AIPAC and J Street, the emotional disconnect


Haaretz’s Chemi Shalev has some astute observations from the J Street conference:

In many ways, in fact, the rounds of applause and the moments of silence at the gala dinner were as clear an indication as can be that J Street is the “Bizarro World” of AIPAC, or vice versa, if you prefer. Just like in the opposite Superman world invented by DC Comics, statements such as Olmert’s “Israel cannot live with a nuclear Iran” which would have had the crowd on their feet at AIPAC were met with cool reserve at J Street, while his proclamation that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas genuinely wants peace brought the audience to their feet. If someone spoke so glowingly of Abbas at AIPAC, you could probably hear a pin drop in the room in response.

Likewise, when Olmert spoke of the deep Jewish connection to Jerusalem, a staple crowd pleaser at AIPAC, the J Street audience yawned, but when he referred to the inevitability of the capital’s division, his listeners howled with approval. Realizing where the crowd’s sentiments lay, Olmert had to beg his audience not to applaud when he recounted his painful agreement during his talks with Abbas to relinquish Jewish sovereignty on the Temple Mount.

I’d note that this applause disconnect isn’t entirely due to the (very real) policy differences between the two groups. For instance, AIPAC and J Street both support Iran sanctions, and both would certainly agree that there is a deep Jewish connection to Jerusalem. But talking about the Iranian nuclear threat or the Jewish connection to Jerusalem evidently doesn’t put the fire in the bellies of J Streeters in the same way as it does for AIPACers.

This is, to a certain extent, reflected in the two groups’ position statements on Jerusalem. AIPAC’s issues page on Jerusalem hits the emotional notes. It states that Jerusalem “has served as the Jewish people’s spiritual and religious capital for 3,000 years.”

By contrast, J Street’s policy statement on Jerusalem offers (in some detail) its prescriptions for the city’s future under an eventual peace accord, but the language is clinical and devoid of emotion. It makes no mention of the Jewish historical connection to the city even as it devotes one of its four paragraphs to criticizing Israeli policies in eastern Jerusalem.


Even in affirming Jerusalem’s status as Israel’s capital, the J Street statement sounds more defensive than emphatic: “J Street does believe that Israel’s capital is in Jerusalem and will be internationally recognized as such in the context of an agreed two-state solution.” (Why the use of words like “does believe” with reference to the notion that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital?)


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