Commentary Magazine


Smear Supporters to Get Hearing at J Street

Even J Street critics were baffled last January when the group’s founder and President Jeremy Ben-Ami more or less randomly decided to defend “Israel-Firster” rhetoric against pro-Israel Americans. The term was condemned as anti-Semitic by the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and its use by Center for American Progress contributors eventually caused the White House to distance itself from the organization. Self-professed pro-J Street blogger Jeffrey Goldberg expressed himself “surprised” by Ben-Ami’s stance.

The mystery became somewhat less mysterious after Alana pointed out a potential financial incentive behind J Street’s position, connecting J Street with groups that use the term. The link helps explain why mere hours after publicly walking back Ben-Ami’s statements, J Street took to Facebook to blast Sheldon Adelson as an “Israel-Firster” and to push a piece attacking anti-Semitism watchdogs for “Likudnik Paranoia.”

Given where the organization ended up — not only smearing Jewish groups as feverish Israel Lobby mouthpieces, but actively throwing around anti-Semitic language — it’s no wonder that the upcoming 2012 J Street Conference is stacked with defenders of those kinds of conspiracy theories and that kind of rhetoric.

Sarah Posner and Sarah Wildman, who each attacked anti-Semitism concerns in print and then on a episode, are on the speakers’ list. Ditto for Eric Alterman, who declared himself “uncomfortable” with anti-Semitic language but insisted that conspiracy theories about dual loyalists are true of a “great many people.” Ditto for Ari Rabin-Havt, who considers concerns about the term to be right-wing trolling. Ditto for Geneive Abdo, whose feverish conspiracy theories are frankly weird. And so on.

All of which is by way of saying: lots of people have pointed out how risible it is for J Street to claim to speak for a silent majority of Jewish Americans, given that their conference will promote Peter Beinart’s work in the face of an impressively broad beat-down. But let’s not forget that J Street also promotes plenty of other disgraceful positions that are also also rejected by huge majorities in the American-Jewish community.