04/20/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

J Street Creates Fear and Trembling in Israel

Just what is it with the Israeli government and J Street? Hardly a week passes without either an Israeli government official -- or one of their allies in the United States -- blasting the one year old pro-Israel, pro-peace lobby.

It's strange. J Street is not the first Jewish organization to criticize Israeli government policies for being both inflexible and counterproductive, far from it.

But other similar organizations were largely ignored by Israeli officialdom and its friends. Clearly they believed that these other organizations would ultimately fade (all but Americans For Peace Now did) and that attacking them would only strengthen them.

That policy has been deemed inoperative when it comes to J Street. The opening salvo (actually a series of salvos) came from Israel's Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, who put out the word that he would not attend J Street's first annual convention. He did not cite prior engagements for not attending a Jewish convention in Washington (such attendance is standard) but made clear that he wanted to send a message: I don't approve of J Street.

Oren's attack was designed to cripple the fledgling group but, instead, produced the national publicity J Street needed to put it on the Washington map. If Oren's goal was to help J Street -- rather than nip it in the bud -- he could not have done better.

But Oren's attacks were followed by more attacks. And they continued this week.

First Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister, Danny Ayalon, told a Jewish audience that he resented that J Street calls itself "pro-Israel." His argument is that J Street opposes some Israeli government policies, which is tantamount to "bashing Israel." Ayalon may not understand that Americans, used to criticizing their own and other governments, are not likely to treat the Israeli government as infallible. Even modern popes seem to have backed away from that one.

Anyway, at about the same time Ayalon attacked J Street rhetorically, he also refused to meet with a group of six House members who were visiting Israel on a trip sponsored by J Street. He also urged other Israeli government officials not to meet with the visiting legislators.

This is almost unprecedented. Israeli government officials invariably meet with any Senator or House member who asks to meet with them. The reason is not mere courtesy. Until this episode, it was understood that dissing the people who appropriate more than $3 billion a year for Israel is simply...not very smart.

Of course, one could excuse this incident on the grounds that the blunder was committed by Danny Ayalon. He is the "diplomat" who came up with the idea of seating the Turkish ambassador to Israel in a kindergarten chair during a meeting to emphasize his displeasure with the Turkish government.

He told photographers who witnessed the attempted humiliation of the ambassador, "The important thing is that they see he's sitting lower and we're up high..."

That act of sheer silliness and ineptitude humiliated Israel and almost led to Turkey recalling its diplomats, an eventuality that was averted when Ayalon repeatedly begged forgiveness.
It is clear that Ayalon is more than capable of committing undiplomatic blunders on his own. But the repeated attacks on J Street indicate something more.

The current Israeli government -- and its supporters here in the United States -- are clearly rattled by J Street. And not because J Street is anti-Israel but because it is not.

J Street's message is that it is possible to be pro-Israel while opposing official policies that are clearly detrimental to Israel. Even more, it holds that opposing those policies is precisely what friends of Israel should do.

And this is what stings Ayalon, Oren and various like-minded types here.

As it becomes increasingly clear that maintaining the occupation, expanding settlements and continuing the blockade of Gaza not only seriously harms Palestinians but also Israel's prospects for survival, Israel's supporters are bound to look for ways to support Israel other than simply playing lemming.

That is why defenders of the status quo are suddenly on the defensive. Take a look at this from Wednesday's New York Times: "The Israeli government, deeply worried about the country's declining international image, began a campaign on Wednesday to turn every Israeli -- and ultimately every Jew -- into a traveling public relations agent."

It's a crazy scheme -- imagine making non-Israeli Jews into walking, talking Israeli billboards. And there's more.

The Israeli daily, Ma'ariv, reported on Tuesday that the foreign ministry has devised a plan to counter the demonstrators who turn out whenever an Israeli diplomat appears on a campus.

"The Foreign Ministry intends to include groups of Israeli university students on trips of high-ranking Israelis overseas. The goal is to counter the heckling," Ma'ariv reported.

"The students [in groups of five] will wave Israeli flags, will blow whistles and call out."

Talk about a couple of hare-brained schemes. Once upon a time, Israeli policies were defended by people who thought they were right and spontaneously turned out. Now the government is enlisting ringers.

Everything is changing. A few years ago, supporting the two-state solution and the end of the occupation were controversial positions. Today, few outside of the Israeli government and the once "mainstream" pro-Israel organizations take much issue with them.

For example, just this week the ardently pro-Israel, and very hard-line, Jeff Goldberg of the Atlantic (an American who enlisted in the Israeli army as a youth) wrote, that Israel will "be considered an apartheid state if it continues to rule over a population of Arabs that doesn't want to be ruled by Israelis."

With an obvious solution in view -- the two-state solution -- it is clear that Israel must either run with the two-state idea or face international isolation and the unraveling of the Zionist accomplishment.

It's not too late. But it will be very soon. It is going to be either one-state or two. For those determined that the Jewish State of Israel survive and thrive, it is obvious what the pro-Israel position must be. Yes, to a secure Israel. Yes, to a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. No, to Israeli government policies that threaten Israel's future existence.

That is J Street's position. And that is why Ayalon and company are so intimidated by the upstart. J Street has a good product to sell -- a secure Israel, at peace with its neighbors. The other side offers only fear and, to be honest, hate.