J Street’s leader, Jeremy Ben-Ami, last week tweeted that the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which his group in not a member of, should follow the lead of some of the honchos of the British Jewish establishment and speak out forcefully against Israeli government plans to annex large parts of Judea and Samaria. That is, extend Israeli law formally over land Israel has controlled for more than 50 years and where hundreds of thousands of Israelis already live.
The timing of the announcement—just as Israel was preparing to mark two important historic anniversaries—begs for comment.
J Street is the controversial Washington, D.C.-based Jewish pressure group that was created specifically, and almost exclusively, to lobby for an independent Palestinian state. It was founded by Ben-Ami in 2007. He made his statement on the 53rd anniversary of the outbreak of the Six-Day War and days before the 39th anniversary of “Operation Opera,” in which Israeli fighter jets eliminated former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s under construction nuclear reactor in a daring raid.
Iraq was building a nuclear bomb. In 1981, 14 Israeli Air Force F-16s struck and destroyed the Osirak reactor, nearly 700 miles from Israel’s borders. The successful operation put an end to Hussein’s nuclear program. The United Nations adopted Security Council Resolution 487 criticizing Israel for the attack.
The strike on Osirak established what has been called the Begin Doctrine (name for Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin), which unconditionally declared that the surprise raid was not a one-time thing. As Begin himself explained in a June 15 interview on CBS’s Face the Nation, “This attack will be a precedent for every future government in Israel. … Every future Israeli prime minister will act, in similar circumstances, in the same way.”
What very few J Streeters know is that Yitshaq Ben-Ami (Jeremy’s father) was a key organizer in the United States for support in the 1940s for Begin’s Irgun underground army.
Part of Yitshaq Ben-Ami’s foreword to the second (1983) edition of his memoirs, Years of Wrath, Days of Glory, contains his reaction to Begin’s 1981 decision to attack the Iraqi nuclear reactor and his 1982 decision to go to war in Lebanon against the PLO. He wrote:
“Too often the credo of Diaspora Jews is ‘Keep a low profile, and anti-Semitism will disappear.’ The phenomenon of a Jewish Prime Minister standing up to the gentile world and declaring boldly ‘Don’t teach us about morality or how to fight for our survival in your midst!’ was jarring. And it was anxiety-provoking … to see … Jewish military power used preventatively to destroy life-threatening targets sponsored by hostile political alliances.”
The raid on Iraq was part of a chain of actions taken by Begin. Each of Begin’s moves caused an outcry from the United Nations, as well as official condemnation—the kind of condemnations that J Street has warned will come should Israel carry out its annexation plans.
Before the Iraq attack, on July 30, 1980, the Knesset ratified the “Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel” that, among other things, applied sovereignty to the city. U.N. Security Council Resolution 478 attacked Israel for the move.
And after the Iraqi operation, on Dec. 14, 1981, Israel’s Knesset passed the Golan Heights Law through which Israeli law was applied to the Golan Heights. The U.N. Security Council Resolution 497 called the Israeli action “null and void and without international legal effect.”
The threat of resolutions didn’t stop Menachem Begin from doing what was in Israel’s best interest and was needed to protect its very existence.
Can one imagine what the Gulf War would have looked like had Hussein possessed nuclear-armed SCUD missiles, or what the Syrian Civil War would have meant for Israel if Syrian President Bashar Assad controlled the Golan?
In the end, what did the U.N.’s Security Council Resolutions really mean for Israel? Was there any tangible impact? Any lasting effect at all?
Surely, Jeremy Ben-Ami and J Street must know the answer is clearly no.
What we must do is remind Israel’s leaders and ourselves that instead of hesitating, Israel should look to the Begin Doctrine and gain the confidence required to take necessary action. History has taught us that J Street’s warnings are nonsense: Israel is not hurt by U.N. criticism and threats, Jeremy Ben-Ami’s cries to the contrary.