J Street Official Praises Aipac, Touts Group’s ‘Moderate’ Positions
I often defend J Street from my readers who accuse it of being “Aipac lite.” But I find it harder and harder to do this. And interviews like the one given by Jeremy Ben Ami to Haaretz make clear that there is less and less daylight between J Street and Aipac. The interview comes on the heels of a meeting between Ben Ami and Israeli ambassador Michael Oren in which J Street was brought in from the cold and welcomed to the Israel lobby tent. At least it would appear that way from these troubling statements from the interview:
Q: There were some claims that on some positions you were flip-flopping, some left-wingers said you weren’t persistently left on some cases. As if you were checking the boundaries trying to generate some consistent agenda.
A: “Well, our consistency is that we are nuanced, that we are finding a middle ground between those who run on the extreme on the left and right, and we do get criticized from both sides. Those who thought we are far-reaching left-wing are perhaps now disappointed, and those who are taking us as too conservative are figuring out what we really are. We represent what I call ‘passionate moderates.’ People who have a very mainstream, rational view. We do support Israel – we don’t want a one-state solution, we don’t want Israel to lose its Jewish character, and we also want it to compromise and survive and give the territory necessary to create a Palestinian state. These are nuanced positions and some people like some simple reflective answers that go to one side or another, but we’ve never provided those.”
Q: Apparently you are more open toward AIPAC than vice versa. Did you have any open conversations with them?
A: “I can’t speak for them. We express deep respect for AIPAC and what they’ve accomplished. It’s hard not to be impressed over what they have done over many decades to establish such a deep US-Israel relationship.
I’m sorry, but saying you are a political “moderate” in terms of Israeli politics is meaningless. Labor is “moderate.” Kadima is “moderate.” What do either represent? Not even Israelis know. Kadima and Labor MKs themselves couldn’t even articulate what their political philosophy is. This is a BANKRUPT approach. If you want to be “mainstream” you can’t be progressive. “Mainstream” means Israel lobby. Mainstream means the same old liberal pablum which is full of sound and fury and signifying nothing. Mainstream is supporting a two state solution but doing nothing decisive to bring it about. It means opposing the Occupation but allowing it to continue unabated.
And what’s the deal about fawning all over Aipac? Yuck.
Truthfully, I am becoming more and more uncomfortable with J Street’s walk to the middle. They joined together with one of the most reprehensible pro-Israel advocacy groups, Stand With Us, to oppose the Berkeley student divestment initiative. My local Seattle chapter promoted the Noa-Mira Award concert here despite Noa’s raving hatred against Hamas, her support for its violent overthrow and of the Gaza war. When I chided the move, Ben Ami stood behind the chapter and criticized me for being intolerant. They encouraged the U.S. government to veto the Goldstone Report if it ever came to the Security Council. They support Iran sanctions.
The funny thing about all this is that I attended the J Street national conference and I am virtually certain that the rank and file supports none of these positions. So what you have is a national organization whose politics are controlled by wealthy donors who are more conservative than the full membership. In fact, this is precisely the reason the Seattle chapter promoted the Noa-Mira Award concert, as a favor to an important donor and national leader. When you follow the voices of the wealthy and ignore your rank and file then you run the risk of losing contact with those who support you. That’s what is rapidly happening to J Street. It is becoming a prisoner of its own success. It has raised mountains of cash to support pro-peace Congressional candidates. That’s good. But not if those who give the cash dictate your political agenda.
I should be clear and say that there were a few heartening points Ben Ami made in the Haaretz as well. His Israel delegation will meet with Palestinian and Arab leaders unlike Aipac missions to Israel. He also acknowledges differences between his group and the Israeli government and Aipac. This is all well and good. But it’s simply not enough.
32 thoughts on “J Street Official Praises Aipac, Touts Group’s ‘Moderate’ Positions – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم”
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Richard, while I respect your feelings on this, your castigating leaves no room for the realities of working in the Jewish community. I would argue the reasons J Street has acheived such prominencce, compared to predecessors who failed to garner any sizable political clout, is a commitment to not burn bridges. In particular, picking fights with AIPAC on principle (versus on a specific issue) serves no advantageous purpose.
Secondly, the choir is already on board. Now the pro-peace movement needs the vast middle ground to get on board, which includes plenty of people who are not enamoured with groups like AIPAC but certainly aren’t haters either.
I don’t have any problem with “not picking fights with Aipac.” But I do have a problem with expressing lavish praise for them as Ben Ami has done. There was a time when J St. used nuances in these circumstances. I don’t remember ever seeing any previous statement fr. J St. mentioning Aipac which was so sycophantic. It really made me sick. Look, Aipac knows J St. is the enemy & acts accordingly. I’m not even saying J St. should act as meanly & vicously toward Aipac as the latter does toward J St. But maintaining one’s self respect as a progressive organization is important & Ben Ami hasn’t done himself or J St. proud in this interview.
Richard, I have never seen anything that makes me believe that J Street is or ever was a progressive organization.
“Now the pro-peace movement needs the vast middle ground to get on board, which includes plenty of people who are not enamoured with groups like AIPAC but certainly aren’t haters either.”
Now that’s a weird formulation. AIPAC on the one hand, “haters” on the other.
You might be right about the politics within the Jewish community. I’m in no position to say.
I was also at the national conference in October and I came to basically the same conclusions.
Where I differ from your analysis is that I don’t think J Street is making a sudden turn due to pressure from its contributors. I think that this was J Street’s strategy all along – justified by the kinds of arguments Kung Fu Jew uses. I don’t think J Street ever intended to be a particularly democratic organization and to be completely fair, I don’t fault them for that. I think that J Street’s strategy is an important piece of the puzzle.
Where I come back to your sentiment, however, is that J Street is starting to become exclusivist in its positions. I think that, like you, there were a lot of us thinking the exact same thing before and even after the national conference: “I don’t agree with everything J Street does and stands for, but there’s definitely room in this struggle for them. I’ll work with them when we agree and expect to sometimes disagree.” It was supposed to be very civil.
But that has changed as J Street has been attacking other strategies, most notably Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. J Street has not extended to Kung Fu Jew’s “choir” the same courtesy we offered them. The implication is that they would not be able to continue their strategy of engaging Congress (which they seem to do by trying to counterbalance AIPAC’s financial influence rather than mobilizing any sector of the public, even the mainstream) without denouncing the rest of us. J Street’s focus on legislators makes sense to me. But if those legislators are inaccessible to anyone who does not repudiate those of us in the “choir” then are the Palestinians really going to have to wait until J Street has coffers comparable to AIPAC’s before they see some external pressure on Israel?
I too would not fault them for it as long as they made a sincere effort to remain in touch w. the grassroots all the while tilting toward the moneyed class. But I see more & more J St’s positions divorced fr. the grassroots. The Berkeley situation was classic really. Just look at APN’s nuanced position on the Berkeley resolution & you’ll see what I mean.
What can I say? Thank you for telling it like it is with regards to J Street. I stopped believing in them when they opposed the Goldstone Report and again I was very upset with their position on the Berkeley student divestment initiative, but they just keep on disappointing.
I especially liked the whole paragraph starting with:
“I’m sorry, but saying you are a political “moderate” in terms of Israeli politics is meaningless. …”
It’s all true and very well put. I mean I’m so tired of hoping for change and ending up frustrated with the lack of conviction shown by “moderate” politicians, and in my opinion, “moderate” lobbyists make very bad activists. They’re just so wishy-washy and untrustworthy.
The situation has become critical and unwavering conviction is of the essence. There was an opportune momentum created by the horror of Gaza that must be seized on before this door closes for good. Also Obama might be the only President ready to give his blessing to a tougher stance on Israel.
J Street in my opinion is SQUANDERING this momentum. This is no time to dilly-dally making nice with Aipac. The opportunity we have at this time may never come again and we must raise our voices and keep growing this movement for change and justice in Israel before it’s too late.
Do any of you live and work in the Jewish community? I’m not asking to play politics of exclusion, but there is a community dynamic that is obvious to me because I (for better and worse) spend almost all of my time in Jewish communities for spiritual life, work, social and volunteer.
