Commentary Magazine


Topic: J Street

Blaming Kerry for Palestinian Rejectionism

Give left-wing author Peter Beinart some credit. He’s paying enough attention to the negotiations going on between Israel and the Palestinian Authority to understand that there’s almost no chance that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas will sign a peace deal. But whom does he blame for this in his latest cri de coeur about the peace process in Haaretz? Secretary of State John Kerry.

Of course, Beinart thinks Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is also at fault for insisting that Palestinians acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state, which is to say that they renounce their dreams of destroying it. He also slams Netanyahu for asking for serious security guarantees in the event that an agreement is concluded as well as demanding that the U.S. make good on the promises made to Israel prior to the Gaza withdrawal about the major settlement blocs in the West Bank being retained. In carping about Netanyahu he’s essentially blaming the people of Israel for rejecting the policies of the left after the collapse of Oslo and the Gaza disaster. To his way of thinking, democracy is all well and good but since liberal intellectuals like himself know what’s best for the country, the results of the last two Knesset elections should be set aside in order to allow American pressure to dictate peace terms with the Palestinians. Most of all he refuses to give the Palestinians any agency in their decision to turn down peace again.

This is familiar territory for Beinart. But now that Kerry is in the midst of an all-out effort to get Israel and the PA to agree to a new framework to allow for further talks with the Israelis set to say yes and the Palestinians almost certain to say no again, he’s been forced to come up with a new set of justifications for the left’s perennial argument that the lack of peace is Israel’s fault. His answer is that the true villain of the moment is Kerry and the liberal Jews who have been cheering the secretary on in his efforts to pressure Israel into accepting the framework. Why? Because, according to Beinart, Kerry’s terms are too favorable to Israel.

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Give left-wing author Peter Beinart some credit. He’s paying enough attention to the negotiations going on between Israel and the Palestinian Authority to understand that there’s almost no chance that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas will sign a peace deal. But whom does he blame for this in his latest cri de coeur about the peace process in Haaretz? Secretary of State John Kerry.

Of course, Beinart thinks Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is also at fault for insisting that Palestinians acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state, which is to say that they renounce their dreams of destroying it. He also slams Netanyahu for asking for serious security guarantees in the event that an agreement is concluded as well as demanding that the U.S. make good on the promises made to Israel prior to the Gaza withdrawal about the major settlement blocs in the West Bank being retained. In carping about Netanyahu he’s essentially blaming the people of Israel for rejecting the policies of the left after the collapse of Oslo and the Gaza disaster. To his way of thinking, democracy is all well and good but since liberal intellectuals like himself know what’s best for the country, the results of the last two Knesset elections should be set aside in order to allow American pressure to dictate peace terms with the Palestinians. Most of all he refuses to give the Palestinians any agency in their decision to turn down peace again.

This is familiar territory for Beinart. But now that Kerry is in the midst of an all-out effort to get Israel and the PA to agree to a new framework to allow for further talks with the Israelis set to say yes and the Palestinians almost certain to say no again, he’s been forced to come up with a new set of justifications for the left’s perennial argument that the lack of peace is Israel’s fault. His answer is that the true villain of the moment is Kerry and the liberal Jews who have been cheering the secretary on in his efforts to pressure Israel into accepting the framework. Why? Because, according to Beinart, Kerry’s terms are too favorable to Israel.

This is, of course, the same secretary of state that pressured the Israelis to release over 100 terrorist murderers to bribe the PA to come back to the negotiating table after boycotting talks for years. And he’s the same guy who threatened Israel with a new intifada and with expanded boycotts and economic warfare if they didn’t agree to his framework, setting the stage for more violence and delegitimization of the Jewish state after his efforts failed.

But Beinart has a beef with Kerry because in coming up with his framework, he’s incorporated some of Israel’s key demands and left other elements up to negotiations between the two parties. According to Beinart, Kerry has deviated from the plans offered to the Palestinians by Ehud Barak in 2000 and 2001 and the one proposed by Ehud Olmert in 2008. The differences between those schemes and the one in Kerry’s framework are small but significant.

The first problem is that Kerry agrees with the Israelis that the Palestinians should swallow hard and say the two little words—“Jewish state”—that signify they are ending the conflict for all time rather than pausing it in order to resume it later under more favorable circumstances.

The second is agreeing to a phased transition in which Israeli troops would remain in the Jordan Valley for perhaps as long as 10 or 15 years. Beinart agrees with the Palestinians that that kind of a security guarantee, made all the more necessary in recent years because of the rise of Hamas and Islamic Jihad as well as the threats to Jordan from Iran and Syria, is unacceptable.

What else? Beinart is unhappy about Kerry’s terms for the division of Jerusalem. Kerry is leaving the details of how to partition it to the parties and said one of the Arab neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city could serve as the Palestinian capital. Beinart agrees with Abbas and wants all Arab neighborhoods in the city to be constituted as the new capital of Palestine.

Beinart is also in a huff about the fact that Kerry’s framework doesn’t pay even lip service to the Palestinian demand for a “right of return” that would allow them to flood Israel with the descendants of the 1948 refugees. While Olmert foolishly offered the Palestinians the right to bring as many as 15,000 into Israel, Kerry has wisely turned them down flat on this question.

These differences from the plans of 2000, 2001, and 2008 don’t change the fact that if the Palestinians are smart enough to say yes to the framework, they would get their independent state including almost all of the West Bank, a share of Jerusalem and be compensated for the settlement blocs with equal amounts of Israeli territory. But in order to get it they have to agree to the legitimacy of a Jewish state alongside their nation and they have to agree not to use their state to restart the conflict once Israel withdraws. Since its inception, Palestinian nationalism has been solely focused on denying Zionism’s legitimacy rather than on building a nation. That’s why Abbas is no more capable of agreeing to peace now than he was in 2008 when he fled from Olmert’s offer or Yasir Arafat was when he said no twice to Ehud Barak.

But Beinart prefers to ignore the truth about Abbas and the political culture of rejection to which he is both enabler and hostage. Instead, he blames Israel and Kerry for not giving even more.

Interestingly, Beinart’s plan of action to deal with the problem doesn’t involve efforts to beg the Palestinians not to say no to peace and independence for the fourth time since the summer of 2000. Instead, he wants his friends at J Street and other liberal Jewish backers of the Obama administration to turn their wrath on the secretary of state. He wants the left to “raise a stink” against Kerry and the administration in order to get them to change the framework to make it more acceptable to the Palestinians, including deleting references to the Jewish state and giving the green light for the refugees.

Such an effort on the part of J Street is as unlikely as it would be absurd. J Street is more pro-Obama than it is pro-peace or pro-Israel. It will never launch a campaign against Kerry’s efforts to broker a deal in order to tilt the playing field even more toward the Palestinians than the secretary has already done.

This difference between Beinart and Kerry illustrates, if nothing else, the secretary’s sincerity. Kerry’s chances of success were always near zero and his willingness to undertake this mission despite the very real chances that attempting it would cause more harm than good by encouraging terrorism and boycotts after the inevitable Palestinian refusal testifies both to his poor judgment and his hubris. But Kerry also understands that after the collapse of Oslo, the withdrawal from Gaza and the three Palestinian “no’s” to peace offers, Israelis need to be persuaded that this peace is genuine and will guarantee the Jewish state’s survival. And that is why Abbas will never sign any deal with anything like reasonable terms.

Beinart understands that this decision will, like the many Palestinian decisions to repeatedly reject peace throughout the last century, undermine his thesis about Israel being to blame. So in order to preserve his dubious narrative of the conflict, he must start setting up Kerry as the fall guy for Palestinian rejectionism. Reading Beinart’s piece, I almost felt sorry for Kerry. Almost. 

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How Do You Solve a Problem Like J Street?

“There is no such thing as an Arab-Israel conflict,” insists Harvard professor Ruth Wisse, “there is an Arab war against Israel, there is an Arab war against the Jewish people’s right to a state.” This is just one of the many foundational truths and insights that are offered in the course of a newly released documentary, The J Street Challenge. The documentary premiered Monday night in Miami to a sell-out audience who also received an introductory presentation with Alan Dershowitz, who himself features in the movie. 

J Street, founded in 2008 marketing itself as a kind of left-wing AIPAC, went out of its way from the beginning to emphasize itself as being staunchly “pro-Israel, pro-peace.” The national leadership of the group has publicly opposed the BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement and put itself forward as being a necessary liberal counterpoint to the anti-Zionism of the left as well as a Jewish cheering section for the Obama administration’s efforts to pressure Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians. Yet, as this documentary highlights, that mask soon began to slip as its idea of what it meant to be pro-Israel began to appear vastly out of sync with what just about everyone else understood by that term. It was no surprise, then, when some of its J Street U campus branches began to drop the “pro-Israel” clause of the organization’s slogan. More telling still has been the push by J Street U to have anti-Israel boycotters included in the “big tent” pro-Israel community. 

The documentary certainly provides a thorough introduction for anyone who has not so far had the misfortune of encountering J Street or its message. Yet this is no standard-form exposé, as much as it certainly does expose a great deal about J Street’s more dubious operations and questionable sources of funding. Rather, The J Street Challenge seeks to go much further than this by making a serious effort to understand what is at the core of “J Street think” and to identify the driving force that makes certain Jews, particularly young liberal Jews, susceptible to the J Street message. In this way the documentary is about so very much more than an increasingly discredited lobby with little influence even with the Obama administration. At its heart the film is concerned with deconstructing the left-liberal attitude to Israel and the Arab-Islamic world.

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“There is no such thing as an Arab-Israel conflict,” insists Harvard professor Ruth Wisse, “there is an Arab war against Israel, there is an Arab war against the Jewish people’s right to a state.” This is just one of the many foundational truths and insights that are offered in the course of a newly released documentary, The J Street Challenge. The documentary premiered Monday night in Miami to a sell-out audience who also received an introductory presentation with Alan Dershowitz, who himself features in the movie. 

J Street, founded in 2008 marketing itself as a kind of left-wing AIPAC, went out of its way from the beginning to emphasize itself as being staunchly “pro-Israel, pro-peace.” The national leadership of the group has publicly opposed the BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement and put itself forward as being a necessary liberal counterpoint to the anti-Zionism of the left as well as a Jewish cheering section for the Obama administration’s efforts to pressure Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians. Yet, as this documentary highlights, that mask soon began to slip as its idea of what it meant to be pro-Israel began to appear vastly out of sync with what just about everyone else understood by that term. It was no surprise, then, when some of its J Street U campus branches began to drop the “pro-Israel” clause of the organization’s slogan. More telling still has been the push by J Street U to have anti-Israel boycotters included in the “big tent” pro-Israel community. 

The documentary certainly provides a thorough introduction for anyone who has not so far had the misfortune of encountering J Street or its message. Yet this is no standard-form exposé, as much as it certainly does expose a great deal about J Street’s more dubious operations and questionable sources of funding. Rather, The J Street Challenge seeks to go much further than this by making a serious effort to understand what is at the core of “J Street think” and to identify the driving force that makes certain Jews, particularly young liberal Jews, susceptible to the J Street message. In this way the documentary is about so very much more than an increasingly discredited lobby with little influence even with the Obama administration. At its heart the film is concerned with deconstructing the left-liberal attitude to Israel and the Arab-Islamic world.

This in-depth exploration of the mindset that has given rise to J Street is undertaken through somewhat of an all-star cast of interviews, which sit alongside archival footage providing a narration outlining the key points of the conflict. In addition to Wisse and Dershowitz, there are also clips and interviews featuring, among others, Shalem Center scholar Daniel Gordis, Wall Street Journal editor Bret Stephens, Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick, CAMERA’s Andrea Levin, Israel Project CEO Josh Block, and Dr. Charles Jacobs, whose organization, Americans for Peace and Tolerance, released the movie.

These interviews are layered with footage of J Street leaders and activists presenting their own views, creating an unfolding conversation between the various parties. Indeed, the documentary recreates for the viewer an accurate representation of the ongoing debate currently taking place between America’s Jewish community and its self-titled liberal Zionist fringe. Although in some instances, J Street claims are simply swatted with clips of Palestinians putting in their own words precisely what they think of peace and reconciliation with Israel.

J Street has long demanded that its views be debated publicly, and early on in the documentary Andrea Levin advocates that J Street should indeed be debated. In this way The J Street Challenge consciously sets out to directly confront J Street’s arguments and to ultimately defeat them on their own terms.

The group’s critics slam the legitimacy of the notion that liberal Jews in America can claim to know what is right for Israel better than Israelis do, taking J Street to task for its efforts to impact policy in Israel by bypassing the Israeli ballot box and instead lobbying for pressure from Washington. Gordis cuts to the heart of the J Street conceit when he points out, “None of us know what’s going to bring peace, none of us know what’s going to get the Palestinian side to make accommodations, the minute you’re absolutely certain that you have a monopoly on wisdom I think you stop listening.” The obsession with ending the conflict by ending the “occupation” is nicely taken down by Wisse, who retorts, “Since that so-called occupation was the consequence of the war against Israel, it cannot retroactively have become its cause.”

As the documentary wears on, exposed to this rather unforgiving dissection, the J Streeters almost begin to appear amusingly tragic. One J Street activist pleads that she supports J Street because she likes “creating good things in the world.” No match for Professor Wisse: “because they are so sensitive, and because they are so good-hearted … and wicked Israel is not as good hearted as I am. The stupidity of this kind of innocence in a world that is so complicated, when you belong to a people with such a tortured history of trying to arrive at the good in the midst of being persecuted and prosecuted falsely over so many centuries, I mean, its almost intolerable.”

What The J Street Challenge certainly exposes is the concerning way in which the J Street message risks having real traction with students. What this documentary does in response is to equip a broad public with the arguments by which to counter the supposedly sophisticated and morally superior arguments of liberals claiming to support Israel, while in reality only ever going out of their way to condemn it.    

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Politics and the Anti-Sanctions Coalition

With news that support for Iran sanctions may now be showing signs of crumbling among Democrats in the Senate, it’s worth recalling that there have been a host of Jewish and self-titled liberal Zionist groups working tirelessly to make this happen. When UCLA Professor Mark Kleiman recently urged those who “have Jewish sounding names” to lobby their senators against further Iran sanctions, it was because he knew that these calls would seem to carry extra weight and legitimacy if they appeared to be coming from those who are assumed to be pro-Israel.

Several Washington-based lobby groups, claiming to be pro-Israel, have been lending their image of legitimacy to an organized coalition that is working to lobby against Iran sanctions. In joining this group, which also receives its briefings from White House officials, J Street and Americans for Peace Now are putting themselves into coalition with a number of other organizations and individuals who are at best completely indifferent to Israel’s welfare, such as, for instance, the National Iranian American Council.

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With news that support for Iran sanctions may now be showing signs of crumbling among Democrats in the Senate, it’s worth recalling that there have been a host of Jewish and self-titled liberal Zionist groups working tirelessly to make this happen. When UCLA Professor Mark Kleiman recently urged those who “have Jewish sounding names” to lobby their senators against further Iran sanctions, it was because he knew that these calls would seem to carry extra weight and legitimacy if they appeared to be coming from those who are assumed to be pro-Israel.

Several Washington-based lobby groups, claiming to be pro-Israel, have been lending their image of legitimacy to an organized coalition that is working to lobby against Iran sanctions. In joining this group, which also receives its briefings from White House officials, J Street and Americans for Peace Now are putting themselves into coalition with a number of other organizations and individuals who are at best completely indifferent to Israel’s welfare, such as, for instance, the National Iranian American Council.

That said, it is doubtful that these left-wing Jewish groups are being motivated by any explicitly pro-Iranian sentiment. Rather it seems that, in J Street’s case in particular, this action is an expression of shameless partisan loyalty to what is after all a Democrat administration and to the policies generated from the left of the Democratic Party. As recently as July of last year, J Street had been vocally supporting sanctions when the Obama administration was pushing this as an alternative to military action; now that the administration is also setting about dismantling the sanctions J Street has also fallen in line and is advocating precisely the same policy. American’s for Peace Now, hardly to their credit, have been a little more consistent in opposing sanctions against Iran. They even opposed sanctions when the administration thought them a preferable way to encourage Tehran to participate in negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program. 

The coalition was brought together by the Ploughshares Fund, which advocates for a nuclear free world (the irony). Those attempting to justify logically and morally untenable positions often feign sophistication by appealing to the counterintuitive, yet the fact that this effort against sanctions–sanctions that are specifically designed to prevent a nuclear Iran–is being led by people claiming to be against nuclear weapons is simply beyond paradoxical. It was noteworthy at the time that many of those who campaigned against the war in Iraq, claiming they favored non-violent solutions, had previously protested sanctions against Iraq also. Now, with Iran, those who were against the military option are also lining up to try and prevent the sanctions option. Indeed, in an almost Orwellian inversion, some in this coalition have accused the supporters of sanctions of “warmongering.” The question arises, what kind of pressure for preventing the proliferation of the very nuclear weapons that these people claim to oppose would they consider acceptable?

In the case of both of the supposedly pro-Israel groups in question, their participation in this coalition would seem to suggest that whatever it is that they are committed to, it is hardly Israel’s welfare first and foremost. J Street already made clear that it took its marching orders from the Obama administration when it lobbied hard for Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be secretary of defense. Hagel had made a series of infamously anti-Israel and even anti-Jewish comments and had been concerningly ambiguous in his stance on Iran. J Street not only failed to oppose his nomination, they supported it.

American’s for Peace Now may be less slavish to the dictates of the Obama administration, but their consistent opposition to even peaceful measures for preventing Iran from getting the bomb would seem to betray a general hostility to Western interests as well as to the security and survival of Israel in particular. 

When American Jews and friends of Israel look to AIPAC, or the ZOA, or the Emergency Committee for Israel, they may not agree with all of their tactics or even their policies. Yet, they can be sure that these groups are unequivocally pro-Israel. Of J Street and American’s for Peace Now they know no such thing.  

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Obama’s Divide-and-Conquer Strategy on Iran Sanctions

The icy relationship between the Obama administration and Israel’s government has created a familiar pattern of events: President Obama says or does something insulting to Israel, Republicans pounce on it and criticize the president, and Democrats respond by accusing Republicans of politicizing Israel for partisan gain. The accusation has proved bothersome to Republicans, but they seem to have grasped the underlying point: it means they’ve struck a nerve. If the accusation can’t be refuted, Democrats will try to rule the accusation itself out of bounds.

But the recent tussle over Iran sanctions has revealed not only that leading Democrats are in denial about this, but that their accusations of Republicans politicizing Israel are actually rather desperate examples of projection. As Jonathan noted on Friday, the White House is, as usual, opposed to the latest Iran sanctions. Some Jewish groups are supportive of the sanctions, which have now reportedly achieved veto-proof congressional majorities. Obama’s defenders at the National Jewish Democratic Council, led by Rabbi Jack Moline, then did something remarkable: they accused other, more respected Jewish groups of bullying Congress into submission. That is: the Democrats opposed bipartisan Iran sanctions supported by pro-Israel groups, and sent out liberal Jewish groups to smear other American Jewish groups for partisan political gain.

The administration’s strategy to divide and conquer domestic Jewish groups is, JTA had explained, to get those Jewish groups to “back a Democratic president while not expressly opposing intensified sanctions.” In other words, they may actually agree on the merits with the Jewish groups whose reputations they’re attempting to drag through the mud. But they are acting in service to President Obama, and so must treat their fellow Jewish groups as enemies to be destroyed so the president can shield the Iranian government from them.

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The icy relationship between the Obama administration and Israel’s government has created a familiar pattern of events: President Obama says or does something insulting to Israel, Republicans pounce on it and criticize the president, and Democrats respond by accusing Republicans of politicizing Israel for partisan gain. The accusation has proved bothersome to Republicans, but they seem to have grasped the underlying point: it means they’ve struck a nerve. If the accusation can’t be refuted, Democrats will try to rule the accusation itself out of bounds.

But the recent tussle over Iran sanctions has revealed not only that leading Democrats are in denial about this, but that their accusations of Republicans politicizing Israel are actually rather desperate examples of projection. As Jonathan noted on Friday, the White House is, as usual, opposed to the latest Iran sanctions. Some Jewish groups are supportive of the sanctions, which have now reportedly achieved veto-proof congressional majorities. Obama’s defenders at the National Jewish Democratic Council, led by Rabbi Jack Moline, then did something remarkable: they accused other, more respected Jewish groups of bullying Congress into submission. That is: the Democrats opposed bipartisan Iran sanctions supported by pro-Israel groups, and sent out liberal Jewish groups to smear other American Jewish groups for partisan political gain.

