The dust is settling after the J Street conference. Many thoughts continue to resonate and the challenges ahead. A good summary of proceedings is from blogger Richard Silverstein, who I was finally able to meet in Washington DC.
Where are the spaces for Jewish dissent? How willing is the Jewish mainstream to hear critical voices of Israeli criminality?
Here’s an interesting piece in the US News:
The most interesting bit I picked up about J Street in reporting on its inaugural conference this week: The liberal Jewish group is not seeking to influence President Obama’s Middle East policy. Rather, it wants to give him the political cover to pursue strategies in the region that he has already articulated, including restarting Israeli/Palestinian peace talks, insisting that Israel freeze settlements, and negotiating with Iran.
“Our primary mission is to open up political space,” Jeremy Ben-Ami, J Street’s executive director, told me yesterday. “There has not been a political base of support for these positions, and our mission is to open space for policymakers to pursue what they know is right for America.”
Jewish political cover as more-hawkish Jewish groups voice skepticism or outright opposition to the president’s approach to Israel. Ben-Ami and his supporters want to counter the impression that all American Jews endorse everything Israel does.
Remind you of anyone?
Sounds similar to what groups like Faith in Public Life are trying to do, countering the impression that all Christians, particularly evangelicals, are right-wingers who are only about culture war issues. A big part of what they do is give Obama and the Democrats Christian political cover on issues like healthcare and climate change.
And newish groups like Catholics United and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good provide Roman Catholic cover for the White House and the Democrats.
That’s not to say that these groups are acting cynically or dishonestly. They truly feel that conservatives have monopolized the political discourse for too long.
The danger, of course, is that these outfits become appendages of the Democratic Party, the equivalent of what they say the religious right has become to the GOP. We’ll have to wait and see.
Unsurprisingly, Zionism’s radical fringe only knows how to smear opponents and clearly they fear J Street’s passion. Young people flocked to the event, keen to engage. Here’s Harvey Schwartz, chairman of the American Israeli Action Coalition:
As chairman of the American Israeli Action Coalition (AIAC), an organization that seeks to represent the 250,000 Americans living in Israel, I know many who have firsthand knowledge of J Street and understand the havoc it intends to visit upon Israel. We most respectfully disagree.
Israel is a dynamic, democratic country with a well-established history of feisty internal political discourse and sharp internal criticism of its various governments and policies. Were J Street an Israeli organization which engaged in such battles within Israel, The Jerusalem Post’s recognition of its right to do so would be eminently correct.
But that is not what J Street is or does. It is an American organization whose purpose is to vociferously criticize Israel and its policies (as well as lobby for the adoption of policies which are contrary to its best interests) before the US government. The American-Israeli community, having lived in the US, is keenly aware of the serious danger of such activities.
Most American-Israelis I have spoken to recognize J Street for what it really is – a radical, far left organization funded and supported by radical forces. A true wolf in sheep’s clothing. Indeed, J Street’s executive director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, just confirmed that truth by declaring at the J Street conference, “[w]e are here to redefine and expand the very concept of being pro-Israel.” Israel’s greatest enemies could not have articulated it any better.
What has Judaism become when alernative views are treated with such contempt?