Setting the Record Straight

April 26th, 2012

The following is a response from J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami to false accusations leveled in the Boston Jewish Advocate regarding J Street’s commitment to support Israel if it were engaged in a war with Iran.

Jeremy's letter to the Boston Advocate appears below

Setting the Record Straight By Jeremy Ben-Ami

In a letter to the editor in last week’s Jewish Advocate, the treasurer of Boston’s Jewish Community Relations Council, Paul Sassieni, used some rather heated rhetoric and made some serious charges regarding J Street’s support for the state of Israel.

Mr. Sassieni is entitled to his opinions about J Street (and we know he is not a supporter), and he’s entitled to his own opinions about what should be done to counter the threat of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon.

What he is not entitled to do is to misrepresent the Boston Jewish community about J Street’s policy positions.

J Street’s raison d’etre is to advocate for American policy that advances both the US national interest as well as Israel’s long-term security and its Jewish and democratic character. We aim to secure US assistance for Israel in addressing threats to its security and to its future as the democratic homeland of the Jewish people without ending up at war.

We support Israel’s right to defend itself, and we and all of our supporters would stand with Israel and its people if, G-d forbid, there were to be another war with anyone – including Iran.

On Iran, J Street’s position is clear. It’s a matter of public record and available for all to see on our Web site: “J Street believes that Iran obtaining nuclear weapons would pose a very serious threat to American and Israeli interests and to peace and stability in the Middle East and around the world.”

To address this threat, “We support a comprehensive and multilateral approach, including sanctions and active diplomacy.”

We share the belief of numerous Israeli and American security and intelligence officials that a pre-emptive military strike against Iran would be ill-advised. As former Mossad chief Meir Dagan said: “[Attacking Iran] would mean regional war, and in that case you would have given Iran the best possible reason to continue the nuclear program. … The regional challenge that Israel would face would be impossible.”

Specifically, our position paper says: “While unlikely to permanently disable Iran’s nuclear program, a military strike would have dire consequences and runs the risk of igniting a broader regional war. A preemptive attack could also strengthen the current regime in Iran and provide an excuse for it to redouble its nuclear efforts. We therefore oppose legislation authorizing, encouraging, or in other ways laying the groundwork for the use of military force against Iran.”

We believe a decision to launch a pre-emptive military strike against Iran would be a terrible mistake. That is the point our regional director, Melanie Harris, clearly was making at the JCRC meeting Mr. Sassieni attended and has written about. Our view that to launch an attack would be a mistake should not be portrayed as anything remotely resembling a lack of support for Israel. It should be possible in the American Jewish community to criticize and debate particular policy decisions of Israel’s government, while simultaneously expressing one’s clear support for the state of Israel and its people.

I remember how many people in the United States believed that launching a pre-emptive war against Iraq was a mistake. Yet those people still supported America and the brave men and women of the armed forces carrying out that ill-conceived policy. Similarly here, Israel – the country and the people – can always count on J Street’s support. At the same time, its policymakers cannot expect our unquestioning support for decisions that we believe run counter to the best interests of Israel, the United States and the Jewish people.

Mr. Sassieni himself acknowledged that within the pro-Israel community there is room to disagree over the wisdom of attacking Iran. But the "shame" he seeks to cast on J Street is out of place in a disagreement over policy – all the more so if that policy is being misconstrued. It is frankly a disappointing response from a JCRC official, whose organization created this important forum and is publicly committed to a broad and vibrant Israel conversation. The Boston Jewish community deserves better from those who have been vested with their communal trust.