Jewish lobby J Street, severely upsetting the Zionist establishment, is having its first annual conference at the end of October in Washington DC. I’ll be attending and working on a number of projects there.
According to the Forward, “it is still struggling to prove its pro-Israel credentials” (whatever that means.) Too critical of Israeli government policies? Hardly a bad thing for anybody who believes in human rights.
This year has seen a dramatic shift in American Jews’ attitudes toward Israel. In January many liberal Jews were shocked by the Gaza war, in which Israel used overwhelming force against a mostly defenseless civilian population unable to flee. Then came the rise to power of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, whose explicitly anti-Arab platform was at odds with an American Jewish electorate that had just voted 4 to 1 for a minority president. Throw in angry Israelis writing about the “rot in the Diaspora,” and it’s little wonder young American Jews feel increasingly indifferent about a country that has been at the center of Jewish identity for four decades.
These stirrings on the American Jewish street will come to a head in late October in Washington with the first national conference of J Street, the reformation Israel lobby. J Street has been around less than two years, but it is summoning liberal–and some not so liberal–Jews from all over the country to “rock the status quo,” code for AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee).
Sure sounds like a velvet revolution in the Jewish community, huh? Not so fast. The changes in attitudes are taking place at the grassroots; by and large, Jewish leaders are standing fast. And as for policymakers, the opening has been slight. There seems little likelihood the conference will bring us any closer to that holy grail of the reformers: the ability of a US president, not to mention Congress, to put real pressure on Israel.