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Jeremy Ben Ami: ‘What Does the Left Want from J Street?’

Jeremy Ben Ami did an interview with the Jerusalem Post in which he had the equivalent of Sigmund Freud’s “what does woman want” moment. The reporter also managed to use me as a foil for the whole rather sordid exercise:

Some of the group’s former supporters on the far-left of the American Jewish spectrum are growing disenchanted by the organization’s positions.

“I often defend J Street from my readers who accuse it of being ‘AIPAC lite,’” blogger Richard Silverstein wrote this week. However, in the wake of an interview in which Ben-Ami praised AIPAC’s role in strengthening the US-Israel relationship, “I find it harder and harder to do this.”

Such statements from J Street “make clear that there is less and less daylight between J Street and AIPAC,” Silverstein concluded.

Ben-Ami was unmoved.

“I don’t know what they thought we were and what it is that they want,” he said of the disappointed activists…

It should go without saying that I am not a “former supporter” of J Street nor am I on the “far left” except in the mind of a reporter for a far-right Israeli newspaper.  All this the journalist would’ve learned had he bothered to do his job and ask me what my views were on the subject. This now makes three times at least the Post has written articles in whole or part about my political views and never once has anyone bothered to confirm their characterization before publishing it.

I consider myself agnostic about J Street. When it does the right thing I will support and praise it. When it does the wrong thing I will criticize it. And I’ve done both (though more of the latter lately).

It does seem to me though that when the Jerusalem Post praises your organization for joining the pro-Israel consensus within the American Jewish community, that there’s something wrong. While for Ben-Ami, this is a development that appears to be most welcome.

I asked Ben-Ami to clarify his remarks in this interview especially as they pertain to me. Apparently, he’s done so many interviews during his current visit there he can’t remember what he said on the subject and whether he was specifically criticizing my own views about J Street. An altogether unsatisfactory answer.

So let’s address Ben-Ami’s closing sentence in the passage above: what did Jewish progressives think J Street was?  We thought it would provide a real alternative to Aipac.  We thought it would work in favor of a comprehensive settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and push the Obama administration in the right direction when it backed down or lost faith in its own resolve.  We thought J Street would have the strength of its convictions and refuse to cave to the prejudices of the Israel lobby in such matters as Iran, the Gaza war, and BDS.  But most of all we didn’t want J Street to be a liberal version of Aipac or Aipac lite as some of my readers disparagingly refer to it.

Just as Freud has driven feminists to distraction with the cluelessness of his “what does Woman want” statement, so has Ben-Ami proven J Street is drifting farther and farther from progressive discourse with his “I don’t know what they thought we were” statement.  At the present rate, it is beginning to drift perilously close to irrelevance to progressive discourse.

Thank God we still have Americans for Peace Now and Jewish Voice for Peace, who are much truer to what I believe a progressive Jewish perspective should be on the conflict.

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{ 14 comments… add one }

  • bar_kochba132 May 2, 2010, 7:35 AM

    Here are excerpts of an interview Jeremy Ben-Ami had with journalist Shmuel Rosner. You aren’t going to like it:

    http://cgis.jpost.com/Blogs/rosner/entry/j_street_s_ben_ami

    • Richard Silverstein May 2, 2010, 5:21 PM

      First, I don’t know whether or not Rosner interviewed Ben Ami. But one thing I’ve come to learn about Rosner is never to trust his own characterizations of what anyone else says, esp. someone w. whom he disagrees. Of course, I am highly critical of Ben Ami as you know. But since there are no quotation marks around any of Jeremy’s supposed views as described by Rosner, I’m not willing to trust Rosner’s characterization as being accurate.

  • uncle joe mccarthy May 2, 2010, 11:27 AM

    richard,

    could you please explain what you understand to be “jewish progressive”?

    btw, i agree, you are not “far left”

    one who is far left could not support groups like hezbollah or hamas, who do not believe in equal rights for women, gays or those from other religions.

    • Richard Silverstein May 2, 2010, 5:23 PM

      More attempts at snark coming across as juvenalia. Here’s yr last warning. If you want to post discussion or disagreement or argument you are welcome. But if you are here to score pts or grandstand you’ll be gone. With your next comment. If you don’t believe me, just try me.

    • Kalea May 2, 2010, 9:22 PM

      What’s obvious is that YOU are not a Jewish Progressive.

      Your posts are always condescending. We might disagree with Hamas and Hizbollah’s ideology, but they are the democratically-elected parties of millions of people and you can’t just wish that fact away or drop a few bombs on those people to make them disappear or punish people collectively for the government they choose to elect!!

      Trying to make the best of a bad situation is something mature and realistic people do every day to survive in an imperfect world!

      • Richard Silverstein May 2, 2010, 10:53 PM

        With a name like “Uncle Joe McCarthy” I don’t think anyone would mistake him for a “Jewish progressive.”

        • uncle joe mccarthy May 3, 2010, 11:57 AM

          i guess you dont have a sense of humor

          life long dem…support all real liberal causes

          against the iraq war (both of them)

          marched as a kid against nam

  • orgo May 2, 2010, 2:08 PM
  • Ira Glunts May 2, 2010, 5:04 PM

    Richard I give you six months of cutting JStreet slack, before you drop them completely.

    You may not be “far left” but I think you have it in you.

    Best,

    Ira

  • bar_kochba132 May 2, 2010, 6:49 PM

    Have you tried to recruit people in your synagogue and the larger Seattle community to join and support J-Street? If so, what has been the response of progressives?

    • Richard Silverstein May 2, 2010, 7:29 PM

      I have participated in numerous J. St. fundraising & political events since it began. But why would I want to recruit people to join given what I’ve written about it in this post? Did you not read what I wrote?

  • Kalea May 2, 2010, 8:57 PM

    When it comes to Israel’s injustice towards Palestinians, I don’t like to think in terms of far-left, left, center or right, when clearly, it’s just WRONG! While I like to think the Progressive side as being more humane, there are Dems and Libs as you know who are unfortunately totally on the wrong side of this issue. To define this struggle as a Progressive struggle is to invite radicals to paint those struggling for justice into a “far-left” corner just to dismiss the cause itself.

    This struggle is a question of morality and heeding one’s conscience regardless of one’s political ideology. JPost’s reporter used an Aipac-like tactic painting you as “far-left to manipulate Ben Ami into disassociating himself from your views while encouraging J Street’s shallow, shifting centrist position and Ben Ami proved to be a willing victim. Instead of disregarding the label the reporter craftily imposed on you and defending the moral high-ground you represent, he took the coward’s way out.

    J Street needs to decide whether it stands for justice and humanity or some vague agenda governed by self-serving political interests.

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