Last Friday, a J Street press officer told Buzzfeed that it had not developed a position concerning Pres. Obama’s request for Congressional authorization of military intervention in Syria. I awaited J Street’s decision with interest and felt it would indicate whether the group is truly Obama’s Jewish poodle or an independent peace group.
On Sunday, Jeremy Ben Ami followed up with Buzzfeed saying the group would take no position on the matter. Today, Talia Benamy, co-chair of the New York City J Street chapter expanded on this:
…We haven’t taken any further position on what the U.S. should do about Syria. It’s simply not closely enough related to our main mission, which is supporting a two-state solution. We feel that Syria falls too far outside of our purview for us to contribute to the discussion more than we already have.
I’m guessing that this is what J Street’s leadership is telling its rank and file by way of explaining why it’s not taking a position. But the statement and thinking it represents is disingenuous. How so? Let me count the ways: first, J Street takes positions on Iran sanctions and all manner of issues related to Israeli policy (but not directly related to the two-state issue). Arguably, Syria is even more directly connected to Israel than Iran, since the former is a frontline state with which Israel has a major territorial dispute affecting the resolution of the conflict between Israel and these Arab states. Second, Syria has been a major supporter of Hamas. As such, what happens in Syria has a direct bearing on Israel’s relationship with Hamas and the Palestinians. Third, the question of Syrian military intervention will have direct bearing on the conflict with Iran and impact a possible attack on it (an issue on which J Street HAS taken a position).
This is simply a major moral failing on J Street’s part. It is one of the most critical issues facing both the U.S. and Israel. The president and Israel’s government have strongly advocated intervention. For J Street to punt is inexcusable.
But it does mark the first major break J Street has had with Barack Obama. That indicates that Jeremy Ben-Ami recognizes that endorsing the president on this issue, which would be the natural political choice, would sow deep discord among its rank and file: liberal Democrats who generally strongly oppose intervention. In short, J Street is an organization divided against itself. Pressure from its powerful political patrons to support Obama. Pressure from within to oppose intervention. The result: paralysis.
But J Street isn’t the only peace group waffling on this issue. Americans for Peace Now, usually one of the most liberal of national Jewish groups, is sitting this one out as well. Its most recent statement (August 30th), published before Obama decided to seek Congressional approval for intervention, similarly waffles on the question. But at least APN hasn’t made up a disingenuous reason for doing so.