Posts Tagged JStreet
To my readers: I’m sorry that this week has been completely focussed on Israel and Toulouse. Hopefully regular blogging will resume soon.
Myriam Miedzian says AIPAC’s policy is making American Jews less liberal on Israel. Her solution, naturally, is to plug J Street.
according to a 2011 poll commissioned by J Street 67 percent of American Jews would support U.S. leadership in helping to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict even if it meant “publicly stating its disagreements” with Israelis and Arabs. This is contrary to AIPAC’s position of pressuring our government into supporting Israel’s conservative leaders.
… Most American Jews remain exceptionally liberal … It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that AIPAC influences U.S. Jews to be less liberal on Israel than on other issues.
I am completely sick of reading this kind of thing. I noticed that Miedzian hyperlinked references to most of what she said, but not to the bolded sentence. The reason why she didn’t? That is not AIPAC’s position.
J Street and its supporters everywhere have been dismantling a straw man for the past two years, completely missing what AIPAC in fact Read the rest of this entry »
Friend of the blog Liam Getreu and I were having a private email conversation over Peter Beinart’s recent New York Times op-ed — and upcoming book — which calls for Jews to boycott West Bank settlements. The piece has been creating a huge stir on the old interwebs, with responses being thrown-around everywhere and a particularly amusing-yet-insightful Twitter debate going on between Beinart himself, Palestinian researcher Hussein Ibish and MK favourite Jeffrey Goldberg.
The conversation between me and Liam has partly gone public in a post on Liam’s blog. Naturally, I feel that I must also respond in public. Here goes nothing:
while Beinart’s suggestion of boycotts is, yes, aimed at changing settlers’ behaviour (which may have a degree of naivety, if we think it’s going to instantly deconstruct everything overnight), but it’s also about making a moral stand: I do not support the settlement enterprise, and I don’t want my money going to support it. That’s an entirely legitimate point of view.
… Of course a boycott isn’t going to end the occupation, but it will help to undermine the economy that many have going there. And Beinart’s suggestion, that the money you would otherwise spend on settlement products is instead spent on democratic Israel’s products (or, another suggestion, split between that and Palestinian businesses?), is a good one. Your purchasing behaviour may help change realities, in some small way.
Liam is correct in that boycotts can be a legitimate political tool and, for the record, I am also in favour of the Israeli government ending the ludicrous and counter-productive tax breaks and other incentives that it still gives to Israelis who move over the Green Line.
That said, the circumstances surrounding a boycott of West Bank settlements make it impossible to make the point that Beinart and Liam want to make through a boycott of them.
It is important to remember that, with a few fringe exceptions, Jewish communities worldwide (Liam and Beinart included) are completely opposed to the BDS movement. The movement is dishonest to its very core, it claims to be about “Palestinian rights” and that it takes no stance on a one or two state solution to the conflict, however its fundamental tenets effectively call for the destruction of Israel and reject the idea that Jews are entitled to nationhood or self-determination. Boycotts are particularly touchy for Jews as they bring back spectres of the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses that served as a prelude to the Holocaust.
Beinart’s boycott idea is derived from Jews who are not comfortable supporting the BDS movement but still feel the need to “do something”; meaning that the West Bank boycott can never be wholly separated from the broader BDS movement. Indeed, as Omri Ceren observes, such initiatives regularly metastatise into full-blown BDS.
This is where Beinart’s thesis starts becoming increasingly problematic. Accepting a partial boycott of Israel is ostensibly akin to accepting some — if not all — of the BDS movement’s ideology. This leads to Read the rest of this entry »
A defence of British JStreet equivalent Yahad in the JPost:
Many young and committed Jews of today see Israel’s security and existence as a given, anti-Semitism as an evil which can (and must) be combatted, and the continued rule over another people as a blemish on the reputation of Israel. They love Israel, but wish it to take its proper role as a true equal among nations on the global scene. They do not, in the words of the Zionist Federation director, “claim to be pro-Israel” any more or less than all other pro-Israel organizations, nor should they be required to apologize for their credentials simply because they are not part of the age-old establishment community organizations, who rightly feel threatened by their popularity and freshness.
There is some legitimacy in this, although I still have a massive issue with the way JStreet chooses to operate. Here’s why (my bold):
… The appearance of yet another competitor on the street obviously raises concerns for those organizations who traditionally had a monopoly over fund raising.
Many donors have, in recent years, preferred to switch away from the general organizations and give directly to causes with which they identify. Yahad and J Street, along with other political lobbies and educational organizations, are also out there competing for the minds and the hearts of this small nucleus of donors.
Want to be a left-wing Israeli? Fair enough. I am, however, not in favour at all of this idea of influencing American/British politics to put pressure on Israel and force the Israeli government into a particular position. Luckily this hasn’t really caught on in Australia (yet…).
