If you remember back a year or two when people first started talking about a new Jewish peace lobby (and I started writing about it way back when), there was lots of skepticism even among the Jewish left that such a thing could work. Where would the money come from? George Soros was included in the discussions until he dropped out. Did it have enough ‘juice’ to work? It goes without saying that the Israel lobby groups were even more skeptical and outright hostile to the notion that they might face competition.
When J Street debuted, liberal Jews were hopeful, though there have been so many groups before which lasted a few years and faded into oblivion. And again the Jewish right was dismissive. The Jewish press withheld judgment but its coverage was slightly condescending and dubious.
Now, the November election the results are in and J Street surprised even its strongest supporters by raising more money than any of us conceived possible, supporting more candidates than any ever imagined, and earning more electoral victories as well. This is a home run any way you look at it–except if you’re Morris Amitay or Howard Kohr:
In its first real-life test, the new dovish lobby J Street, which was greeted skeptically when it burst onto the crowded national lobbying scene last spring, proved on Election Day that it could raise significant funds and bring success to many of the congressional candidates it endorsed.
J Street, through its political action committee, JStreetPAC, endorsed 41 candidates, 32 of whom were elected to Congress, with one race too close to call and one going to a run-off. The group distributed $570,000 in its first election cycle, a sum it claims is the highest among all PACs that give money to candidates based on their position on Israel.
In perhaps the most important race, J Street, supporting Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley’s U.S. Senate bid, went head to head with Amitay’s group which supported incumbent Republican Gordon Smith. Merkley won an incredibly tight race by a few thousand votes, which made for a sad time in Amitay-ville on the night of November 4th.
The elder Jewish lobbyist, not to be upstaged by mere upstarts, was typically sour and dismissive in response, as paraphrased by the talking point arguments and provocative interview questions in this Haaretz story:
Lobbyists on the right imply that the new group is a passing trend that merely hitched a ride on the “year of the Democrats.” It has been accused of splitting the “Jewish vote,” thereby damaging the message of unity and the effectiveness of pro-Israel lobbying.
…J Street is called “leftist…”
…Talking to Israel’s worst enemies…
Do you agree that an effort to “split” the Jewish influence might actually harm Israel?
All I can say is the proof is in the pudding. And J Street has more than proven itself. As far as splitting the pro-Israel lobbying world–that argument is ludicrous. If Amitay and Aipac were truly interested in a bi-partisan approach to both Israel and U.S. politics they would be at greater pains to include pro-peace/anti-Occupation Jews in their efforts. Since they’ve done their best to shut such Jews out of their midst and even stigmatize them, it became necessary for such people to make their own way independently. And they’ve done a splendid job of it.