J Street is liberating Jews from Zionism. So far so good

The good news from the J Street conference is that the organization made it a point to include the Jewish left, non-Zionist Palestinian solidarity activists, and this opening will have important consequences for Jewish life if not for the future of the Middle East.

To hear young writer Ilana Sichel say that she will not use the word Zionism because it has been “corrupted”… to hear Rebecca Vilkomerson urge the boycott of Israel so as to honor the “Arab spring” in the region…  to hear Amjad Atallah speak of the two state solution giving way to ideas of a confederation or binational state… to hear human-rights lawyer Michael Sfard introduce artist Emily Henochowicz, half-blinded by the Israeli security force during a peaceful protest against the flotilla massacre last May, to wild applause… to hear Roger Cohen say that something inside of him dies when he hears the words peace process… to hear Daniel Ben-Simon, a member of the Knesset of Israel’s Labor Party, say that the campaign against “delegitimation” is a dishonest attempt by Israel to manipulate public opinion around another enemy… to hear Mona Eltahawy say that the Arab revolutions will not stop at the border of Palestine, as the crowd roars… to hear J Street’s Daniel Levy say at a plenary session, “[Avigdor] Lieberman is the bastard child of the demographic analysis of why we need to end the occupation, you cannot treat the Palestinian Arab public as a demographic threat and advocate full equality inside Israel” and a minute later, “I’m not convinced that [the two-state solution] is the only model”… Well, these were all very positive moments.

The feeling I had at the last J Street conference in fall 2009 was that the leadership disliked its rank and file. The rank-and-file were for boycott, the leadership was locked down against it. Rabbi Eric Yoffie denounced Richard Goldstone from the podium and he was booed for doing so. Today that mistrust is greatly reduced.

I think J Street turned to the grassroots for two reasons. First, it didn’t get access to the Obama administration. The most revealing moment at the conference may have been when Levy said, “I don’t know what’s going on in private conversations [among policymakers].” Levy should have been helping to make policy; he’s not. And J Street has been kicked in the teeth so many times in the last year by power players (from Netanyahu to the birthright program to Congressman Gary Ackerman) that it had to find other friends.

And the second reason is that the Arab revolutions have ravished young Americans, including J Street’s youth. When Levy said, “you cannot be a friend of Arab freedom if you’re on the wrong side of Palestinian freedom,” he got his biggest applause.

The effects of J Street’s shift will be felt largely inside Jewish life. If you consider that for decades the American Jewish community has blinded itself to conditions that make Jim Crow look like Green Acres, J Street is helping to liberate Jews from selfish blindness. The slogan for the conference was Giving Voice to Our Values, which was a clear reachout to the social justice tradition in the Jewish community. There were kids in the back of the hall with backpacks and pillows and sleeping on the convention floor, which is something you don’t see at AIPAC. J Street wants to channel dreamy youthful idealism, and it knows it has to say something better than, “We all know what a final settlement will look like” to capture them (though god knows those words were used many times). And while it was somewhat laughable to see J Street’s college organizers selling t-shirts with Peter Beinart’s chiseled portrait on the back over the words, Beinart’s Army (yes, Beinart has been talking good sense about AIPAC, but that slogan won’t help him in his effort to live down the book titled The Good War that advocated invading Iraq), I must say that it was stunning to hear young Ilana Sichel, who grew up in a Zionist family and edited the student magazine New Voices, declare that she is finished using the word Zionism. 

On the word Zionism, I avoid it, I think it’s too unstable, too divisive a word to use it productively. Basically I try to talk values. I do think it’s a bit of a red light for this demographic, for young 20s, 30s liberal Jews who are so used to the word Zionism being used by people, yes who I do think have corrupted it, but I see our energy as being too limited to spend so much time on the reclamation of the word rather than the embrace of the values.

Well, that was a dramatic moment I won’t soon forget.

I am saving you from all of J Street’s more regressive messaging. Sichel spoke at the same time as Gershom Gorenberg, who emigrated to Israel from California 30 years ago, and pleaded with his audience to save the Zionist dream of a Jewish majority in the Jews’ own land from the settlers’ project, but I had the sense that J Street trusts Sichel more than Gorenberg. It is planted at last in an American political space, and following an integrationist dream of minority rights in western society, and not a nationalist dream that turned out to be– nationalistic! J Street is not the foreign agent that AIPAC is, it is aligned with a marginal political party in Israel, Labor, and it repeatedly flipped the bird to Netanyahu. (Though yes, he beat them to it.)

