It’s always difficult to untangle when J Street officials actually believe in the anti-Israel policies and anti-Semitic rhetoric that they push and defend, and when they’re just following the commands of donors. The group’s president Jeremy Ben-Ami raised eyebrows by voluntarily injecting himself on the side of anti-Jewish language during the “Israel-Firster” debate, and then later it turned out that J Street had a potential financial incentive to take that stance. On the other hand the group and its partisans seem genuinely enthused about rolling out the red carpet for Peter Beinart and his exhortation to economically suffocate Israelis who don’t live where he tells them. As for J Street’s call on Obama to pressure Israel in the aftermath of the Flotilla even though the Israelis were in the right on self-defense, that simply had an incoherence borne of conflicted priorities.
So it’s impossible to know which dynamic — donor pressure or personal passion — was at work when J Street officials defended Occupy Wall Street from criticism of its disgraceful and extensively documented anti-Semitism. In favor of the donor theory, there’s the fact that J Street funder George Soros backed Occupy. On the side of the labor of love theory, there turn out to be deep sociological, institutional, and personal ties between pro-Occupy radicals and J Street officials – so much so that those radicals are now officially “partnering” with J Street on this weekend’s conference.
Most likely it was a little of Column A and a little of Column B, with J Street officials being genuinely sympathetic but wary about the optics of supporting yet another group of anti-Semites.
The debate revolves around a statement by self-declared “Jewish leaders” who, per the statement title, set out to “Denounce Right-Wing Smears of Occupy Wall Street.” The piece specifically attacked the Emergency Committee for Israel, a J Street bête noire and a major force behind the electoral wipe out of J Street candidates in the 2010 election. Ben-Ami’s name was one of about a dozen on the bottom of the statement, and the press contact for the entire release was J Street VP Carinne Luck.
The upcoming conference will have a core, recognized, pro-Occupy new media presence. The leftwing Jewschool site recently announced that it was going to “partner with J Street” on the conference, including dispatching sponsored bloggers to cover the events. Jewschool actively pushed Occupy and continues to do so, with the most recent sympathetic post getting published just last week. “We are the 99%,” declared another post. An admittedly inaccurate Google site search for “occupy wall street” turns up over 700 hits.
It turns out that J Street officials and Jewschool officials have demonstrably been cooperating to insulate Occupy. For instance, an early version of J Street’s toe-in-the-water press release was published on a site called Occupy Judaism (later versions had additional press contacts). Daniel Sieradski, founding publisher and former editor-in-chief of Jewschool owns the site. I’d direct you to the original statement on Sieradski’s site but the whole blog was taken down some time this morning, after I searched for it and found it last night. Luckily it’s still cached here.
J Street officials and Jewschool activists have long worked together to paper over the anti-Semitism of Occupy Wall Street, albeit sometimes with each being once removed from their home organizations. It would be hard to think of two more appropriate “partners” for the J Street conference.