The administration’s strategy to divide and conquer domestic Jewish groups is, JTA had explained, to get those Jewish groups to “back a Democratic president while not expressly opposing intensified sanctions.” In other words, they may actually agree on the merits with the Jewish groups whose reputations they’re attempting to drag through the mud. But they are acting in service to President Obama, and so must treat their fellow Jewish groups as enemies to be destroyed so the president can shield the Iranian government from them.

All of this is quite shameful, but it might not matter: now that the White House is aware that the people’s representatives would overwhelmingly support the sanctions, their will must be thwarted before democracy has a chance to work its magic. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.), a close White House ally, has no plans to soon bring the bill to the floor for a vote, people familiar with the process said. But, given the legislation’s strong bipartisan support, it was unclear how long Mr. Reid can buck pressure to hold a vote, making the Obama administration’s lobbying of individual senators even more critical. The lawmakers said they have a veto-proof number of 67 supporters in the Senate.

To be sure, the divisive strategy of enlisting Jewish groups to attack other Jewish groups is not new for this administration. In 2009, the New York Times Magazine profiled J Street. In the article, Jeremy Ben-Ami described his organization’s role as “the president’s blocking back”–a football metaphor referring to a blocker who helps the running back progress upfield. Tablet’s Marc Tracy explained what this meant:

The implication of the metaphor is that J Street sees itself, rather humbly (I mean that as a compliment), as merely one cog in a much larger process, which can’t do the job by itself but can help the job get done. And, of course, the glory goes not to him but to the runner—to Obama.

Indeed, J Street saw itself as an organization dedicated not to advancing ideas but the agenda–and the “glory”–of the Democratic president. J Street also engaged in attacking the reputations of friends of Israel on Obama’s behalf. So did the NJDC’s former director, Ira Forman, who Obama hired to lead his Jewish outreach. Forman’s NJDC got itself in hot water during the 2004 presidential election by producing a shockingly anti-Christian ad against the Bush-Cheney ticket, which also played on Jewish neoconservative stereotypes. The anti-Christian bigotry was a recurring theme during Forman’s time at NJDC before Obama rewarded him with a reelection post.

Here’s a refresher on that ad, from JTA:

Rove is seen delivering orders to the faithful from a pulpit marked with a crucifix. All the Republicans are clad in red cassocks except for President Bush, who is wearing boxer shorts and a T-shirt and reading “My Pet Goat.”

Two Jewish Republicans, Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and top neo-conservative Richard Perle, tell Bubbie, “Hey we’re one of you” and break into what resembles a hora.

“I’m so ashamed,” Bubbie replies in a strong Yiddish accent, before pounding them with the handbag.

Ken Goldstein, an academic at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who monitors the Jewish vote, said the ad shocked him.

“This ad is disgusting — and you will never ever see me say that about a campaign,” Goldstein said. Especially offensive, he said, is Cheney’s decapitated head rolling into a bucket marked “Miami-Dade votes” and pleading, “I want a deferment.”

Forman was proud of his work, explaining that the ad was aimed at the “under-30 crowd.” The youth of America are particularly receptive to smoldering religious hatred, Forman seemed to think, adding: “This is a communication that works for them.”

That behavior is apparently what Obama wanted in his Jewish outreach director, and with Moline’s contribution we can see why. You can’t get much more politicized than turning the American Jewish community against itself in order to sink an Iran-sanctions bill on behalf of the president. Though I suppose we can expect the White House to try and top that too, if the opportunity arises.

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Leftist Roots Trump Obama for J Street

The irony is delicious. In the fall of 2008, the leaders of the J Street lobby boldly asserted their group’s coming preeminence as the leading voice in Washington about Israel over the more established AIPAC. The reason for that confidence was J Street’s close ties to the incoming Obama administration. Pointing to the huge majority of Jewish votes won by the Democrat in the 2008 election, J Street not only claimed that its views were more representative of American Jewry but that it would serve as a necessary pro-Obama counterweight to what they falsely claimed was an AIPAC that favored Republicans. But fast forward to September 2013 and the reality of the alignment of these two groups is vastly different from what J Street propagandists were saying a few years ago. Not only is J Street a shadow of the liberal behemoth that some expected would lead the discussion about the Middle East, disconnected from public opinion in Israel and bereft of influence on Capitol Hill or in the White House. It is also at odds with the man they once served as his main Jewish cheerleaders.

While AIPAC has reacted to the president’s puzzling decision to pass off responsibility to Congress for a strike on Syria by mobilizing its resources to back him up on the issue, J Street is standing on the sidelines of a vote that will have huge implications for the future of U.S. influence in the Middle East. In doing so, J Street is not only burning what’s left of its bridges to an administration that they’ve been out of step with for the past two years. It’s also showing that their leftist roots as the Jewish rump of the MoveOn.org movement trumps their loyalty to the president or to the cause of human rights.

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The irony is delicious. In the fall of 2008, the leaders of the J Street lobby boldly asserted their group’s coming preeminence as the leading voice in Washington about Israel over the more established AIPAC. The reason for that confidence was J Street’s close ties to the incoming Obama administration. Pointing to the huge majority of Jewish votes won by the Democrat in the 2008 election, J Street not only claimed that its views were more representative of American Jewry but that it would serve as a necessary pro-Obama counterweight to what they falsely claimed was an AIPAC that favored Republicans. But fast forward to September 2013 and the reality of the alignment of these two groups is vastly different from what J Street propagandists were saying a few years ago. Not only is J Street a shadow of the liberal behemoth that some expected would lead the discussion about the Middle East, disconnected from public opinion in Israel and bereft of influence on Capitol Hill or in the White House. It is also at odds with the man they once served as his main Jewish cheerleaders.

While AIPAC has reacted to the president’s puzzling decision to pass off responsibility to Congress for a strike on Syria by mobilizing its resources to back him up on the issue, J Street is standing on the sidelines of a vote that will have huge implications for the future of U.S. influence in the Middle East. In doing so, J Street is not only burning what’s left of its bridges to an administration that they’ve been out of step with for the past two years. It’s also showing that their leftist roots as the Jewish rump of the MoveOn.org movement trumps their loyalty to the president or to the cause of human rights.

That J Street should be aligning itself with the isolationists on both the left and the right against the administration shouldn’t be any surprise. Despite their boasts about representing the mainstream of Jewish opinion in this country, it has always been a creature of the isolationist left. Though opposition to Syria intervention is widely unpopular, J Street might have been expected to rally to President Obama’s side in what is probably the most crucial moment of his second term. If Congress fails to grant him authority to attack Syria his credibility is shot at home and abroad and we might as well hang a sign around his neck saying “lame duck.”

But the MoveOn.org crowd from which J Street sprung does not share the president’s apparent ambivalence about the use of U.S. power even when used against a Syrian dictator who has used chemical weapons against his own people. They are always against it. While J Street belatedly condemned Syria’s use of chemical weapons their outrage over this crime wasn’t enough to convince the leaders of the group to back up the president whose stands on Israel once enthralled them.

I deplore J Street’s belief that the U.S should use its status as Israel’s only ally to pressure it to make concessions to a Palestinian Authority that has repeatedly demonstrated its unwillingness to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. But do they think America’s capacity to use its influence in the Middle East will be enhanced by the evisceration of Obama’s ability to lead on foreign affairs by Congress? It is that reason that the pro-Israel community in this country which largely disagrees with J Street’s calls for pressure on Israel has weighed in on the president’s behalf. AIPAC was loath to involve itself in the squabble in Syria because it rightly felt that Israel favored neither side in the Syrian civil war. But a United States that is no longer capable of stepping up to punish those who use weapons of mass destruction in this manner is also an America that has been effectively rendered irrelevant in the Middle East. No matter what you think about the fighting in Syria or about the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, that should be a big problem for those who purport to speak for pro-Israel opinion in this country.

Nevertheless, it should be conceded that J Street’s opposition to Obama on Syria wouldn’t decrease its influence in Washington. That’s because it has none. Though it has been cheering wildly for Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to restart peace talks, it’s been out of touch with the administration’s attitude toward Israel since the beginning of 2012 when the president began a Jewish “charm offensive” in order to help his reelection. J Street loved it when Obama was picking fights with Israel during his first three years in office, but even then it was clear the White House understood just how insignificant a player the group was. That it must now look to AIPAC for help on Syria again demonstrates not only the mainstream lobby’s importance but also how foolish J Street’s attacks on it have been.

When push comes to shove, it appears J Street’s core beliefs about the illegitimacy of American power will always trump its claim to want to bolster Israel or even Obama. If few have noticed that they’ve abandoned the president, it’s largely because their hard-core ideological approach to issues always rendered it a marginal force even in Democratic councils, let alone the public square they once thought to dominate.

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House Members Circulate Letter to Close PLO Office

It looks like the congressional debate over whether to close the PLO office in Washington is far from over. Arutz Sheva reports that a bipartisan group of lawmakers began circulating a letter calling for a strong response to the Palestinian Authority’s UN bid, including the closure of the PLO office: 

Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Howard Berman (D-Calif.), Edward Royce (R-Calif.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) are circulating a letter in response to the Palestinian Authority’s successful bid at the United Nation (sic), urging that the U.S. to utilize “every means at our disposal to ensure that this General Assembly vote does not serve as a precedent for elevating the status of the PLO in other UN bodies or international forums.”

“We are deeply disappointed and upset that the Palestinian leadership rebuffed the entreaties of your Administration and the Congress and insisted on pursuing this distinctly unhelpful initiative,” the letter states.

Echoing the apprehension of the mainstream Jewish community, the lawmakers assert that, “This Palestinian action violated both the letter and spirit of the Oslo Accords, and it opened the door for expanded Palestinian efforts to attack, isolate, and delegitimize Israel in a variety of international forums- a threat which, even if unrealized, would hang over Israel’s head during any future negotiations or any effort by the Israeli government to defend its citizens from terrorism.” … 

“We can do this by closing the PLO office in Washington, D.C. We can also call our Consul-General in Jerusalem home for consultations. We urge you to take these steps,” the letter adds.

