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The agony of J Street

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How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You’re Not Anywhere at All
– Firesign Theater, 1969

J Street’s recent misadventure with an “anti-BDS” conference — J Street attends rightwing anti-BDS summit– and gets called ‘anti-Semitic’ — is redolent of struggles that other organizations in other times have had, trying by cooperation with Zionism to control its more nationalistic nature and steer it in a humane direction.

In a historical parallel, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) felt it must cooperate with the Zionist movement, in order to be within the tent when decisions were made. It participated in the formation of the Jewish Agency for Palestine on the understanding the Agency would be a joint Zionist/non-Zionist enterprise.

Beginning a long process of resolving conflicts between prioritizing the welfare of Jews in the diaspora versus building a Jewish homeland in Palestine, there was an initial founding meeting of the Jewish Agency in AJC President Louis Marshall’s home in 1924. The meeting, which included the Zionist Organization’s Chaim Weizmann, decided that in the executive committee of the Jewish Agency “50% will represent the Zionists and 50% the non-Zionists,” an arrangement that was finally implemented in 1927.

In the event, later AJC President Joseph Proskauer observed in 1943, “It was supposed to be composed of an equal number of Zionists and anti-Zionists. It was not supposed to be a Zionist body, and as always happens when a negative group is wedded to a positive group, the positive group ate up the negative group, and to all intents and purposes, the Jewish Agency became a pro-Zionist activity.”

Anti-Zionist Marshall had foreseen in 1918 the difficulty of resistance: “The Zionists, whether their views be sound or otherwise, are the advocates of an affirmative policy. It is one that appeals to the imagination. It is replete with poetry.”

Rabbi Elmer Berger, a founder of the anti-Zionist American Council for Judaism, wrote in 1983 of familiar contortions of language that we still see in the Jewish community. Berger wrote that Chaim Weizmann created the term “non-Zionist” for those who supported the Zionist Agency in Palestine despite not being Jewish nationalists, so as to gain “the support and participation of the leadership of essentially anti-Zionist American Jews.” Berger continued:

To bridge the gap Weizmann coined the term “non-Zionist”. The nomenclature was intended to identify a Jew who was willing to contribute material aid to the building of the “national home” but was recognized as opposing the concept of “Jewish” nationalism…. The principal focus of Weizmann’s “diplomacy” were the leaders of the American Jewish Committee, in the mid-1920’s the most prestigious collection of American Jews, generous philanthropists, but anti-Zionist almost to a man. How this mesalliance was finally consummated is a story of naivete on the part of American Jews. They believed Weizmann’s tactically watered-down version of Zionist aspirations and relied upon the Mandatory [British authority over Palestine] to enforce the “safeguard” clauses of the Balfour Declaration, protecting both Palestinian Arabs and anti-Zionist Jews from any possible threats to their existing nationality status by any unrestricted Zionist aggressiveness.

From Israeli Independence Day in 1948 onwards, the AJC felt an essential ingredient to moderating Israeli conduct was from a position of solidarity with Israel — leading to texts that contained endless re-emphasizing of the AJC’s sympathy and concern for Israel, which softened their condemnations of expulsions, raids, and attacks on non-Jewish Palestinians.

J Street’s strategy of being the “anti-AIPAC” pro-Israel organization involves considerable re-affirmation of the dream of national Jewish sovereignty by President Jeremy Ben-Ami. This is the strategy that non-nationalist Jews also followed in an effort to leash the movement of political Zionism, to moderate the “excesses” that come with a politics based on ethnic ties.

J Street’s position allows being “for” something, as most don’t want to be “anti-,” especially anti a “mainstream” Jewish position. The strategy failed, when in 2014 J Street was declared “un-clubbable” — refused membership in the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.

In his letter from Birmingham jail, Martin Luther King wrote of the hazard — to the cause of equality — of strategic “moderation”:

“I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate… Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

J Street’s strategy to tout itself as a potent force to fight BDS, as a means of entrée into establishment American Jewry, has failed. Presumably it is serving an important function as a halfway house to Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow — when the reassurance that you are not “turning on Israel” is important, before it isn’t.

