Commentary Magazine


Goldberg: What’s Wrong with J Street?

Jeffrey Goldberg shares a letter from a frustrated reader:

I watched your debate with Jeremy Ben-Ami the other night and it seemed like you agreed with nearly everything the guy had to say. You should understand that J Street is not a Zionist group at all. It supports congressional candidates who are hostile to Israel, and, in its own statements it says it’s opposed even to the threat of military action against Iran, something that Obama does regularly. Why don’t you understand that J Street is a wolf in sheep’s clothing? It is designed to separate Israel from the Democratic Party. It is not interested in supporting Israel, it is interested in providing cover for Jews who dislike Israel but need a Jewish cover to say so.

Goldberg’s retort is as unpersuasive as it is sad. He doesn’t rebut the readers’ points but says he’s troubled that the reader thinks such awful things. He also assures us that the people from J Street he’s met love Israel (he knows this, I guess, because they say so) and that they’re in favor of ending settlements just like Goldberg is. They are also in favor of carving up Jerusalem and lifting the Gaza blockade — and opposed to sanctions against Iran and statements, however bland, in support of Israel’s right of self-defense. But Goldberg doesn’t bother with all that. Nor does he address why it is that J Street hosted a confab filled with apologists for the mullahs.

He then makes this mind-boggling assertion: “Since I’m for an end to the settlements myself, I find it hard to believe that J Street is anti-Israel, since I am certainly not anti-Israel.” What?! (CAIR is in favor of ending settlements too, so does that mean … oh never mind.) He ends with a non-sequitur: “There has to be room in American Jewry for people who disagree with the policies of Israeli governments but want Israel to survive as a Jewish democracy. ” This of course sidesteps the question as to whether J Street is really pro-Israel and what it means by “survive.” (And there is “room” for everyone engaged in nonviolent debate in America, but not everyone deserves recognition as “pro-Israel.”)

Goldberg’s post is so halfhearted and unreasoned that one almost suspects he is mocking those who defend J Street. But alas, I think he’s serious — and exemplifies the difficulty that liberal Jews have in discerning who is on Israel’s side and what it means to be on Israel’s side.

In any case, next time there is a debate with Jeremy Ben-Ami, the organizers should come up with someone (Goldberg’s reader, maybe) who actually disagrees with J Street and can explain why not everyone who is against settlements (Jimmy Carter?) is pro-Israel. But maybe the organizers of these events aren’t so much interested in shedding light on J Street as in providing cover for it. In that case, they picked the perfect man. Goldberg is, by the way, also the perfect man to run Politics and Prose.