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Can Liberal And Conservative Jews Have A Civil Dialogue About Israel?

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Dialogue is a hard thing to come by in American politics these days. We’re so used to hearing people give bombastic monologues and soliloquies and stand-up routines, many Americans might be excused for not even knowing what dialogue is.

How, in a world in which people are yelling all the time, do you listen?

Well, the Board of Rabbis of Southern Nevada are hoping to provide opportunity for listening, with a year-long series titled, “A Year of Dialogue.”

The series’ kick-off event will test their theory that people can come together to disagree politely.

Jeremy Ben-Ami is the president of J-Street, which is a liberal pro-Israeli group. He’ll be sharing the stage Wednesday night with Matt Brooks, the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition.

Political columnist for the Reno Gazette-Journal and host of "Ralston Live" on Vegas PBS Jon Ralston will host – or perhaps referee.

The “dialogue” between these two groups is so heated that Brooks told us that J-Street is anti-Israel because they are a group outside of Israel that criticizes the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu won 33 percent of the vote last year and was able to put together a coalition that has a one-seat majority in parliament.

Ben-Ami says he comes from a family that has a century of roots in Israel, and that he cares deeply about the future of the country.

“There is probably no one in this country as deeply pro-Israel and concerned about its future as I am,” Ben-Ami said, “I started J Street in order to have a pro-Israel organization that recognizes that the future of the state of Israel depends on having a two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians.”

He also believes a majority of Israelis support a two-state solution. However, he admits supporting the idea and having it become a reality are two very different things.

“The idea of a two-state solution is one thing but the reality of what it takes to get there is another,” Ben-Ami said, “When you actually have to sit down and negotiate and come up with compromises it is very, very difficult and painful compromises that must be made in order to achieve the two-state solution.”

J-Street brought Israeli military and security officials to Washington D.C. last year to talk to congressman about the Iran deal - which Ben Ami says many people in Israel's security forces support.

It is the Iran deal that Matt Brooks with the Republican Jewish Coalition believes shows J Street as being anti-Israel.

 "I believe very strongly that on things like the Iran debate for instance where you had Israelis across the political spectrum strongly opposed to the Iran deal on one hand and then J Street actively working to lobby in support of the deal that is by definition the anti-Israel position."

Brooks said the deal requires a lot of faith in a state that has not shown to be a responsible actor in the past. 

And while the two groups can't even agree on basic facts: Did Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu freeze settlements or expand them? Are there cameras in Iran’s nuclear facilities or not?

Brooks told KNPR's State of Nevada that his real problem with J Street is that it is lobbying against the democratically elected government in Israel from outside the country.

 “I don’t think if there was an organization that was created in Israel specifically designed to lobby the representatives of the Israel government to take positions to try to impact or affect relations between the United States and Israel one way or another it would be look upon favorably,” he said.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J-Street; Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition

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(EDITOR'S NOTE: Carrie Kaufman no longer works for KNPR News. She left in April 2018)