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J Street: Israel Is A Bigger Threat to Israel than Iranian Nukes

4:07 PM, Dec 7, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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Spencer Ackerman interviews J Street chief Jeremy Ben-Ami on that group's announcement that it will now back sanctions to cut Iran off from its supply of refined petroleum products. Earlier today Ackerman offered one possible explanation for the move: "The attacks on J Street have worked." I think that's probably right. The shift is not confined to sanctions legislation -- J Street has moved right on Goldstone (though their position is still way out of step with mainstream Jewish opinion) and Ben-Ami has made a number of other statements that seemed designed to appease the group's critics, and antagonize its most left-wing supporters (denouncing Walt and Mearsheimer and taking U.S. aid to Israel off the table are the two most obvious examples). But Ben-Ami offers another explanation to Ackerman:

TWI: Is it too wily to think that you're doing this in order to basically signal your stand with the rest of the pro-Israel community in this country while saving the harder battles for things like Jerusalem, the two-state solution and so forth?

Ben-Ami: Well look, those are issues where we are definitely not in line with most of the other organizations. For us, we've always said that is the issue. The real existential threat to a Jewish democratic Israel is the failure to reach a two-state solution. There is a threat from a nuclear-armed Iran. But the real existential threat that we're focused on is that we have got to reach a two-state solution now or else we're going to lose Israel.

So, according to Ben-Ami, by disagreeing with J Street, Israel is a greater threat to itself than a nuclear-armed Iran. This, I suspect, is not a widely held view in the Jewish community here or in Israel -- and it is certainly not a widely-held view among Americans in general. J Street is in a bind, at risk of alienating its most vocal supporters as it tries to shift toward the middle on issues like sanctions. But it's kind of hard to sell your organization as pro-Israel when you tell reporters that Israel represents an existential threat to Israel and Iran doesn't.