Thoughts on J-Street 2013

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Just got back from the fourth national J Street Conference, themed “Our Time to Lead,” and feeling– overall– underwhelmed. I think the biggest disappointment was the relative sparseness of discussion of occupation– or, in the rare moments it was directly addressed– the noticeable lack of detail offered up by panelists on what occupation actually looks like on the ground, for real people.

Of course, J Street is a PAC, and one that speaks in big catchphrases– “Peace Talks,” and “Two State Solution,” and “Pro-Israel.” So that’s no big surprise. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not the two-state solution, or liberal Zionism I take issue with. Contrary to many of my friends and most role model activist colleagues, I actually believe that a two state solution is a) viable and b) just. But our camp needs to stop dancing around the terminology and recognition of occupation and all the dirty details that come along with it!
Livni, Tzipi

(Tzipi Livni, MK & Chief Israeli Negotiator)

I do, however, want to give props to Danny Seidemann of Terrestrial Jerusalem for fighting occupation & settlement expansion in East Jerusalem head on, claiming that “Jerusalem is a dragon that cannot be slain, and so it must be housebroken.”… Meaning: We need to be realistic about what a peace treaty will entail, and stop mythologizing peace as a concept. Treating important final status issues like Jerusalem (or refugees, or land swaps) with either reverent nationalistic speech (“Jerusalem will never be divided!”), or worse– impatient waves of the hand (“Let the crazy religious people have it!”)– has always pissed me off: and Seidemann argues that it doesn’t get us anywhere. In fact, the opposite. He explained to us in a panel this morning that if we don’t recognize that Jerusalem must be divided and shared (East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, West as the capital of Israel, and the Old City as a shared zone governed by international bodies & religious leaders), E-1 will be built and we’ll lose our dwindling chance for a two state solution in this decade… and there will be bloodshed.

Other highlights included Merav Michaeli on women in Knesset, Bernard Avishai on how Israel can represent all its citizens while maintaining its Jewish character, and Amal Al Hooj, who schooled MK Ruth Calderon  (whom I admire for her stance on Jewish pluralism) on the issue of treatment of minorities (such as the Bedouin) within a democratic state that is obsessed with giving preference to Jews over non-Jews.

I’d go again next year, but if these negotiations don’t get very far, I don’t really know if there’ll BE a next year for the 2 state lobby… Without an end to  denial politics, occupation, and settlement expansion in Israel, there will be no two state solution.

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