“The party and the viewpoint that we’re closest to in Israeli politics is actually Kadima.” -- J Street founder and president Jeremy Ben-Ami, October 28, 2009.
Over the last 18 months, there’s been a lot of debate about the Obama administration’s strategy in Israel – not whether it’s working (you can’t find anyone in town to make that case), but what it seeks to achieve. There was some speculation that the Obama team wanted to bring down the Netanyahu government, or at the very least so badly damage Netanyahu that he would be forced to form a new coalition without some of the more right-wing parties (Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas).
In this scenario, the goal would be getting Kadima leader Tzipi Livni into the government, on the assumption that she is a more moderate figure with whom the Obama administration can do business. Livni was more than happy to return the favor by positioning herself accordingly – until now. Sensing an opportunity earlier this week, Livni blasted Netanyahu for easing the blockade on Gaza.
"In the neighborhood where we live Israel has to take decisions on the basis of its own interests and not under pressure," Livni said. "Acting under pressure signals weakness and we cannot allow ourselves to do that."
So the leader of Kadima has now become even more hardline than Likud on an issue of paramount importance to the anti-Israel left, and she has explicitly rejected the premise of J Street – that U.S. pressure can resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict.
As Ben-Ami wrote on the Huffington Post this week, in the wake of a failed campaign to dissuade members of Congress from signing on to AIPAC-sponsored letters in support of Israel’s right of self-defense, Congress should stop offering unqualified support for Israel and “stand behind the President - or at least not stand in his way - if he steps forward in the coming months with a meaningful initiative to lead the way to a negotiated two-state agreement.”
Translation: Stand with President Obama as he pressures Israel to take decisions that are not in what Israeli leaders, and the Israeli public, see as their best interests.
And after yesterday’s unanimous vote in the Senate passing a tough new round of unilateral sanctions on Iran, J Street put out a statement that plainly said, "We are opposed to the use of military force by Israel or the United States against Iran." Even the Obama administration leaves open the possibility that force might ultimately be the only option, and reins in senior officials who suggest otherwise. Certainly no one in Livni’s Kadima would publicly rule out the use of force should sanctions fail to dissuade the Iranian regime from it current course.
J Street clearly does not share a viewpoint with Kadima. If anything it shares a viewpoint with Meretz, Israel’s hippy-dippy left-wing eco-party that boasts all of three seats in the Knesset. The views J Street espouses have been overwhelmingly rejected in Israel. They’ve been overwhelmingly rejected in Congress.
Unfortunately, this White House is exactly where J Street is on the peace process, on the blockade, on settlements, and you have to worry they’re in the same place on Iran, too, despite the occasional half-hearted insistence to the contrary.