When J Street canceled a scheduled poetry slam at their inaugural conference, J Street director Jeremy Ben-Ami told Politico's Ben Smith that "as J Street is critical of the use and abuse of Holocaust imagery and metaphors by politicians and pundits on the right, it would be inappropriate for us to feature poets at our Conference whose poetry has used such imagery in the past and might also be offensive to some conference participants."
Well, by that standard J Street will now be obliged to drop at least one more speaker from their conference -- Helena Cobban. On the second day of J Street's conference, there will be an "independent" blogger panel including Cobban among other "pro-Israel" voices like Max Blumenthal and Philip Weiss. Cobban is prone to her own Holocaust metaphors when talking about Israel. "When you see the Wall, especially the places where it goes anywhere near built-up Palestinian areas and is studded with looming concrete watch-towers, the overwhelming image that might come to your mind, as it does to mine, is that of the fence-and-watchtower system around a concentration camp," she wrote on her blog in June of this year.
Cobban makes the same point, minus the explicit reference to concentration camps, in the video below (at the 7:50 mark). The watchtowers "send a shiver down my back," she says, and she adds that she asks Israelis "doesn't it remind you of something?" When the Israelis fail to deliver the proper answer -- that the fence should remind them of Aushwitz -- she laments that "people always want to believe the best things about their own actions, don't they?"
But Cobban doesn't just compare Israel to Nazi Germany -- she likes to compare Israel to Hamas as well.
Most people in the west have been wilfully mis- or dis-informed about Hamas and believe either that it is made up of wild-eyed men of violence who perpetrate violence for its own sake, or that its main goal is the violent expulsion of all Jewish people from Israel/Palestine. These impressions are quite misleading. Yes, Hamas has used significant amounts of violence against Israelis since it was founded in 1987. But so too has Israel, against Hamas. Indeed, Israel has killed many times more Hamas supporters and leaders than Hamas has ever killed Israelis. Does that mean we understand Israelis to be only "mindless, wild-eyed men of violence"? No. For both sides, we need to try to understand what they seek to achieve with the violence they use; as well as the conditions under which they can be expected to moderate or end it.
Sometimes Cobban dispenses with comparisons and simply lavishes praise on Hamas while attacking Israel. In one post she attempts to debunk the notion that Hamas is "only the 'terrorist organization' that it's designated to be by the US State Department...made up of wild-eyed, implacable Islamist radicals" -- scare quotes around "terrorist organization" in the original. She goes on to say,
Hamas's founder, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, always placed a lot of emphasis on the need for education, self-restraint, and the need to rebuild the social fabric of Palestinian constituencies torn apart by years of Israeli attacks, occupation (including the heinous divide-and-rule tactics of the Shin Bet), and physical and social dispersal. Gaza Islamic University (badly bombed by Israel earlier this week) was just one of an entire network of educational and social-welfare institutions with which Hamas sought to rebuild Gazan society.
So while Hamas founder Sheikh Yassin is out there doing good works, the Shin Bet is practicing "heinous divide and rule tactics." Is it not obvious that Cobban prefers Hamas to Israel? And by the way, Cobban is "agnostic" on a two-state solution -- a one-state solution, i.e. the end of Israel as a Jewish Democracy, would be fine with her, too.
Other greatest hits from Cobban include calling Tony Blair a "dishonest schmuck" -- apparently he's nothing like the great and self-restrained Sheikh Yassin. Or how about demanding that Obama withhold aid to Israel until Israel complies with the Goldstone commissions recommendations. Or, my personal favorite, Cobban's write-up of the recent flap over a Swedish newspaper that alleged Israel was harvesting the organs of Palestinians. In the face of this new spin on the old blood libel, Cobban declares "there are a lot more dimensions to this story that I want to look at."
Is this -- comparing Israel to Nazi Germany, praising Hamas, trafficking in blood libel -- what passes for pro-Israel on J Street?