J Street is led by Jeremy Ben-Ami, whose father was affiliated with the Irgun, the right-wing group that fought the British for Israeli independence. Ben Ami states, "We're trying to redefine what it means to be pro-Israel. You don't have to be noncritical. You don't have to adopt the party line. It's not, 'Israel right or wrong.' " The article contrasts J Street's positions–including support for President Obama's call for the dismantlement of West Bank settlements–with those of the mainstream lobbies:
On the fundamental questions of Middle East peace, J Street occupies fairly traditional liberal territory, which of course places it well to the left of the mainstream groups. According to its “statement of principles,” the group favors “creation of a viable Palestinian state as part of a negotiated two-state solution, based on the 1967 borders with agreed reciprocal land swaps” — the formula envisioned by the Clinton administration in its 2000 negotiations with Yasir Arafat and Ehud Barak. Ben-Ami says he also favors Jerusalem as the shared capital of the two states. On the question of talks with Hamas, classed as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, J Street takes the cautious view that while we should not speak directly with officials, we should engage through intermediaries with the goal of finding interlocutors willing to live in peace with Israel.
According to surveys cited by the article, J Street speaks for many American Jews:
J Street maintains that most American Jews share its views on the Middle East. They are reliably liberal on questions of war and peace; three-quarters of Jewish respondents to a 2007 Gallup poll, for example, opposed the war in Iraq. The question is how much of an exception they make for Israel. J Street sought to answer this question by commissioning an extensive poll of Jewish opinion on Middle East issues. The survey, taken in July 2008 and repeated with almost identical findings in March, found that American Jews opposed further Israeli settlements (60 percent to 40 percent), that they overwhelmingly supported the proposition that the U.S. should be actively engaged in the peace process even if that entailed “publicly stating its disagreements with both the Israelis and the Arabs” and that they strongly supported doing so even when the premise was revised to “publicly stating its disagreements with Israel.”
J Street clearly has a long way to go before it poses a challenge to Aipac. But it is providing a valuable voice for those who believe that supporting Israel means backing a two-state solution and backing away from settlements. That includes a number of prominent Israelis, as seen in the following video: