A public program that aimed to make people question whether J Street, a left-wing Israel advocacy organization, is truly a supporter of the Jewish state also saw a more moderate Israel advocate taking attacks from the right.
The March 27 event at the Penn Museum featured a documentary The J Street Challenge, which is highly critical of the organization, as well as a panel of three speakers, including Harvard law school professor Alan Dershowitz.
In advance of the event, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and Hillel of Greater Philadelphia faced some questions and criticism for sponsoring a program that critics charged was divisive in the community. At the event, several audience members thanked Federation for its sponsorship.
The panel also included Charles Jacobs, the head of Americans for Peace and Tolerance, whose organization produced the film, and Sara Greenberg, who grew up in Gladwyne and is currently a graduate student at Harvard University, where she is involved in pro-Israel activism.
Dershowitz, who is featured in the film, was very critical of J Street in his opening remarks and in the documentary but some in the audience took boisterous issue with the renowned attorney and The Case for Israel author because of his support for President Barack Obama and his opposition to West Bank settlements.
“We are pro-Israel,’ they say, and ‘We are pro-peace,’ ” Dershowitz said of J Street in his opening remarks. “If that were the case, I would have joined them a long time ago.” He said he takes issue with the organization for what he termed the group’s lack of concern over Israel’s security and its efforts to shape Israeli policy by advocating U.S. pressure on the Jewish state.
Outside the event, there was a contingent of students from J Street and other Jewish organizations who said that whether or not you agreed with J Street, the organization should have a voice in campus discussions and Israel programming.
According to Jacobs, J Street officials declined invitations to participate in programs showing the film here and elsewhere. J Street officials could not be reached for comment but in the past they have said they are open to discussing substantive issues related to Israel but do not want to be defined by someone else’s agenda.
Greenberg, a board member of Harvard’s Hillel, said J Street does not build support for Israel on college campuses.
“Wouldn’t you expect a pro-Israel organization with campus chapters to equip students with facts, stand up for Israel and combat the anti-Semitism that exists today on campus?” she asked. “Not J Street.”