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It looks like the congressional debate over whether to close the PLO office in Washington is far from over. Arutz Sheva reports that a bipartisan group of lawmakers began circulating a letter calling for a strong response to the Palestinian Authority’s UN bid, including the closure of the PLO office: 

Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Howard Berman (D-Calif.), Edward Royce (R-Calif.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) are circulating a letter in response to the Palestinian Authority’s successful bid at the United Nation (sic), urging that the U.S. to utilize “every means at our disposal to ensure that this General Assembly vote does not serve as a precedent for elevating the status of the PLO in other UN bodies or international forums.”

“We are deeply disappointed and upset that the Palestinian leadership rebuffed the entreaties of your Administration and the Congress and insisted on pursuing this distinctly unhelpful initiative,” the letter states.

Echoing the apprehension of the mainstream Jewish community, the lawmakers assert that, “This Palestinian action violated both the letter and spirit of the Oslo Accords, and it opened the door for expanded Palestinian efforts to attack, isolate, and delegitimize Israel in a variety of international forums- a threat which, even if unrealized, would hang over Israel’s head during any future negotiations or any effort by the Israeli government to defend its citizens from terrorism.” … 

“We can do this by closing the PLO office in Washington, D.C. We can also call our Consul-General in Jerusalem home for consultations. We urge you to take these steps,” the letter adds.

Ros-Lehtinen is the outgoing chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Royce is the incoming chair, indicating that this is likely to be taken up by the committee next year. Whether it would be considered as a standalone bill or an amendment is unclear at this point, and we probably won’t know more details until the beginning of the next session. But it’s a debate worth watching closely, in no small part because it pits left-wing lobby J Street (which opposes the initiative) against the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (which has supported it):

The initiative is backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and opposed by the extreme left leaning groups of J Street and Peace Now.

Voicing its opposition, J Street, which has long been accused of espousing anti-Israel beliefs, launched an effort Monday to discourage House of Representatives members from signing the letter.

“At a time when the United States should be looking for ways to encourage and deepen diplomacy, talk of ejecting one of the parties from the country defies logic,” J Street said in its action alert.

J Street already claimed victory when a proposed amendment to close the PLO office wasn’t included in the defense authorization bill recently approved by the Senate. As I reported last week, there is no sign this had anything do with J Street’s supposed lobbying prowess. According to the office of Lindsey Graham, one of the sponsors of the amendment, it wasn’t included because it wasn’t technically considered germane. Jewish community sources familiar with the issue also tell me that the Obama administration objected to the amendment, making it unlikely to pass through the unanimous consent process.

In total, around 400 amendments were reportedly proposed for the defense bill, and the majority weren’t included in the final legislation. But that still didn’t stop J Street from sending out this triumphant email headlined “Victory”:

Earlier this week, we asked you to help us stop the Senate from kicking the Palestinian Diplomatic Mission out of Washington, DC in retaliation for last week’s United Nations vote.

You responded, sending 14,500 emails and making almost 1,000 calls telling Senators the US should not take such a counterproductive step.

And, as ThinkProgress,1 JTA2 and The Forward3 have all made crystal clear: YOU DID IT. The Senate held back, and the amendment to expel the Palestinian Mission was dropped. 

Clearly J Street’s celebration was a little premature.

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J Street’s Victory Lap

J Street backed 71 candidates in last month’s election. Sixty-nine of the candidates won. In July, the group issued a statement supporting the latest round of Iran sanctions legislation. The bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent the next day.

To hear J Street and supporters tell it, these are signs its influence is growing.

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J Street backed 71 candidates in last month’s election. Sixty-nine of the candidates won. In July, the group issued a statement supporting the latest round of Iran sanctions legislation. The bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent the next day.

To hear J Street and supporters tell it, these are signs its influence is growing.

“This is an incredible victory,” wrote J Street in a November 7 press release. “One that is part of transforming the political atmosphere around Israel in the U.S. that has blocked meaningful American efforts to achieve a two-state solution for decades.”

There’s actually a less dramatic explanation for J Street’s supposed “victories.” After years of getting crushed by AIPAC in the lobbying game, J Street may have found success in the old adage, “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” The group has started endorsing some sure winners, and then claiming credit when the inevitable happens.

As Steve Rosen pointed out at Foreign Policy, many of the candidates J Street endorsed were also backed and more heavily financed by AIPAC-associated PACs. The same goes for last summer’s Iran sanctions legislation. Both parties in congress overwhelmingly support tough sanctions, as does President Obama (at least publicly). 

So how can we know know if J Street’s clout on the Hill has actually grown, or if it’s just piggybacking off of already-popular candidates and bills? Well, the latest positions J Street has taken are worth keeping an eye on. It’s opposing any congressional response to the Palestinian UN declaration, and any efforts to sanction the PLO mission in Washington.

Several lawmakers have already proposed action against the Palestinian Authority. But what about the members of Congress J Street said it helped get elected? Will they object to these proposals, and support the J Street position? Or did J Street’s “incredible victory” end on election day?

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Obama Rabbis Must Disavow Anti-Zionist

Given that the majority of American Jews are loyal Democrats, it is neither surprising nor unusual that the Obama campaign would be able to assemble a large list of rabbis who endorsed the president’s re-election. But the Obama campaign, which has been falling over itself in the last several months to try and prove the dubious assertion that the incumbent is Israel’s best friend ever to sit in the White House, now finds itself in an embarrassing position as it turns out that a prominent member of the “Rabbis for Obama” who are being heralded by Democrats as truly representing Jewish opinion is an advocate for a well-known anti-Israel group.

Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb is a member of the advisory board and rabbinical council of Jewish Voices for Peace, a nice-sounding title for a far-left radical group that opposes Israeli self-defense, supports the boycott of Israel (and by this, they mean all of Israel, not just the settlements) and promotes an idea of peace in which Arab refugees may swamp Israel consistent with its indifference to the survival of it as a Jewish state. Obama’s partisan opponents at the Republican Jewish Coalition are making a meal of Gottlieb’s inclusion in the Obama list. But that leaves the rest of the rabbis for Obama with a tough question. Do they really want to include among their number someone who is opposed to Zionism and outside even the parameters of what the left-wing lobby J Street would consider “pro-Israel?”

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Given that the majority of American Jews are loyal Democrats, it is neither surprising nor unusual that the Obama campaign would be able to assemble a large list of rabbis who endorsed the president’s re-election. But the Obama campaign, which has been falling over itself in the last several months to try and prove the dubious assertion that the incumbent is Israel’s best friend ever to sit in the White House, now finds itself in an embarrassing position as it turns out that a prominent member of the “Rabbis for Obama” who are being heralded by Democrats as truly representing Jewish opinion is an advocate for a well-known anti-Israel group.

Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb is a member of the advisory board and rabbinical council of Jewish Voices for Peace, a nice-sounding title for a far-left radical group that opposes Israeli self-defense, supports the boycott of Israel (and by this, they mean all of Israel, not just the settlements) and promotes an idea of peace in which Arab refugees may swamp Israel consistent with its indifference to the survival of it as a Jewish state. Obama’s partisan opponents at the Republican Jewish Coalition are making a meal of Gottlieb’s inclusion in the Obama list. But that leaves the rest of the rabbis for Obama with a tough question. Do they really want to include among their number someone who is opposed to Zionism and outside even the parameters of what the left-wing lobby J Street would consider “pro-Israel?”

Gottlieb, who can be viewed endorsing the boycott of Israel here, previously earned the opprobrium of the Jewish community by speaking at a 2007 dinner in New York for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Anti-Defamation League lists Jewish Voices for Peace as one of the “top ten anti-Israel groups” in the nation.

Of course, Rabbis for Obama is free to offer membership to anyone it wants. But if it is going to be used by the president and his party as a prop in their effort to persuade wavering Jewish voters that they can rely on Obama to stick by Israel, then its roster ought to consist of rabbis who actually do support the Jewish state. If a notorious anti-Zionist like Gottlieb is a member in good standing of Rabbis for Obama, it raises the question of what exactly the group stands for? How can it put itself forward as proof of the American Jewish community’s trust in President Obama as a faithful friend of the Jewish state when it is willing to embrace a leader of the movement to vilify Israel?

The point here is that even those who call for inclusion of left-wing groups that often protest Israeli policies like J Street in community councils, understand that Jewish Voices for Peace is beyond the pale. Any group that includes it or its leaders can’t be considered pro-Israel. Is that the message Democrats want to be putting out about its rabbinical front group?

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Obama and J Street Together Again on Iran

The left-wing J Street lobby came into existence in order to support Obama administration pressure on Israel. But with the president shelving any talk about twisting Israel’s arm to make concessions to the Palestinians while he’s running for re-election, the group is instead doing its best to muster support for his weak position on Iran. As an article on the subject published in Foreign Policy by Dylan J. Williams (J Street’s government affairs director) shows, like the president, the group says it is against Iranian nukes, but their priority is opposing the idea of a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Williams’ argument employs the sort of upside down logic that characterizes much of the group’s thinking about the Palestinians. He claims that although diplomacy has already been repeatedly tried and failed, the West should continue to talk with the Iranians despite all the evidence that points to the conclusion that Tehran has no intention of abandoning its nuclear goal. Most of all, he deprecates even the thought of using force, because he claims that strengthens the Islamist regime. In doing so, the group is setting the stage for what will likely be the focus of debate on the issue should the president be re-elected. With Obama’s belated policy of sanctions and diplomacy unlikely to resolve the situation, there will be little doubt that as time runs out until the Iranians get their nuke (the head of British intelligence said it would happen within two years), that defending Obama’s refusal to act to avert the threat may be the priority for his Jewish cheerleaders. But while this may bring them closer to the president after he abandoned their positions on the peace process, it will continue to place them outside of the pro-Israel mainstream.

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The left-wing J Street lobby came into existence in order to support Obama administration pressure on Israel. But with the president shelving any talk about twisting Israel’s arm to make concessions to the Palestinians while he’s running for re-election, the group is instead doing its best to muster support for his weak position on Iran. As an article on the subject published in Foreign Policy by Dylan J. Williams (J Street’s government affairs director) shows, like the president, the group says it is against Iranian nukes, but their priority is opposing the idea of a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Williams’ argument employs the sort of upside down logic that characterizes much of the group’s thinking about the Palestinians. He claims that although diplomacy has already been repeatedly tried and failed, the West should continue to talk with the Iranians despite all the evidence that points to the conclusion that Tehran has no intention of abandoning its nuclear goal. Most of all, he deprecates even the thought of using force, because he claims that strengthens the Islamist regime. In doing so, the group is setting the stage for what will likely be the focus of debate on the issue should the president be re-elected. With Obama’s belated policy of sanctions and diplomacy unlikely to resolve the situation, there will be little doubt that as time runs out until the Iranians get their nuke (the head of British intelligence said it would happen within two years), that defending Obama’s refusal to act to avert the threat may be the priority for his Jewish cheerleaders. But while this may bring them closer to the president after he abandoned their positions on the peace process, it will continue to place them outside of the pro-Israel mainstream.

