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J Street Isn’t There Yet

There is a terrific article in The Jewish Week by James Besser on “Bashing J Street” that comes at almost the one-year anniversary of the pro-peace, pro-Israel group that’s meant to push back against the behemoth stealth power of AIPAC.

So why J Street? Why all this fury? More to the point, why do so many find this group so threatening?

I asked one Jewish leader, who asked not to be identified; his response centered on this belief that Israel is particularly vulnerable and isolated at this time and therefore needs a unified American Jewish community as a critical element in its security.

But I wonder: Couldn’t you have made a similar argument when the other left-of-center groups were created? Hasn’t Israel faced grave threats for decades, and hasn’t the Jewish community been divided for just as long on critical peace process questions?

I suspect the answer has to do with something else: J Street is the first group on the left that’s dared to take on the pro-Israel lobby where it really matters: at the critical intersection of campaign finance and congressional lobbying.

As a Irish-Scots lass, weighing in on these weighty Jewish issues always brings odd emails my way. When J Street started up all I could do was hope it would get traction. To say that it has done a lot more than that in the first year is an understatement, however, not all of it is good news. See their stance on Chas Freeman as cold water on my enthusiasm, though I’m hoping they’ll do better next time. After all, what else do we have as an alternative to the Likud lobby?

Just get a load of this verbose, never ending article from Commentary. One graph:

As for the Iranian nuclear program, something that most of Israel’s political parties from right to left see as a source of existential national peril, the group’s spokesmen are primarily concerned with making a case against the use of force to stop Iran even in the event that diplomatic efforts fail. Though acknowledging that a nuclear Iran is a real threat, Ben-Ami has made it clear that he believes the larger danger comes from the bellicose threats emanating from pro-Israel groups.

Now you get why the AIPAC crew is in a tizzy? What would they be without Iran to use as a threat of war? …not to mention the never ending rhetorical threats coming from Mr. Netanyahu’s mouth.

Some are wondering how J Street found its opening. The obvious eludes people, it seems to me. With Arafat and Sharon gone and the 21st century dawning, how could someone like Ben Ami not rise, along with his J Street crew? The other obvious is John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s controversial book The Jewish Lobby that exploded on to the scene causing a ruckus that changed the debate, as well as the rhetoric that was kosher to use.

Ben Ami’s J Street seems to be doing all they can to make sure that the right-wing Israel lobby, in all its forms, isn’t the only voice in town. However, considering Ben Ami and J Street chose to stay on the sidelines when Chas Freeman was in the running for NSC, because they “did not know enough about Freeman or his positions to really take a stand,” and evidently didn’t care to find out or find someone to represent them that did, it’s not a small matter that they were mute when the AIPAC crew was chewing up someone who was a good bet to offer what it took to be an ally for everything J Street claims to want. Chas Freeman was the type of fight in which Ben Ami and J Street could have led those of us writing and pushing back on behalf of Freeman. That they didn’t speaks volumes. But that they didn’t even know the value of Chas Freeman makes the omission of the group in the debate on Freeman, as he was chewed up and swiftboated by the Likudniks, even worse. We need them in these fights.

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