J Street’s leaders repeatedly said they are part of a "movement." The funny thing is that movement within leftwing Jewish life was galvanized by the Gaza slaughter. But J Street says not a word about Gaza. In fact, in reaching for the Jewish center, it threw the Goldstone report, and the human rights of a persecuted people, under the bus.
Last January, J Street rightly condemned the Gaza slaughter, and was promptly attacked by Eric Yoffie of the Union for Reform Judaism for doing so. J Street decided it didn’t want to alienate Yoffie, so it invited Yoffie to speak at the conference last week– where he repeatedly condemned the Goldstone report, to some boos. The last, showstopping speech at the conference was from Victor Kovner, the NY liberal lawyer. He said "Never again" will Jews be silent when the Israelis elect racists. If you search for Gaza in that speech, he never says it. The truth is that many Jews who have seen the siege of Gaza say, Never again to ghettoizing a people on the basis of race. But yesterday J Street publicly supported another attack on the Goldstone report, the Congressional resolution that smears Goldstone’s efforts.
I bet that many of J Street’s own people are disturbed by Gaza — who wouldn’t be disturbed by a country that drops white phosphorus on school children?–but it is leaving Gaza out from a cold political calculation, that it needs to capture Bob Wexler and Mel Levine, the AIPAC center-right-left (is there any difference?). And older Jews. The heart of the Israel lobby. J Street’s political calculation is that it is trying to end the occupation. It will ignore Gaza–even as it pockets Gaza’s political capital in the U.S. Jewish community–so as to push on the last hope for the Jewish state, as speakers regularly said from the podium: the two state solution.
Leaving aside the two-state-solution’s merits or nonmerits for a moment, the political question, which Adam pointed out the other day, is that the movement is way ahead of J Street. The movement is a pluralistic one. It is composed of many Palestinians and non-Jewish Americans. Jeremy Ben-Ami in his welcoming speech wasn’t completely welcoming:
"We value the partnership and engagement and support of our non-Jewish friends – both here tonight and in our work overall. We need and appreciate allies and alliances, individual and institutional.
"But at heart they know – as we know – that the root of this movement and heart of this conversation has to be in the American Jewish community. For many of us as Jews, this conversation taps into our deepest personal feelings – of family, history and community."
Of course, this conversation (Israel/Palestine) also taps into Arab-Americans’ deepest personal feelings of family, history and community, as Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb reminded us. But they had a lesser role in the conference, just as they have no role in the political force that J Street says it’s taking on, the Israel lobby (one of whose Democratic leaders, Steve Grossman, says in that link that Obama has created an "emotional chasm" between himself and Jews). I remember that American blacks played a key role in ending apartheid in South Africa, out of solidarity. J Street is not including the Palestinian solidarity folks this time around. And just imagine if Palestinians were included. J Street would have to change its line on Goldstone.
Jeff Blankfort makes some of the same points:
It had to happen sooner or later, but J Street’s response to the debate over the House resolution (HR 867) condemning the Goldstone Report has exposed what should have been evident from the beginning: there is no safe, respectable, middle ground in the struggle for justice for Palestine. By not only not opposing HR 867, but by accepting the hardline Zionist position that the UN has a historical bias against Israel (as exemplified, no doubt, by its resolutions opposing Israel’s wars on Lebanon, its excessive violence against the Palestinians, and its opposition to Jewish settlements), J Street has lost whatever credibility it might have attained at its very successful conference.It has been pointed out that the base of the organization is further to the "left," the humanist position, than is Ben-Ami and the J Street leadership. This has created an untenable situation that cannot be papered over. It is already being exploited by the hardliners with the Weekly Standard’s editor Michael Goldfarb seeking to take down both J Street and the Goldstone Report. Here he has outed J Street Adviser Morton Halperin as assisting Richard Goldstone in distributing his critique of HR 867.. Ben-Ami will no doubt be called upon by Goldfarb’s comrade-in-arms, Jeffrey Goldberg to denounce Halperin and there will be no let up.