J Street will follow Sichel, and separate young American Jews from Zionism, and stir up an urgent conversation inside the Jewish community about why it was swept by a messianic nationalist political project conceived by a Viennese newspaper feature writer who had little knowledge of political philosophy or religion but a grandiose view of himself as Moses and Christopher Columbus (Herzl). This is a vital project, and I will maintain my policy of mostly ignoring J Street when I can’t wish it the best. There was joy in hearing Amjad Atallah, inspired by young Arabs, lecture Jews about the fact that they are following a political model of two centuries ago rather than a modern one.

Why do I think J Street’s political effect is so limited? For one thing, Washington is the most conservative town in the world and the Israel lobby is still boss and J Street is out on the corner with the jive talkers. The organization said it went from 1500 registrants to 2400 this time round, but I don’t think it has big money; and cracking Congress will take a lot of cash and support from the media.

More important, I cannot emphasize enough how exciting the Arab revolutions were to the J Street attendees; and when you put those revolutions up against the Jewish left’s achievement over a generation, there’s just no comparison. J Street is weighed down by that ineffective legacy. In arguing against boycott, J Street board member Ken Bob bragged that he wrote his first editorial against the occupation in 1971 for the Berkeley Jewish Radical. This is something to brag about– when 63 year old Palestinians are still being shot in their beds? I would want to crawl under a rock. Gorenberg has spent a lot of his recent journalistic career honorably combing archives to expose the Israeli government’s complicity in the roots of the settlement enterprise. But the project seems slightly deluded; Gorenberg does not make any connection between ’67 and ’48, no he is invested in 48 just as settlers are invested in Judea and Samaria, even as ’67 and ’48 get closer and closer in history’s rear view mirror. And Bernie Avishai’s opposition to boycott based on a “global and cosmopolitan Israel” is not the kind of values statement that any young person wants to hang their sweatshirt on, it feels more like a rationalization of privilege.

I would contrast Avishai’s statement with one by Israeli Assaf Sharon, a leader of the Sheikh Jarrah protests (protests that Avishai goes to): “We are putting an end to the distribution of privilege on an ethnic basis…. We refuse to settle for anything less than this and that’s what we are fighting for.” Now that was something to bring tears to your eyes.

But my point is that the progressive Jewish community is a turbulent and confused one with a lot of useless old energy. And Daniel Levy and Amjad Atallah would never have dared to make their statements about giving up the two-state model if it were not for the leadership of Arab youth. All that talk about the backward Arab societies we got for so many decades—really now, it is our community that is backward. Young Arabs are the most creative and engaged political actors on the planet. We have to believe in them (as Roger Cohen urged); and I can only imagine what their ideas are for Palestine. But being at J Street was only a reflection of a distant reflection of that spirit.

In sum, J Street is doing great things by liberating American Jews from their servitude to nationalism. While I hope this makes a difference in the struggle for Palestinian freedom, that struggle is likely to require greater daring and imagination.

Update: Ilana Sichel takes exception to my characterization of her views. She writes:

Your hope that “J Street will follow Sichel, and separate young American Jews from Zionism” would more accurately reflect my remarks if, at the very least, the word “Zionism” were kept in quotes. I made my comment about avoiding the term in response to an audience member’s concern about the challenges of identifying as a Zionist while building connections between groups that may or may not self-define as Zionist. Given the instability of the word “Zionism”—and the historical diversity of the movement—I, like the audience member, recognize how it can divide groups with otherwise shared values. Precisely because the term can bear so many meanings and be used in so many ways, I’m not the best candidate for leading a troupe of “young American Jews” away from Zionism, but rather as someone engaged in a conversation about how to move forward.

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.
Posted in Israel/Palestine

{ 53 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. RoHa says:

    Up to now I have just seen J-Street as AIPAC-Lite. Your account sound as though there is hope for it.

