More debate on J Street


In an article entitled "The Obama Lobby," James Kirchick writes in the Forward that J Street has "garnered the support of the most important constituency of all: the Obama administration" and argues that they will be very "valuable" to the president:

Both Obama and J Street have fixated upon the subject of settlements. Both seem to believe that a settlement freeze holds the key to unlocking Middle East — if not global — peace. In their analysis, only American pressure can lead to a solution, as the Israelis are too hidebound and paranoid to understand what is in their own best interest. (Indeed, Obama reportedly told the assembled Jewish leaders that Israel needs “to engage in serious self-reflection” — something at which our president, as the author of not one but two memoirs, can claim not inconsiderable expertise.)

Who keeps preventing the full flowering of the necessary American leadership? In the J Street narrative, it’s establishment Jewish organizations, which distort American foreign policy by shielding Israel from pressure that would otherwise lead to peace. And who better to counter the influence of the so-called “Israel Lobby” than other Jews? J Street and the constellation of far-left “pro-Israel” organizations put a kosher stamp of approval on Obama’s bizarre hectoring and moral equivalence. By casting Israel as the obstructionist, as the “drunk” driver whose car keys need to be taken away (as Ben-Ami put it in one of his more candid moments), Obama will have a free hand to compel the parties to the peace table. And once gathered there, another Oslo accord can be forced upon a recalcitrant Israel (whereupon the disastrous consequences of that agreement — the erection of terrorist infrastructure, a deterioration of the Palestinian economy, deepening mutual distrust — will be repeated).

To this end, J Street seems to spend almost all of its resources bashing supporters of Israel. Those who disagree with the organization’s positions are routinely denounced as “right-wing” or “extremist.” Rather than draw attention to the murderous antisemitism, terrorism and impending nuclear-armed theocracy that Israel must confront, J Street prefers to churn out countless blog posts, press releases and op-eds denouncing the people who it believes are the real impediments to peace: stalwart defenders of Israel like Pastor John Hagee, Senator Joe Lieberman and former House speaker Newt Gingrich.

Kirchick goes on to say that J Street also will "embolden" Israel’s critics. Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic responds with a defense of the organization, stating that it is in "the mainstream of American Jewish political life":

Jamie Kirchick wrote this week, under the headline, "Obama’s Jews," that the "constellation of far-left ‘pro-Israel’ organizations put a kosher stamp of approval on Obama’s bizarre hectoring and moral equivalence." Well, count me – a genuine warmongering fascist, according to some on the Interwebs – as a person who also puts his kosher stamp of approval on Obama’s approach to Israel. I don’t think his approach is bizarre or hectoring, or represents an exercise in moral equivalence. If he equated Hamas and Israel, then he would be making a moral equivalency argument, but he didn’t. And I don’t think there’s anything bizarre about an American president asking Israel to end its addiction to settlements. And I don’t think there’s anything bizarre or marginal about a group of American Jews forming an organization like J Street to press for a different vision of Israel than the one advocated – or acquiesced to – by so-called mainstream groups like AIPAC and the ADL.

I agree with Jamie – J Street has made some dumb mistakes in its brief history; its knee has jerked to the left when it shouldn’t have, and it needs to grapple with the Iranian threat in a sophisticated way, and not simply stand in opposition to whatever AIPAC happens to be advocating at the moment. But all knees in the organized Jewish community tend to jerk, and when they do, they jerk in the direction of the status quo, and the status quo is untenable. The Zionist vision of a Jewish democratic state won’t survive the demographic and moral realities of the current situation. Some people in J Street, I think, are motivated by animus to the idea of a Jewish state, but most, in my limited experience with them, want to preserve both Israel’s democratic and Jewish character. That’s more than I can say for some people in the "mainstream" pro-Israel community, who blind themselves to the coming crisis.

But Adam Kredo, at the Washington Jewish Week, found one line in Goldberg’s piece a little odd for a defense of J Street — that "some people in J Street, I think, are motivated by animus to the idea of a Jewish state":

Goldberg’s "animus" remark is obviously made in passing, but it remains an outlier given that he is clearly writing a piece "in defense" of the organization.

It also raises an interesting point about the group’s composition – What type of person refers to him or herself as a "member" of J Street? Do some members back the group, but not support a Jewish state in the Middle East?

Amy Spitalnick, J Street’s press secretary, had this to say: "I can guarantee you that our board and our staff are all doing what we do because of our love for Israel. The bottom line is that J Street’s end goal is a safe and secure, Jewish, democratic Israel."

Spitalnick, however, declined to speculate about the general composition of J Street’s membership.

I presume what Goldberg was saying is that there are some people have been attracted to J Street because the organization has marketed itself as an alternative to AIPAC and other mainstream Jewish organizations. Thus, it may have gained supporters who dislike AIPAC not because they dislike the stands on issues that AIPAC takes, but because they view AIPAC as the most poweful defender of a country they don’t like and mistakenly believe J Street thinks likes them. Considering that one can receive J Street action alerts and other materials simply by providing one’s e-mail address on J Street’s website, it’s hard to know whether that accusation is true or not.

But it’s not true of the staff and lay leadership. And Goldberg also stresses, in the second half of the sentence in question, that "most" of those in J Street, "in my limited experience with them, want to preserve both Israel’s democratic and Jewish character."

Recommended from JTA