Don’t destroy our dream-castle Israel! (Why the Jewish establishment shut out J Street)

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The American Jewish establishment voted by a wide margin yesterday to refuse membership to the J Street, a lobby group that has often but mildly criticized Israeli policy.

J Street at first expressed keen disappointment over the vote by the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. But today it sent out a rallying cry/fundraising appeal, thanking the Conference for the rejection because it demonstrates the fact that they’re despotic gatekeepers who don’t represent the Jewish community.

Join us in thanking the Conference of Presidents for clarifying exactly why J Street exists and what’s so wrong with how the organized Jewish community conducts the conversation on Israel….

Yesterday’s vote only motivates us to redouble our efforts…

J Street is right that the rejection is a naked display of the brittle orthodoxy of the Israel lobby. There’s no conceivable strategic reason the Conference would kick J Street out: J Street would help them lobby Democrats for Israel, J Street would help their image.

So why did they do it? These leading Jewish organizations have a dream-castle view of Israel that deep down they know is wrong, but they can’t permit even mild criticism of Israel lest that dream castle crumbles away. So when they encounter criticism, they become hysterical, and close ranks, and seek to ostracize the dissenter rather than listening to what the dissenter says.

If the Conference were rational, they would have welcomed J Street in and declared, See the broad base we have! We respect all views! As it is, their See no evil, hear no evil posture will only draw attention to their sclerotic views, and who else they can’t listen to. If you read Sartre’s Anti-Semite and Jew, he says that Jews are attracted to rationalism, to law and science, because it is one of the only weapons against the irrationality of anti-Semitism. Here you have a situation where it’s flipped, where there is no rationalism at all.

J Street’s statement yesterday was eloquent on the nature of Jewish community:

We are especially disappointed that a minority of the farthest right wing organizations within the Conference has chosen to close the Conference’s doors to this emerging generation of inspiring and passionate young leaders. In the long run, it does a grave disservice to the American Jewish community to drive some of our brightest young people away and to tell them that there is no place for them in an ever-shrinking communal tent where the conversation on Israel’s future is limited.

We agree. We look forward to hearing from a community that welcomes Max Blumenthal and Alissa Wise and Rebecca Vilkomerson and Hannah Mermelstein.

That day will only come when the timid Jewish establishment emulates someone from the older generation: Henry Siegman. Once at its heart of the Jewish establishment as the director of the American Jewish Congress, Rabbi Siegman had the courage to challenge his own deepest beliefs to the point that members of his own family don’t speak to him. He is today recognized as one of the most courageous voices in the Jewish community, and he will have that reputation long after this pack of trembling sheep has disappeared over the horizon.

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“J Street is right that the rejection is a naked display of the brittle orthodoxy of the Israel lobby.”

To further mix that great metaphor, consider that, with brittle structures, it takes only a stiff breeze to blow them flat.

The pathetic thing is that J Street is such a weak critic of Israel. Which just verifies the point Phil and James make–no criticism allowed at all. These people are to Judaism what, say, the hardest line creationists are to Christianity. The analogy isn’t perfect, but the similarity lies in… Read more »

“J Street opposed Goldstone, supported Iran sanctions and has never opposed any administration position regarding Israel at the UN. In fact, J Street is, as I’ve often written, Jews for Obama. It’s the cheerleading section for the Democratic Party with an emphasis on its Mideast policy. It’s a little to… Read more »

Maybe the rejection is irrational. But Occam’s Razor would suggest that this is a more complicated answer, and less likely to be true. Making assumptions about the motives of others’ – how do you like it when that happens to you? J Street represents a particular camp in the Jewish… Read more »