Harpo Jaeger dot com

Fisking yet another smear against J Street

I was interviewed for the deceptively-title video “2011 J Street Conference.” I’m the guy in the beginning and then later on, with the orange striped shirt.

I left a comment on the video explaining that I was one of the subjects, and objected to the way in which my interview was used. Comments were subsequently disabled, so mine doesn’t show up anymore. I feel that the video is deceptively edited, not true to my opinions, and is being used as a smear against J Street, not as part of a “research project,” which is how the interviewer described it to me. I’ve learned my lesson, and will not agree to such interviews in the future without getting the contact info of the interviewer.

It’s worth dissecting the many messages contained in the video to understand the complexity of what’s going on here. I’ll therefore present a line-by-line transcript of the video (taken from the subtitles) and offer my opinion on each component. Obviously, I can’t speculate on the intentions of the other interviewees, but I’ll explain my positions in the two clips of my interview.

To begin with, the video is set to “Puff the Magic Dragon.” WTF? Is the implication that J Street’s leftist constituents are all stoners or pie-in-the-sky idealists? Either way, I’m pretty offended.

Me: “There is an oppressor and there is an oppressed. Israel is the oppressor and Gazans are being oppressed.”

This requires no justification. I’ve yet to hear a sensible argument against the proposition that Gazans are suffering at the hands of Israelis. Clearly Hamas is part of the picture, a largely corrupt organization with violent tactics that do not serve the Gazan civilian population. Nevertheless, Israel has choices in how to respond, and turning Gaza into a 1.5 million person open-air ghetto through a land and sea blockade and control of resources, airspace, and communications amounts to oppression, plain and simple.

“I support the Palestinians creating their Palestinian state and if need be declaring it unilaterally if there’s no negotiations on it and creating a *fait accompli *that Israel will have to live with.”

J Street’s official position remains that Palestine should be created through direct negotiations. However, it’s far from radical to propose alternate methods of statehood. In fact, a panel at the conference reflected this reality, discussing the implications of Palestinian statehood mechanisms. Confining discussion of Palestinian statehood to the negotiation-based peace process ignores the growing likelihood that this process will fail. Believe me, I have no desire to see that occur (I’m an optimist), but ignoring its likelihood would change me from an optimist to a denialist.

Q: “*Do you think Hamas is a terrorist organization?” *A: “Not any more than the IDF is.”

This one I disagree with. It’s a drastic oversimplification to say that the IDF is a terrorist organization, or at least that it’s more so than any other army. I believe this interviewee is wrong. That said, it’s also an oversimplification to label Hamas either terrorists or not terrorists. Do they use abominable tactics of killing, injuring, and frightening Israeli civilians? Yes. That, as the Goldstone report noted, makes them guilty of war crimes. But they came to power in a context where Palestinians were deeply unsatisfied with the slow progress of Fatah. Hamas provides legitimate social services and has, internally, done many important things for Gazans. Arguably, those are outweighed by the damage they do in helping provide a justification for the blockade. Furthermore, nothing excuses war crimes. But the fact remains: Hamas is a lot more complicated than just a bunch of guys with rockets. The question lends itself to oversimplification. When it was asked of me, I felt that that was the idea.

“Something is going to need to be done to force Israel’s hand one way or the other.”

This is pretty vague, and also fairly non-controversial. Hardcore Israel apologists will take issue with the characterization of “forcing Israel’s hand,” but that’s what diplomacy and international relations is aligning a nation’s self-interest with a desired outcome. As a peacenik, I have no illusions that Israel will suddenly decide the peace process is morally “right” until they are forced to realize it’s in their interest to do so. The same is true, for example, of the American occupation of Afghanistan.

“I think if you look around and you talk to people and you listen to who’s applauding and how loud and… you’ll find that people’s… people’s priorities are more with the activists for peace and justice and less interested in coddling the sort of centrist Zionists.”

Aside from the problems with judging an organization’s political alignment by applause, it’s ironic that this is used here, because I wish it was more true than it actually is. That said, I do understand J Street’s reasons for wooing centrists in the way it does. It’s just frustrating sometimes (welcome to politics). Whatever the case, this really isn’t very good smear material.

“Hamas is… there’s no one Hamas.”

Obviously there is in fact a political organization called Hamas, so this comment is a bit off, but the notion that Hamas is not some unified organization acting with well-defined strategy to destroy Israel is at least as off-base, if not more. I don’t entirely agree with this guy, but what he’s saying isn’t that outrageous.

*Q: “Do you think the Israel lobby in the United states has prevented the United States from –” *A: “Yes!” *Q (cont.): “…from succeeding in the peace process?” *A: “Yes, I do. And I am so glad for J Street actually.”

This is actually a good question, and I fully disagree with the answer. The Israel lobby is one of many factors in US inaction, but to blame it for the failure of negotiations is a drastic oversimplification.

“I do support the boycott of Israeli settlements and settlement products.”

There’s a legitimate argument to be made against such boycotts (I strongly support them), but it should be totally obvious that people specifically targeting settlements in a boycott are, even more clearly than those who don’t boycott at all, asserting the “legitimacy” of Israel as a state. If they didn’t, they’d be boycotting the whole thing. This is not to say that anyone engaged in a larger boycott of Israel is opposed to it conceptually, but someone who intentionally singles out settlements likely does so because they believe settlements specifically to be illegitimate.

Me: “Personally, I think I would like to see J Street embrace some of the language that is typically associated with the ‘Radical Left.’”

This is where the editing really gets to me. The point I’d been making here was that J Street’s opposition to what’s generally considered the political left (mainly the BDS movement,) while logically and politically sound, has led to some of J Street’s supporters and allies instinctually dismissing the language that BDS proponents often use to describe the conflict. Language like “oppression” (this is where the first clip of me came from). That language is, in many cases, accurate (as I noted before), and may be tactically useful in helping reclaim the feeling of a moral imperative for the work J Street does, an imperative usually confined to BDS supporters or the Israel-right-or-wrong crowd. I’d like to see J Street assert the validity of our work in a moral sense. The video makes it seem like I want J Street to start getting angry and vitriolic, which I don’t (and for the record, I think leftists do this far less frequently than they’re accused of).

*Q: “Do you support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction movement?” *A: “More now than I did!”

Providing thought-provoking information yet another example of the dangerous tactics J Street employs. G&d forbid an organization permit its activists to change their opinions!


That’s about all. If the interviewer or others involved in the creation of the video want to respond, I welcome discussion. Please pass this along to them if you know who they are.