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J Street starts a San Diego local amid ZOA protesters

Amos Buhai, left, South West Political Director for J Street, has a discussion with Orit Arfa, ZOA executive director for the Western Region, and Howard Dyckman, ZOA San Diego chapter president, prior to J Street meeting inside old Temple Beth Israel {Photos: Donald H. Harrison}


By Donald H. Harrison


Donald H. Harrison

SAN DIEGO – The basic message of J Street, which held an initial meeting of its local organization at historic Temple Beth Israel Thursday evening, July 26,  amid protests from the Zionist Organization of America, is that Israel can have only two of the following three things: 1) A Jewish state; 2) a democracy, or 3) the land stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.

Amos Buhai, a Democratic political field worker for the 2004 John Kerry and 2008 Barrack Obama presidential campaigns who now serves as J Street South West’s political director, explained the problem as follows:  If there is a single state that stretches from the Mediterranean to the Jordan, it will soon have an Arab majority.  To remain Jewish, such a state would have to stop being democratic.   To remain democratic, such a state could not continue being the state of the Jews.  Only by creating a separate Palestinians state, can Israel remain both democratic and Jewish.

In calling for Israel to give up land and to acquiesce to a separate Palestinian state, Buhai likened the role the United States can play to that of a trusted and objective counselor guiding a couple through their divorce.

Buhai; Yael Maizel,the organization’s South West Regional Director, and Rutgers Philosophy Prof. Martin Bunzl, a member of the J Street National Advisory Council, contended that for too long in the United States, support for Israel has meant  support for the Israeli government’s policies, whether right or wrong.   Buhai said that being a good friend to Israel does not mean acquiescing to everything that a friend does, no more than being a good friend would mean allowing someone to drive home drunk.  Being a good friend means taking that friend’s car keys and driving him or her home.

Jerry Malamad, wearing peace shirt in foreground, heads for J Street meeting as ZOA supporters hold up their picket signs

What percentage in the overflow audience of more than 100 persons at the historic temple in Heritage Park agreed that the Israeli government’s policies are analogous to the intentions of a would-be drunk driver could not be assessed, For the most part, the audience remained silent and respectful during the speeches, and that was true  even of those audience members who before the start of the meeting had been picketing outside with such signs as “J Street; the street to Israel’s destruction;” J Street and Hamas, B.F.F;” “Negotiate with ?;”  and another signifying that peace is not equal to Jihad.

Howard Dyckman, president of the San Diego chapter of ZOA, said before the meeting that he considers J Street to be “anti-Israel.”  He said that J Street wants “the U.S. to put pressure on Israel and they want to appease Hamas.”  Furthermore, Dyckman said,  the Palestinians have not given up the idea of destroying Israel.

Buhai said all the members of the House and the Senate supported by J Street are pro Israel, mentioning in particular U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and U.S. Rep. Susan Davis, the latter of whom spoke at the J Street meeting.

Orit Arfa, ZOA executive director in its Western Region, before the meeting decried the two-state solution as an “illusion, because it would only lead to compromising Israel’s security and ultimately the dissolution of Israel.” She added that until the Muslim threat against Israel is neutralized, there is no possibility for a solution.  “Whenever you have  a trade of value for the cessation of violence, it is not a fair trade. You are compromising your security and your ethical principles.”

Congresswoman Susan Davis (D-San Diego) tells her support for J Street’s efforts

Congresswoman Davis (D-San Diego) who had just got off a plane from Washington D.C., expressed her support for J Street, saying the organization had demonstrated to her and to other members of Congress that being pro-Israel and being pro-peace are not contradictions.  She spoke before Buhai and the other J Street officials did.

While there are disagreements over how peace can be achieved, Davis said, there is broad bipartisan congressional support for Israel and for strong cooperation between Israel and the United States.

She said that consultations between Israelis and Americans at the highest levels of the two nations’ defense establishments have been occurring, especially in relation to the civil war in Syria.   Davis, as a member of the House Armed Services Committee, receives regular top-level briefings from the Pentagon.

She urged that support for Israel not become a partisan issue, but instead become a grassroots issue,  discussed by friends and families over many dinner tables.  If a two-state solution can’t be discussed at the tables of ordinary citizens, even though it may provoke family disagreements,  it can’t be discussed at the negotiating table, she said.

Congressman Bob Filner, a runoff candidate in San Diego’s mayoral election, had been expected to also attend the meeting, but moderator Deborah Hertz, a UCSD professor of modern Jewish studies, said that Filner had called from an airplane, saying he could not arrive in time to attend the meeting that started at 7 p.m. and lasted over an hour.

Another UCSD-affiliated speaker was Jacob Silverman, an Orthodox Jew wearing kippah and tzitzit, who organized J Street U, a campus affiliate at UCSD.

Silverman said he became more involved in Israel affairs after going to Israel on a Birthright trip.  He said initially when he saw the discord on campus between Tritons for Israel (a Zionist group) and Students for Justice in Palestine (an anti-Israel group), he felt confused and disconnected.  That embarked him on study, he said, leading him to the realization that there are two narratives, each of which has strident supporters.  He said he considered the J Street  organization on campus to be a moderating force.

Maizel said that J Street took its name from the anomaly that whereas in Washington D.C., there is an “I Street” and a “K Street,” there is no “J Street.”  She said just as “J Street” was missing physically, so too was it missing from the dialogue about Middle East peace.

