The first time I heard Alan Dershowitz lecture Hadar Susskind at the Aipac conference telling him that J Street should join Aipac, I thought it was typical grandstanding by the right-wing pro-Israel huckster (I still think that). But the longer I think about what he said and J Street’s pronounced move from the left to the political center, the more sense he makes.
I can also remember how J Street, when it began, ran like the plague from any notion, at least publicly, of criticizing Aipac or setting itself up as an alternative to Aipac. To most of us on the left, it was clear that if J Street was ever to represent anything it would have to take on Aipac and beat it at its own game. It turns out though, that we should have read the tea leaves and understood that the J Street leadership’s allergy to criticizing Aipac was not a tactic, but a strategy genuinely expressed.
Now, Shmuel Rosner, aping Dersh, wonders if J Street feels so cozy with the Israel government why doesn’t it join Aipac. He wrote this on the subject:
An Israeli familiar with the content of J Street’s meetings in Israel this week had said that “they sounded not much different from the visitors we have in AIPAC delegations”…It raises an old question: Why can’t they just join AIPAC instead of competing with them?…But there’s another way of looking at it: Maybe as a separate organization with more credibility on the left J Street can help Israel more by way of helping curb the wacky initiatives of the far left (like divestment in Berkeley).
I’d never quite thought of the fact that J Street either intentionally or unintentionally may serve to co-opt the political energy of the American Jewish peace movement. Progressives funnel their energy into the organization which transmutes it in turn into faintly liberal pro-Israel substance that bears only a slight resemblance to the actual political values of many of those progressives. In this way, J Street contributes to the dumbing down of progressive Jewish politics.
Before I note some more of Rosner’s portrayals of Ben-Ami’s statements, I should add that Rosner is a terrible journalist, totally incapable of allowing his own right-wing prejudices from distorting everything he reports. So it’s possible that the characterizations below of Ben-Ami’s opinion, none of which are actual quotations of anything Ben-Ami says, may be less than accurate. Not to mention that it is in Rosner’s political interest to paint J Street as deviating from its original progressive political agenda and drifting farther right. But given what I’ve read of Ben-Ami’s views elsewhere, and the lack of complaint by Ben Ami about misconstruing his views, we’ll take them as more or less accurate:
He seems quite happy about the bettering of relations with Israeli officialdom. My interpretation: He’d like this to continue, and is willing to pay a price for it.
Not once in the conversation – not once! – was there a word of criticism regarding Israeli policies. The only word of criticism I heard from Ben Ami this week was directed at the Palestinian leadership and its reluctance to go back to negotiations.
Is Netanyahu serious about negotiations? Ben Ami says he was convinced that Netanyahu is serious…
this is significant: Ben Ami doesn’t criticize Netanyahu and says he is serious about negotiations. Some J Street enthusiasts back home aren’t going to be happy – and Ben Ami knows this, and doesn’t seem to care much.
Ben Ami emphasized that J Street will not support boycott or divestment. Such position will also drive the more radical elements of the Jewish-sphere away from the organization.
In a related story, J Street’s national spokesperson scolded a local Brandeis chapter leader who criticized neocon University President Yehudah Reinharz’s choice of Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren as commencement speaker. She said her organization “welcomed” Oren as commencement speaker.
There was a time when I might chalk all this up to the organizational leadership allowing itself to get boxed in or outmaneuvered on issues. But the logic of having a sulha with Michael Oren, and breaking bread with Shimon Peres, and expressing a willingness to meet with settler leaders seems to be a deliberate move to the center. And this move to the center precisely mirrors the Labor party’s gradual movement away from its founding principles under the tutelage of none other than Shimon Peres (till he was moved by Sharon’s blandishments and abandoned Labor for Kadima) and now Ehud Barak.
Many of us over many years held out hope for the Israeli liberal Zionist parties that they could represent a distinct political voice for peace and justice. That same romance some of us may have had with J Street before it began and up until its national conference seems to be cooling rapidly.