The romance between J Street and Obama has not been as smooth as the group’s leaders once thought. When the president took office, J Street thought its role as his Jewish surrogate would lead them to supplant AIPAC in influence. But after three years of loyally supporting the president’s desire to distance the United States from the Jewish state and to hammer its government on settlements, borders and the division of Jerusalem, they have been sidelined by the administration’s Jewish charm offensive in 2012. J Street commands little support and less respect among the majority of American Jews, and the president’s speech to the AIPAC conference (the group that J Street once hoped to supplant) this year abandoned the stands J Street applauded.

Despite its pretense to mainstream status, Iran is just another issue about which J Street has carved out a position with which they have demonstrated how out of touch they are with both Israeli and American Jewish opinion. For most of the last four years, J Street refused to support tough sanctions on Iran. But now that the administration belatedly embraced this tactic, J Street is a true believer in sanctions.

Williams accepts at face value the predictions that a strike on Iran would only delay rather than end the Iranian threat. Even if that were true, a delay would be to Israel and the West’s advantage, but it’s far more likely that an unpopular regime under economic pressure would not have the resources or the will to reconstruct its nuclear project.

Even more absurd is Williams’ argument that the threat of force will deepen the Iranians’ resolve to go nuclear. The problem with the diplomatic track is that the opposite is true. After years of Western “engagement” and feckless diplomatic entreaties (a policy that was, to be fair, begun under George W. Bush but enthusiastically continued by Obama), the Iranians think they have nothing to fear from Washington. Their model is that of North Korea, which defied the West and eventually went nuclear despite the diplomatic breakthroughs American administrations thought they had achieved.

All this sets the stage for the next real debate about Iran that will follow after the November election. Though the president has said all the right things about wanting to stop the Iranians, the failure of his initiatives will leave him with two choices: use force or pretend diplomacy is still an action and keep talking until Tehran gets its nukes. The second option is something Israel rightly fears, but that may be exactly what J Street wants a re-elected Obama to do. Like its foolish calls for pressure on Israel to make concessions to a Palestinian Authority that doesn’t want to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, such a stand is neither “pro-Israel,” nor “pro-peace.”

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Palestinians Short of Ideas, Not Guns

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is complaining that Israel is making it difficult for his security forces to obtain weapons. As the New York Times reports, Abbas claimed yesterday in a meeting with members of the left-wing J Street group that the problems his police have been encountering recently is due to their difficulty importing arms. He also dismissed the letter Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent him imploring the Palestinian to return to direct peace talks without preconditions.

However, the claim that any holdup in arms shipments is making it impossible for the PA to fulfill its commitments to keep the peace is absurd. As a senior Israeli source told the Times, there is no shortage of guns or ammunition in the West Bank. The various PA security forces are all armed to the teeth. The material Abbas wants to import from Russia and Egypt is not police equipment but armaments that would transform the PA’s forces into the sort of army the Oslo peace accords specifically forbid. Moreover, because the PA is making an alliance with the radical Islamists of Hamas rather than fighting them, what possible purpose would Abbas have for heavy weapons?

Abbas has a sympathetic audience in J Street. It has supported his effort to evade blame for refusing to talk peace in order to justify its opposition to Israel’s government. Such a stance treats the Palestinians as being without any responsibility for their actions. The PA has long tried to claim it was powerless, but this latest rejection of peace talks demonstrates anew that what they are short of is ideas, not guns.

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Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is complaining that Israel is making it difficult for his security forces to obtain weapons. As the New York Times reports, Abbas claimed yesterday in a meeting with members of the left-wing J Street group that the problems his police have been encountering recently is due to their difficulty importing arms. He also dismissed the letter Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent him imploring the Palestinian to return to direct peace talks without preconditions.

However, the claim that any holdup in arms shipments is making it impossible for the PA to fulfill its commitments to keep the peace is absurd. As a senior Israeli source told the Times, there is no shortage of guns or ammunition in the West Bank. The various PA security forces are all armed to the teeth. The material Abbas wants to import from Russia and Egypt is not police equipment but armaments that would transform the PA’s forces into the sort of army the Oslo peace accords specifically forbid. Moreover, because the PA is making an alliance with the radical Islamists of Hamas rather than fighting them, what possible purpose would Abbas have for heavy weapons?

Abbas has a sympathetic audience in J Street. It has supported his effort to evade blame for refusing to talk peace in order to justify its opposition to Israel’s government. Such a stance treats the Palestinians as being without any responsibility for their actions. The PA has long tried to claim it was powerless, but this latest rejection of peace talks demonstrates anew that what they are short of is ideas, not guns.

The PA leader is still under the mistaken impression that he needn’t talk to Prime Minister Netanyahu. He believes President Obama, left-wing Jews like J Street and an international community deeply hostile to the Jewish state will eventually bludgeon Israel into granting his demands that it surrender on every point of contention before negotiations even begin. But as his failed attempt to get the United Nations to recognize Palestinian independence — the diplomatic “tsunami” that was supposed to overwhelm Israel but instead merely demonstrated that the world had little interest in the Palestinians — without the PA first making peace with Israel should have taught him this strategy is not going to work. Nor should he hold his breath waiting for President Obama to risk the ire of Americans voters by picking another fight with Israel this year.

It is unfortunate that groups like J Street feed into his delusions about the world’s interest in forcing Israel into granting his desires. Abbas may harbor hopes a re-elected Obama will return to the pattern of his first three years in office and again seek to pressure Netanyahu to give in to Palestinian demands. But even if that comes to pass, there is only so much his foreign friends can do for him if he isn’t willing to talk to the Israelis. Abbas has demonstrated time and again that he isn’t willing or capable of signing a peace agreement that would recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

Rather than whining to groups that aren’t willing to hold him responsible for his inability to import Russia munitions, what Abbas needs to do is to signal his willingness to make peace on realistic terms. Until that happens, neither Netanyahu — who enjoys the support of the vast majority of Israelis — or even a re-elected Obama are going to pay much attention to his complaints.

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The Bankruptcy of Beinart Inc.

Peter Beinart, aspirant to the pedestal of liberal Zionism and prospective successor to Tony Judt, is witnessing the unravelling of his carefully choreographed arrangement. It was going so well: on the heels of his infamous article in the New York Review of Books came the commission to expand the thesis into a book, and, with the assistance of an army of interns and researchers, The Crisis of Zionism was released at the annual J Street conference and with an article in the New York Times, and, to accompany this momentous event, with the inauguration of a new blog, Zion Square, which would alter the discourse on Zionism in the American Jewish community. And he, with a righteous cause and the reward of royalties, would be at the forefront.

So far, so bold.

Unfortunately for Beinart, however, even the blueprint, much less the execution, was ill-conceived. To begin with, the book itself has received scathing reviews (see for instance, Sol Stern’s take in this month’s COMMENTARY, as well as here, here, here, and here). There is no need to rehearse their salient criticisms, except to note that between the article and the book, Beinart altered one of his key theses, namely, that it was not Israeli policies which were alienating American Jews, as he had earlier claimed, but rather intermarriage among the latter which was alienating them from the Jewish community, and consequently from Israel. Read More

Peter Beinart, aspirant to the pedestal of liberal Zionism and prospective successor to Tony Judt, is witnessing the unravelling of his carefully choreographed arrangement. It was going so well: on the heels of his infamous article in the New York Review of Books came the commission to expand the thesis into a book, and, with the assistance of an army of interns and researchers, The Crisis of Zionism was released at the annual J Street conference and with an article in the New York Times, and, to accompany this momentous event, with the inauguration of a new blog, Zion Square, which would alter the discourse on Zionism in the American Jewish community. And he, with a righteous cause and the reward of royalties, would be at the forefront.

So far, so bold.

Unfortunately for Beinart, however, even the blueprint, much less the execution, was ill-conceived. To begin with, the book itself has received scathing reviews (see for instance, Sol Stern’s take in this month’s COMMENTARY, as well as here, here, here, and here). There is no need to rehearse their salient criticisms, except to note that between the article and the book, Beinart altered one of his key theses, namely, that it was not Israeli policies which were alienating American Jews, as he had earlier claimed, but rather intermarriage among the latter which was alienating them from the Jewish community, and consequently from Israel.

Next, the J Street conference itself was something of a sham, and the first Israeli diplomat to attend in two years – Israel’s deputy ambassador to the United States – slammed the group, calling on it to change its ways and ‘‘stand with us.’’ A harsher critique of a self-described ‘‘pro-Israel’’ group would be hard to find; perhaps that’s why J Street removed the speech from the group’s official record. Beinart, though, still had his backers, including one Lara Friedman, an activist with Americans for Peace Now, who recently discovered (to no effect) the Arabs do not reciprocate her goodwill.

Beinart’s accompanying op-ed at the New York Times calling for a ‘‘Zionist BDS’’ to save Israel’s democracy from the ‘‘nondemocratic’’ Israeli presence in Judea and Samaria was also panned – immediately by the Israeli ambassador, Michael Oren, and then by everyone else in the Jewish community, including J Street! Apparently, Beinart missed the BDS memo: even sympathizers now see its faults, and examples abound of the failure to do precisely what Beinart prescribes: differentiate boycotts of Judea and Samaria from those of the rest of Israel.

Finally, Zion Square, barely a month old, has (a bit embarrassingly) become Open Zion, in response to a similar blog of the same name launched somewhat pre-emptively. And now one of its few moderate, best credentialed, and less outspoken bloggers, Dr Yoel Finkelman, has, with a public letter at Jewish Ideas Daily, resigned his charge as a regular contributor, in protest of the blog’s content, style, and agenda.

And so, the crisis of Zionism emerges as comparatively chimerical, and the crisis of Beinart – and of Beinart Inc. – is unfolding before us. Like Zion’s many other critics, perhaps he’ll go on to blame the Israel Lobby. Alternatively – and hopefully – he’ll revise his viewpoint and finish this farce.