  2. Citizen says:

    Even a tiny wedge is a wedge. But the impervious Colossus (Golem?) remains, facing J-Street now, as well as the purer Mondoweiss brigade and their fellow travelers everywhere. All potential big wedges dissolve before the power of Big Money partnering with the Israel First US MSM, those big five media corporations. Congress & WH remain bribed. Further, even in these days of rampant protest against big government spending and endless debt, neither political party is willing to put a real dent in the military-industrial-security- “defense” complex. Lots of jobs involved in endless war, and no radical change to political campaign system in sight.
    And looks like Kucinich- Ron Paul remain outsiders to the Colossus. Nonetheless, the Arabian revolutionary spirit may grow the wedge needed to take the power from the Colossus–so far it’s not looking good since Al Jazeera is blocked out of the USA even as the MSM uses its
    video clips–how to reach the board of directors of CSPAN? How to convince cable TV operators that Al Jazeera is a must niche, at least as potentially lucrative as the 5th All Hockey All The Time channel or the 20th porn channel? How to find a couple of billionaires
    to throw in their lot with the spirit of the times rather than the Present Forever or the Past Recaptured? How to convince even one big time MSM outlet of the same?

  3. Citizen says:

    How America’s foreign policy has been hijacked by The Israel Lobby against America’s best interests: link to calitreview.com

    The Colossus by Sylvia Plath: link to americanpoems.com
    Ozymandias by Percy Shelley: link to online-literature.com

    In the 16th century, during the reign of Rudolf II, an old Jewish man named Rabbi Judah Loew lived in Prague. During that time, the Jewish people of Prague were being attacked and lived their lives in fear. Rabbi Loew decided to protect the Jews against pogroms by creating the Golem, a giant who according to the Cabala could be made of clay from the banks of the Vltava. Following the prescribed rituals, the Rabbi built the Golem and made him come to life by reciting a special incantation in Hebrew. The word “emet”, meaning “truth”, was placed on the Golem’s forehead.

    The Golem would obey the Rabbi’s every order and would help and protect the people of the Jewish Ghetto. However, as he grew bigger, he also became more violent and started killing people and spreading fear. Rabbi Loew was promised that the violence against the Jews would stop if the Golem was destroyed. The Rabbi agreed. By removing the first letter from the word “emet”, thus changing it to “met” (meaning “death”), life was taken out of the Golem.

    • pabelmont says:

      AIPAC and MIC are golems much too strong to disappear as a puddle of melted mud. I fear that the USA will have to sink, to diminish as “leader of the free world”, to have its debt called or new debt refused, to see its industrial capacity, and educational capacity, and health capacity and environment, all, all, diminished, before the entrenched “leaders” (AIPAC, but especially MIC) will be thrown out. Americans love their empire, love “defense”, love their (to them invisible, Oh! clever oligarchs!) chains.

      America is corrupt, but the people do not recognize the corruption or its effects upon themselves.

      • Citizen says:

        That the American people do not recognize corruption goes to most especially anything regarding our foreign policy in the Middle East and the role of AIPAC in it, something never mentioned by the US MSM media. Hence the need to circumvent the general ban on Al Jazeera discussed in other recent articles here on Mondoweiss. Why doesn’t our media allow us to recognize this corruption? Here’s the big picture, succinctly put: link to jkcook.net

    • Scott says:

      Citizen, Thanks for the link to Abourezk’s very interesting piece on Walt and Mearsheimer in California Literary Review. I hadn’t seen it, and thought I had seen all the major reviews. It has some fairly unknown tidbits from his days a Senator, and is a fine piece of writing.

      (I posted this in response to your earlier comment, but meant to put it here).

    • jon s says:

      Rabbi Judah Loew wasn’t just any “old Jewish man”. Known as “the Maharal of Prague” he was a very significant rabbi and community leader. See here:
      link to jewishvirtuallibrary.org

      The legend of the golem may have inspired Mary Shelley in writing “Frankenstein”.

  4. clenchner says:

    You do a fair job of capturing what I’ve seen in J Street from the very first. It’s a shame – and evidence of short-sightedness- that the small tent crowd failed to notice these trends early on. The signs were all there for anyone who cared to look.

    What the hard core anti-Zionists and dogmatic ideologues often fail to see is that ‘reality’ carries more force than the statements for public consumption of various parties. In that sense, they act like (some*) women on a first date: looking for a reason to NOT have a second date. And of course, because J Street’s people are largely mainstream, pro-Israel American Jews, there are statements likely to give offense to the Palestinian solidarity crowd.

