J Street, the largest pro-Israel political advocacy committee in the United States, is holding its annual conference in Washington, DC this week, October 26–29, 2019, with the participation of a wide array of elected officials, policymakers, and influencers.
This is an open letter from Palestinians in the United States who are driven by the values of equality, freedom, and justice for all and who root policy demands for Palestinian freedom in these values. J Street’s positions are not in line with these values and do not represent the progressive, just and hopeful vision of the future that we know is possible.
Many Palestinians in the United States are among the millions of Palestinian refugees denied by Israel the right to return to or visit our homeland. Despite our good faith engagement over many years, J Street dismisses our voices and our demands, pushing instead its agenda in liberal and progressive circles in ways that are harmful to our advocacy to hold Israel accountable for its human rights violations. Many of our fellow Palestinians who were selectively invited to appear at the J Street conference as “Palestinian leadership” do not represent the full array of Palestinians dedicated to pursuing freedom and justice for our people. Their acceptance to appear at the J Street conference alongside a speaker like Ehud Barak, an Israeli war criminal, illustrates their disconnect from the hopes and aspirations of the Palestinian people for a future that guarantees our dignity and lives.
J Street actively imposes a limit on political discourse by foregrounding support for the defunct Oslo Accords framework, a process that was imposed on Palestinians and does not address the demands of Palestinians for freedom, equality, and justice. The Oslo framework was formalized in agreements with Israel that were signed in 1993 in secret channels at the expense of basic Palestinian human rights. Oslo led to the establishment of a Palestinian Authority that engages in security collaboration with Israel to quell Palestinian dissent and resistance to Israeli oppression.
J Street’s mission is to preserve Israel’s existence as a Jewish state which it believes is complicated by the fact that equal numbers of Palestinians and Israeli Jews now live in the land under Israeli control. To ensure that Israel can maintain its “Jewish” and “democratic” character, J Street advocates for an end to Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and for the establishment of Palestinian state there.
J Street’s motivation behind a two-state “solution” is driven by the fear that Palestinians outnumber Jews in the land, not by a commitment to human rights, equality, and justice. In any other context, fear of the growth of a particular population is considered racist. Instead, J Street is lauded as a progressive, pro-peace organization. However, to take just one example, J Street withdrew their endorsement of Rep. Rashida Tlaib upon learning that she was not a proponent of a two-state solution because of her concerns for the unequal treatment of Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Progressives agree that we must hold powerful actors accountable when they contravene international law and violate human rights. J Street shields Israel from accountability for its ongoing violations of human rights by supporting continued unconditional U.S. military funding to Israel. J Street believes that American assistance should maintain Israel’s “military edge.” J Street also strongly supports continued U.S. military funding to the Palestinian Authority which it sees as essential to Israeli security.
Israeli settlement expansion and annexation are obstacles to J Street’s agenda, but these impediments do not compel J Street to call for substantive measures to stop continued Israeli capture of Palestinian land. J Street has never advocated for conditioning U.S. funding to Israel. J Street does not support Representative Betty McCollum’s proposed legislation (HR 2407) that would prevent Israel from using U.S. funding to torture and detain Palestinian children.
J Street is firmly opposed to Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), a Palestinian call to the international community to use nonviolent, economic measures to help hold Israel accountable for its violations of human rights. J Street lobbied for passage of House Resolution 246, a resolution promoted by the American Israel Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC), that condemns the “Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement.” HR 246 misquotes Palestinian leader Omar Barghouti painting him as anti-Semitic and condemns students on American campuses for using BDS, accusing them of promoting hate against Jewish students. These accusations are false, disturbing and potentially violent.
The key question is: How can we secure full human rights and civil rights for all people? From there, the just political solution will emerge. J Street’s advocacy does not represent a progressive vision for Palestinians and Israelis. A truly progressive vision must center the rights of people first. We believe a better future is possible.
Palestinians in the United States waiting to return to our free homeland