Elie Wiesel published a major ad, “For Jerusalem,” in several US newspapers, prompting President Obama to meet hastily with him and reassure him that he understands the importance of Jerusalem to the Jews. Jeremy Ben-Ami of J-Street responded with his own ad featuring a counter-attack by Yossi Sarid, one of the unrepentant architects of the Oslo process, that dismissed Weisel as misinformed, misled, deceived, and, worst of all, “imbuing our current conflict with messianic hues.”
This last accusation is particularly significant. Any religious affection for Jerusalem on the part of Jews appears on J-Street’s radar as messianic attachment, and since, by J-Street’s analysis, compromise on Jerusalem is a sine qua non of achieving peace, such feelings are impediments to reaching a “rational” solution.
Now one of my greater gripes with J-Street concerns the inconsistency with which they apply their principle that pressure should be put “on both sides.” When in doubt, their motto seems to run, squeeze Israel. I am open to correction, but I am unaware of one formal position that they have taken in which Palestinian concessions are the principle target of their actions or declamations.
So here, the fact that the Muslim claim to Jerusalem is not only historically weak, but filled with messianic overtones, indeed Jihadi messianic ones, at the core of an unrestrained apocalyptic struggle, has no bearing for him.
Only the Jews should be restrained from messianic urgings; indeed they should restrain their messianic yearnings to make room for those of the Muslims. Then we’ll have peace.
Barry Rubin, in a brilliant study of Assimilation and its Discontents, pointed out how Jews, eager to succeed in the modern world, found their talent for self-denial one of their most valuable tools, and, for example, would champion any people’s liberation cause but that of their own people. J-Street steps right into the mold, and in so doing, reveals just what levels of contempt it feels for anyone whose sensibility gets in the way of their own sure-fire recipe for peace.
And what if… what if such a strategy of self-denial and sacrifice for the sake of peace ends up backfiring? The fact that J-Street would have Israel carve up its capital to make Palestinians happy, without any attention to the religious stakes for Palestinians, speaks eloquently for a perspective I think as cruel to Jews as it is unwise.
For J-Street, Palestinians need not compromise on Jerusalem as their “capital,” despite the fact that when it lay in Arab hands, Palestinians showed no interest in making it their capital. It matters not that their attachment is part and parcel of a violent and irredentist demand for Palestine from the “river to the sea” for both Fatah and Hamas. It matters not that, in their demand for control of the sacred precincts of their “third most holy city,” Muslims treat Jewish claims with dismissive contempt.
Question for Jeremy and Yossi Sarid, and all the other believers that unilateral compromise will bring peace: What if Israel’s agreement to share Jerusalem, pressured by the Obama administration, produces the opposite effect on Palestinians? What if, rather than empower the moderates to produce matching Palestinian concessions, as you seem to fervently believe, it strengthens the position of the irredentists who argue “East Jerusalem today, Palestine from the River to the Sea” tomorrow?
J-Street: Is there a plan B here?