Opinions & Commentary

Lost on Sesame Street

Jonathan Rhodes, MD

I agree with many of J Street’s positions. I support a two-state solution and believe that it is important for Israel to maintain its Jewish and democratic character. I have, therefore, eagerly followed J Street’s activities and have signed up to receive its periodic emails.

In these emails, J Street explains its positions on specific Israeli policies and USIsrael relations. While I tend to concur with most of the emails, I was quite taken aback by a recent one. Titled “Save Elmo,” it criticized attempts by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, to withhold funds that have been appropriated by the United States to support the Palestinian Authority. The email argued that Ros-Lehtinen’s efforts were unwise because they would result in the cancellation of the Palestinian version of “Sesame Street,” an educational program for children filled with lessons of tolerance and peace.

As a pediatrician (and the father of five children), I think it would be great if more Palestinian children watched “Sesame Street,” and I do not disagree with the position that J Street took on this question. However, I was struck by the irony that this email arrived just a few weeks after Mufti Muhammad Hussein, a Palestinian cleric, basically called for genocidal attacks against Jews everywhere and declared that the slaughter of the Jews remains the Palestinians’ religious duty. Hussein’s remarks came as part of his invocation at a ceremony commemorating the founding of the “moderate” Fatah Party, which was subsequently broadcast on official Palestinian TV. Appointed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the mufti has a long and well-documented history of anti-Semitic incitement.

If you search J Street’s Web site, you will find an eloquent condemnation of the invocation. I wonder, however, why I – and, I assume, everyone else on J Street’s email list – never received an email trumpeting the organization’s harsh response to the mufti’s speech, but did receive the message that focused on Sesame Street and gave the impression that all of Palestinian media is as inoffensive as Elmo. I can’t escape the feeling that the Elmo email, which presented a misleadingly benign picture of the Palestinian media while ignoring the widespread problem of Palestinian incitement, amounted to nothing less than pro-Palestinian/ anti-Israel propaganda.

It is possible that those who sent the “Save Elmo” email did not fully recognize the malevolent nature of their action. It is also possible, however, that J Street, in its desire to have a “broad tent” has unwittingly permitted anti-Zionists to insinuate themselves, or their ideas, into their midst. I believe it is incumbent upon J Street members who hold sincere pro-Israel, pro- Zionist sentiments, to be more vigilant and a) Recognize when individuals representing J Street are in fact adopting anti-Israel/anti-Zionist positions, and b) Make clear to these individuals that such sentiments do not belong in an organization that is pro-Israel and pro- Peace.

Jonathan Rhodes is a pediatric cardiologist at Children’s Hospital, Boston, and an associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.


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