Despite widespread predictions to the contrary, J Street failed dismally to gain admission into the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations (Presidents Conference). It was unable to obtain the constitutionally required two-thirds majority, and could not even muster a simple majority. Only a third of the constituents supported its affiliation.
An embittered J Street and its allies have launched a campaign seeking to portray the organization as a martyr, claiming it was blackballed by a fanatically rightwing Jewish establishment which is blindly supportive of Israel, brooks no dissent in its ranks and is effectively a bigoted, reactionary body undermining the pluralism and tolerance of the American Jewish community. The reality is that the Presidents Conference also includes left-wing organizations such as Americans for Peace Now, Ameinu and the Jewish Labor Committee. It is also noteworthy that Rabbi Meir Kahane’s right-wing Jewish Defense League was previously excluded.
There have even been false allegations that the voting was rigged. In fact, J Street was given a fair hearing and overwhelmingly rejected by a majority of organizations, many of whom were neither right-wing nor Orthodox.
The most vocal condemnation of the exclusion came from Rabbi Richard Jacobs, head of the Union of Reform Judaism – a former member of the J Street Board of Rabbis – who even threatened to withdraw the Reform movement from the Presidents Conference.
Yet, were he to do so, this would create a schism within his own movement. One need only read the recent moving appeal by Rabbi Richard Block, president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (Reform), calling on rabbis to express solidarity rather than continuously criticize Israel, to appreciate that Rabbi Jacobs’ enthusiastic support of J Street would not be endorsed by all his colleagues and constituency.
His criticisms were endorsed by Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, who described the vote as “misguided and destructive.” Yet, in the same breath, she conceded that she had “painfully witnessed” rabbis in her own movement facing searing criticism from members for having joined the J Street “rabbinic cabinet.”
What was the justification for excluding J Street from the Jewish mainstream umbrella organization? Was it, as J Street would have us believe, an intolerant expression of prevailing bigotry, a fear of engaging in dialogue, an attempt to deny freedom of expression to a dissenting minority, an effort to enforce conformity and exclude dissidents from the “big tent” of the Jewish community? Nobody is seeking to suppress the right of J Street to express its views – which receive media coverage far in excess of its standing and influence within the Jewish community. Nor is there fear of engaging in dialogue and debate with J Street. On the contrary, I recollect that a few years ago during a visit to New York, when invited to participate in a TV debate, J Street informed the compère that it refused to share a platform with me.
The crux of the issue, which has distressed many well-intentioned people, is the confused belief that the community has a moral obligation to encompass all viewpoints in the “big tent” and that this was breached by excluding this purportedly “pro-Israel, pro-peace,” liberal, humanistic organization.
This presupposes that an organization primarily created with the express purpose of serving as a vehicle to express support for Israel should take under its umbrella organizations committed to opposing its raison d’etre.
Most committed Jews believe in the centrality of Israel in Jewish life. They also recognize that as a matter of decency, Diaspora Jews should recognize that issues relating to security should be determined exclusively by Israelis, as these decisions could have life and death repercussions for them and their children.
The Presidents Conference has respected this status, irrespective of the political composition of the democratically elected government of Israel and despite its constituents spanning the broad political spectrum from Americans for Peace Now to the hawkish ZOA.
Despite J Street allegations to the contrary, the Presidents Conference also steadfastly endorses a two-state policy. AIPAC is the most proactive organization promoting the case for Israel on a ground level and can take most of the credit for the bipartisan Congressional support that Israel currently enjoys. One of J Street’s principal objectives is to undermine AIPAC by maliciously and falsely labeling it an “extreme right-wing organization,” even accusing it of generating anti-Semitism by its “one-sided support for Israel,” creating hostile feelings that American Jews harbor dual loyalties.
When J Street describes itself as “pro-peace, pro-Israel,” it is simply engaging in Orwellian doubletalk. In reality, it is actively campaigning to encourage the US government to exert greater pressure on the democratically elected government of Israel. It has the chutzpah to insist that it knows better than Israelis what is good for them, and that they should be treated with “tough love.”
To cite a few examples of J Street’s bizarre “pro-Israel” initiatives: • During the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead, J Street described Israel’s action as an “escalation” that was “counterproductive” and “disproportionate.” It ascribed moral equivalence to both sides, finding difficulty in distinguishing “between who is right and who is wrong” and “picking a side.”
• Despite its self-designated “pro-Israel” tag, J Street actively canvasses for and raises millions of dollars to fund anti-Israeli Congressional candidates.
• J Street claims to oppose Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, but invites pro-BDS groups to promote their case at its conferences.
• A co-founder of J Street, Daniel Levy, is on record describing Israel’s creation as “an act that went wrong.”
• J Street collaborated with the biased UN Goldstone Committee which accused Israel of engaging in war crimes. It even facilitated meetings on Capitol Hill for Goldstone to promote his wretched, now discredited, report.
• For a long time, J Street totally opposed any sanctions against Iran. It now lobbies against promoting the threat of military action.
• In 2011 J Street actively canvassed the White House not to veto a one-sided UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel.
• J Street described the behavior of IDF commandos on the Mavi Marmara Gaza flotilla ship as “cruel brutality.”
• J Street encourages its campus extension to promote discredited anti-Israeli groups like “Breaking the Silence” which promote lies about alleged IDF war crimes.
• It opposed a 2011 congressional petition condemning Palestinian incitement.
• J Street refuses to condemn the recent PA-Hamas deal.
• Most recently, it defended US Secretary of State John Kerry’s offensive remarks that Israel could become “an apartheid state.”
• Until it was conclusively exposed, J Street leader Jeremy Ben-Ami lied repeatedly to conceal that George Soros, the vicious anti-Israeli financier, was and still is one of the principal funders of J Street. There are also other donors with questionable political interests.
It is surely undeniable that J Street is in fact canvassing and promoting anti-Israeli initiatives while castigating and seeking to undermine the policies of the democratically elected government of Israel. If J Street’s self-description as “pro-Israel” is to be accepted, we must truly be living in wonderland.
Reform leader Rabbi Jacobs says that there should be “no litmus test of ideological orientation” applied to candidates for the Presidents Conference. Under such terms Jews for Jesus and the Neturei Karta sect would presumably also qualify for membership.
Rather than sanctimoniously castigating the majority of organizations who voted to reject J Street, Rabbi Jacobs and Rabbi Schonfeld should consider reviewing their own educational programs, which seem to lead many of their rabbis toward supporting anti-Zionist leftists who demonize the Jewish state. They should concentrate on educating youngsters about the values and achievements of the Jewish state and its central role for the future of the Jewish people. Bringing organizations which display constant hostility to Israel into a mainstream umbrella body committed to promoting Israel would not widen the Jewish tent. It would destroy it.
The writer’s website can be viewed at www.wordfromjerusalem.com.
He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.