The other night I had one of my regular arguments with a liberal Jewish friend. I said that AIPAC is representative of Jewish opinion. He said it is not, Jews are more liberal. Rabbi Lerner makes the same point here, and Joe Klein has said something like this recently.
These guys are wrong. First, it is hard to believe that the most educated and affluent community in the U.S. would allow itself to be so misrepresented. Yes, AIPAC is more hawkish by and large, but as I pointed out a few days ago, AIPAC’s stances on Jerusalem, the settlements, confronting Iran, even land-for-peace are in step with majority Jewish opinion, which when it comes to Israel is very conservative. The proof I offered then was J Street’s survey of Jewish opinion, which shows that Jews overwhelmingly are against dividing a faraway place that most of them have never been to (Jerusalem).
Yesterday I had a look at the J Street website. This is the “alternative” lobby. It has emerged with fanfare lately as the voice of anti-occupation Jews. But is it? Lerner is disappointed in it. Its actual policy positions are weak to the point of being lame-o. On Jerusalem, note that J Street never says, Divide Jerusalem, it says that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Not a word about being the capital for Palestine. It can’t alienate majority Jewish opinion. Note that on settlements, J Street only calls for freezing them now–no expansion. Mum’s the word on peeling back the existing colonies. Though in its two-state program, J Street calls for land swaps along the Clinton parameters, and says most of the settlements can stay. Most.
This is lukewarm, and actually very close to AIPAC’s Olmertian position. The reason it’s lukewarm is that J Street originates in the Jewish community, and its function as I have stated is to lobby the lobby–push AIPAC, which it does not oppose, slightly leftward. Good luck, I say again. And I bet that privately most of the J Street principals are close in temperament to MJ Rosenberg and Dan Fleshler, who have vigorously opposed the occupation for a long time.
Looking at J Street helps me to see where I stand: inside and outside the Jewish community. We are talking about definitions of community here. J Street’s definition, notwithstanding its inclusion of non-Jewish advisory board members–Lincoln Chafee–is The Jewish Community. But if you want to change Middle East policy, I don’t think you can plant both feet in the Jewish community. That community is just too primitive by and large on issues of Jerusalem and land, out of Holocaust memory and anti-Arab brainwashing (Lerner calls it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). As I say, I’m going to report from the beach my parents go in the summer, a scientific community, liberals. I’m talking about universalist creed. American Jews remain by and large parochial. It’s why they’re 58 percent for not dividing Jerusalem, an international city. As J Street shows, a Jewish-oriented organization even with the best intentions is going to have to placate parochial feeling; almost every Jewish family has one or two Democrats turned neocons, in the attic, maybe even the living room. (Lerner and Andrea Whitmore say that Brit Tzedek has had problems with parochialism.) I’m glad J Street is here. But in order to lead the way to a fair resolution in the Middle East, American progressives need to form a diverse community of people who care about human rights, minority rights and justice.