To those who don’t suffer the constraints of maintaining internal credibility while challenging sacred cows, this work can appear compromising. But the road to peace is littered with “radicals” who thought the cold, hard truth would prevail. It never does. The Jewish community requires reeducation — slow, steady, consistent reeducation. Alas, that work is not as sexy for blogging as the occasional tacking and politicking sensationalized in this post. This “moderatism” is downright radical and may finally be the way the Jewish community will swallow the peace pill. Everyone else to date has failed to represent a truly broad American Jewish pro-peace movement. A sliver shouting from the margins does not a majority make.
Finally, Richard is forcing headlines here. This interview is a product of a journalist seeking controversy, it is not a J Street policy paper. It was one statement out of a whole interview. Which is fine, it raises an important discussion. But otherwise I am nonplussed.
I don’t think I “sensationalized” anything. And yes, I have worked in the Jewish community almost my entire working life (though I don’t at present). I am active in the local Jewish community as well. So pls. don’t write me off as an irrelevant lefty radical. I fully understand the limitations of the Jewish community. I understand fully the strategy that J St. thinks it is adopting. But I’m saying that they’re doing a bad job even of that. The problem is not w. the “community” as you say. The problem is with the fat-cat big-shot donors & leaders of the Lobby. They’re the ones holding everything back. The majority of American Jews hold views that are liberal or progressive enough to allow plenty of room for support for a progressive agenda. But it is the powerful small minority who hold power who clamp down on dissent & hold progress back.
Besides, the situation is far too grim to allow us the time to do the slow process of education you call for. Educate, by all means. But the times require bold decisive action. If APN can get this right or close to right, then J St. has no reason to do worse, and it has.
I know your history with the Jewish community, Richard, but I don’t think the others commenting on this thread understand how to be effective. Issuing brash statements isn’t grassroots change. And I disagree that we have any choice but the slow and steady — no other way is effective. No. other. way.
And all my love to my friends at APN, but they are ignored by the forces that attack J Street. APN is not regarded as a political threat.
Also, since I am priviledged through my day job and my leadership in J Street to know many of those “fat-cat big-shot donors & leaders of the Lobby,” I know they reflect the same views as my grassroots team. Neither is the grassroots as monolithic as you would want to believe. I think you’re great, Richard, but you have little capacity to diagnose perceived internal struggles.
@Kung Fu Jew 18: then please expand on the “fat-cat big-shot donors & leaders of the Lobby”: how are they influencing J-Street? What are the contacts from AIPAC to big J-Street-sponsors? What is AIPAC’s strategy towards J-Street? Why was J-Street not addressed from the stage at the recent AIPAC-conference? (Were there other channels? On the Berkeley topic, it was: “we take them over”).
I’m not in the Jewish community, since I’m not Jewish, and I would like to hear more about how you see the situation from your vantage point. (It’d probably be better if you just gave us your observations and opinions without turning it into a criticism of Richard.)
I doubt you do given what you later wrote in this comment.
There certainly is another way. Peace can be imposed by the type of pre-arranged settlement which Obama has threatened & which Abbas just publicy begged for. If the U.S. prepares such a settlement & gets to buy in of the Arab world & our western allies, then Israel & Disapora Jews will be compelled to acquiesce. That won’t require any re-education & eons of glacial political movement, which is what you present as necessary to bring about change.
If you think the members of the J St. board represent the grassroots then you don’t know what the grassroots members of J St. believe. You think they want Goldstone vetoed in the UN? You think they want Iran sanctions? You think they want to call divestment “anti Israel?” If you do, then you simply don’t know what you’re talking about. In fact, I’d dare you to have J St. commission Jim Gerstein to poll J St. members and ask them these questions.
That’s incredibly condescending & offensive. I know precisely what struggles go on internally.
Richard, we had a great coffee chat in Seattle a while back and I learned about your work history in the Jewish community. However I don’t think some commentors here have a clue about what it takes to educate and mobilize American Jews.
I think you’re getting confused. J Street was founded to move the American Jewish community, which cannot be done quickly. Public opinion in the Jewish community is moderate and support for an imposed settlement is tentative at best. If you want to pursue policies like that, including BDS, then do it without the majority of American Jews. Hell, most don’t even understand the issues, much less are prepared to go against the grain. J Street can become fringe like JVP or it can grow the 150K+ members and $600K+ contributions. I chose the latter.