    But underneath that is the underlying shift in the American Jewish community which J Street only represents – it doesn’t, and can’t actually create it. That shift, led in part by youngsters dropping labels, less young Beinarts who change sides, and finally elders who get the big picture, they are in coalition to work the levers of power as best they can.

    It might not be much yet – but that’s reality for you. AIPAC is stronger right now in Washington DC. But J Street, and the changes is embodies, are the future. Years from now, when the radical firebrands calm down and Palestinians have moved from the liberation struggle to state building, it will be hard to find anyone who remembers thinking that J Street was just a front for AIPAC – despite the prevalence of such voices today, on this site.

    • annie says:

      yes the signs were there clencher but there were times the org just didn’t come thru for us.

      I think J Street turned to the grassroots for two reasons. First, it didn’t get access to the Obama administration. The most revealing moment at the conference may have been when Levy said, “I don’t know what’s going on in private conversations [among policymakers].” Levy should have been helping to make policy; he’s not. And J Street has been kicked in the teeth so many times in the last year by power players (from Netanyahu to the birthright program to Congressman Gary Ackerman) that it had to find other friends.

      ultimately (as far as i am concerned) it is not about the supporters they pick up it is how well they represent those supporters. look at the steam behind obama both in the primaries and the general election. what did that tell you about who was ready to throw their weight behind the candidate vs what he did with that support? yes the ‘signs’ are all there. but did they support goldstone? did they condemn the gaza massacre?

      J Street has reviewed the Goldstone report in its entirety over the past several days.

      J Street agrees with Israelis, such as Minister Isaac Herzog, that some of the concerns with the report would have been better addressed had the Israeli Government cooperated with the investigation in presenting its own findings.

      We urge the Israeli government to establish an independent state commission of inquiry to investigate the accusations, something Israel has done on several occasions in the past.

      J Street strongly condemns Hamas for its actions both before and during the Gaza war – actions which the report says may amount to crimes against humanity.

      hmm. more power to them for hosting an awesome conference. i am quite certain they want all these progressives standing beside them but it can’t be a situation in which they co opt that support and energy and continue to put out statements that do not represent those same people. the ‘small tent crowd’ (i assume you mean bds supporters) noticed these trends early on.

      j street has been very forthcoming w/strong statements against settlement expansion and i applaud them for their strong stance against the UN veto. but they’re in a precarious position seemingly afraid of stepping on toes on their way to the top, where as aipac is absolutely ruthless.

      J Street sent out an e-mail blast with the subject line “Gary Ackerman attacks you — and J Street.” It said the congressman “lacks the courage of his convictions” and urged J Street supporters to sign onto a letter to Ackerman to express their “outrage and disappointment.”
      Two days later, however, J Street publicly apologized for the e-mail’s tone in a blog post. “It was important for us to recognize that we probably went too far with our choice of language,” Ben-Ami told the Forward.

      hello? you can’t make an omelette w/out breaking a few eggshells. i remain hopeful unlike w/the dem party who has no problem co-opting the energy of the left while voting to extend the neocon agenda. things move very slowly in dc and jstreet is nudging left but for any momentum they are going to have to step into high gear or they will be left in the dust chasing after the arab revolutions. the people won’t remain behind with them and we are not that small a tent, we are in fact w/the global majority.

      • pabelmont says:

        Annie, you capture my feelings. J-Street is bi-polar, reaching backward (as its leadership normally seeks to prevent democratization and adopts quasi-AIPAC views, as on Goldstone) and reaching forward (as the 2011 conference shows).

        Perhaps J-Street runs the conferences as “feel-good” events to get new members and keep old ones happy — and then (for the rest of the year) pursues regressive policies. This is a “bread and circuses” view, J-Street as that part of AIPAC serving to de-fuse the ebullient youth, keep them “in line” by falsely appearing to create a movement for them.

        But J-Street’s leadership may also be moved by the conference. We must wait to see. So far, looking at the leadership and not at the conference happenings, and recalling the short-shrift planned for BDS at the conference, I still see J-Street as AIPAC-lite (as RoHa said above).

