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Emergence of J Street Challenges the “Israel, Right or Wrong” Mindset of the Organized American Jewish Community

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
Year End 2009

More than l,500 people attended the first annual conference of J Street, a one-year-old, self-described “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobby, whose executive director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, says it is fighting for the “heart and soul of the American Jewish community.” Unlike AIPAC, J Street intends to push aggressively for a two-state solution based on Israel’s pre-1967 borders.  
Prior to the Washington meeting, J Street came under a withering attack from both established American Jewish groups and the Israeli government. A full page ad in Washington Jewish Week (Oct. 22, 2009), sponsored by the group Stand With Us declared that, “J Street’s positions undermine Israel’s search for peace and security.” A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy declared that J Street supports policies that could “impair Israel’s interests.” Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren boycotted the meeting.  
What sets J Street apart, writes Douglas Bloomfield in Washington Jewish Week (Oct. 29, 2009) “... and so terrifies the hard-line establishment, is that it has a political action committee that raises and contributes money for political campaigns, something essential to being an effective player today ... Its greatest appeal is to younger and progressive Americans ... who are turned off by the Israel-first establish-ment’s intolerance of dissent and its steady rightward tilt, something that has been on display in the recent — and failed — effort to stifle J Street ... The Netanyahu government and its ambassador here may be shunning J Street, but not the White House. The group has been invited to its meetings the president has held with national Jewish leaders, and some of its leaders have close ties to senior policy makers ... What is going on is an attempt by the establishment to define what it means to be pro-Israel, to make that definition ever more ideologically restrictive and to paint J Street as unacceptable. That won’t work. Hypocrisy and political turf protecting, not concern for Israel, is what’s driving the over-the-top J Street opposition.”  
The Economist (Oct. 31, 2009) reported: “If this flood of denigration was intended to drown J Street at birth, it seems to have failed. Israel’s Likud-led government may have stayed away from its conference, but its president, Shimon Peres, and Tzipi Livni, the leader of the opposition Kadima party, expressed their support. James Jones, America’s national security adviser, not only gave a speech but made a point of saying that the Obama administration would be represented at future meetings as well. Although some invitees pulled out, more then 40 members of Congress attended a gala dinner. So J Street has planted a foot in the door.”  
Writing in The Forward (Nov. 6, 2009), columnist Leonard Fein lameted the efforts to boycott and isolate J Street: “There were very many young people at the J Street conference. By his studied absence, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. sent a message to these young people: You are not welcome in the camp. You had the audacity to criticize our war in Gaza, you oppose the immediate imposition of sanctions on Iran; you do not take your cues from our preferences and decisions. No matter, then, that so many of you find a breath of fresh air in an awfully stale room, no matter that you seem to care, to really care, for Israel’s safety and welfare. Go away. That message is, in a word, intolerable. In two words, it is both stupid and intolerable.”

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