Also, I want to remind you that I am the leader of J Street NYC, directing a team of 100 grassroots activists. I participate in national policy discussions on conference calls and listservs. I also sit on the National Grassroots Advisory Board, mentoring other leaders around the country. I am priviledged to participate in messaging trainings alongside PAC and Finance Committee “big wigs.” I know them socially and work alongside them in our local work. It is not rude or condescending to say that I am indeed qualified to judge your statements as speculative.
The composition of both sides of my NYC team are diverse — broad and deep. Were Gerstein to conduct a internal poll, there would be no convenient dividing line.
I don’t dissuage you from criticizing anyone and everyone. God bless you for it. In this instance I respectfully think you’re wrong because I have more information than you.
As for using last year’s conference goers as evidence of J Street’s base, then you can read my post-conference thoughts on that here: “Are you here for community, or to build an effective lobby?”
“we also want it to…give the territory necessary to create a Palestinian state.”
And there you have it. Ben Ami’s position is not that Israel should return illegally confiscated and colonized territory, but should, I guess out of the goodness of its little heart, and in the interest of peace, GIVE the Palestinians what is rightfully theirs.
I was not impressed with J Street in the beginning, and with every exposure I am less and less impressed.
Shirin is probably closest to the truth than any of you. J Street reminds me of Obama. From the beginning of each of their campaigns I spotted them as phonies, each promising a liberal, peace making approach to the affairs at hand. They offered hope and change from the conservative past, then turned around and stabbed their constituents in the back.
A curse on both their houses!
It is only fair to try to influence Israeli policy—especially as American Jews—commensurate with Israel’s efforts to influence the policies of my government. It’s simple. Sometimes I feel that the deployment of “it’s so complicated” is a red herring. As for J Street, I applaud the effort, however weak or misdirected at times, to challenge ideological hegemony on how we discuss and even think about the conflict and our role in mediating it. Israel is a dynamic country and I am sure things will eventually get “better,” although we cannot predict what better will mean, or how we get there, and who makes what move.
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aipac:jewry official. jstreet: jewry “different”.
this is jewry’s short spectrum. both ends and inbetween lead to the same goal. yes, there are outliers. but they are still part of the program. play another role.
let us give praise to some righteous jews: noam, tikun olam, magnanimous zionist, avnery, j st to name only a few. as with noble prizes jews do lead in righteousness.
we the RJ love to chatter. especially about how to protect and to preserve what we have taken and will take. especially while sitting at sidewalk cafes (telaviv to jerus to dc) enjoying arabic coffee, arabic foods, arabic music while not being disturbed by the sight, sounds, nearness of any sort of arab. let them be way over there, somewhere. we are here. of course by necessity our here keeps moving.
but. never we two shall need meet.
this is why we build walls. all kinds of walls. we are known to many as the people of walls. our favorite wall is the wall of deceit.
we, the RJ, also support the 2 state prefinal solution.
there will be our beloved.
the palestinians will have, compliments of jewry, there country: a concentration-extermination prison connected by american gaseous vapors to a number of prison cells.
we are a generous and righteous and noble people. we will provide guards and security and food and water and medicine(when needed).
this is just the prifinal.
there is the final solution yet to be sprung.
You sound more like 5 dancing shlemiels to me, and not worthy of a reply. If I did, Richard would surely cut me off.
RE: “5 dancing shlemiels” – Gene Schulman
MY COMMENT: That sounds absolutely Vaudevillian! I can imagine a “laugh riot” of a feature film titled The 5 Dancing Schlemiels Meet The Three Stooges. Or has Mel Brooks already done that one?
RE: “Or has Mel Brooks already done that one?”
FROM WIKIPEDIA: …On April 16, 2010, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced that it was suing Goldman Sachs…The SEC alleged that Goldman materially misstated and omitted facts in disclosure documents for a synthetic CDO product it originated called Abacus 2007-AC1. Goldman was paid a fee of approximately US$15 million for its work in the deal. The allegation is that Goldman misrepresented to investors that an objective third party, ACA, had reviewed the mortgage package underlying the credit default obligations, and that Goldman failed to disclose to ACA that a hedge fund, Paulson & Co., that sought to short the package, had helped select underlying mortgages for the package against which it planned to bet….
