Sunday, May 31, 2015

The J Street Challenge Part Two: How a J Street Conference can Radicalize College Students

This is Part Two of a three part series on J Street written by Elinor Weiss and published in Buffalo Jewish Review.

The Buffalo premier showing of the documentary, The J Street Challenge, takes place at the Benderson Jewish Community Center on Tuesday, June 9 at 7 PM.  The documentary will show why some people concerned about J Street, a Jewish organization, view its  “pro-peace” and “pro-Israel” claim as deceptive.  In Part One, the focus was on the donors of J Street.  This time the focus is how college students can be radicalized by J Street.

Part Two 

How a J Street Conference can Radicalize College Students

J Street appeals to college students who yearn for a simplistic solution to the Mid East conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors.  Recently, Jewish students at the University of Buffalo observed that some who went to the recent J Street National  Conference returned to campus radicalized against Israel.  A member of the local UB J Street Chapter even compared the terrorist group, Hamas, to freedom fighters after listening to speakers at the conference.

It’s puzzling to understand how attending a Jewish conference that brandishes the “pro-Israel motto”  will lead college students to praise a terrorist group dedicated to killing Jews wherever they are.  What’s going on?

For starters, the list of speakers at the conference included people that demonize Israel.  One of the speakers was Saeb Erekat, a chief negotiator of the Palestinian Authority.  Erekat has falsely accused Israel of war crimes and committing massacres.  Another speaker, Marcia Freedman, also distorted Israel.  Freedman, a member of the J Street Advisory Board, told attendees that Israel was not a true democracy and that Jews took the land from the Palestinians.  She suggested that Jews live as a protected minority in Israel under an Arab government.  Those who support boycotting and divesting from Israel (BDS) can also get a platform in a J Street conference.  BDS would isolate and weaken Israel economically, academically and socially while doing nothing to promote peace in the mideast.

J Street points to these anti -Israel speakers as promoting a vibrant, open discussion.  Except that it doesn’t.   J Street supporters never hear from those who are critical of J Street’s policies and funding.  These critics probably aren’t allowed to be heard because J Street might have a hard time defending policies that can be perceived as hurting Israel’s security.  For example, J Street made financial contributions to  eleven Congressional candidates who either voted against or refused to vote in favor of increased funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. The Iron Dome was essential in saving Israeli lives during Hamas’s assault on the Jewish State last summer. Why would J Street support candidates that have a problem with Israel defending itself against a terrorist group?

If J Street was truly open to a vibrant discussion, as its founder and head of J Street insists, it would allow speakers at its conference who don’t agree with its position on negotiations with Iran.  J Street opposes the military option against Iran if negotiations fail to stop the country from securing nuclear weapons.  What could have been more open than a debate at the J Street conference than how to deter Iran from getting nuclear weapons?  Instead, speakers that disagreed with J Street’s policies on a secure Israel were not on the speakers list.

J Street’s targeting of Jewish college groups presents a dilemma. While some say it’s great to hear controversial views others might wonder whether J Street’s positions on Israel, Iran and its affiliations with groups that demonize Israel make it an appropriate choice for student organizations wishing to foster a strong Jewish identity and connection to Israel.

To find out more about J Street and how it affects American Jews, including college students, come to the J Street Challenge, Tuesday, June 9, at 7 PM at the Benderson JCC.  Meet the producer of The J Street Challenge, Ilya Feoktistov, and watch the documentary.  It will be an interesting evening!

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