Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The J-Street dilemma

We went to a showing of a video presentation called "The J-Street Challenge" at Beth Israel, the Netanya Conservative (Masorti) Synagogue.  It was arranged by the synagogue and was presented by Prof Richard Landes, who is Prof. of History at Boston Univ, who led the post-viewing discussion.  He also appears in the film, which was produced by Americans for Peace and Tolerance and is sponsored by CAMERA and StandWithUs.
Most of you will know that J-street is an American Jewish organization that considers itself a liberal alternative to AIPAC, that it sees as slavishly following Israeli Government policies.  J-Street proclaims itself both as "pro-Israel" and "pro-Peace."  But questions have arisen as to the veracity of its pro-Israel stance when J-Street allies itself with and gives a voice to individuals and organizations, such as Jews for Palestine, that are notably anti-Israel.  Further, its pro-Peace stance, that is its dominant theme, tends to result in severe criticisms of Israeli Government policies as well as undermining the support for Israel in the US political system, both with the Administration and Congress.  In effect, J-Street has decided in advance that Israel is the cause of the lack of peace and so it takes a decidely pro-Palestinian viewpoint, that it justifies by proclaiming that the interest of peace trumps all other interests, including those of the Israeli Government.
The video consists of descriptions of positions that J-Street has taken, including statements by its own leaders, such as its founder and President Jeremy Ben-Ami, and then these are followed by comments of critics of J-Street, including such notables of American Jewish society as Alan Dershowitz, Ruth Wisse, Daniel Gordis and Richard Landes.  But, these comments are definitely to the point and expose a very disturbing pattern of dissimulation and subterfuge on the part of the leadership of J-Street, that taken overall lead one to conclude that J-Street is definitely not pro-Israel, but is not pro-Peace either, but more substantially pro-Palestinian.
One cause for concern is, where does the lavish funding for J-street come from?  It originally came in the form of millions of dollars from George Soros, a Jewish billionaire of Hungarian origin, well-known for his leftist and strongly anti-Israel positions.  Another liberal cause that Soros supported was Barak Obama in his run for the Presidency.  There is a strong implication that J-Street serves the interests of the Obama Administration by providing an alternative Jewish framework to AIPAC and the mainline organized Jewish community and J-Street leaders, including Ben-Ami, have boasted of their direct links to the White House.  Much of the funding for J-Street comes from outside the US and may originate from Arab and even jihadi sources, with which J-Street has often shown common cause.
Why does such an organization gain support in the younger generation of the American Jewish Community.  The reasons may be complex, but one of the most persuasive is that not only are the younger generation ignorant of the actual history of the conflcit and the extremism of the Arab and Palestinian side, but that they are embarrassed by any actions that Israel takes that puts them in a bad light.  They want to be part of the American liberal establishment, not a part of the pro-Israel Jewish elements, that they see as supporting a colonialist, imperialist, militaristic state.  By taking this stance they no longer need feel guilty at supporting Israel, but can proclaim themselves pro-peace and hence become acceptable in the American liberal context. 
This is not a new phenomenon.  One can clearly see the same psychology acting in the German Jewish preference for German over Jewish culture and the quite common anti-Semitism among German-Jewish intellectuals before WWII (until the Germans rounded them all up).  When I served for 15 years (1970-1985) as a member of the Board of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington DC, there were several attempts by a similar group called "Americans for Peace Now" to join the JCC, which was an umbrella Jewish organization, but they were rejected by an overwhelmingly liberal community.  Similarly the The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations that includes 50 such organizations recently rejected an application by J-Street to join them.  This is a feature of such marginally Jewish, politically motivated organizations, to infiltrate the mainstream Jewish community in order to undermine its own true values and to gain credibility. 
The audience at Beth Israel overwhelmingly agreed that the film was a fair and worrying expose of the activities of J-Street, but there was a small and vocal minority of liberal supporters who felt that the video was a "smear" and was unfair to J-Street.  When asked how, they could not articulate the reasons.  Watch the video and I leave it you to judge for yourselves.


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