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J Street Evangelicals Use Conference To Push Anti-Semitic Tropes

As this year’s J Street conference begins, I’ve obtained a speech from last year’s—from a conference panel called “Working with Christian Communities Towards a Room Two-State Solution.” The speaker in question is Serge Duss, Director of the New Century Evangelicals Project, and the theory at issue is that modern Jews are not descended from Biblical Jews:

The misconception that most Evangelicals have, particularly conservative Evangelicals – I consider myself a progressive Evangelical – is what we learned in Sunday school. And what we learned in Sunday school about the Old Testament and particularly King David, we have carried forward three, four, five thousands years, where there is a belief that the modern state of Israel and modern Israelis are the extension of the Children of Israel of the Old Testament. You, only you – I can’t, but only you can disabuse Evangelicals of that mythology. How many rabbis I’ve heard say in settings, ‘We are not the Hebrews, the Children of Israel of the Old Testament’? And unless conservative Evangelicals particularly hear that message from Jews in America today and Israelis in Israel, minds will not be changed.

Under the most innocent reading Duss was merely calling for J Street’s Jewish attendees to use their Jewish identity to undermine support for Israel. That would be a telling advocacy, and here it’s worth noting that J Street organizers appreciated Duss so much that they brought him back this year. Instead of trying to expand the pro-Israel tent to include more people, J Street seems committed to isolating Israel and Israelis by undermining existing their support from American Jews and Christians.

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As this year’s J Street conference begins, I’ve obtained a speech from last year’s—from a conference panel called “Working with Christian Communities Towards a Room Two-State Solution.” The speaker in question is Serge Duss, Director of the New Century Evangelicals Project, and the theory at issue is that modern Jews are not descended from Biblical Jews:

The misconception that most Evangelicals have, particularly conservative Evangelicals – I consider myself a progressive Evangelical – is what we learned in Sunday school. And what we learned in Sunday school about the Old Testament and particularly King David, we have carried forward three, four, five thousands years, where there is a belief that the modern state of Israel and modern Israelis are the extension of the Children of Israel of the Old Testament. You, only you – I can’t, but only you can disabuse Evangelicals of that mythology. How many rabbis I’ve heard say in settings, ‘We are not the Hebrews, the Children of Israel of the Old Testament’? And unless conservative Evangelicals particularly hear that message from Jews in America today and Israelis in Israel, minds will not be changed.

Under the most innocent reading Duss was merely calling for J Street’s Jewish attendees to use their Jewish identity to undermine support for Israel. That would be a telling advocacy, and here it’s worth noting that J Street organizers appreciated Duss so much that they brought him back this year. Instead of trying to expand the pro-Israel tent to include more people, J Street seems committed to isolating Israel and Israelis by undermining existing their support from American Jews and Christians.

But there’s very little innocent here. Denying the connection between ancient and modern Jews is, according to conspiracy theory expert Bob Blaskiewicz, “a precursor to the type of rationalization of Christian Identity theology, that the ‘Jews’ are imposters claiming the Chosen People status properly owned by the white American Christian male.” It’s a scientifically disproven canard that anti-Semites have used for centuries to disinherit Jews theologically and politically.

At its most explicit, the theory holds that contemporary Jews are descendents of non-Semitic Khazars who converted to Judaism. The Anti-Defamation League has an extended backgrounder on how the claim has played out in modern anti-Semitic movements. You can find it in the wild on Holocaust-denying WWII revisionist sites, in the forums of Protocols-obsessed David Icke, and on one of the Internet’s most notorious conspiracy theory cesspools. Note how quickly the writers transition from the theory itself into how it undermines the legitimacy of the Jewish State.

Duss’s notion that “modern Israelis are [not] the extension of the Children of Israel of the Old Testament” has entered the leftwing anti-Israel evangelical world via at least two routes. Among Christian Palestinians the Khazar theory has long been promoted by Mazin Qumsiyeh, who is heavily tied to the anti-Israel Arab Christian circuit. In the United States it was picked up by the Israel-Palestine Mission Network, a particularly nasty organ of the Presbyterian Church USA, and inserted into booklets based on a 2008 book by Israeli professor Shlomo Sand. From Sand it hopped elsewhere in the evangelical world, until by 2010 you had Palestinian Lutheran minister Mitri Raheb declaring at an evangelical conference that he’s descended from King David while Netanyahu has no Jewish blood and “comes from an East European tribe who converted to Judaism in the Middle Ages.”

Duss was a little ambiguous in his J Street speech, so no one knows whether he was specifically gesturing toward the Khazar theory and its political implications. It’s not impossible that Duss was just being metaphorical. Instead of intentionally using an anti-Semitic dog whistle to undermine American evangelical support for Israel, he would have been vaguely invoking a classically anti-Semitic trope to undermine American evangelical support of Israel.

Either way, by the standard J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami set when he condemned the imagery in Netanyahu’s AIPAC speech, even metaphorical anti-Semitism would still leave J Street deeply complicit.

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J Street Failure Reflected at Conference

J Street is holding their annual policy conference this weekend, and the group duly requested speakers from the White House and the Israeli embassy in Washington DC. The results are unspinnable. The Israelis let J Street cool its heels until this week before dispatching deputy chief of mission Barukh Binah. Binah recently concluded a stint in Jerusalem as a Foreign Ministry deputy director-general, in which capacity he publicly castigated J Street for dishonestly manufacturing an anti-Israel publicity stunt, then building an entire media campaign around the stunt, then fabricating an Israeli apology related to the stunt. Sending him to be the embassy’s speaker was not the world’s most subtle move. The White House’s announcement of its surrogate, the vice president’s national security adviser Tony Blinken, left Ben-Ami bitterly complaining that the choice was a snub. He’s right. Blinken, for all that he is an experienced hand, is several rungs below U.S. National Security Adviser Jim Jones, who appeared at the first J Street conference and left J Street boosters musing about the group’s potential power.

J Street has gone from fantasies of being the anti-AIPAC to complaining publicly about its diminished influence. The spiral was a function of many things, but mostly of the group aggressively pushing counterproductive, failed, and toxic policies in Israel, in Congress, and in the media.

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J Street is holding their annual policy conference this weekend, and the group duly requested speakers from the White House and the Israeli embassy in Washington DC. The results are unspinnable. The Israelis let J Street cool its heels until this week before dispatching deputy chief of mission Barukh Binah. Binah recently concluded a stint in Jerusalem as a Foreign Ministry deputy director-general, in which capacity he publicly castigated J Street for dishonestly manufacturing an anti-Israel publicity stunt, then building an entire media campaign around the stunt, then fabricating an Israeli apology related to the stunt. Sending him to be the embassy’s speaker was not the world’s most subtle move. The White House’s announcement of its surrogate, the vice president’s national security adviser Tony Blinken, left Ben-Ami bitterly complaining that the choice was a snub. He’s right. Blinken, for all that he is an experienced hand, is several rungs below U.S. National Security Adviser Jim Jones, who appeared at the first J Street conference and left J Street boosters musing about the group’s potential power.

J Street has gone from fantasies of being the anti-AIPAC to complaining publicly about its diminished influence. The spiral was a function of many things, but mostly of the group aggressively pushing counterproductive, failed, and toxic policies in Israel, in Congress, and in the media.

Israelis were always skeptical of J Street, even as the group was embraced by the Obama White House as the President’s anti-Israel enabler. Israeli embassy officials declared that J Street was damaging Israel, was “a unique problem,” and was “fooling around” with Israeli lives. When J Street’s founder and president Jeremy Ben-Ami publicly insisted upon Ambassador Oren’s presence at the group’s first conference he was rebuffed, leading Ben-Ami’s White House allies to attack Israel over the snub in Israeli media outlets (reports from the conference justified Israeli skepticism). Last year Israel’s minister for public diplomacy and Diaspora affairs flatly called J Street anti-Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu won’t take meetings with the group’s delegations.

In the meantime J Street’s public campaigns – many implemented with tone-deafness and some with frankly shocking incompetence – eroded its Congressional support.

Its embrace of Richard Goldstone was followed by a fumbled cover-up. Its support of anti-Israel U.N. campaigns triggered a fistfight with Congressional allies. Its defense of anti-Semitic rhetoric is seeping in this weekend’s conference. Its coordination with pro-Iran lobbies has been unreal. Its stance on Cast Lead angered Israeli victims’ organizations..

J Street officials got caught misleading reporters on overseas Arab and Muslim funding and then launched a clumsy spin campaign. Then they got caught misleading other reporters about Soros funding and launched another clumsy spin campaign. When the group did its fundraising in public it was for yet another effort to pressure Obama into pressuring Israel.

On a smaller scale J Street launched campaigns to defend anti-Israel media campaigns and anti-Israel art and anti-Israel artists. Its PR flak defended Mary Robinson. It brought into the fold an apologist for the Muslim students who went after Ambassador Oren at UC Irvine. A J Street delegation held meetings with Palestinian diplomats in Ramallah on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day over Israeli objections and then Ben-Ami bragged about the trip in the Jerusalem Post. One of their board members met with Hamas.

Unsurprisingly the group has become toxic in Congress. Associating with J Street costs votes and chills relationships.

As a small example: last year some House Republicans threatened to defund the Palestinian Authority. The move was opposed with various degrees of publicity by Democrats, the White House, and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. J Street ostentatiously launched a three-month public campaign to push back, which culminated in 44 Democratic signatures on a letter. 44 is 10 fewer Democrats than J Street secured for far more controversial 2010 letter calling on Obama to pressure Israel on the Gaza siege, which J Street had to lobby for by proxy.

This time J Street was too weak to directly push on an open door in Congress. The White House and its political liaisons undoubtedly noted as much.

J Street and other anti-Israel Jewish groups will never totally collapse. They will always have a constituency, and that constituency will always pretend that they’re on the cusp of influencing the policy discussion. But everyone else seems to be tired of pretending that J Street is anything but a particularly elegant case study of how fringe progressive collapses under its own weight.

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J Street Defends OWS’s Anti-Semitism

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. Read More

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.

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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.”

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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 bloggheads.tv 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.

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J Street’s False Foundational Myth

The Alienation Thesis or the Distancing Thesis or the Detachment Thesis or whatever we’re calling it this week — the claim American Jews are increasingly estranged from Israel because of Israeli policies — is the central dogma of the anti-Israel left. If it’s true then groups like J Street are engaged in the salutary work of broadening pro-Israel Jewish politics to include traditionally anti-Israel positions. If it’s false then those groups are taking Jews who would have ended up with muddy pro-Israel sentiments and are needlessly bombarding them with anti-Israel propaganda. “Alienation” or “distancing” or “detachment” is the argumentative premise at the source of everything that happens downstream.

