Interview: J Street’s Isaac Luria
Jewcy.com is excited to announce that we will be a media partner for J Street’s first national conference in Washington, DC: Driving Change, Securing Peace. J Street is both a 501(c)(4) organization and PAC that advocates for peace in Israel … Read More
Jewcy.com is excited to announce that we will be a media partner for J Street’s first national conference in Washington, DC: Driving Change, Securing Peace. J Street is both a 501(c)(4) organization and PAC that advocates for peace in Israel and a two-state solution. During the conference, which takes place from October 25-28, Jewcy will be on the ground webcasting keynote speeches and encouraging attendees to become ‘citizen journalists’ on Jewcy.com in real time. In the meantime, here’s an interview with Isaac Luria, the Online Campaigns Director for J Street.
What is your background? How did you get involved at J Street?
I was working in San Francisco for a few years for an internet company called Donor Digital; living in the mission district. My wife got into rabbincal school at HUC, so we moved to Jerusalem for a year. I did the Dorot Fellowship there and loved it. I loved Israel and enjoyed learning Hebrew and getting the Jewish education that I hadn’t had. Then Jeremy [Ben-Ami, JStreet’s Executive Director] got in touch with me a month before J Street launched and asked if I would come on board. I’ve been on board now for 18 months.
Can you talk about what you do on a day-to-day basis?
I am part of the communications team, so we try to figure out ways to get our list members activated and involved in our work to do petitions and congessional asks and raising money and doing things associated with our email list and our activists. Sometimes I write statements and do interviews with people like you.
Writers and intellectuals, notably John Mearshimer and Stephen Walt, talk about "The Israel Lobby" as a group of powerful Jewish lobbyists who try to control and influence America’s foreign policy regarding Israel. Do you think the Israel lobby is a real thing?
I guess I’d say they oversimplified things in Washington and it made it easier to blame Jewish lobbyists for every foreign policy blunder under the sun. It’s a much more diverse group of people who advocate for Israel and for Jewish issues, like conservative Christian Zionists, who were at the table at the Bush White House. I think the book also fed into some of the tropes about Jewish power that can be really unsettling, and I don’t agree with that. I think there is a large group of Americans, generally from the hawkish side of the spectrum regarding foreign policy, who have an outsize political voice in Washington in claiming to represent the Jewish community on Israel. Our job at J Street is to try to better represent that moderate majority, open up that discussion so that we can better talk about how best to keep Israel safe and secure.
Should Jews support Jewish candidates for office? Is it important to consider someone’s religion when deciding who to vote for?
I think we rightly have pride when Jewish Americans get elected to office or are chosen as a Vice Presidential candidate. It’s exciting, and it’s part of how I assess a candidate. I am proud that Barney Frank is Jewish. I think it is important to have Jewish American voices on Israel in Congress because American Jews have a deep understanding of Israel and how the role of the state plays out in the community. And I think it’s good to have that experience at the table.
I mean, I’m also happy to have Jewish baseball players.
How do you respond to claims that supporting Palestinians and advocating for the creation of a Palestinian state is tantamount to being anti-Israel?
I think these two things come together in some ways, but they diverge. My perspective says that the two-state solution is the only way to secure Israel’s future as a democracy and if we don’t pursue that now, then the window closes. That would spell disaster for Israel. The two-state solution is also good for the Palestinians and for the U.S. I want to secure Israel’s future as a Jewish democracy. I want Israel to live up to the Jewish values I hold dear, like justice and equality.
Suppose tomorrow there's a miraculous landmark treaty that brings peace in the Middle East. Then what? Will there be a need for continued activism in Israel, or can we all just go move on and worry about something else?
I hope we get there so desperately. I think we’re at least a year or two off, maybe longer. But would my job be over? Probably not. I am still committed to a vision of Israel as democracy and just society that lives my values, and I would find a way to make that a reality. I don’t think anyone is kidding themselves that if peace occurs it wouldn’t then raise questions about what that state of Israel would be. Would there be separation of religion and state? How do you deal with the Arab minority in Israel? What about the budget? Health care? Continuing threat of terrorism? What would a two state solution mean for Hezbollah or for Hamas? What about the ongoing threat from Iran? Its not like everything would become peachy keen immediately, but the strategic position for Israel - and against Islamic extremism - would be better off.
Critics of Israel have alleged that America devotes a disproportionate amount of time and resources focusing on Israel instead of other countries. Do you agree with that statement?
I am a strong supporter of the relationship between the U.S. and Israel. The way we support it is so important. They’re our strongest ally in the Middle East, and for our strategic interests, look outside the pro-Israel framework and it’s a good thing. We share values and a commitment to democracy. It’s not an outsized proportion. I don’t buy that argument.