The past week for J Street has been an example of what happens to a political group unable to maintain some semblance of ideological discipline. The group’s pre-conference problems all derive from the exposure of the radicals in its midst: the crackpots who compare Gaza to Auschwitz; the anti-Zionists like Avram Burg and Bernard Avishai; the blogger panel composed of shrill fanatics and slanderers of the Jewish State. Instead of cultivating an image of seriousness and maturity, the conference has sharpened the public’s perception of a group dedicated to apologizing for and attempting to sanitize people who have made careers out of antagonizing Israel.
Meanwhile, the group reserves its real indignation for people like Sen. Joe Lieberman and Michael Goldfarb. All this does is create fodder for the charge that it’s a Trojan Horse for anti-Zionism. Given its record, I can’t really disagree that this is its purpose. Jeremy Ben-Ami told Politico that “we are at the center of debate and controversy after only 18 months, and this is a real impact and a success.” He doesn’t seem to understand the difference between being controversial and being influential, or the way the former characteristic can undermine the latter. The burden has shifted very publicly onto J Street to prove its detractors wrong, and that’s a bad position to be in.