My Pro-Israel

Sam Berkman, J Street National Director of Communal Relations
on November 8, 2022

If you have been paying attention to AIPAC’s messaging and social media shifts since they established a Political Action Committee, you may have noticed that the group began frequently targeting J Street earlier this year with accusations of being “anti-Israel.”

It’s no secret that our two organizations share a number of disagreements, but these particular claims have irked me more so than others in the past. And upon reflection, I realize that is because these new attacks strike at the core of my Jewish identity and call into question the fundamental beliefs and goals of me and many thousands of others who subscribe to J Street’s principles.

Many of our staff and supporters have family and friends living in Israel. Some of us have served in the IDF. And some of us are Israeli citizens ourselves. All of us believe that J Street’s work serves Israel’s best interests in the long term.

So let me begin with this: AIPAC is a pro-Israel organization.

What it absolutely is not is the arbiter of what pro-Israel means.

At the most basic level, I suggest that being pro-Israel means one recognizes and supports the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. And I have to believe that all of us in the pro-Israel camp essentially want the same thing: a strong and secure Israel at peace with its neighbors.

That is what J Street wants, and it is the first requirement we have for any of our JStreetPAC endorsees—a “commitment to Israel’s security and support for US aid to Israel.”

So what does it mean to have a strong Israel, and what is needed to achieve that?

At J Street, we believe a strong Israel means, of course, the ability to defend itself from any and all external threats. But a strong Israel is also a thriving Jewish and democratic homeland. And a resolute US-Israel relationship is imperative for success on all of these fronts.

Pro-Israel groups and politicians frequently throw around the platitude that the US-Israel relationship is based upon our shared values–with democracy at its core.

If we truly believe that, then we must also acknowledge that to support Israel, to defend the US-Israel relationship, we must defend democracy–particularly in our two nations–when it is under threat.

As Americans, we have the duty to protect our country and our democratic institutions and norms when they are being undermined. For those of us engaged in pro-Israel politics, that means it is not enough to simply bolster candidates who support Israel. Those same candidates must also respect and defend the American democratic process and rule of law–lest we compromise the foundation of the US-Israel relationship.

And as Diaspora Jews, it is incumbent upon us to hold a mirror up to Israel and its leaders when we view their policies as a detriment to Israel’s long-term security as a Jewish and democratic state. For while we are not the ones who will directly determine the path Israel follows in its future, we do have a stake in its success as a homeland for both the Jewish people and our Jewish values.

Furthermore, as Jewish Americans specifically, we have the right to lobby our government to see our values reflected in the laws adopted and policies enacted. As a pro-Israel group, those efforts extend to US policy related to Israel and the Middle East–ensuring as best we can that America’s approach promotes peace, security, and democracy in the region rather than perpetuating the status quo.

We may vehemently disagree with the strategies and tactics of others within the pro-Israel community to achieve such goals. That is ok. J Street is confident in the strength of our values and positions and is happy to engage with those who feel differently.

But let us have that dialogue without calling into question the intention or identity of others.

This is how I put my values into practice as an American Jew. This is my pro-Israel.