Jeremy Ben-Ami responds to Abe Foxman’s Palin comments

November 20, 2009

Jeremy Ben-Ami, Executive Director of J Street, sent the following letter to Abe Foxman, Director of the Anti-Defamation League, in response to Foxman’s comments to the JTA News Service.

Dear Abe,

I am deeply troubled by your attack on J Street for opposing Sarah Palin’s unqualified support for settlement expansion on the West Bank.

Last I checked, it has been United States policy under every President since 1967 to oppose the development and expansion of settlements on the West Bank – and, yes, J Street along with a sizeable portion of the Israeli and American Jewish public also opposes settlement expansion.

Sarah Palin – recently nearly Vice President of the United States and doubtless soon to be a candidate for President – appears to disagree with this long-established, deeply bipartisan consensus on settlements – and seems further to imagine that large numbers of Jews around the world are packing their bags to move to the West Bank in the coming days and weeks.

Her views are outside the mainstream of American and Israeli thinking and her statements lack understanding of either the Jewish community or the meaning of the settlement issue to the chances of Israel’s survival as a Jewish democracy.

In our view, those views when introduced into the national policy debate by a potential leader of our country need to be called out for what they are: misinformed and dangerous.

If I am to understand your view, however, it seems to be that opposing her statements makes J Street not pro-Israel. And I gather that to meet your definition of pro-Israel requires holding the same views as you and Sarah Palin.

I make no apologies that my definition of pro-Israel is slightly different. I take pro-Israel to mean advocating for the future, security and survival of Israel as the Jewish, Democratic state envisioned by its founders.

And my view is that unlimited expansion of settlements on the West Bank means the two-state solution is no longer feasible and means Israel will no longer be either Jewish (by virtue of the demographic trends) or democratic.

To quote the most recent Prime Minister of Israel Ehud Olmert – if the two-state solution collapses and Israel faces a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights, the state of Israel is finished.

Perhaps you believe the former Prime Minister is not pro-Israel either?

Abe, we can disagree on matters of policy. You may support unlimited settlement expansion, I do not. You may support immediate, unilateral sanctions on Iran at a delicate moment in international negotiations, J Street does not. We say give diplomacy the full opportunity to succeed and if it doesn’t then take action against Iran with broad, international support. You may be willing to go along with the defamation of a world-renowned (and Zionist) jurist who has asked tough questions about the Gaza War, but, while we came out clearly against one-sided UN action against Israel, we have refused to join the chorus of personal attacks against Judge Goldstone.

You, of course, have every right to disagree with us. It’s a free country.

But you have no right to decide who is and is not pro-Israel based on whether they agree with your views.

I am very pleased that just this weekend David Harris and I will be appearing together on Christiane Amanpour’s show on CNN and David was good enough to say exactly that: we may disagree – vigorously – but only out of the best of intentions toward Israel, a love of the Jewish people and deep concern for the future.

These are difficult days and tough questions. Neither you nor I can predict the future nor state with certainty that our views are correct.

Let’s agree to disagree on policy – but let’s recognize that we are all within the pro-Israel family and intend the best for Israel and the Jewish people.


Jeremy Ben-Ami