As a prelude to the Jan. 1 merger of J Street and Brit Tzedek v’ Shalom, a panel discussion Sunday at the Jewish Community Center in Squirrel Hill introduced J Street to the Pittsburgh Jewish community.
Largely, the program, titled “Pro-Israel Pro-Peace: What’s the Conflict,” promoted the J Street position that a negotiated two-state solution is in Israel’s best interests while stalemate, which long has been the result of U.S. policy on Israel, can have disastrous consequences for the Jewish state.
The Pittsburgh chapter of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom sponsored the program.
J Street bills itself as the political arm of the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement. Established in 2008, the nonprofit organization supports diplomatic solutions over military ones; multilateral over unilateral approaches to conflict resolution; and dialogue over confrontation. In addition to its dovish advocacy component, J Street has its own PAC, which raises money for candidates who support its stances.
Likewise, Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, self-described “grassroots” Jewish organization, also supports a two-state solution. The two groups announced prior to J Street’s first national conference in October that they would merge.
During the Sunday program, a five-member panel addressed issues such as what J Street is, the difficulties Palestinians face in living under the “occupation.”
The panelists were Dan Resnick, a board member of the Pittsburgh Area Jewish Committee; Dr. Naftali Kaminski, physician and peace activist; Adam Hovne, a recent University of Pittsburgh graduate and Peace Corps volunteer; Nancy Bernstein, co-chair of Brit Tzedek v’ Shalom-Pittsburgh chapter; and Joel Rubin, a former J Street official and currently a columnist for The Jewish Chronicle.
Rabbi Art Donsky, who also co-chairs the Pittsburgh chapter of Brit Tzedek v’ Shalom, moderated the program.
Resnick said Jews coming of age today see a very different Israel than the one his generation growing up in the 1930s and ’40s witnessed.
“The Israel my children have known is an Israel as an occupying power,” he said, an Israel surrounded by hostile neighbors. “Pro-peace, pro-Israel is the only way to restore Israel’s image.”
Quoting U.S. National Security Advisor James Jones, who spoke at J Street’s national conference in October, Resnick said the Israel–Palestinian issue must be resolved before the Iran threat can be properly addressed.
Bernstein just returned from Israel with the Womens Donor Network. While there, she toured the West Bank and met with Israeli human rights groups that monitor abuse of Palestinian rights.
She narrated a slide show, which included shots of a home demolished in East Jerusalem. The owner was unable to get a building permit.
She said many Palestinians in East Jerusalem face the same problem. “They can’t get permits and in order to live they have to build.”
Her video slide also showed two West Bank farmers whose land has been encroached upon by settler construction. They secured a court order to stop the encroachment. So far, Bernstein said, it has not been executed.
Kaminski, a UPMC physician and veteran of the Israel Defense Forces, called the American Jewish community “negligent,” saying it had not done enough to end the occupation and to correct the social ills in the country such as discrimination against Reform and Conservative rabbis in the country.
Rubin, who is currently the deputy director and COO of the National Security Network in Washington, said many J Street positions would once have been branded “anti-Israel, anti-Semitism or self-hating” — and not so long ago.
That they are now part of the national debate on Israel, he said, is “a real credit to where we are in the debate.”
Locally, Brit Tzedek v’Shalom claims 127 supporters while J Street has 250. J Street is not a membership-based organization.
Donsky said Sunday’s program was the first in a series.
“While the majority of people in our community are usually liberal in their view, supported president Obama in the elections and seem to support a two state solution, their voice is rarely heard and at times suppressed,” Donsky said. “The J Street on Forbes events will provide a local podium for these voices.”
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-687-1005.)