Sent to you by Sean McBride via Google Reader: 'J Street' Cannot Take
on AIPAC and the Neocons Frontally via Mondoweiss by Philip Weiss on
I said earlier this week that I was going to get to Jeremy Ben-Ami's
comments at the Jewish antiwar conference of last Sunday. Ben-Ami is
the brains of J Street, the alternative Jewish lobby; and he was
introduced with genuine excitement, by Rokhl Kafrissen, a young Jewish
editor, who declared: "What Jeremy Ben-Ami did was organize a response
to the neoconservative domination of the Israel lobby. I don't think
you can over-exaggerate how important that is to people of my

Yes: Don't we all despise the neocons! But in Ben-Ami's shrewd
comments, it was clear that neoconservatism is not going away in the
Jewish leadership, and in fact, that it reflects strong currents inside
the Jewish community.

Here are some of Jeremy Ben-Ami's statements (quoted when in
quotations, all emphases mine):

On Iraq:
When people look back on the Iraq war, they will justly ask, "Where was
the Jewish community?" Because "we were not there; we were not stepping
up loudly and clearly as a community." Jewish organizations were
careful not to support the war explicitly or vehemently. But "there was
a very strong perception that Jewish individuals in the Administration,
Jewish neoconservatives and thinkers, and activists involved in [Jewish
organizations] if not the organizations themselves were behind the
scenes big supporters of the concepts that drove the war." [Absolutely
true] These concepts included the idea that "you can solve your
problems through the use of force." Though: "I don't blame [that idea]
all on the Jews."

Note that the very basic data point, Jewish neoconservatives, so hotly
disputed by the neocons themselves and by Jeffrey Goldberg and Yivo, is
stated directly by Ben-Ami (as it was by Joe Klein). More on Iraq:
We must ask, Who was against the war? The Jewish community, by and
large. But as for organizations, Ben-Ami said, there were only two,
including the National Council of Jewish Women. This meant that the war
had "minimal [Jewish] opposition, and maximal individual Jewish

Ben-Ami spoke of the ways that the Jewish community is of two minds,
hawkish and dovish at the same time:
American Jewish opinion is complex re Israel/Palestine. People like to
say that Jews are liberals, but they can be very tough about Arabs. Yes
they are for a two-state solution, by 70 to 30. But then 70% would
support an invasion of Gaza tomorrow. "There's a split in the mindset,
both here and in Israel."

What's absent: political leadership. Israel hasn't had a strong leader
in almost a generation. And AIPAC is the only leader here of the
American Jewish community on these issues. That's why J Street is so
important, it's offering some diversity, Ben-Ami says. Though I would
say: ethnocentrism doesn't work; progressive Jews have to make an
alliance with other progressives, to take on the neocons.

Ben-Ami said a lot about the power of the Israel lobby.
When congressmen close their doors, they agree with J Street about the
need to talk to Iran. "It isn't a matter of convincing them we're
right... They don't have the courage to lead. They need to be given the
courage to lead."
You can't be a Jewish organization in Washington without
Israel "lurking in the background" of all discussions [Let my people
go!] Things will always be considered through "an Israel lens, and that
lens today is all about Iran."
"The Israel lobby has made Iran the number one issue for the Jewish
community when it comes to foreign policy. If you're going to engage
members of Congress," you have to talk about Iran. "They'll say, 'Isn't
Iran the greatest threat to Israel?'"
J Street can't fight this attitude. "The voice of the Jewish community
in Washington is and has been for 30 years" a "cluster of organizations
that would seem to speak for the Jewish community." All of them right
wing: AIPAC, Zionist Organization of America, the ADL, the American
Jewish Committee, and the Council of Presidents.
"We need to think about how we take that on... We're going to have to
have an [approach] that is not anti-AIPAC.... A lot of very good people
belong to AIPAC. 100,000 people belong to AIPAC." When people think
about what their grandparents would want them to do with their money,
they feel guilty and think, AIPAC. "You're attacking a sense of
communal identity if you attack the institution."
AIPAC is a "source of power" for the Jewish community in Washington.
And "the power in Washington relates to money." That's AIPAC's
strength, money. "Until we are able to tell [members of Congress] that
staking out positions that most of the Jewish community support is not
going to hurt them politically, then we're not going to have a voice."
These congressmen agree with us privately. But they won't say so
publicly. We cannot take AIPAC on directly.

My conclusion: Jewish activists on Palestine Anna Baltzer and Phyllis
Bennis are right. They say that progressives should not try and truck
with the Jewish community. Shouldn't avoid it, but shouldn't truck with
it either. Because out of Zionist feeling, and outsider feelings of
Jewish power, that community is claimed by neoconservatism. If you want
to attack neocons, you must get outside the Jewish community and make a
bridge, right now, to Trita Parsi, Scott McConnell, and the realists.
It will be a powerful coalition, and reasonable Jews will come on
board. J Street, which has already done important work with its
announcement that so excited Kafrissen, will be most effective in such
a coalition.

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