Opinion – Challenging “The J Street Challenge”

Posted on: April 30th, 2014 by tgregory

By Ruth A. Smith

On April 2, the documentary movie, “The J Street Challenge,” was shown at the Gordon Jewish Community Center. The purpose of the hour-long movie is to demonize J Street, to present it as a misleading organization made up of uninformed naive people who do not care about Israel’s future, and even more, want to harm Israel. The film uses the term “universalist” to demean the values or intentions of J Street members, claiming that holding to human rights and freedom of movement and speech for all people who live under the control of the Israeli government is anti-Israel and anti-Jewish.

I was born and raised in Israel and lived there during three wars. I have experienced the fear and anxiety of what may happen if Israel does not overtake its enemies. It has become clear to me that going through the cycle of wars every few years is too costly, too disruptive and very dangerous. I realized that such a future should be prevented at all cost if Israel is to be a peaceful, secure home for Jews.

Over the years it became clearer to me that military control of the West Bank is a source of trouble for Israel resulting in a huge drain on the military as well as the civilian population. This situation, which results in other costs to Israel such as international isolation and breakdown of the rule of law and morality, can go on for many years (for generations?) unless Israel signs a peace agreement with the Palestinians. The continuing occupation undermines Israel’s security and increases the tension in the Middle East as well.

I joined J Street because I believe this is the only Jewish-American organization that has set the goal of working for peace with the Palestinians in the two-state solution. I have had the opportunity to hear many military experts, including former Shin Bet directors, political scientists, economists and geographers, from both Israel and the United States, who have offered possible solutions for the serious issues that have to be resolved for peace to take place. 

It is astonishing that any knowledgeable person would call these experts naive or uninformed. If these experts are considered anti-Israel or anti-Semitic for criticizing the Israeli government policies in regard to the occupation, the Jewish community is going to lose bright and informed members who otherwise might participate in finding solutions to this difficult problem. Those who attack J Street typically do not offer an alternative solution other than the status quo. Keeping a bad situation going is no solution. It will lead to further negative consequences for all involved.

In May 2012 the Jewish Federation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee came up with goals for how we should conduct our conversation about Israel in the community. The first goal is: “To respect each other and uphold Jewish values by carefully listening, hearing each other out, and seeking to understand each other’s perspective.”  The second goal is: “To create a safe, inclusive environment in which members, without being pejoratively labeled, vilified or excluded, can freely and respectfully express their viewpoints.”

I believe showing “The J Street Challenge” violates these two goals. Although the movie does not point to individuals in this community, it does vilify all of us who support J Street.

At this critical time for Israel’s future, the world is losing patience with Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. More and more organizations are taking actions to isolate Israel politically, culturally and economically. Will it not be much more fruitful to work together on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rather than creating and escalating an internal conflict? •


Ruth A. Smith is co-chair of J Street Nashville.