Three years after J Street’s formation, it’s still politically toxic for members of Congress to support J Street’s policies, said Rep. Keith Ellison during a panel discussion at the liberal lobbying group’s conference.
Ellison, who co-chairs the House Progressive Caucus, said that fellow caucus members who took positions that aren’t traditionally pro-Israel “found themselves primaried from the right on the issue of Israel.”
“There are prices to pay,” he added. “These folks who have impeccable pro Israel credentials found themselves in pretty tough primary races, and not just in one part of the country.”
He also stressed that J Street needed to be more effective at protecting these members of Congress from attacks from groups like the Emergency Committee for Israel.
“J Street needs to continue to strengthen its muscles … so that a politician can take a position that is pro-Israel, pro-peace, pro-Palestinian … and not have to worry about [election-cycle attacks],” said Ellison.
During the 2010 midterm elections, J Street’s critics argued that it’s become politically harmful for members of Congress to align themselves with the lobbying group. J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami seemed to reject this notion during a meeting with reporters today, saying that the group has made it much easier for politicians to take controversial positions on Israel. “The change in Congress is notable,” he said. “The sense of openness on Capitol Hill is greater than three years ago.”
But according to Ellison, the pressure to be pro-Israel is so intense that the House Progressive Caucus often avoids taking positions on Israel because its members are so concerned about being attacked by pro-Israel organizations. “We don’t take them on because we can’t come to a clear consensus on the question,” said the congressman.
J Street was formed as an alternative lobby to AIPAC. But three years later, it’s noteworthy that the group is still unable to influence many of the most progressive politicians on Capitol Hill.