administration had in giving the group legitimacy, inviting it to presidential meetings with the leadership of the Jewish Community, and forcing fellow Democrats such as DCCC Chairman Steve Israel to support the group’s initial efforts.
J-Street’s usual position includes slamming Benjamin Netanyahu’s government as an obstacle to peace (they made the same comments about the Olmert government), and its leader call for the United States to impose a solution on Israel even if it ignores Israel’s security needs. J Street also opposes tougher sanctions on the Iranian regime (and has since its creation in 2008), along with its other positions which one usually hears from a group which opposes Israel, and is rarely heard from a group supporting the Jewish State.
More than anything else, the documentary seeks to present an understanding of what is at the core of the J Street message and how it seduces some in the Jewish community, particularly college-aged liberal Jews. In this way The J Street Challenge moves beyond one organization used by President Obama to “sell” his vision of the Middle East, and goes on to explain much of the American liberal-progressive attacks on the Jewish State.
The film identifies J Street’s appeal to a naïve view of the world. For example one activist explains that she supports J Street because she likes “creating good things in the world,” to which Professor Wisse responds,
Because they are so sensitive, and because they are so good-hearted … and wicked Israel is not as good hearted as I am. The stupidity of this kind of innocence in a world that is so complicated, when you belong to a people with such a tortured history of trying to arrive at the good in the midst of being persecuted and prosecuted falsely over so many centuries, I mean, its almost intolerable.
Rather than simply “attack” what it thinks J Street says, the film is formatted as a “debate” on the issues. Each topic within the documentary is introduced by the words of a J Street leader, member, or document. Those positions are then rebutted by one or more from an all-star cast who outline and explain J Street’s deceit. A cast which includes in addition to Ruth Wisse, Alan Dershowitz, and Daniel Gordis mentioned above, features Wall Street Journal editor Bret Stephens, Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick, CAMERA’s Andrea Levin, Israel Project CEO Josh Block, and Dr. Charles Jacobs, who runs “Americans for Peace and Tolerance”, the organization that released the movie.
The J Street Challenge is a must see. Screenings can be arraigned for your organization on the film’s website http://thejstreetchallenge.com/