ALSO FROM WIKIPEDIA: The Producers is a 1968 American comedy film written and directed by Mel Brooks, which tells the story of a theatrical producer and an accountant who attempt to cheat their investors by deliberately producing a flop show on Broadway….Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) is a failed, aging Broadway producer who ekes out a living romancing rich old women in exchange for money for his “next play.” Nebbishy accountant Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) arrives at Bialystock’s office to do his books and discovers a two thousand dollar error in the accounts of Bialystock’s last play. Bialystock cons Bloom into hiding the fraud, and while shuffling numbers, Bloom has a revelation which Bialystock immediately puts into action: a scheme to massively oversell shares, in a Broadway production, then purposely make a horrific flop, so that no one will ever audit its books, thus avoiding a payout and leaving the duo free to flee to Rio de Janeiro with the profits…
…The Producers was the first film directed by Mel Brooks, who won an Academy Award for his screenplay…On April 23, 2010 Brooks was awarded the 2406th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame…
The Producers (1968) trailer – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tCNjOBzg8tc
In this case, I found the comment so odious I wouldn’t have cut you off at all. Have at him if you like.
You’re hangin’ on here by the thinnest of threads. The next comment that even hints at the odiousness & falsity of this comment will tip you over the edge & you’ll be gone. And I thank other commenters who have put this comment in its place.
Yr future comments will be moderated to prevent bile like this fr. polluting this blog.
RE: “And what’s the deal about fawning all over Aipac?” – R.S.
MY ASSUMPTION: T-r-i-a-n-g-u-l-a-t-i-o-n, but without the toe sucking. Ben Ami is walking a tightrope.
I just wanted to offer my 2 cents here. Similar to Richard and other posters above, I’ve been a sort of friendly or at least neutral observer of J Street. I knew I was going to disagree with some of their positions, but I have a lot of respect for some of the people I know who are involved in J Street, even when I disagree with them. I was very unhappy with their response to the Goldstone report, but I was outraged by their response to the Berkeley bill. Of course I didn’t expect them to support it, but to call it “anti-Israel” and then cosign that awful letter. It was too much. As I have tried pointing out on the J Street facebook page, among the public endorsers of the “anti-Israel” bill were three members of J Street’s own “rabbinic cabinet” (Brian Walt, Brant Rosen, Lynn Gottlieb). How absurd is that?
It is really getting tiring to read Ben-Ami congratulating himself on his “nuanced” position, and complaining about Dershowitz’s mud-slinging. Please.
More substantially, J Street’s positions are simply awful. I think it’s fair to summarize them as:
1. there can be no cutting off of military weapons used to carry out collective punishments on civilians and civilian infrastructure.
2. there can be no use of international law to stop such collective punishment.
3. international law and world opinion is all irrelevant. What matters is what Israel feels comfortable with.
4. The victims of Israeli violence (and US weapons) are of no concern whatsoever. In his listing of reasons for a peace agreement in recent letter, Ben-Ami writes that
“many in the Jewish community recognize that resolving the conflict is not only necessary to secure Israel’s future, but also critical to regional stability and American strategic interests.” Is this language of a “pro-peace” group?
i reread my comment. all true. ask noam and avnery.
apparently gene and richard do not read what jews say and see what jews do.
I warned you not to reoffend. Reaffirming the content of a noxious comment constitutes reoffending. I should’ve banned you last night but wanted to give you another chance. You’re done.
Oh, I read just about everything Jews say and what Jews do: Avnery, Noam, Segev, Sand, Meyer, Finkelstein, Rodenson, Alam (not Jewish), Elon, and many others over many years. Too many to name here. I even read Wistrich and Dershowitz and Wiesel, who are betrayers of the Jewish community. You might profit from studying the same. Perhaps then you wouldn’t be such an asshole!
(Sorry about that, Richard.)
PS – You might profit also from reading Spinoza:
“The supreme mystery of despotism, its prop and stay, is to keep men in a state of deception, and with the specious title of religion to cloak the fear by which they must be held in check, so that they will fight for their servitude as if for salvation.”
Quite all right. Some people deserve the appelation!