J Street, the "pro-peace, pro-Israel" lobby, has come a long way since its inception just about 18 months ago, and not just because its conference later this month is drawing the endorsement of 160 Congress members (about half the number that attend AIPAC’s annual gala.)
Its PAC scored among the top three in fund-raising, it has establishment Jewish congressional luminaries such as U.S. Reps. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) on its "call me" list, and its made nice with Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the leader of the Reform movement who had scored the lobby for its Gaza war equivocation, to the extent that Yoffie is keynoting the conference.
Plus, tomorrow, founders Jeremy Ben Ami and Daniel Levy will hobnob with a pantheon of neoconservatives at the Hudson Instiute at a day-long event on U.S.- Israel relations. If J Street is a good enough interlocutor for the likes of Elliot Abrams and Marty Peretz, it’s kind of arrived, one would think.
So is the alternative the mainstream now? Not judging by the salvos its still getting from some pro-Israel groups and luminaries:
*Lenny Ben David,
who remains close to AIPAC after years of representing the lobby in various capacities a past AIPAC senior staffer and a former Israeli diplomat, has made exposing what he says are J Street’s ties to Israel’s enemies something of a crusade mission.*
*Stand With Us, the group established to make Jewish students more comfortable with being pro-Israel on campus, has launched a campaign seemingly aimed at making J Street’s new campus operation a little less comfortable.
*Isi Leibler, who led Australian Jewry for what seemed an eternity and who helped bring about rcent changes in the World Jewish Congress, likens J Street to Jewish Stalinists in his Jerusalem Post column.
Who wins this fight? We’ll be tracking this in weeks to come.
*UPDATE: Lenny wrote to tell me that he’s no longer close to AIPAC, and has not been since 1997. He also suggests that "crusade" is a pejorative, which I did not intend it to be, but he has a point. My larger point is that he is using his prodigious research skills to try to poke holes into an impression that is now taking hold that J Street represents one (not the only one) pro-Israel, Jewish establishment point of view. I find this interesting, and will be looking deeper into it.