Thursday, December 15, 2011

Tikvah Scrubs False Claim Against J Street

Reporting on the J Street/Berkeley controversy, and specifically the opposition of a possibly-pro-Israel, possibly-not group called Tikvah, I noted that they claimed that J Street had hosted BDS chieftain Omar Barghouti. This was a key part of their claim that J Street was secretly pro-BDS and thus beyond the pale. The claim that J Street would have hosted Barghouti rang false to me, as they are of radically different political persuasions, so I looked into it. And unfortunately for Tikvah, it turns out there is no record of any such hosting -- indeed, googling "J Street" and "Omar Barghouti" reveals a story where Barghouti was actively spurned by J Street. I dropped them a comment asking for documentation of this claim, since as best I can tell it appeared to be made out of whole cloth (it never made it past moderation).

Well, the good news is that Tikvah changed their post and deleted that claim. The bad news is that they left no indication that the post had been modified or that a significant factual statement they had made turned out to be erroneous and was deleted.

Not to go all blogger ethics panel, but there is a pretty commonly accepted norm of behavior in the situation: You put the retracted claim in strike-out form (like this) and then post an update explaining the correction. See here for an example. That's the difference between admitting a mistake and transparently correcting it, and trying to play cover-up and pretend like nothing had been wrong in the first place. It's unbecoming (and dare I say unjewish) behavior, but given what limited experience I have with this particular group, I can't say I'm surprised that their standards of professional conduct are as lax as their support for Israel's status as a Jewish, democratic state.

UPDATE: A Berkeley J Street organizer contacted me regarding a similar piece posted up on the Hasbara Fellowship website, which also apparently originally had the false Barghouti claim and also has been scrubbed without comment. More interestingly, to me anyway, is what replaced it: a link to a "a list of additional questionable actions taken by JStreet." The piece is authored by Lenny Ben-David, and for the most part it is an incoherent mess of innuendo and hand-waving, with a fair bit of guilt-by-association-by-association thrown in (Tikvah, being in quite the glass house on this score, may not wish to throw stones). But you may recall Ben-David from an earlier anti-J Street hit piece arguing that the organization can't be trusted because it receives support from Arabs. He returns to that theme in this article, and it is as racist and counterproductive now as it was then.

To repeat: Peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors means Jews and Arabs are going to have to agree on things. If the fact that an Arab person agrees with a position is enough to per se discredit it, that's another way of saying peace is definitionally impossible (since any position an Arab agrees to -- even if 20 minutes ago it was precisely what Israel claimed to want -- is now rendered suspect). People like Ben-David and, it seems, Tikvah, are not primarily concerned with Israel's security, or its longevity, or its democracy, or the safety of the Jewish people. What seems to scare them most, and motivate them the most, is the possibility that they might have to agree with an Arab. Just like the "pro-Palestinian" protesters I saw who booed the proposal for a Palestinian state because it meant having to agree with a Zionist, Tikvah and Ben-David are fearful of an Israel at peace with its neighbors because it means having to agree with Arabs. They're manifestations of the same disease, and one that neither Israel nor Palestine can afford right now.


Our Mission said...

From Lenny Ben-David:
Since you besmirch me, allow me to verbally kick your butt.
You say I am "not primarily concerned with Israel's security, or its longevity, or its democracy, or the safety of the Jewish people." What foolishness!
I moved to Israel 30 years ago, raised a large family (all living in Israel), served in the IDF, all my sons and sons-in-law serve in combat units. And I have spent several decades defending Israel in the public arena.
But I am not an advocate of a Sparta-Israel. I have advocated and written about co-existence with my Arab neighbors. Arab friends from Gaza attended our family celebrations.
But I am opposed to naive appeasers who are willing to sacrifice Israel to soothe their universalist consciences.
I also wrote my opposition to J Street receiving funding from agents of Saudi Arabia such as Nancy Dutton, the Saudi's lawyer in DC, or Ray Close, the CIA's former station chief in Saudi Arabia, or agents of Arab lobbying groups who fail to disclose their affiliation, or supporters of the Iranian lobby in Washington who joined J Street in opposing sanctions against Iran two years ago. Opposing their contributions to J Street is not racism. It's a demand for transparency.

David Schraub said...

Oh please.

Basically, you're asking that I extend you the same courtesy that you're denying to J Street. You're telling me that, because you live in Israel and have deep ties to the Israeli security establishment, we have to assume that you're a true friend of Israel and the Jewish people. The problem being, of course, that J Street also is filled with people who live and Israel and have deep ties to the Israeli security establishment. Why should I give you credit based on qualifications you've already demonstrated you believe to be inadequate?

For many years, the standard was simple: If you were a Jew who professed in good faith to care about the nation of Israel and the direction it was heading, that was sufficient to be deemed "pro-Israel" -- even if there was sharp disagreement about what policy particulars one favored. So even though, say, you and I might sharply differ on what we think is best for Israel, we'd both grant each others presence in the big tent. J Street, of course, meets this standard cleanly, as for the most part it takes positions held by Kadima, occasionally reaching out closer to Meretz.

Nowadays, people like you wish to breach that contract and instead define out of pro-Israel anyone who disagrees with your preferred policy prescriptions. But that cuts both ways. If you think people like J Street are anti-Israel because they take policy positions you think are bad for Israel, then I can equally say that you're anti-Israel because you take policy positions that I think are bad for Israel. And since I think people like you forward positions catastrophic for Israel and Jews writ large, I'm not sure why I should have any compunction saying so. It's people like you who set those rules; I'm just sick of a war where only one side is allowed to show up.

And in general, I stand by my assertion that you seem more worried about the conflict ending and Jews and Arabs coming to an agreement than you are about it perpetuating. You didn't just question contributions to J Street by supposed agents of the Saudis, but asked more generally "Why do so many Arabs contribute to an organization that purports to be 'pro-Israel?'" Your attack on Ms. Abou-Chedid, for example, was based on nothing more than the fact that she was of Arab descent and worked for an Arab organization. You didn't even purport to know, much less look into, what her position was on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or how she wished to see it resolved. She was Arab, she worked with Arabs, therefore, she was suspect. If that's the standard, peace will never happen, because a peace agreement is going to involve agreeing with Arabs who are part of Arab organizations.