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Nightmare On J Street

Writing today in Ha'aretz, J Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami uses the question posed by my article on his organization -- "Who does the new Israel lobby represent?" -- to answer, "the silent majority of American Jews." Echoing previous allegations, Ben-Ami writes:

For a long time, it's been a cardinal rule of U.S. politics that American Jews are represented in Washington by a cadre of large political donors whose positions skew fairly far to the right of the American Jewish community as a whole. 

Yet, as per usual, he doesn't even bother to name who compromises this "cadre of large political donors whose political positions skew fairly far to the right of the American Jewish community as a whole." It is simply stated as fact, as it often is by Ezra Klein, Matthew Yglesias, Eric Alterman and the handful of other liberal bloggers who claim that it is their views which are "mainstream".  If Ben-Ami had bothered to read last month's New Yorker profile of Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino magnate who certainly does "skew fairly far to the right of the American Jewish community as a whole," he would have seen his allegations of right-wing domination of American Jewish institutions to be patently absurd:

AIPAC is not accustomed to being attacked publicly from the right; its critics generally charge that its conservative policies toward Israel favor the status quo over a peace accord. But AIPAC has traditionally insisted that it seeks to further a close American-Israeli relationship, whether the government of Israel is left, right, or center. In an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Adelson said of AIPAC’s support of aid for the Palestinians, “I don’t continue to support organizations that help friends committing suicide just because they want to jump.” AIPAC has not made any policy shifts, and it is not clear whether Adelson will continue to contribute to the organization.

So AIPAC, the nefarious right-wing organization, is refusing to bow to Sheldon Adelson and his billions upon billions of dollars. Another question for Ben-Ami: is Steve Grossman, former AIPAC president and Chairman of Howard Dean's presidential campaign, also part of the "vocal right-wing minority?" He told me that he "would question whether any aspiring American political leader in either party or any critical mass would ever take funds from an organization a part of whose centerpiece philosophy is unconditional negotiations with Ahmadinejad or Hamas." That's your group's agenda. 

Moving on, so to speak, Ben-Ami puts J Street within the constellation of a larger, supposedly ascending, internet-based progressive movement:

Today, for the first time, technology enables a large number of small political donors to challenge - and topple - the status quo.That is an essential lesson from Obama's campaign for the Democratic nomination, with its roots in the success of movements like and the presidential campaign of Howard Dean (for whom I worked as national policy director). 

"Success of movements like and the presidential campaign of Howard Dean?" What success?

Finally, an embarassed press release today shows how J Street -- far from representing the "silent majority" of American Jews -- is run by politically marginal amateurs. Earlier this week, J Street had gleefully announced that Democratic Congressmen Robert Wexler and Barney Frank were dropping their co-sponsorship of House Concurrent Resolution 362, a non-binding measure co-sponsored by 252 Congressmen calling for stronger sanctions on Iran. J Street and other members of the "Hands Off Iran" lobby (so reminiscent of the Cold War-era Fair Play for Cuba Committee) have variously claimed that the resolution calls for a "naval blockade" or, in the case of the Israel Policy Forum hysteric M.J. Rosenberg, "put us in a state of war with Iran. Right Now." All this mendacity from J Street and its allies was apparently too much for Wexler and Frank to take:

J Street would like to express regret for having erred in stating earlier that Congressmen Wexler and Frank withdrew their names from H.CON.RES.362. They have not withdrawn their names and are still cosponsors of this resolution, although they have publicly expressed their strong desire to see changes made to the resolution that reflect the amendments that J Street is calling for. We express our regrets and apologies for any confusion that this may have caused.

One must presume now that Wexler and Frank, two of the most liberal members of Congress but certainly within the broad, pro-Israel consensus of American opinion, are also now part of the "vocal right-wing minority," despite J Street's endeavour to put a gloss over their gross misrepresentation of the congressmen's views (I guarantee that neither representative will be accepting a J Street endorsement this fall, and thus not join the, wait for it, 7 congressional candidates J Street has endorsed this cycle).

The attempt by people like Ben-Ami,  Alterman, Yglesias, Klein et. al. to portray their advocacy of unconditional Israeli negotiations with Iran and Hamas, unconditional Israeli territorial concessions, the Palestinian "right of return," (among other extreme positions) as having any truck within the mainstream of Jewish, American or Israeli opinion, while also having the gall to allege that anyone remotely to their right is an extremist, is something that psychologists call "projection."

--James Kirchick