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.