J Street says it invited boycott advocate to its conference so as to pillory her

Israel/Palestine
on 12 Comments

Boy the Jewish community is in trouble. Democracy is breaking out in Egypt, but here  is Richard Greenberg in the Washington Jewish Week reporting on the J Street conference at the end of the month to which the wonderful Rebecca Vilkomerson has been invited so that people can throw rotten tomatoes at her. Orthodoxy, heresy, the whole nine yards. Good times!

In fairness to Jeremy Ben-Ami, the head of J Street, who disses Vilkomerson, he is playing a double game. It is great that he invited Vilkomerson; but he has to say this kind of sh-t because the Jewish community is so backward. In private, I am sure he would tell you that he needs Vilkomerson: because his own liberal base is vomiting over Israel’s behavior, and he needs to address them, he needs to honor what her group Jewish Voice for Peace is doing on his left. Privately I bet Ben-Ami is also in favor of boycotting goods from the illegal colonies of the West Bank that have demolished the two-state solution. Would he say so publicly? Never.

The event is scheduled to take place Feb. 26-March 1 at the Washington Convention Center in D.C., where panelists will discuss topics ranging from “Do Israelis ‘Care About Peace’ ” to “The Revival of the Israeli Left” to “The Campus Challenge: Changing the Conversation in an Environment of Extreme Polarization.” 

The list of speakers numbers at least 60 and includes Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Daniel Sokatch, CEO of the New Israel Fund; and journalists Peter Beinart, Eric Alterman and Gershom Gorenberg. 

Among the more controversial speakers is Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voices for Peace, which advocates the use of BDS (boycotts, divestment and sanctions) against Israel. BDS has been roundly condemned in the mainstream Jewish community because it serves to demonize and deligitimize Israel.

J Street, too, opposes BDS, noted Ben-Ami, who said he is not concerned that the appearance of Vilkomerson might legitimize BDS. Rather, she was invited to air her views, he explained, so that conference attendees who might be “tempted” to embrace BDS will think otherwise after they see its moral and tactical failings exposed in debate. (Vilkomerson is scheduled to appear Feb. 28 on a panel along with three opponents of BDS.)

And one other shot at J Street before I’m done. At their conference in Oct. 2009 a speaker dissed me from the stage. I didn’t have the presence of mind to call Jonathan Chait out on the spot. Victory to Chait! But let me say this clearly: I am older than any of these people, Chait or Ben-Ami, Beinart and Eric Alterman, too, and in one Jewish sense I have had complete integrity, my life has been dedicated in its way to integrationism, a very old Jewish idea that Jews should seek to play their part in western society, rather than setting up militarist colonialist nations with the unending backing of Jews in New York and Washington. And I would challenge any of these people to a simple debate: Do you as a privileged American Jew feel a need for a Jewish national refuge? Why? This is a debate not about Israel, it’s about the United States and Europe. Can’t wait!

12 Responses

  1. Elliot
    February 10, 2011, 9:20 am

    Sounds like Ben-Ami’s comment is a sop to the Right. Rebecca V. won’t be just a foil for the anti-BDS crowd. I expect she’ll win some people over.
    Ben-Ami would prefer to live in a world without JVP, but he’s got to keep the J Street tent as big as he can and relevant.
    BDS has gone from being taboo to being a debated issue – even at J Street.

    • Shingo
      February 10, 2011, 3:46 pm

      Rebecca V. won’t be just a foil for the anti-BDS crowd. I expect she’ll win some people over.

      My thoughts exactly. I suspect Ben Ami in some way hopes she does.

  2. Jim Haygood
    February 10, 2011, 9:30 am

    ‘conference attendees who might be “tempted” to embrace BDS will think otherwise after they see its moral and tactical failings exposed in debate.’

    It’s not really an ambush when it’s announced in advance. Will rotten fruit be handed out to attendees to hurl at the designated villainess? If not, just throw your shoes! ;-)

  3. Oscar
    February 10, 2011, 10:12 am

    Phil says: “. . . in one Jewish sense I have had complete integrity, my life has been dedicated in its way to integrationism, a very old Jewish idea that Jews should seek to play their part in western society, rather than setting up militarist colonialist nations with the unending backing of Jews in New York and Washington.”

    So you should join Rebecca onstage at the J Street conference, Phil. Then you can also call out Chait when he’s in the audience. Turnabout is fair play, after all.

