With J Street Pittsburgh, the local chapter of the nation’s liberal Zionist organization, set to kick off its operations here next week with a celebration, now is a good time to talk about common ground in American Zionism.
With the rise of J Street we now have two of the three major Zionist organizations in the United States — J Street and the Zionist Organization of America (yes, I know there are others, but these three make the biggest waves). And they are at polar opposites on the political spectrum.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, Rabbi Art Donsky of Temple Ohav Shalom in the North Hills, a local J Street leader, was positively jubilant three weeks ago when he learned that J Street and the third major Zionist organization, AIPAC, would be holding programs on the same week. “The American Jewish community is maturing and open dialogue supporting Israel is a good thing!” he wrote in an e-mail message to me. “You can quote.”
But sometimes even a good thing turns sour.
Last October, when J Street held its national conference in Washington, the ZOA attacked the organization as “pro-Palestinian” because it extended a speaking invitation to a Palestinian advocate who has attacked Israel in his writings.
Meanwhile, J Street Pittsburgh, during a December panel discussion ahead of its formal opening, played a video that showed some conservative Zionists, including ZOA National President Morton Klein, in a not-so-flattering light.
That’s to be expected when you have two Zionist organizations with dramatically different views.
But they can’t always disagree.
For instance, the ZOA issued a statement on Jan. 22 assailing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his government for naming a city square for the terrorist commander responsible for a 1978 bus hijacking in Israel that left 37 Israelis dead, including 12 children.
I’d wager that many J Street supporters would also find such an in-your-face move to be counterproductive to the peace process.
At the same time, Donsky lashed out at two West Bank rabbis, Yitzhak Shapira and Yosef Elitzur, for writing, “The prohibition ‘Thou Shalt Not Murder’ ” applies only “to a Jew who kills a Jew,” and that non-Jews are “uncompassionate by nature” and attacks on them “curb their evil inclination,” while babies and children of Israel’s enemies may be killed since “it is clear that they will grow to harm us.”
It’s a fair bet that many ZOA members are just as outraged by such a racist statement.
The point is that not only can America’s leading Zionist organizations find common ground over things they can agree upon, they should. Whenever possible, they should make a display of agreeing with one another — to shore up Israel, which is under relentless assault from a global effort designed to demonize the state.
Heck, even Democrats and Republicans agree once in a while.
(Lee Chottiner, executive editor of The Jewish Chronicle, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column will be posted on The Chronicle blog, Yinz/Yidz.)