        • clenchner says:

          Rather than bi-polar, think of it as strategic. J Street is a coalition of two forces. One is the dovish base, the other is elites disillusioned with the old ways of supporting Israel – which they recognize as leading to a dead end.
          J Street accumulates power from the elites like a battery, by speaking cautiously and by resisting the lure of following the base at all times. When the battery is well charged, it can ‘unleash’ the juice at the very small number of critical moments when it can push the elites and the political system in the right direction – in support of ‘smaller Israel’ and Palestinian rights.
          The (illusory) downside is the appearance that J Street is fooling the base or fooling the elites. It does neither. Both have a clear understanding that this is what works. There is quibbling on the sidelines, course corrections, but it seems to be working.
          I’m GLAD J Street doesn’t just follow the base. Then it would be just like those other failed groups: Americans for Peace Now, Israel Policy Forum, BTVS, etc.

        • annie says:

          clencher, of course i see it as strategic. from beinart’s big tamale:

          For several months now, a group of Israeli students has been traveling every Friday to the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where a Palestinian family named the Ghawis lives on the street outside their home of fifty-three years, from which they were evicted to make room for Jewish settlers. Although repeatedly arrested for protesting without a permit, and called traitors and self-haters by the Israeli right, the students keep coming, their numbers now swelling into the thousands. What if American Jewish organizations brought these young people to speak at Hillel? What if this was the face of Zionism shown to America’s Jewish young? What if the students in Luntz’s focus group had been told that their generation faces a challenge as momentous as any in Jewish history: to save liberal democracy in the only Jewish state on earth?

          i’m watching the awesome Sara Benninga right now. jstreet took beinart’s words to heart, jstreet gave her an award. i’m merely suggesting you being GLAD J Street doesn’t just follow the base doesn’t account for much because israelmis quite adept at pacifying their jewish masses while settlement construction outpaces them.

          everyone keep saying the window for two states is about to close. things are moving fast in theME while gov officials are dilly dallying around. we need a solution sooner than later and we need it fast. it’s not enough for jstreet to react to events, they need to lead them. it’s not enough for them to give awards to the leaders on the left, they should be in front of the pack.

        • seafoid says:

          2it will be hard to find anyone who remembers thinking that J Street was just a front for AIPAC ”

          bukra fi mishmish

          There is just too much money in the status quo and injustice for J Street to make any difference, even if it was interested.
          Every organism has a behavioural pattern and Israel’s is land grab until ultimate collapse and death. J street won’t stop YESHA.

      • eljay says:

        >> J Street strongly condemns Hamas for its actions both before and during the Gaza war – actions which the report says may amount to crimes against humanity.

        Pity that J Street didn’t bother to equally-strongly condemn Israel for its actions before and during Cast Lead, actions that may amount to crimes against humanity.

        • annie says:

          my point exactly eljay. or, they could have chosen to not to condemn either. but the gratuitous condemnation of hamas and the framing of “J Street agrees with Israelis”..israel should have co-operated w/goldstone..is just bs. anyone who read goldstone ought to know the lionshare of evidence against the goi (wrt intent/war crimes) came from their own statements published in the israeli press.

        • Donald says:

          ” or, they could have chosen to not to condemn either. but the gratuitous condemnation of hamas and the framing of “J Street agrees with Israelis”..israel should have co-operated w/goldstone..is just bs. anyone who read goldstone ought to know the lionshare of evidence against the goi (wrt intent/war crimes) came from their own statements published in the israeli press”

          J Street’s stance on this is exactly the same as that of a certain “humanist” we have here.

          In general, though, Clenchner might be right. J Street might be more effective with the mixture of views it contains–so long as the apologists of Israel don’t take it over completely. At the moment it doesn’t look like that is going to happen.

  5. seafoid says:

    Let’s see how J Street respond to Israel’s next white phosphorous turkey shoot in Gaza or Mavi Marmara style attack at sea. Words are fine but actions are better.

  6. Avi says:

    On the word Zionism, I avoid it, I think it’s too unstable, too divisive a word to use it productively. Basically I try to talk values. I do think it’s a bit of a red light for this demographic, for young 20s, 30s liberal jews who are so used to the word Zionism being used by people, yes who I do think have corrupted it, but I see our energy as being too limited to spend so much time on the reclamation of the word rather than the embrace of the values.