J Street is opposed to the occupation, and their strategy is that by being in the Zionist consensus they can oppose Israel’s regime of occupation, detention and mistreatment, including systematic humiliation and torture during interrogation.

(Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association reported in 2014 that “Since the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory in 1967, more than 800,000 Palestinians have been detained under Israeli military orders in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). This number constitutes approximately 20 percent of the total Palestinian population in the oPt and as much as 40 percent of the total male Palestinian population. It also includes approximately 10,000 women jailed since 1967, as well as 8,000 Palestinian children arrested since 2000.”)

In an April 15 letter this year, Ben-Ami says of J Street, “As advocates of sane, compassionate and effective American leadership, we’re going to have to make it clear that there are no shortcuts to peace, security and stability.”

The envisioning of “sane, compassionate and effective American leadership” is an instance of irony– even before the inauguration of the current Administration, inasmuch as American leadership has been determined to blunt Israel experiencing any consequences for its conduct.

J Street has a beautiful vacuity: understanding the injustice but not the implications of that understanding.

The Jewish consensus that J Street wishes to be a part of does not prioritize Palestinian Arab suffering as a priority on par with Jewish determination to be a nation — so it avoids what Martin Luther King called “an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

J Street aligns with the anti-BDS position (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions), and its website is now silent on the massive hunger strike of Palestinian “security” prisoners of the Israeli state.

As Israel strangles Gaza — or mows the lawn, in that grotesque phrase for military attacks on that captive city of 1.75 million — J Street will be there with faint condemnation sabotaged by reiterated sympathy for Israel’s “legitimate” fears.

About Abba Solomon

Abba A. Solomon is the author of “The Speech, and Its Context: Jacob Blaustein's Speech ‘The Meaning of Palestine Partition to American Jews.’” His website is

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19 Responses

  1. pabelmont
    April 26, 2017, 11:23 am

    Beautiful essay.

    Last night there was a presentation at VERSO BOOKS by Omar Barghouti and Nyle Fort regarding BDS. The meeting was Co-sponsored by Jewish Voice for Peace, Adalah-NY, Tarab NYC, Jews Say No!, PARCEO, and (I believe) a lot more organizations.

    It was terrific. A notable aspect was the reminder that [a] Black Lives Matter (central committee?) chose to join hands with Palestinians and with American Indians at Standing Rock and [b] took flack from many Black Christians who are (probably for several converging reasons) Zionists in outlook.

    BLM, therefore, is in the same position as dissenters from Zionism among Jews mentioned in Abba Solomon’s essay. Or, maybe it is the Black Christian Zionists who are. Anyhow there is dissension there. (Nyle Fort, himself a Christian minister, told us that there is a long history among Black Christian Americans of regarding post-Civil War USA as the Zion to which slaves were to seek freedom from slavery in the “Egypt” of the American South (“Let my people go”) , and regarding Israel and Zion as synonymous.

    He suggested that it might be more accurate to regard Israel as the new Egypt. But that’ll be some heavy lifting and cultural shifting. And it does not take into account that Jews and the USA’s power structure generally has aligned with Israel and the Black ministers experience CURRENT POLITICAL as well as ANCIENT RELIGIOUS pressures to align with Israel.

    At all events, the Black Ministers appear to abandon Christian principles by aligning with Zionism just as much as do the white Christian Zionists. And just as much a American Jews abandon Jewish principles by aligning with Zionism.

    it’s J-Street all over again. It’s AJC all over again.

    “Deja vu” keeps repeating itself. Political expediency always winning over religious (or human rights) principles.

    BTW — more strongly than ever before — I had a personal epiphany: I saw the 3-point goals of BDS as standing for (or capable of being restated universally as): [1] no more discrimination, legal or social, anywhere against anyone (including ending Israeli apartheid); [2] human rights for everyone (including the Palestinian right of return); and [3] enforcement of international law everywhere (including ending the so-called Israeli-occupation, which, after 50 years, is no longer an occupation but has morphed into a de facto land grab, contrary to international law).

