Debating J Street and the Jewish vote at the Hudson Institute


In the mind of Gabriel Schoenfeld, a senior fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute and a former senior editor at Commentary, J Street is in bed with John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, the authors of "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy."

Schoenfeld noted that Walt had endorsed J Street a few weeks ago and said J Street “shares central elements of the Mearsheimer-Walt thesis." He compared Mearsheimer and Walt to famed World War II-era anti-Semite Charles Lindbergh, saying both Lindbergh and Walt & Mearsheimer spoke out about Jewish influence and control of the government at times when the world was "awash in genocidal anti-Semitism." (A text of that portion of Schoenfeld’s speech — which he e-mailed — is below, after the jump.)

For a Jewish organization to “make common cause with anti-Semitic voices in order to tear down others and establish its place,” Schoenfeld said, is “nothing less than shameful.” (Schoenfeld also noted that J Street has a link to a Walt article from Foreign Policy magazine on its Web site. J Street later said the link is among dozens of articles in a section of the Web site devoted to pieces that mention J Street and is not meant to be an endorsement of the article.)

The remarks came as part of the institute’s daylong seminar Thursday called “U.S.-Israeli Relations at a Crossroads?” at a panel titled “The Battle to Define the ‘Pro-Israel Camp:’ Will the Current Crisis Split the American Jewish Community?”

Jeremy Ben-Ami, the executive director of J Street — the new, self-described "pro-Israel, pro-peace" lobbying organization — was supposed to be on hand, but he was ill and had to cancel.

Instead, J Street issued a statement after the panel responding to Schoenfeld’s remarks.

“The only thing shameful here is an offensive and scurrilous attempt to turn blatant lies into stated facts,” J Street spokeswoman Amy Spitalnick said. “J Street will continue to engage in serious, respectful discussions with right-wing thinkers and leaders. It’s truly a shame that, in this case, some chose fear-mongering and name-calling over constructive debate.”

The rest of the panel was devoted to a more understated discussion of issues such as whether an organization like J Street could find a strong constituency among American Jews, and, more broadly, whether the Obama administration would lose Jewish support for publicly criticizing Israel.

Peter Beinart, a journalism professor at CUNY and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation (and the former editor of The New Republic), said that “pro-Israel organizations that equate no criticism of Israel with being pro-Israel” are in trouble because the “backbone” of those organizations — “relatively secular Jews with moderate or liberal politics” whose feelings about Israel trump other concerns — “are not replicating themselves in the younger generation.”

Jewish politics is becoming much more like Christian politics, Beinart said, with the most religiously Orthodox becoming more conservative and the more secular moving left.

“I think that is going to make it harder” to maintain a “Jewish consensus which holds the Jewish political center,” he said.

But he didn’t think that necessarily would translate into success for J Street, because many of those secular Jews aren’t involved in the organized community, Beinart said. There’s a large base that can support J Street, he said, but the question is: "Do they care enough?”

As for whether Obama would lose the support of Jews for getting tough on Israel, conservatives on the panel said they didn’t think so.

Jay Lefkowitz, a lawyer and former Bush administration official, analyzed Jewish voting patterns and noted that many Jews feel so passionately about social issues that they trump other concerns, even Israel. “Unless Obama comes out and adopts a pro-life position, he’s not likely to lose support” among Jews, Lefkowitz said.

He did say that based on recent polling data, he could see Obama losing Jewish support only with a “very dovish position with respect to Iran,” or if he decided to “keep the hammer” on Israel over settlements. He said, though, that the Obama administration likely realizes that while Jews are solidly Democratic, the Arab-American community is “genuinely a swing vote,” and thus he can adopt “harsher” policies toward Israel and win the vote of both communities.

A former Jewish liaision in the Bush administration, Tevi Troy, didn’t disagree. Troy, now a senior fellow at Hudson, chronicled the outreach that the Bush White House had made to the Jewish community, but noted that Obama still won close to 80 percent of the Jewish vote with “very little record” on Israel.

He said the Obama administration believes “they really don’t have to worry about the Jewish vote,” and “some of their actions reflect that,” such as the choice to nominate former U.N. Human Rights Council chairwoman Mary Robinson for the Presidential Medal of Freedom.


Here’s more from Schoenfeld’s speech:

I want to return to us, for a moment, to September 11. Not the  September 11, 2001 of New York City and Washington, but the September 11, 1941 of Des Moines, Iowa. It was there, on that date, that Charles Lindbergh, the American aviator-hero and a prominent figure in the America First movement, gave a speech in which he denounced the forces propelling the United States into war in Europe.

At a moment when the world was awash in genocidal anti-Semitism, Lindbergh singled out what he called “the British, the Jewish and the Roosevelt administration.”  Speaking of the “Jewish,” he said that “the greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government.”

Three months after Lindbergh’s speech, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and Lindbergh’s anti-Semitic ideas and the broader America First movement were utterly discredited and the organization itself dissolved.

But, of course, the virus Lindbergh carried did not entirely disappear. It has had several vectors over the post-war era, mostly on the far fringes, despite various and quite self-conscious attempts by figures like Congressman Paul Findley and pundit Patrick Buchanan to inject it into the mainstream.

What’s significant about our own era—the post-September 11, 2001 era—is that at a moment when the world is again awash with genocidal anti-Semitism, the virus has returned here. This time around, however, the contagion has penetrated the center of American intellectual life, the universities, and spread from there outward. I am speaking, of course, of the work of John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard.

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