I met with representatives of both AIPAC and JStreet on a recent trip to the US. JStreet call themselves a “left wing answer to AIPAC”; AIPAC call JStreet “insignificant”, for good reason. What JStreet (and pretty much everyone else who talks about AIPAC) miss is that AIPAC is not a right wing organisation. It has no particular agenda either way and takes no specific stance on Israeli politics. The criticism that AIPAC gets from left wing Zionists is because it isn’t a left wing organisation, but it actually gets similar criticism for the opposite reason from right wing Zionists.
AIPAC is very effective because it has a very narrow — and often misunderstood – agenda. The organisation exists for the sole reason of improving the relationship between Israel and the US Congress. That is it. It chooses a few specific policy items to work on at any one time and will do its best to push them through. It also tries to only picks battles it knows it can win, which gives the impression that it wields much more power than it in fact does.
JStreet, on the other hand, takes a stance on everything to do with the Middle East and tries to push a very specific and very broad agenda onto Israel through the US. It is also extremely partisan — the amount of Republicans it supports can probably be counted on one hand. As a lobby group, therefore, JStreet will only have marginal success in Democrat administrations and will have absolutely no success in Republican administrations.
The other issue is “broadening the tent” within the Jewish community. This I am in favour of — if people want to think like JStreet, why not let them? I think I stole this quote from Jeffrey Goldberg: I don’t agree with all of JStreet’s policies, but I support its right to exist.
Plus the old pro-Israel organisations are to a great extent overly-bureaucratic, anachronistic behemoths with fading relevance. After the current generation of donors die, I’d be surprised if JNF, UIA etc are half as successful – they need to change dramatically if they hope to be. That is why new grassroots initiatives are important. Again, I don’t support a lot of NIF’s donees, but they’re at least doing something different.
Friend of the blog Liam Getreu (see my links page) sent me an article from a JStreet activist at their recent conference, who was complaining that JStreet needed to idolise Peter Beinhart for “merely [articulating] the need to reinstate ‘open debate, a skepticism about military force, a commitment to human rights.’”
Fair enough. What bothered me about the article was this:
One of the things that struck me about the J Street conference was that, despite the grandeur of the event (understandable due to its effort to rival the show put on by the veteran America Israel Public Affairs Committee every year), it was actually understated and done with taste. There were no giant Israeli flags waving above Jeremy Ben-Ami’s head when he was at the podium, no centerpieces at the tables with Star of David-shaped chocolates to take home, and no gaudy items of merchandise distributed in the conference kits.
I got to thinking about what exactly had been “understated”. If you scroll up to the top of this page, you will see what was behind Mr Ben-Ami, the JStreet President, while he was speaking: a big JStreet sign. The writer also notes that she used to be a part of JStreet’s precursor, the “Union of Progressive Zionists”.
So JStreet is busy imitating but distancing itself from AIPAC, let’s look at the AIPAC logo:
Note how this is, in essence, a composite of the Israeli and American flags. Having been to AIPAC’s conference myself, I can tell you that this blogger is not wrong – AIPAC puts Israeli and American flags everywhere, it is packed with Zionist symbolism. There are little Magen David chocolates on every seat, there are also american and Israeli flags for you to wave, there are Magen David backdrops during speeches and Zionism is something that is generally overt and even celebrated. The JStreet logo, in comparison, doesn’t mean anything – it’s just “J Street” with an arrow.
I’ve never noticed it before this article, but in a lot of ways, JStreet have distanced themselves from words and imagery associated with Zionism. They brand themselves as “pro-Israel pro-peace”, and everyone knows what the “J” stands for, but it’s weird to me that a supposedly pro-Israel organisation wouldn’t have an Israeli flag anywhere on the main stage while their president was addressing their annual conference.
I just had a look over the two websites and AIPAC has overt photos of Israeli politicians and Israeli flags, JStreet has none, anywhere. AIPAC has an “Israel” in its name, JStreet has a suggestive “J”, that doesn’t officially mean anything. The name “JStreet” is completely innocuous, it could quite easily be a TV sitcom or something.
See, I have many friends who identify with JStreet and would call themselves “progressive Zionists” or the like, and they are proud and ardent supporters of Israel. I can’t imagine that someone just forgot the flag at home, so this definitely raises some obvious questions:
Is JStreet ashamed of being Zionist? Are they ashamed of Israel? When they stopped being the “progressive Zionists” and became “pro Israel pro peace”, and when they dropped the “UPZ” and became just “JStreet”, they made a conscious decision early on not to brand themselves with anything overtly related to Israel or Zionism.
I’m actually interested in this, it’s not just baiting JStreet out of contempt.
UPDATE: To anyone that was there, did they sing one or both of Hatikvah and The Star Spangled banner?