    Phil,

    My reading of that paragraph is different. My reading is that she still sees the impasse as an Us vs. Them dichotomy. The only reason she rejects use of the word “Zionist” is because it’s too divisive — whatever that means.

    She concludes by saying: but I see our energy as being too limited to spend so much time on the reclamation of the word rather than the embrace of the values.

    Which values, Zionism’s? If she still clings onto the delusion that Zionism has any redeemable set of values, then she’s no different than any other hack in the mainstream.

    • Philip Weiss says:

      avi you cant see any progress. you cant see that the failure to embrace rhetoric — which im sure includes in her case, a refusal to accept the terminology, Jewish majority — might actually be a doorway to Jewish freedom

      • Avi says:

        Philip Weiss March 2, 2011 at 9:13 am

        avi you cant see any progress.

        Was there supposed to be a question mark at the end there?

        Seriously though, I see progress. But, I’m just cautious and slightly cynical given J-Streets track record, albeit a short one.

      • seafoid says:

        What do your mother’s generation think about the binational state, Phil? Those are the ones who have to move. jstreet isn’t going to move faster than they do.

  7. Kathleen says:

    “J Street is helping liberate Jews from selfish blindness” Been a long time coming. And better late than never
    “selfish” terrified, willful, complacent such a mixed bag of emotions for many of my Jewish friends most unwilling or terribly resistent to finding out what was really going on in that conflict.
    Phil thank you so much for sharing this over view. Sounds like a remarkable event. Would have tried to attend but family duties first

  8. MRW says:

    Maybe J Street wised up and realized that going the Congress route, which it was hoping for — after all, it likes access to power and expensive dinners too — was belied by events of the last two years. The people’s vote elected a black guy. The people’s will got rid of Mubarak. You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to figure out that the largest voting group in this country are Millennials, and getting larger.

  9. Gorenburg was right.

  10. hophmi says:

    You want a one-state solution, and you know very well that is not what J-Street supports.

    Your insistence on viewing Israel as an unjustified evil, replete with your complete identification of the narrative of one side and rejection of the narrative of the other side (such a common disease among Western activists) clouds your political judgment.

    Left-wing radical groups have never had trouble attracting young people to conferences in Washington nor trouble marginalizing themselves once it became time for real political change. So your account of young people in the back of the room with backpacks does not impress me. In fact, AIPAC’s conference has plenty of young attendees, and when it comes to the Orthodox community, there’s no need for conferences like this because being right-wing on Israel is almost a given. So, once again, I warn you that you’re deluding yourself if you think that separating assimilated secular young American Jews who were never going to be big on Israel anyway because they were never big on Judaism in the first place is a big deal. I have long been a proponent of reaching out to young American Jews. But losing the more secularized among them will not lead to the one-state solution you envision. It will lead to the Arens plan or something like it.

    And neither are the Arab revolutions especially relevant. As Mona Eltahawy repeatedly said, it’s not about us. It’s about them. And the West will support whatever is most stable. Israel remains the most stable government in the region.

    The most encouraging thing to come out of J Street’s conference is the reminder that most Israelis support a two-state solution, are willing to give up settlements for peace, and would vote for a government willing to negotiate. Those who look at all Jewish Israelis as fanged monsters will, of course, miss this.

    • Chaos4700 says:

      The most encouraging thing to come out of J Street’s conference is the reminder that most Israelis support a two-state solution, are willing to give up settlements for peace, and would vote for a government willing to negotiate.

      You know, I envy you sometimes. I don’t think I was ever disconnected from reality enough to believe that unicorns exist, even as a child.

    • Woody Tanaka says:

      “The most encouraging thing to come out of J Street’s conference is the reminder that most Israelis support a two-state solution, are willing to give up settlements for peace, and would vote for a government willing to negotiate.”

      If that were true, then the government after the Gaza murders by the i”d”f would not have been the fascists in office today.

      • hophmi says:

        “If that were true, then the government after the Gaza murders by the i”d”f would not have been the fascists in office today.”

        Are you arguing that government always exactly reflects the will of the people? I guess since the Republicans are the majority in the House, most people want to privatize Social Security.