Bunzl is married to UCSD Prof. Hertz, meaning they  have long separations during the semesters he teaches at Rutgers.  He commented that San Diego’s Jewish community seems to have more tolerance for opposing opinions than is the case in New Jersey.  That the ZOA members who carried hostile signs before the meeting could come in and listen during the meeting makes him hopeful that the conversation among Jews “can proceed in a constructive way,” he said.

He said he wants elected officials to know that there are a range of opinions in the Jewish community, and that one reason for organizing a “local” {J Street does not use the term “chapter”) is so that between 20 and 50 constituents per month can call or write to their respective members of Congress about the different Middle East approaches.

He complimented Congressman Filner (D-San Diego) for signing a congressional letter endorsing the two-state solution and criticized Congressman Brian Bilbray (R-San Diego) for his support of another letter that conditionally backed the annexation of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) by Israel.

He said Bilbray’s position was farther right than the position of the present Israeli government led by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

For all the differences in opinion, there was among the Jewish groups a common love for music.  Singer Dana Linskill, backed by guitarist Justin Roberts, performed to applause Shir La Shalom (Song of Peace) and Salaam/ Shalom (Peace/Peace), whereas outside, before the meeting, the ZOA pickets broke into a chorus of Am Israel Chai (The People of Israel Live).  The program concluded with a medley of Yiddish and Hebrew songs by cellists Ronald Robboy and Marcia Bookstein.

After-program debate was just getting started, however.

Among those in the audience were Audrey Jacobs, San Diego regional director of StandWithUs, an Israel advocacy group which has met pro-Palestinian demonstrations with counter pro-Israel demonstrations.  “We appreciate J Street helping to defeat divestment targeting Israel at UCSD this spring,” she said after the meeting. “But we will respectfully disagree when we feel their policies and approach are not in Israel’s best interest. We hope if boycott and divestment targeting Israel return to San Diego, J Street will stand with us to help defeat them.”

Another audience member was J.J. Surbeck, executive director of Training and Education About the Middle East (T.E.A.M.), another active Israel advocacy group in San Diego.   He said afterwards: “‘Much ado about not much’ is how I would describe the J Street ‘launch.’ The small audience of about 100 people was a far cry from the 1200 mentioned in the ad published last week in the Union-Tribune. Some of the signatories of the ad were there, but neither Murray Galinson nor Irwin Jacobs appear to have come themselves.

Surbeck continued: “The thing that struck me the most about the different speakers was their intellectual and political arrogance. They claim to know what’s best for Israel, and are not really interested in what course of action the Israelis want to choose themselves. J Street knows what’s good for Israel, and they will do their utmost to impose it on the Jewish state. They claim to want a dialogue, but their tone clearly left no room for discussion, as illustrated by the fact that there was no time for questions from the audience.

The ZOA is to be commended for having rallied volunteers who showed up with signs against J Street and distributing very informative flyers explaining why J Street is not what it claims to be, i.e. a “pro-Israel and pro-Peace” organization. On the contrary, given its already heavy record of anti-Israel positions, they in fact support the hard line adopted by the Palestinians, thus making peace even less likely to happen any time soon. ‘Delusional naiveté mixed with arrogance’ defines what J Street is.”

Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World.  He may be contacted at [email protected]


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7 Responses to “J Street starts a San Diego local amid ZOA protesters”

  1. dave says:

    Good article. I was unable to stay for the meeting and now feel well-informed.

  2. admin says:

    The following received from Lana Fayman:

    Shalom Mr. Harrison,
    Thanks for your cogent article on the JStreet meeting last night, you were objective and gave an accurate account of events. I also liked the photo shots of the action outside.


    Lana Fayman

  3. admin says:

    The following was received from Howard Dyckman, president of the ZOA chapter in San Diego:

    I’m sure many attendees of the J Street event are pro-Israel, probably
    unaware that many of J Street’s actions and positions are anti-Israel. This
    includes J Street’s opposition to Israel’s defensive Operation Cast Lead
    military action to stem rocket attacks from Gaza, its refusal to condemn the
    libelous Goldstone report–which Goldstone himself later retracted, and its
    endorsing Congressmen with poor records on Israel while working to unseat
    pro-Israel Congressmen. They receive financial contributions from Arab
    sources that are hostile to Israel. They mask their anti-Israel nature under
    cheery rhetoric about the two-state paradigm being the only solution to the
    conflict, without examining and addressing the very real and proven dangers
    of the “land for peace” model. The leadership of J Street may have an agenda
    different from sincere pro-Israel activists who come to hear them.

  4. Eran Mukamel says:

    Thank you for this detailed account of the J Street San Diego launch. This is an exciting development for those in our community who want to add their voice in support of Israel, and in support of the type of moderate and sage policies that have too few champions in our politics.

  5. Eylon Shamir says:

    Thanks for this informative description of the J Street launch event.
    J Street is a great organization that advances the opinion of the main stream and most people in Israel. It is encouraging to see the support it receives from Suzan Davis ,Dianne Feinstein and other representatives. I Hope this trend will continue and change the U.S. political discourse with respect to Israel’s needs.

  6. Jack Zemer says:

    J street people can talk only if they lived in Shderot Israel for at least one year.

    Who are they to tell the people in Israel whats good for them.

    I think they are the DRUNK ones that need rehabilitation and get sober.

  7. Orit says:

    Here’s the J Street Fact Sheet that was distributed (cut and paste):


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