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'American Jews overwhelmingly favor the two-state solution, oppose unlimited settlement expansion'

J Street: Dem platform should reflect ‘new consensus’

With fight looming over pro-Palestinian planks, Jeremy Ben-Ami says he seeks consensus on Israeli security, Palestinian aspirations

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami addressing the group’s conference in Washington, March 21, 2015. (Courtesy JTA/J Street)
J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami addressing the group’s conference in Washington, March 21, 2015. (Courtesy JTA/J Street)

WASHINGTON — On the eve of what is expected to be a contentious debate over the Democratic Party’s platform, J Street head Jeremy Ben-Ami said Tuesday that the Democratic Party could avoid a messy struggle by adopting what he described as a consensus position on issues regarding the two-state solution and opposition to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement.

“J Street believes that the Democratic platform process is a real opportunity for the party to establish the clear consensus position that does exist on issues relating to Israel Palestinian conflict in a way that does help the party,” Ben-Ami said during a conference call. “There’s a way to draft the platform that could satisfy the constituencies within in the party and the voters that care about this issue across the United States.”

The Democratic platform drafting committee is expected to meet on Thursday. Committee membership is divided among supporters of presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton, those of her challenger, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, and nominees of Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Sanders’ five appointees to the platform drafting committee include two vocal critics of Israel, Professor Cornel West and Arab-American activist James Zogby. The two are expected to push for a platform that will acknowledge Palestinian claims and take a stricter tone toward Israel, particularly regarding settlement policies in the West Bank.

Philosopher Cornel West (R) embraces Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) at a watch party for the second Democratic presidential debate November 14, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Alex Wong/Getty Images via JTA)
Philosopher Cornel West (R) embraces Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) at a watch party for the second Democratic presidential debate November 14, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Alex Wong/Getty Images via JTA)

Ben-Ami, however, argued that there is room to accommodate more pro-Palestinian stances without alienating many Jewish voters – or shifting longstanding US policy.

“A lot of political leaders have operated under the erroneous misconception that American Jews who overwhelmingly support the Democratic Party are much more hawkish when it comes to Israel than they actually are. They fear, for instance, articulating the opinion that Palestinians have a right to a state or that both Israeli and Palestinian leadership bear some responsibility for what is ultimately the failure to resolve the conflict.”

Instead, he said, “the truth is that American Jews overwhelmingly favor the two-state solution, they oppose unlimited settlement expansion, and want American leadership to end the conflict.”

“The challenge now that the committee has is how to build on this common ground to put together a platform that puts together pro-Israel and pro-peace views that are the consensus in the Democratic Party,” Ben-Ami continued.

He argued that such a consensus platform would “advocate the rights of both Jewish and Palestinian peoples to states of their own,” emphasizing that support for a two-state solution is a longstanding policy held by both Democratic and Republican administrations. Along the same lines, Ben-Ami argued that “every administration since [Lyndon] Johnson has expressed American opposition to settlement construction and expansion.”

Despite West’s vocal support for the BDS movement, Ben-Ami said that the Democratic platform should also “express a very broad-based American opposition to the global BDS movement.”

“The movement fails to recognize Israel’s right to exist, to support a two-state solution, to differentiate between the occupation and opposition to Israel itself,” Ben-Ami complained. His organization’s college branch, J Street U, has opposed BDS movements on campus while emphasizing a need to differentiate between settlements and the rest of Israel.

Ben-Ami emphasized that in the Democratic platform, “commitment of the US to Israel’s security should be stated prominently and unambiguously.

“You can have a real consensus around denunciation of violence, terror and incitement, while also stating American opposition to unilateral types of moves like settlement expansion,” he continued.

On Jerusalem, the J Street head noted that the Democratic Party has already taken the position that the city is Israel’s capital, but called on platform committee members to embrace earlier positions taken by former president Bill Clinton, “that Jerusalem is the future capital of both countries with specific arrangements to be reached through negotiations.”

J Street has been one of the most vocal organizations regarding the perceived platform debate over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Last week, the dovish organization circulated a memo to platform committee members in which it expressed many of the opinions voiced Tuesday by Ben-Ami. The memo called on delegates to accept a “balanced position” on the conflict, largely describing the addition of language validating Palestinian claims.

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