J Street is the go-to Israel-focused US NGO? God help us! - opinion

It is clear that J Street and its fellow travelers like Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow view Israel through the prism of the American Jewish experience.

A J Street panel meeting (photo credit: FACEBOOK)
A J Street panel meeting
(photo credit: FACEBOOK)
 J Street’s progressive purity will come at Israel’s expense.
As recent articles, including in this newspaper, clearly demonstrate, J Street, the self-described “pro-Israel, pro-peace” American lobbying and advocacy group, is celebrating its bar mitzvah, and perhaps, in its own mind, its anointment as the new go-to, gotta-have, state of the society Israel-focused Jewish organization in America.
If so, God help us.
To cite the wisdom of my late mother, “if all your friends are jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge, does that mean that you have to?”
There are several strange ideas that J Street proponents are conflating. One is popularity. Let us stipulate that J Street has captured the hearts and minds of progressives, Jewish and otherwise. That fact is not though tantamount to J Street representing the sentiments of the American Jewish community, including the non-Orthodox community.
I suspect that for a great many American Jews, Israel is not a high priority, nor is it an intense focus for them. That lack of attention should by no means be deemed to be acquiescence to, let alone support of, J Street’s agenda.
More importantly, J Street is quick to say what it does not want, and does not like about Israel, but it is not surprisingly more reticent to express its own vision, its roadmap for what it desires and envisions.
The reason for this is fairly self-evident. That vision would result in the eviscerating, if not dismantling, of Israel as we know it today. A desiderata of what J Street dreams of for Israel would be rather nightmarish if it weren’t so naïve and unrealistically founded.
It is clear that J Street and its fellow travelers like Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow view Israel through the prism of the American Jewish experience.
American Jews are a minority, and they are not blessed nor charged nor burdened with the responsibility of running and maintaining a society, not to mention a nation state.
There are no issues of accountability, and thus, considerations like margins of error and ramifications for mistakes that are made play no role. It therefore becomes irresistible to dream, to imagine a utopian framework, and then to blame the reality of Israel for the failure to implement that utopia.
So, let’s look at the situation afresh. Is Israel doing the best job it could do to respect Diaspora sensibilities, particularly among the non-Orthodox? If the answer to that question hinges on a quasi-coalition mindset, not unlike the way we try to go about putting together a government here, then the answer is “no.”
But this raises the chicken and egg question of whether Israel has alienated non-Orthodox Jews from Israel or whether non-interested Jews are otherwise and in any event looking for reasons to rationalize and to justify their lack of interest.
Interestingly, J Street believes that American Jews have by and large embraced progressivism, and it is progressivism that demands a seat at the table of deciding the destiny of Israel. They also believe that Israel is unaware of the “arrival” of J Street and that such ignorance is at our peril.
With all due respect, Israelis are not ignorant about J Street nor progressivism. What Israelis are is aghast at both.
ISRAELIS APPROPRIATELY see J Street as the drum majorette for a movement that will only bring serious trouble to the Jewish people, especially the American Jewish community. Progressivism is inimical to everything that Judaism represents: objective truth, particularism, a recognition that there is something far more important and transcendent than the government.
To the extent that Israel embodies or at least honors these sensibilities, there is a definitional problem with it.
Then there is the issue of virtue-signaling that makes Israel anathema. In the intersectionality pantheon, Israel commits the cardinal sin of oppressing the benighted Palestinians. They thus bring dishonor and opprobrium onto their brethren in America.
American Jews must therefore be adamant and strident in their distancing and condemnation of Israelis in order to protect their own bona fides, their own credentials as card-carrying progressives.
How many of us have read “reports” of the horrific treatment of Palestinians by Israelis which emanate from American progressives (and their comrades in arms here like Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem) and have wondered, what place are they talking about, what planet is this describing?
None of this bodes well for American Jews. There is increasing pressure on them to choose sides, as it were – Jewishness or progressivism. But progressivism, like all utopian ideologies, will ultimately prove to be dystopian. Jews will never quite cut it, will never quite be accepted.
Ironically, progressivism in that sense greatly resembles the Enlightenment that set the stage for the eventual rejection and demonization of the Jews in Europe.
Let’s be honest: The progressive deck is irretrievably stacked against Israel. Does that mean that Israel cannot and does not listen to the concerns of others, Jews and non-Jews, outside its borders? No, of course not, we can always be more sensitive.
I would submit though that any and every move toward the progressive agenda will engender more severe and dire demands. And that is because progressivism is an ideology demanding purity of action in which the ideal will inevitably become the enemy of the good.
So, finally, let’s consider what implementing J Street’s demands would look like. Maintaining the toxic status quo, as they would put it, would yield to an Oslo-like delusional situation that would empower genocidal Palestinian elements, weaken Israeli defenses and resolve, and result in chaos and warfare.
We know this. We are not ignorant of it. If we are guilty of playing chess, and looking three or four moves down the road, then so be it.
At the end of the day, J Street is using the State of Israel as cannon fodder for an increasingly uphill battle to have Jews remain ideologically acceptable, despite their white privilege, in the escalating nightmare that is progressive America.
We here in Israel are rooting for our brethren in the US. What we are not willing to do is to make ourselves into the sacrificial offerings that might allow, however temporarily, progressive American Jews to keep their membership intact in a toxic club.
The writer is the chairman of the board of Im Tirtzu, Israel’s largest grassroots organization, and a director of the Israel Independence Fund.