I hesitate to do a full post on this group — CONTENTIONS contributor Noah Pollak is right to call J Street a very marginal left-wing fringe group — but this latest dispatch is so sophomoric that it kind of begs to be blogged. I’m also genuinely curious about the excuses that J Street leaders trot out for their anti-Israel agitation. I’m never sure whether they have so little self-awareness that they think they’re being clever, or whether they think their cultists are dumb enough to accept barely coherent pretexts as the height of sophistication:
Among the more controversial speakers is Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voices for Peace, which advocates the use of BDS (boycotts, divestment and sanctions) against Israel. BDS has been roundly condemned in the mainstream Jewish community because it serves to demonize and deligitimize Israel. J Street, too, opposes BDS, noted Ben-Ami, who said he is not concerned that the appearance of Vilkomerson might legitimize BDS. Rather, she was invited to air her views, he explained, so that conference attendees who might be “tempted” to embrace BDS will think otherwise after they see its moral and tactical failings exposed in debate. (Vilkomerson is scheduled to appear Feb. 28 on a panel along with three opponents of BDS.) [emphasis added]
I assume that land-for-peace critics have also been invited to air their views, so that conference attendees who might be “tempted” to doubt the wisdom of putting Iranian missiles on hills overlooking Israel’s population centers will think otherwise. Ditto for “demographic time bomb” skeptics who will be debunked in open debate, lest conference attendees be “tempted” to give up talking points about Israel ceasing to be a democracy. And I’m sure there’s a panel with someone who can question the wisdom of the NGO war against Israel, so that conference attendees who might be “tempted” to oppose leading Goldstone around D.C. will continue to back J Street.
Except, of course, none of that will happen. J Street only “expands debate” in an objectively anti-Israel direction, and the organization only stretches the meaning of “pro-Israel” to include more anti-Israel partisans.
Now that might be defensible if we were in an environment where there wasn’t enough criticism of Israel. If we lived in a world where the Israelis silently got away with atrocities that hurt their own cause, then there might be a case for swinging the pendulum in an objectively anti-Israel direction so as to balance things out. It’d require some sophistry and a few informal argumentative fallacies — this one and this one for starters — but it’d at least be close.
Except that’s not this world. In this world, there’s a borderline pathological obsession with Israel that stretches across global media outlets, the United Nations, international NGOs, and the diplomatic corps of dozens of countries. Adding more criticism isn’t balancing things out as much as piling on. In a very precise sense, J Street’s protestations about their criticism being “pro-Israel” begs the question of whether the amount of criticism that already exists is too much or too little, begging the question being another informal argumentative fallacy indulged in by our reality-based betters.
All of which is irrelevant to the question from the beginning: are they so dense they think “we’re just having a debate” is clever, or do they really think that little of their supporters? But it’s a useful reminder that, in addition to the organization’s smug quotidian dishonesty, J Street’s entire condescending raison d’etre is also kind of intellectually insulting.