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J Street Withdrew Its Endorsement Of Rashida Tlaib. Here’s What It Means.

On Friday, the pro-Israel, pro-peace lobbying group J Street took an unprecedented step: It rescinded its endorsement of Rashida Tlaib after she declared herself a supporter of a one-state solution to ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Tlaib, who won a Michigan congressional primary, is running unopposed in the general election, setting her up to become the first Palestinian Muslim woman elected to Congress.

During her campaign, Tlaib secured J Street’s endorsement and support. In a profile written about Tlaib on J Street’s website, she is described as “personally familiar with the costs that the conflict has brought to Israelis and Palestinians.”

“She believes that the U.S. should be directly involved with negotiations to reach a two-state solution,” reads the profile. “Additionally, she supports all current aid to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, particularly to fund initiatives that ‘foster peace, as well as economic and humanitarian services.’ Tlaib does not support the expansion of settlements and believes that they make it difficult to reach a sustainable two-state solution.”

These are all positions in line with J Street’s agenda. J Street vigorously promotes a two-state solution, meaning a Jewish state of Israel alongside a Palestinian state. And this week, Tlaib parted from that view, endorsing a one-state solution which would see all the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as those in exile around the world, become citizens of Israel.

After criticism from Palestinian activists, Tlaib stated in three separate interviews that she supports a one-state solution.

“One state,” she said. “It has to be one state. Separate but equal does not work.”

Tlaib doesn’t seem to have a strong grasp of what the two-state solution is exactly. The “separate but equal” model doesn’t apply to two sovereign nations existing side by side (are America and Canada separate but equal?), which is what the two-state solution advocates — a Palestinian state and a Jewish one. In fact, separate but equal is sure to be more of a problem in a one-state solution given the discrimination Palestinian citizens of Israel already face.

It also bears mentioning that Talib didn’t rule out a two-state solution. “I can’t impose my own beliefs onto a whole people,” she told Amy Goodman on Democracy Now earlier this week. “I don’t live there. I live here. But I can tell you, if there was a possibility for a two-state solution, absolutely. Do I think it will work? I don’t know.”

But it was enough for J Street to take a step they never have before and rescind their endorsement.

“While we have long championed the value of a wide range of voices in discussion of the conflict and related issues, we cannot endorse candidates who come to the conclusion that they can no longer publicly express unequivocal support for the two-state solution and other core principles to which our organization is dedicated,” reads a statement released on Friday. “After closely consulting with Rashida Tlaib’s campaign to clarify her most current views on various aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we have come to the unfortunate conclusion that a significant divergence in perspectives requires JStreetPAC to withdraw our endorsement of her candidacy.”

Earlier this week, J Street came under a lot of pressure for Tlaib’s comments.

And yet, the position they are in is the exact position American Jews on the left find themselves in today: struggling for clarity in intersectional spaces when it comes to Israel.

In endorsing Tlaib in the first place, J Street was celebrating the first Palestinian congresswoman, creating an intersectional coalition sure to please most American Jews. Her message of justice for all, her courageous opposition to President Trump’s rhetoric and policies, and her insistence on economic equality are exactly the kinds of things for which the overwhelming majority of American Jews vote.

But in rescinding its endorsement, J Street is also representing the American Jewish community, for many of whom the two-state solution is nothing short of dogma.

Many American Jews — like many Jews worldwide — hear in the call for a one-state solution a call for the dissolution of the world’s only Jewish state. The way they see it, a one-state solution would have a Palestinian majority rather than a Jewish one, so proponents of a one-state solution are advocating for a world in which Jews don’t deserve self-determination like all other peoples.

And yet, American Jews are also deeply uncomfortable with Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians, and long to see a Palestinian state alongside the Jewish one.

In other words, most American Jews are, like J Street, pro-Israel and pro-peace.

Supporting a two-state solution is not the only way a politician can signal a commitment to both Jewish and Palestinian self-determination. Tlaib herself clearly thinks that the one-state solution is one that guarantees equality and justice to Israelis and Palestinians. “I am for everyone, every single person, Israeli, Palestinian, to have equal access to opportunities, to feel safe where they live and to really be a genuine partner and visionary around reaching peace in that region,” she said on Democracy Now.

And yet, because so many American Jews see a two-state solution as the only way to ensure Jewish self-determination, J Street is doing its job representing them in insisting on a commitment to a two-state solution as a condition for their endorsement.

Crucially, J Street’s statement also indicates its continued commitment to Tlaib. “Rashida Tlaib’s election as the first Palestinian-American woman Member of Congress will be a historic milestone for the Palestinian-American community and for the United States as a whole,” the statement reads. “We strongly support and are encouraged by her commitment to social justice and we are inspired by her determination to bring the voice of underrepresented communities to Capitol Hill.”

J Street also intends to continue its conversation with the candidate. “We wish her and her campaign well, and we look forward to a close working relationship with her and her office when she takes her seat in Congress next year,” per the statement.

Between the Scylla of pressure from the far left to deny Israel’s right to exist and the Charybdis of hawks on the right who see a threat in any Muslim candidate, J Street has signaled its intention to continue having thoughtful if difficult conversations about Israel with Tlaib — the same conversations many progressive Jews are having right this minute in intersectional spaces across America.

It seems crazy that the thing bringing attention to this presumptive new congresswoman is a problem some 6,000 miles away that she will never solve and probably never even influence. Tlaib is not even the only brand new politician to have stepped on the third rail of American politics. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Ilhan Omar, primary winners in their own districts, have also gotten into trouble for things they’ve said about Israel.

But the first proponent of the one-state solution to enter Congress is certainly news. And in rescinding its endorsement of Tlaib while committing to a working relationship, J Street is creating a template for the difficult discussions ahead.

Batya Ungar-Sargon is the opinion editor of the Forward.

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