It’s not an accident that sophisticated erstwhile J Street defenders like Jeffrey Goldberg instinctively throw it in whenever they try to defend the organization. J Street itself, for all of the organization’s borderline aggressive lack of tactical acumen, makes a point of blandly asserting that the thesis is true. Hand wringing pathos-soaked “why must Israel do things that make me sad” Jews like Peter Beinart have been blandly pretending it’s valid for the better part of a decade.

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The Alienation Thesis or the Distancing Thesis or the Detachment Thesis or whatever we’re calling it this week — the claim American Jews are increasingly estranged from Israel because of Israeli policies — is the central dogma of the anti-Israel left. If it’s true then groups like J Street are engaged in the salutary work of broadening pro-Israel Jewish politics to include traditionally anti-Israel positions. If it’s false then those groups are taking Jews who would have ended up with muddy pro-Israel sentiments and are needlessly bombarding them with anti-Israel propaganda. “Alienation” or “distancing” or “detachment” is the argumentative premise at the source of everything that happens downstream.

It’s not an accident that sophisticated erstwhile J Street defenders like Jeffrey Goldberg instinctively throw it in whenever they try to defend the organization. J Street itself, for all of the organization’s borderline aggressive lack of tactical acumen, makes a point of blandly asserting that the thesis is true. Hand wringing pathos-soaked “why must Israel do things that make me sad” Jews like Peter Beinart have been blandly pretending it’s valid for the better part of a decade.

Except it’s false. It’s so false that when you unpack it into constituent parts it’s false in multiple distinct and borderline contradictory ways, none of which manage to cancel each other out. In the most generous case J Street-style partisans assume American Jews are alienated from Israel because all the American Jews they personally know are alienated from Israel (figuring out the precise degree to which that’s breathtakingly revelatory is left as an exercise for the reader). In the less generous case they’re hoping against hope that no one ever scrutinizes their pretexts for uniquely mainstreaming anti-Israel smears into the American Jewish community.

Fundamentally there are two claims being made by J Street and their ilk. The first is that American Jews are increasingly estranged from Israel, which is a flatly empirical claim. The second is that American Jews’ ostensibly increasing estrangement is on account of Israeli policies, which is a causal claim. Neither is tenable.

On the latter question of causality, let’s put aside the overarching silliness of pretending that railing against real and imagined Israeli sins will somehow make conference attendees more sympathetic to Israel. J Street’s subtler causal claim is about the source of alienation – Israeli policies – rather than what might solve it. But they’re making that up.

We’ve known for years that identification with Israel varies with Jewish identification. Especially for younger Jews, it’s a consequence of Jewish identity not its cause, which is why Beinart’s implicit claim otherwise triggered extensive on-point blogging on the link between Zionism and different strains of Judaism. Even Beinart, in contrast to J Street, has given up the ghost on there being a link between political views and emotional ties to Israel — which is only fair inasmuch as the best studies say no link exists:

On the right, in particular, writers describe the recent successes of J Street as an indicator of Jewish alienation from Israel (there is no evidence that it is so). The left also promotes the distancing narrative but mainly as a political weapon against Israeli government policies, which are described as alienating the next generation from Zionist and Jewish identities. Add to the mix the perennial interest of Jewish organizations in fundraising and you have a very potent set of interests driving the distancing narrative.

If there was decreasing American-Jewish attachment to Israel — i.e. the basic empirical claim, which is false — it still wouldn’t be because of Israeli policies. But there isn’t. In January Matthew Ackerman posted numbers on young Jewish identification that showed that a “feeling of attachment to the Jewish state is at least as strong among young Jews as it is for older Jews [and] has been gaining traction of late.” As for American Jews of all ages, AJC polling shows that pro-Israel attachment hasn’t changed in a decade. When asked how close they feel to Israel, between 65% and 75% of American Jews respond “very close” or “fairly close” (2011: 68%, 2010: 74%, 2009: 69%, 2008: 67%, 2007: 70%, 2006: 76%, 2005: 77%, 2004: 75%, 2003: 74%, 2002: 73%, 2001: 72%).

A 2011 poll of American Jewish voters unpacked that support in terms of concrete positions: 93% of respondents were concerned that Israel is “being threatened by Arab nations and Iran that want to destroy Israel,” 81% were opposed to “Israel being forced to return to its pre-1967 borders,” 73% supported Jerusalem “remaining the united capital of Israel,” and, critically, 88% of respondents insisted that “recognition of Israel as a Jewish State” had to be a “prerequisite for Palestinian Statehood.” Media outlets continue unblinkingly assert otherwise – see Jonathan’s post from yesterday on Iran polling – but that doesn’t make their oh-so-convenient wishful thinking any less false.

That poll was largely in line with a CAMERA poll taken about the same time. When asked, “If Israel no longer existed tomorrow, I would consider it to be…” 58% of American Jews answered “a major tragedy that personally concerned me” and another 24% went further and described it as “the biggest tragedy of my lifetime.” Again alienation pushers like Nicholas Kristof kept writing as if the CAMERA poll and several others didn’t exist, because why not?

Perhaps most critically, CAMERA poll respondents did not believe — as J Street pretends American Jews do — that Israel was responsible for the breakdown of the peace process. Instead they indicated that the Israeli government (84%) and its people (85%) are committed to establishing genuine peace, and a large majority blamed Palestinian incitement for the deadlock (77%).

Only 12% of respondents thought that either settlements or the “occupation” were responsible, which is exactly the opposite of what J Street pretends American Jews believe. There’s a reason, after all, why Obama lost almost half of his Jewish support at the height of his diplomatic offensives on settlement construction. It’s not because Jews feel alienated from Israel on account of settlement construction.

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J Street Rolls Out the Red Carpet for BDS

These posts, about J Street conference speakers who advocate anti-Israel boycotts and sanctions, are becoming an annual tradition. Last year the ostensibly pro-Israel group hosted BDS advocates from fringe left-wing Jewish groups, raising questions as to why J Street’s commitment to “expanding the debate” over Israel only seems to involve stretching the spectrum to include the anti-Israel side.

This year J Street is hosting the book launch of Peter Beinart who — will wonders never cease — just published an op-ed in the New York Times calling for a “Zionist BDS” campaign that would seek to economically suffocate all Israeli Jews who live beyond the 1948 armistice lines.

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These posts, about J Street conference speakers who advocate anti-Israel boycotts and sanctions, are becoming an annual tradition. Last year the ostensibly pro-Israel group hosted BDS advocates from fringe left-wing Jewish groups, raising questions as to why J Street’s commitment to “expanding the debate” over Israel only seems to involve stretching the spectrum to include the anti-Israel side.

This year J Street is hosting the book launch of Peter Beinart who — will wonders never cease — just published an op-ed in the New York Times calling for a “Zionist BDS” campaign that would seek to economically suffocate all Israeli Jews who live beyond the 1948 armistice lines.

(1) In practice — which is to say, outside of Beinart’s singular too-clever-by-half advocacy — there’s no such thing as a limited anti-Israel boycott. There isn’t this critical mass of Western activists waiting to learn from Peter Beinart which Israelis they’re supposed to like and who they need to ostracize, and takes either shallow narcissism or revelatory cocooning to believe otherwise. Meanwhile the Palestinians talk about Israeli chains that “spread like cancer,” a nice rhetorical reminder that boycott movements get their strength not just from revulsion but from the cheap superiority to be found in feeling revulsed. Israel doesn’t actually make all that much in the West Bank, and the typical attraction of BDS has far more to do with chasing the never-quite-adequate pleasure of hating those people — of indulging in an ugly sneer at the thought of rotting Israeli goods and suffering Israeli families — than with utilizing objective economic leverage.

That’s why calls for so-called “targeted” BDS routinely metastasize into calls for total boycotts of the Jewish State. In Britain efforts to label products from settlements spurred greater efforts for full boycotts. Partisans inclined to hate Israel hijack not just the campaigns but also even the physical forums where partial vs. full BDS gets debated. The consistency with which that dynamic has played out raises questions about whether limited BDS advocates are merely naive.

(2) BDS is such a vulgar advocacy that even Norman Finkelstein, who once made John Mearsheimer’s list of good Jews, can’t stomach it. He recently lashed out against the “cult” in general, and he was specifically bothered by the nudge-wink pretense that BDS advocates can somehow untangle their campaigns from wholesale calls to wipe out Israel:

Finkelstein got into trouble when he said that some people in BDS “don’t want Israel.” He lectured his BDS colleagues: “Stop trying to be so clever, because you’re only clever in your cult. The moment you step out, you have to deal with Israeli propaganda … They say, ‘No, they’re not really talking about rights; they’re talking about they want to destroy Israel.’ And in fact I think they’re right, I think that’s true.”

In fact, Finkelstein said, it is “not an accident, an unwitting omission, that BDS does not mention Israel”: They “know it will split the movement, because there’s a large segment—component—of the movement that wants to eliminate Israel.” You can see why anti-Israel people were offended to hear this from Finkelstein, of all people. Yet Finkelstein was not revealing some deep secret about the motives of those BDS-ers. Anyone who has listened to their leaders, read their papers, seen them at play, or checked out their circle of acquaintances, supporters, and collaborators can hardly be surprised.

It would be great if someone could push Beinart on Finkelstein’s points, especially on the issue of left-wing BDS disingenuousness. The odds of that particular conversation happening at the J Street conference are, for obvious reasons, not particularly great.

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Jews Divided on Iran? Not Really

Worry over the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon is one issue that has long united the pro-Israel community. The strength of this consensus, which is shared by the majority of Americans, is such that the only real division is over whether it is advisable for Israel or the West to strike Iran relatively soon or to wait a while for crippling sanctions to force a diplomatic solution before force is used. Some on the left continue to weakly argue that Iran doesn’t want to build such a weapon or, alternatively, that a nuclear Iran can be contained. But President Obama’s recent speech to the AIPAC conference in which he reiterated his determination to stop Iran and disavowed a containment strategy, demonstrated that such voices are very much on the margins of public debate, let alone the Jewish community.

