The American Jewish left is amidst a huge transition and I didn’t even realize it until I read Nathan Guttman’s article in The Forward. When J Street first began two years ago, there were talks of all the Jewish peace groups merging with it. But everyone seemed concerned about turf and that didn’t happen. But now that J Street has emerged as a triple-threat type progressive group, it has sucked a good deal of the oxygen out of the world of the Jewish left. Face it, J Street gathers most of the headlines, funding and opprobrium of the pro-Israel right. They wouldn’t waste their energy on a group that was a nothing. You don’t see Marty Peretz, Jonathan Tobin and their minions poring over public statements by Israel Policy Forum or Americans for Peace Now and waving them like Joe McCarthy to show the world all the Communists he’d found.
Brit Tzedek, a group which in my opinion has left a good deal of its potential unrealized, has seen the light and is in advanced merger talks with J Street. Guttman’s story though, describes a convoluted structure of a proposed deal. Though I used the term “merger,” Brit Tzedek won’t exactly be merging with J Street. There will be no formal combination. But J Street will absorb Brit Tzedek’s lobbying organization and those members who wish to transfer to the former group. The old Brit Tzedek might remain in some form (or not). That’s the part that makes no sense to me.
I suppose there may be some leaders of BT opposed to the deal who refuse to move over to J Street. This format allows the majority of BT to switch and also allows the diehards to carry on a rump version of BT is they wish to do so.
Guttman describes IPF as being almost on life-support. I don’t know if this is true as the mainstream Jewish press seems to love to report the demise of groups it views as outside the “communal consensus.” One development that shocked me was that M.J. Rosenberg, a senior IPF staff member since the group’s launch has left. He will be moving to Media Matters as senior foreign policy analyst. It is a progressive media watchdog group where Eric Alterman also blogs.
M.J. made one good point in his blog post announcing his plans:
My move is part of a general trend toward making Middle East policy not a boutique issue, but a mainstay of liberal politics and journalism. I have long believed that it is impossible to be a liberal (or progressive) and yet support Middle East policies that perpetuate the deadly status quo. With Media Matters joining this fight, we can help progressives of all stripes understand that supporting occupation and settlements (or wars with various regional players) is antithetical to a progressive world view and, most important, is bad for America.
For far too long, the Israeli-Arab conflict has remained the territory of niche specialists, mostly Jewish or Arab, for whom it was a deep personal mission. But the rest of the liberal-progressive community wanted nothing more than to stay out of the perceived quagmire. Daily Kos and Markos’ deep aversion to this subject is a prime case in point. I’m not sure M.J. is entirely right in that his move marks a sea change in attitudes among the progressive camp toward the region. But I will say in the traditional Jewish wish: “From his mouth to God’s ears.”
I should make it clear that J Street, while it has done much right since its launch, is not perfect. But one example is its upcoming conference which is being co-sponsored by seemingly every progressive American Jewish group with an interest in the Israeli-Arab conflict. There is one catch: if you’re not a two state group you’re not invited. That leaves out Jewish Voice for Peace which, in my opinion, is in its particular community almost as effective and enterprising as J Street–and with a lot less money and staff.
I understand the reason J Street feels it must place JVP outside the tent. There are lots of Jewish rightist warriors who are gunning for it. If they invited JVP, then they’d be spending time explaining their decision. And they’d rather be advocating for Obama Mideast policy than explaining why they invited JVP to their conference.
But I have a real problem with the impoverishment of the Jewish left that comes from this sort of exclusion. I believe in making the tent as big as possible not using artificial criteria to decide who is kosher and who is treif. While I could understand excluding an anti-Zionist Jewish group, JVP is not anti-Zionist.
I also felt J Street’s public statement about Neve Gordon’s BDS article in the L.A. Times and Guardian was weak and attenuated. There is a better way to tell the world you support academic freedom and free speech while not necessarily supporting a boycott, than the way J Street did. So you’ll hear me criticize J Street in as constructive a way as I can.