  4. pabelmont
    February 10, 2011, 10:16 am

    Demonize Israel indeed! Can you demonize the devil? A criminal or sinner can reform and a nation can stop doing horrible things, but today Israel can be seen for what it does (“you are what you do” — Obama take note!) and BDS merely objects to it. Israel demonizes itself.

    I dare say JVP would be pleased as punch if Israel reformed itself so that its members — many of them Jews with some sort of emotional attachment to the IDEA of Israel, if not to the reality — would again feel comfortable about Israel. THAT is what de-demonization would mean, and that alone, to stop behaving like a demon.

    Glad he invited her. Sorry he cannot allow himself to “speak truth to power”, a problem Obama is having with all the detestable dictators still on the USA payroll.

  5. Bill in Maryland
    February 10, 2011, 10:20 am

    At their Oct. 2009 meeting, they allowed a “bloggers panel” to speak, albeit sotto voce, that included Phil and Max Blumenthal among others. I hope Ben Ami will offer that kind of event again.

  6. seafoid
    February 10, 2011, 10:23 am

    “because it serves to demonize and deligitimize Israel.”

    YESHA is illegitimate and the settlers are all bastards. Israel has to be saved from YESHA.

  7. Chaos4700
    February 10, 2011, 10:54 am

    Huh. I was almost certain Witty would have lept on this article and savaged Mr. Weiss for “savaging” J Street for savaging Rebecca Vilkomerson.

    Is it just me, or is the discussion in this place actually becoming more sane and normal?

    Thank you, Mr. Weiss and Mr. Horowitz.

  8. Ismail
    February 10, 2011, 11:44 am

    “In fairness to Jeremy Ben-Ami, the head of J Street, who disses Vilkomerson, he is playing a double game. It is great that he invited Vilkomerson; but he has to say this kind of sh-t because the Jewish community is so backward. In private, I am sure he would tell you that he needs Vilkomerson: because his own liberal base is vomiting over Israel’s behavior, and he needs to address them, he needs to honor what her group Jewish Voice for Peace is doing on his left. Privately I bet Ben-Ami is also in favor of boycotting goods from the illegal colonies of the West Bank that have demolished the two-state solution. Would he say so publicly? Never.”

    Sorry, Phil, but this kind of comment bears the faint whiff of wishiness. It reminds me of what longtime Democrats, clinging desperately to any analysis that will avoid embracing a true critique, say when confronted with Clinton/Gore/Kerry/Obama’s serial malfeasances – “He has to say that to get elected”, “He really wants to do the right thing, but he’s got to be a realist”, etc.

    Being a realist, of course, always involves shorting their natural constituencies – women, antiwar types, labor – never the other way around.
    Somehow, that storied moment when these guys can finally show their true colors never happens.

    In the end, who cares what Ben-Ami “really” believes? We should be talking about politics, not psychology, and I think J Street occupies a useful political space to opponents of justice in the mideast. If its caponized version of challenge to right-Zionist hegemony, with its failure to confront the structural problems with Zionism, counts as the “left” position, it helps push the discourse to the right (just as Clinton/Obama’s “liberalism” has done). In this sense, Ben-Ami is the Jewish Hussein Ibish.

    Why do we attribute to Ben-Ami, Obama et al the role of hero manque, instead of seeing them for the mediocrities they are? Beats me.

  9. Richard Witty
    February 10, 2011, 5:04 pm

    What does being an “integrationist” mean?

    Is that like the integrationist British elite Jewry that actively opposed Chaim Weitzman and early Zionists in the effort to secure the Balfour Declaration and accompanying promises?

    Or, (an acknowledged low blow), is that like being a Polish or German integrationist in the 30’s.

    And, even if you choose for yourself to be an integrationist, how could that be the only response to Jewish life. You have your own experience, but the majority of the 6 million Jews in Israel have and come from RADICALLY different experience.

    Living your integrationist life is one great thing. Imposing your integrationist life is another.

    Nationalism/Zionism does equate to racism. That is an imprinted theme repeated by propagandists.

    • pjdude
      February 11, 2011, 8:07 pm

      ? um what intergrated jews in poland probably 90+% lived un intergrated

  10. RoHa
    February 10, 2011, 8:20 pm

    “And, even if you choose for yourself to be an integrationist, how could that be the only response to Jewish life.”

    It might not be the only response, but integration (as a minimum version of assimilation) seems to be the only moral response.

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