    I want to see the principles of BDS as a model for the rescue of all humankind, lifted from Palestinian particularlity and universalized, so that, for instance, Black Lives Matter in the USA and various movements for Indigenous Rights in the broader Americas, and all “identity political movements” in the USA can see that they are not separate from each other, and not separate from the movement for Palestinian Rights, but part of a single global movement, cut of the identical cloth, one and not many. And since all human life is threatened by global warming climate change (GWCC) and particularly threatened by GWCC-deniers (most notably the Trumpery), this movement (as I imagine it) to rescue all humankind must also rescue us all from the GWCC-deniers.

    Why not?

  2. Steve Grover
    Steve Grover
    April 26, 2017, 1:30 pm

    “To bridge the gap Weizmann coined the term “non-Zionist”. The nomenclature was intended to identify a Jew who was willing to contribute material aid to the building of the “national home” but was recognized as opposing the concept of “Jewish” nationalism”

    And now those who call themselves non-Zionist are just pathetic Israel hating scumbags in disguise.

    • annie
      April 26, 2017, 2:26 pm

      let it all hang out steve.

      • Steve Grover
        Steve Grover
        April 26, 2017, 3:21 pm

        Sure. I started letting my Zionist pride hang out the second the Israel/Jew haters at the U.N. declared Zionism racism. Don’t see any reason to not continue letting my Zionist pride hang out.

      • James North
        James North
        April 26, 2017, 3:40 pm

        Mooser: Put your jack back in his box, please.

      • Steve Grover
        Steve Grover
        April 26, 2017, 3:56 pm

        Well its alright North in fact its a gas.

      • Mooser
        April 26, 2017, 5:28 pm

        “Mooser: Put your jack back in his box, please.”

        Sorry “(((James”. Consider it done. Not another peep from “Grover”

      • echinococcus
        April 26, 2017, 6:17 pm


        Too confused to even understand your own Zio deception, eh?

      • Mooser
        April 27, 2017, 10:20 am

        …and the wind cries mamzer.

    • eljay
      April 26, 2017, 2:38 pm

      || Steve Grover: … And now those who call themselves non-Zionist are just pathetic Israel hating scumbags in disguise. ||

      Opposition to the injustice and immorality of Zionism, its “Jewish State” project and their collective past and on-going (war) crimes really disgusts you Zionists. Your kindred spirits in Islamic State applaud your indignation.

      • Steve Grover
        Steve Grover
        April 26, 2017, 3:17 pm

        Yeah I know eljay same old. Same old.

      • eljay
        April 26, 2017, 6:11 pm

        || Steve Grover: Yeah I know eljay same old. Same old. ||

        Yes, yes you are.

    • Mooser
      April 26, 2017, 2:42 pm

      “To bridge the gap Weizmann coined the term “non-Zionist”. And now those who call themselves non-Zionist are just pathetic Israel hating scumbags in disguise. “

      No doubt you have an effective and efficient plan to deal with this problem, “Steve”.

      What is it?

      • Steve Grover
        Steve Grover
        April 26, 2017, 3:15 pm

        Mooser asks:
        “No doubt you have an effective and efficient plan to deal with this problem, “Steve”.

        What is it?”

        The problem is miniscule and laughable and not worth the time and effort of consideration.

  3. JeffB
    April 26, 2017, 4:54 pm

    Just to add for the 100th time. I was there at the UN anti-BDS conference. There was no deep repudiation of J-Street. Leftwing Jews who had far more practical experience in dealing with BDS were listened to and generally respected, at least as much as any Democrat would be respected in that crowd. A pro-Zionist hard right Mormon made a rude remark from the stage towards them. That’s it. There was no crisis moment. This is all in your heads. It didn’t happen in the real world.

    As for the analysis…. it is also off base.

