J Street's spat with Rep. Gary Ackerman took another turn today when it apologized for its strong reaction to the New York Democrat's statement last repudiating the pro-peace process group.
But J Street isn't backing away from the statement that touched off the fracas in the first place – its request that the Obama administration consider not vetoing a pending UN resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity.
Early last week Ackerman, in a statement, said the UN resolution “would effectively and unjustly place the whole responsibility for the current impasse in the peace process on Israel, and — critically — would give fresh and powerful impetus to the effort to internationally isolate and delegitimize Israel.”
Then the lawmaker, a onetime darling of J Street, got up close and personal: “I’ve come to the conclusion that J Street is not an organization with which I wish to be associated.”
In response, J street accused Ackerman of “misunderstanding...J Street’s position and of the UN Resolution in question.”
The group does not favor UN action taking Israel to task, it said in a statement, but suggested UN action was all but inevitable in the face of a stalled peace process and ongoing settlement activity.
In the absence of any peace process movement, a U.S. non-veto might serve a useful purpose, the group implied.
On its Web site, the group posted a call to action urging supporters to sign a letter to Ackerman saying they were “outraged and disappointed by your attack on J Street” and adding “Achieving a two-state solution requires real leadership from Israeli, Palestinian, and American leaders. Unfortunately, such leadership was sorely lacking in your recent statement.”
It was that call that touched off today's apology.
J Street president and founder Jeremy Ben-Ami, in an interview, said “I don't think it was necessary for us to do more than simply take issue with [Ackerman's] statement. We took the extra step in urging our supporters to express our outrage; we didn't need to do that, it only added to the furor and the noise. It's not the tone we were trying to set.”
On the J Street blog, Ben-Ami wrote "At times, we miss the mark. In particular, we allow ourselves to be dragged into the bitter hand-to-hand scuffling that marks modern politics, rather than remaining focused on sparking intelligent conversation on difficult issues. Too often, we descend to the level of those with whom we disagree and our campaigns and actions become too personal."
Fair enough. So I asked: was it a mistake for J Street to urge the administration to consider not vetoing a UN resolution that termed settlements “illegal,” which is a word U.S. administrations have refrained from using since Jimmy Carter's days?
Not at all, Ben-Ami said.
J Street continues to believe that “at some point, the U.S. government has to use every tool in its tool kit to express how strongly it feels” on the issues of the peace process and settlements.
But he said “What we didn't do well enough in our original statement is address the deep sense of unease within the Jewish community when it comes to the UN.”
I'm not sure that's going to be enough to reassure pro-Israel, pro-peace members of Congress who understand what a hot-button issue one-sided UN resolutions on the Middle East are in the Jewish community, but there you have it.
J Street's campus affiliate is also expressing unhappiness with Taglit-Birthright Israel’s decision to cancel the Israel trip it was planning in conjunction with the pro-peace process group.
I'm relatively ignorant of Birthright's inner workings, so I'm going to leave commenting on this one to others. But it's hard to see this as anything other than another blow for a group that's had a pretty bad week.
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