However that didn’t stop the New York Times from running an article today on the front page that claimed in the headline in the version published online on Sunday afternoon “Pro-Israel Groups Differ on Iran” (by Monday, the headline had been changed to read “Hawks Steer Debate on How to Take on Iran”). But those readers eager to discover which mainstream Jewish groups were taking a contrary position on Iran were disappointed. The only organizations that the Times could find to back up that headline were J Street and Tikkun. While the former claims to be “pro-Israel” even the latter’s adherents do not attempt to play that game. But however you wish to label them, the idea that disagreement from these two left-wing outliers constitutes any sort of a Jewish debate is comical. Perhaps only in the pages of the New York Times or that of Tikkun itself, could a situation where the opposition of groups as marginal as these be considered a serious news story.

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Worry over the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon is one issue that has long united the pro-Israel community. The strength of this consensus, which is shared by the majority of Americans, is such that the only real division is over whether it is advisable for Israel or the West to strike Iran relatively soon or to wait a while for crippling sanctions to force a diplomatic solution before force is used. Some on the left continue to weakly argue that Iran doesn’t want to build such a weapon or, alternatively, that a nuclear Iran can be contained. But President Obama’s recent speech to the AIPAC conference in which he reiterated his determination to stop Iran and disavowed a containment strategy, demonstrated that such voices are very much on the margins of public debate, let alone the Jewish community.

However that didn’t stop the New York Times from running an article today on the front page that claimed in the headline in the version published online on Sunday afternoon “Pro-Israel Groups Differ on Iran” (by Monday, the headline had been changed to read “Hawks Steer Debate on How to Take on Iran”). But those readers eager to discover which mainstream Jewish groups were taking a contrary position on Iran were disappointed. The only organizations that the Times could find to back up that headline were J Street and Tikkun. While the former claims to be “pro-Israel” even the latter’s adherents do not attempt to play that game. But however you wish to label them, the idea that disagreement from these two left-wing outliers constitutes any sort of a Jewish debate is comical. Perhaps only in the pages of the New York Times or that of Tikkun itself, could a situation where the opposition of groups as marginal as these be considered a serious news story.

The article attempts to frame the debate as one between evangelical Christians and “neocons” on the right and the peace faction on the left represented by J Street and Tikkun. But there is, in fact, no great division on the issue. It is true that conservatives are deeply skeptical of President Obama’s promises on the issue and point out that his actions have never matched the fierce rhetoric on the subject that he has been spouting since even before he was elected president. But the argument about whether Obama has done much on the issue or if he will ultimately do anything at all is a very different question than the one posed by the Times.

As even the Times noted, the only opposition to tough sanctions that mandate an oil embargo on Iran came from the far left or the isolationist far right. But to represent the views put forward by Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul as having anything but a miniscule following in the country in general, let alone in the Jewish community is an astonishing distortion.

As for J Street, while it once hoped to replace AIPAC as the voice of American Jewry on Israel, that is an assertion that is not treated seriously anywhere but in the pages of the Times. J Street’s positions opposing Israeli measures of self-defense and refusal to join the consensus on Iran has prevented it from achieving the success it thought it would achieve. Congress pays little attention to its attempt to bite AIPAC’s ankles on the issues and even President Obama, whose cause it was set up to support against attacks from the left, has deserted it. Obama’s speech to AIPAC made it clear that, at least while he was running for re-election, he has ditched the group’s agenda of pressure on Israel for the sake of a dead-in-the-water peace process.

As for Tikkun, it is so far out of the mainstream that it makes J Street look moderate. Tikkun isn’t merely a supporter of Israel’s discredited Peace Now faction as is the case with J Street. It is a home for those on the far left who oppose the state’s existence altogether and back measures of economic warfare to bring it to its knees.

The Times article framed J Street and Tikkun as representing a sizable Jewish faction simply because the editorial slant of the piece demanded it. To claim they represent anything but the far left is absurd. Indeed, the piece’s conclusion contradicted both the lead and the headline when it noted:

The harder line that Mr. Obama articulated also happens to be good domestic politics, according to experts. The president’s statements, they said, calmed the jitters of some Jewish voters about his support for Israel and defused the effort of Republican presidential candidates to use Iran as a wedge issue against him.

That is true. While the left hopes to buttress what it believes is Obama’s true wish to stay out of a conflict on Iran, his tilt on the issue shows that he knows there are very few votes, Jewish or non-Jewish, to be won by sounding as soft on Iran as J Street and Tikkun would like. The only real Jewish debate on the issue is strictly in the imaginations of these extremists and their cheering section at the Times.

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J Street in Trouble for Smearing Israel

Last time Israel launched a defensive war in Gaza, J Street called for superpower intervention to restrain the IDF. The position put the ostensibly “pro-Israel” organization firmly on the other side of the Israeli government and three-fourths of the Israeli public, and at least in tension with the Palestinian Authority’s “it’s Hamas’s fault” position. But they’re still “pro-Israel” because their parents told them they could be anything they want when they grow up.

This time around, J Street partisans have settled on a less robust advocacy, mostly contenting themselves with catechisms about how “the majority of… Palestinians recognize that a two-state solution is the only means to achieve true peace and security.”

Still, two problems.

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Last time Israel launched a defensive war in Gaza, J Street called for superpower intervention to restrain the IDF. The position put the ostensibly “pro-Israel” organization firmly on the other side of the Israeli government and three-fourths of the Israeli public, and at least in tension with the Palestinian Authority’s “it’s Hamas’s fault” position. But they’re still “pro-Israel” because their parents told them they could be anything they want when they grow up.

This time around, J Street partisans have settled on a less robust advocacy, mostly contenting themselves with catechisms about how “the majority of… Palestinians recognize that a two-state solution is the only means to achieve true peace and security.”

Still, two problems.

First, multiple different polls with multiple different questions have confirmed that of course it’s not the case  the majority of Palestinians embrace a two-state solution. Wishing doesn’t make it so. Second, J Street tried to stack even their minimal advocacy with an outrageous lie about anti-Palestinian Israeli atrocities. Via blogger Challah Hu Akbar, who caught the smear almost immediately:

J Street has released a statement on the recent rocket attacks against Israel’s southern communities and the IDF response. In this statement, J Street says… “Israel Defense Forces… have killed over a dozen Palestinian civilians.” This is an utter lie. Prior to Sunday, Israel had successfully killed 16 terrorists, who were either active in the Popular Resistance Committees or Islamic Jihad, and no civilians. Unfortunately, two civilians were killed on Sunday.

Challah then went on to list each and every terrorist who had been killed, complete with pictures and links to most of their online martyr bios. Martyr bios. While genocidal Palestinian groups were glorifying their cretins’ battlefield demise, J Street was calling those terrorists civilians. Apparently, they’re so incompetent they can’t even toe the Palestinian line correctly.

In fairness, J Street later deleted their false smear. But that hasn’t stopped Israeli outlets from painstakingly cataloging how everyone except the organization seemed to know the dead terrorists were in fact dead terrorists (the notable exception being EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, who also seemingly didn’t know). And it hasn’t stopped Israeli MK Otniel Schneller from blasting the group:

“At a time when a million Israeli citizens have been living in bomb shelters for four days and four nights, have not gone to school or work and anxiously await the next siren, the terrorists firing on them are getting encouragement and support, not just from Iran and Hezbollah, but also from the left-wing Jewish American organization J Street,” Schneller said in the Knesset plenum on Tuesday. “The anti-Israel and anti-ethical statement of J Street should serve as a warning for Israeli politicians and left-wing activists, including members of my party, against supporting and identifying with J Street, as they have done in the past,” he added.

Schneller, by the by, turns out to be a Kadima MK. The forecast for former PM Ehud Olmert’s keynote at J Street’s upcoming conference is getting awfully frosty.

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Why Has J Street Defended Media Matters?

Back when the “Israel-Firsters” controversy first started to get picked up by major newspapers, J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami spoke to the Washington Post and defended Media Matters and Think Progress staffers who used the dual-loyalty charge.

“If the charge is that you’re putting the interests of another country before the interests of the United States in the way you would advocate that, it’s a legitimate question,” he told the Post.

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Back when the “Israel-Firsters” controversy first started to get picked up by major newspapers, J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami spoke to the Washington Post and defended Media Matters and Think Progress staffers who used the dual-loyalty charge.

“If the charge is that you’re putting the interests of another country before the interests of the United States in the way you would advocate that, it’s a legitimate question,” he told the Post.

Ben Ami is obviously no stranger to controversy, and by now he’s probably used to catching flack from the Jewish community. But the public condemnation in this instance was so swift and forceful that Ben Ami felt the need to rush out a clearly-panicked apology and weak clarification of his comments just hours after the article was published.

“I agree that the use of the term ‘Israel Firster’ is a bad choice of words. The conspiracy theory that American Jews have dual loyalty is just that, a conspiracy theory and must be refuted in the strongest possible way,” conceded Ben Ami, before urging the American Jewish community to stop debating the subject and focus on other issues.

The whole quote-and-recantation dance wasn’t exactly a surprise, considering J Street’s unlucky history with public relations. But the comments Ben Ami made to the Post were so wildly tone-deaf, so offensive, so far-off from reality – and in an interview he had no real obligation to give – that it was hard to imagine why he would ever make them in the first place.

So why do it? The Daily Caller reports on a funding overlap between J Street and Media Matters that raises one intriguing idea:

A source told The DC that [liberal philanthropist Bill] Benter donated to Media Matters, at least in part, so the liberal organization could bring MJ Rosenberg on board as its foreign policy voice.

Rosenberg has become a lightning rod for questioning the loyalty of American supporters of Israel by calling them “Israel-Firsters,” and for taking other radical positions. Alan Dershowitz, the liberal Harvard Law School professor, has denounced him in a series of recent interviews and articles, saying that Rosenberg’s rhetoric and ideas are similar to what neo-Nazi and pro-Hezbollah websites offer.

Bill Benter is the wealthy horse-better who helped financially prop up J Street when it was first getting off the ground. He also reportedly solicited over $800,000 in J Street contributions through a mysterious Hong Kong frontwoman named Consolacion Esdicul.

J Street didn’t return a call for comment about its current association with Benter today. But if Benter did specifically fund MJ Rosenberg’s position at Media Matters, it raises questions about whether this connection had anything to do with Ben Ami inserting himself into the controversy and initially defending Rosenberg’s indefensible dual-loyalty smears. Of course, J Street is the only group that would have the answer to that, and until they respond to requests for comment, it’s impossible to know for sure.

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