    JStreetU kids are center leftists. They want to be staffers in congress or running for state house or public interest lawyers. They are mainstream They agree with groups like Center for American Progress. They are just mainstream Democrats and thus find AIPAC to far to the right. They aren’t going to join hard left causes, not because they are conflicted on Zionism but because they disagree with the entire hard left program: from socialist economics, to radical social change to environmental extremism… They (in general) don’t support any of it. If they were 15 years older they would have been Clinton supporters in the primary. They aren’t 1/2 way to being JVP they are comfortable liberal Zionists. The don’t support anti-Zionism because they love Israel and they don’t want to see it destroyed. They are capable of nationalist pride even while being unhappy with some aspects of policy.

    And finally. INN and JVP are coming from a totally different place. If you want to see the difference ask a JVPer to get specific about Judaism. Like which candle blessing change in Israel vs. America and what those changes to the prayers are. The JVPer won’t know, the JStreetU kid also won’t know the INNer will. INNers look like a cross between Mercaz and Hatikvah supporters much more than young JVPers.

    You all aren’t helping any of those groups by lumping them together.

  4. helen4yemen
    April 26, 2017, 5:01 pm

    Who are the Jews in the “diaspora”? And where did they “diaspora from”? Palestine? You mean the Chinese, Indian, Lithuanian, Yemeni … Jews all claim Palestine and no other land on earth is where they originate from? I am native to the Arab region and the word ‘diaspora’ itself offends me because I see it as a false claim by Jews who are totally European or Arab or African or Asian to Palestine with nothing to support such a claim but only hocus-pocus stories in the bible. And it is this hocus-pocus fairly tales the reason the European Jews – totally European – were able to convince the world that Palestine is their “ancestral homeland” and where they need to “return” to. It is this hocus pocus that has caused the establishments of this foreign entity in the heart of the Arab world.

  5. helen4yemen
    April 26, 2017, 5:26 pm


    There is no Zionism without Judaism. Where does the idea of erecting a Jewish state in Palestine and not in Uganda or Argentina come from? There is no way to make Zionism more humane. It is racist in its very nature. What is the meaning of “next year in Jerusalem”? Does it mean like “next year in Mecca”, meaning to perform the Haj and be back home – or does it mean the seizure of Palestine according to Numbers 33 and 34 of the OT? Why pretend as if Zionism is not based on Judaism?

    Numbers 33:55 If you don’t force out all the people there, they will be like pointed sticks in your eyes and thorns in your back. They will always be trouble for you.

    David Ben-Gurion : — “Zionism is a transfer of the Jews. Regarding the transfer of the Arabs this is much easier than any other transfer. There are Arab states in the vicinity… and it is clear that if the Arabs are removed (to these states) this will improve their condition and not the contrary.” – In May, 1944, at a meeting of the Jewish Agency Executive, Ben-Gurion

  6. JWalters
    April 26, 2017, 8:56 pm

    The agony of J Streeters is rooted in the childhood emotional brainwashing described in Why I’m keeping my child home from school in Israel on Holocaust Day

    Immersing young children in fear is an ancient control tactic, used through history by many religious and political group leaders. It is an attempt to override the otherwise natural human tendency to believe one’s own eyes and think for oneself.

  7. Ronald Johnson
    Ronald Johnson
    April 27, 2017, 10:17 am

    Let me remark on the diligent application of Old Testament Zionism to indoctrinate credulous Christians into enthusiasm for the state of Israel. Starting with the Scofield Reference Bible. The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) has a mission to repel “the Assault on Evangelical Support for Israel”

    I attended their seminar in March, south of Buffalo NY, to find about 180 nicely-behaved people eager to learn, for example, that Xerxes was definitely the Persian King in the Book of Esther. The host organization was Eagles’ Wings, which can be found on the web. One of the presenters was Tricia Miller, author of “Jews and Anti-Judaism in Esther and the Church”, available on Amazon. The arrangement appears to be that CAMERA is glad to work with Evangelicals, notwithstanding the Evangelical belief that, on the last day, the ingathered Jews will be offered the choice of Christian conversion or eternal damnation – an arrangement that will suffice until the last day.

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