  11. annie says:

    Those who look at all Jewish Israelis as fanged monsters will, of course, miss this.

    love your strawmen, they are so colorful hophmi. tell me, when you write ‘fanged monsters’ does it make you droll and salivate?

    The most encouraging thing to come out of J Street’s conference is the reminder that most Israelis support a two-state solution, are willing to give up settlements for peace, and would vote for a government willing to negotiate.

    what’s so encouraging about that? hasbarists have been reminding us what most israelis want for years. it’s irrelevant what most israelis want, obviously support for a two state solution does not a two state solution make. after the palsestine papers came out the reasons why are quite clear.

  12. “J Street will follow Sichel, and separate young American Jews from Zionism, and stir up an urgent conversation inside the Jewish community about why it was swept by a messianic nationalist political project conceived by a Viennese newspaper feature writer who had little knowledge of political philosophy or religion but a grandiose view of himself as Moses and Christopher Columbus (Herzl).”

    Herzl did not invent modern Zionism, nor did he conceive it. If one wishes to give credit I suppose Leon Pinsker, who wrote “Autoemancipation” was the one who broke the barrier, although there were other individuals, (Moses Hess, Rabbi Kalisher and the Hovevei Zion movement come to mind) who preceded him. What Herzl did was turn a trickle into a movement with the First Zionist Congress in 1897 and with his talent for public relations and yes, his penchant for the dramatic and the “messianic”- the consultation with the crowned heads of Europe (and elected heads as well). The reason people followed him at the time was because they sensed what Pinsker pointed out: that the kindness of other nations, emancipation, was insufficient, for it stemmed from a superficial (intellectual) impulse rather than from a deep seated (emotional) impulse and thus it was not dependable and thus the Jews, if they wished to survive (as individuals or as a group) would have to emancipate themselves. Pinsker and Herzl were proven right many times over between 1897 and 1945 and that’s why they were followed, because those who sought only individual survival could head towards America and other destinations, but those who sought survival not only for themselves but for their brethren and for the entity of the Jewish “people”, sought to establish a self emancipated movement.

    The question is not why people followed Herzl (and Pinsker), the questions are 1. Is the world of 2011 different enough from the world of 1897 to be assured that hatred of Jews has sufficiently receded as a danger to give up looking for Jewish sovereignty as a cure for a problem that in most places no longer seems to exist. And 2. Hasn’t the critique offered by Magnes, Arendt and Buber that the inevitable result of establishing a state against the will of the Palestinians would be constant war with its necessity of big power sponsorship been proven over the last 63 years?

    It is primarily the question of anachronism that divides today’s young Jews from today’s old Jews and from 1897′s farsighted Jews. In America there is minimal Jew hatred in fact primarily there is philo semitism and that is the explanation for the widespread support for Israel, America’s comfort with Jewish people and Jewish ideas. And thus Jews who were born before 1939 or soon after 1945 have one perspective and Jews born in 1990 might have a different perspective.

    In fact the primary justification for Israel today is not the need for a refuge, but the fact that there exists a very large Jewish community in Israel. J Street seeks to separate American Jews from the idea that continual war is the only option for the survival of that community located in I/P. They seek to separate young American Jews from “unending war” Zionism and specifically seeking to establish a two state solution as an end to that war. Given the fact that the brief moment of the Olmert administration failed to reach an agreement with Abbas it is conceivable that the moment of the two state solution has passed and thus there is no longer an alternative to unending war other than the loss of Jewish sovereignty and thus in fact to give up “unending war” Zionism is to give up on Jewish sovereignty. It will be up to the leaders of the world: including the leaders of the new found freedom Arab world and Israel and the United States and other countries to see if they can come up with a solution that gives the Palestinians maximal rights and ends the state of war without ending Jewish sovereignty. That is the only way to end the constant wars without causing a bigger war.

    • Mooser says:

      Wondering Jew, there may be some debate about what started the Zionist movement. But the meaningful debate will be about what it has become. And everybody can use their own eyes and ears for that.

    • RoHa says:

      ” without ending Jewish sovereignty”

      Why not end Jewish sovereignty?

    • MRW says:

      WonderingJew,

      Get another perspective. Try historian Gabriel Kolko, (he wrote what is considered the best history of the Vietnam War) who speaks Hebrew, BTW.

      Israel: Mythologizing a 20th Century Accident
      link to antiwar.com

      Then look up Yaakov Rabkin at the ajcna.org for what your thesis lacks.

  13. The constituencies:

    American Jews over 70 – 80% loyal, 99% sympathetic
    American Jews over 40 – 40% loyal, 90% sympathetic
    American Jews 30 – 40 – 30% loyal, 80% sympathetic
    American Jews 20-30 – 25% loyal, 70% sympathetic

    Hampshire College Jewish students – 15% loyal, 30% sympathetic, 30% critical, 25% anti.

    Israeli Jews, I doubt the numbers are in the 1% anti range in any demographic.

    Realism is needed. Democracy isn’t built on coercion. Neo-conservatism is.

    • Mooser says:

      Gosh, I wish I could just pull percentages from my head and have them be perfectly accurate. Not to mention how perfectly objectively you delineate. How I envy you Richard. A person could take all kinds psychedelic drugs and never reach quite that state of psychotic omniscience and fantastical accuracy.

    • eljay says:

      >> Democracy isn’t built on coercion.

      …says the man who approves of ethnic cleansing! Oh, that’s just too rich!!

    • RoHa says:

      So “democracy” means “a system by which the majority of Jews in the world get what they want, regardless of what anyone else anywhere wants”?

    • Chaos4700 says:

      Isn’t it anti-Semitic to suggest that only Jewish opinion should affect US policy? I mean, your delving into “Elder Protocols” territory here.

    • MRW says:

      Democracy isn’t built on coercion.

      Really? What do you call Egypt?

    • MRW says:

      More PIOYA.

      • Democracy means “consent of the governed”.

        Clearly, Palestinians are denied that currently. Your proposals (are there any in fact?) deny that to Jewish Israelis.

        Its a fantasy to think that they don’t care about that. Those of us that bear multiple loyalties would not kill to preserve it. Those that bear singular loyalties would, and they are many.

        Why press that, in the name of “opposing war”?

        Take a moderate stand, a stand that a mass movement can join, not the fantasy that BDS isn’t a form of shunning along ethnic lines (even if intended by many as an opposition to oppression), or that the single state advocacy isn’t a form of denial of democracy (again in the name of supporting democracy.)

        • RoHa says:

          So “democracy” means “Jewish Israelis get what they want, regardless of what anyone else wants, and regardless of whether it is right, just, or decent”?

  14. MRW says:

    HAARETZ: “Veteran Israeli diplomat: Netanyahu and Lieberman harm Israel’s international standing”

    The diplomatic policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman are harming Israel’s international standing, a senior Israeli diplomat said in his retiring letter on Tuesday, adding that he felt Israel’s declared stance regarding regional peace attempts was aiding in its own delegitimization.
    .
    In a letter written on the eve of his retirement from the Foreign Ministry, Ilan Baruch, who until 18 months ago served as Israel’s ambassador to South Africa, indicated that he had opted to leave Israel’s foreign service in protest of the polices advanced by the Netanyahu government.
    [...]
    As a result, Baruch concluded, “a malignant dynamic has formed, which threatens Israel’s international stance and undermines its legitimacy – not just of the occupation – but of is very membership in the comity of nations.” … “I find it difficult to represent them and honestly explain them,” Baruch wrote.

    link to haaretz.com

  15. Phil,
    The implication of your heading is to insist that J Street take an either/or stand, that its purpose is your purpose (assimilationist as you described).

    In asking for that decision, you will get the decision. And, it won’t be “we prefer that Israel not exist, that it be assimilated into the Arab world where it belongs.”

    In other words, the Israeli right LOVES your comments. They love that liberal J Street is adopted by radicalism. It gets them off the hook. They don’t have to take reform seriously.

    If it gets to that decision. And, the US decision won’t be that either.

    The only way that that decision will get made that way, is in a scenario of willing and orchestrated anti-semitism, American fascism.

    It will have the same moral considerations as Operation Cast Lead. As Norman Finkelstein described in the title of his book on Gaza, “We have gone too far”.

    You have to keep your eyes up, not head down, plowing forward. But, actually take a stand that realizes democracy in fact, realizes self-determination in fact.

    The only practical approach is the one of reform, if you wish to dissent, and that will likely be ultimately determined within Israel electorally.