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Peace Lobby Breaks from Left as Conference Approaches

J Street, the self-dubbed "pro-Israel, pro-peace" lobby, has visibly distanced itself from individuals and organizations on the left in advance of its first national convention. As neoconservative columnists and other hawkish pro-Israel voices mount pressure on members of congress to … Read More

By / October 25, 2009

J Street, the self-dubbed "pro-Israel, pro-peace" lobby, has visibly distanced itself from individuals and organizations on the left in advance of its first national convention.

As neoconservative columnists and other hawkish pro-Israel voices mount pressure on members of congress to withdraw from the convention’s host committee, J Street has taken pains to demonstrate that it is far more centrist than some progressives initially believed. In an interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg published Friday, J Street executive director Jeremy Ben-Ami took swipes at various individuals and organizations deemed "anti-Zionist" by the pro-Israel right, including the Bay Area’s Jewish Voice for Peace, saying "I hope we get attacked from the left." Ben-Ami doesn’t have to hope too hard, as Jewish and non-Jewish Palestinian-solidarity activists alike have denounced the group for trying to cater to a pro-Israel center that pivots on the right. After the Weekly Standard unearthed some incendiary writing in which the poets Kevin Coval and Josh Healey drew analogies between the Israeli occupation and the Holocaust, the two were promptly disinvited from performing at J Street’s conference. On Tuesday, Coval and Healey issued a statement which appeared in the Huffington Post, faulting J Street for "caving to this sort of McCarthyism." "The right stands by its politics, and practices solidarity with their allies," wrote Coval and Healey. "Too often the left doesn’t. And that’s why we often lose." Coval and Healey’s missive was also circulated by Tikkun magazine, which itself has grown increasingly critical of J Street since, as Tikkun claims, the group formally declined to have Tikkun and its well-known publisher, Rabbi Michael Lerner, participate in its conference.   On Wednesday, Tikkun sent an email to its subscribers claiming that, "It is inconceivable that J Street could have emerged without the benefit of much of [Rabbi Lerner] and Tikkun’s work. To exclude us is not fair to Tikkun and it is an unnecessary blow to [Lerner] personally." The magazine’s managing editor David Belden said the group would nonetheless participate in the conference informally, noting that "Rabbi Lerner continues to support J Street and urges people to attend the conference even as they exclude him." In response to Ben-Ami’s interview with Goldberg, one reputed anti-Zionist blogger, Mark Elf of Jews Sans Frontieres, quipped on Twitter that J Street was "AIPAC-lite." Richard Silverstein, of the Tikkun Olam blog, who is organizing a luncheon for Israeli-Palestinian issues bloggers at the convention (in which, I hereby disclose, I will be a participant), took umbrage with many aspects of Ben-Ami’s interview, notably his characterization of Jewish Voice for Peace. Writing on his blog yesterday, Silverstein remarked, "He is using Jewish Voice for Peace as a convenient foil thus allowing him to say to those on his right: ‘See, we’ve dissociated ourselves from them.  Aren’t you glad we’re not them?’ That does a terrible disservice to the legitimate role that JVP places in this debate." Ben-Ami, of course, welcomes such vocal criticism, as it helps more clearly delineate J Street’s position within the spectrum of Israel advocacy organizations. "I believe that we are at the center," Ben-Ami told Goldberg. "The Marty Peretzes and the Michael Goldfarbs and the Lenny Ben-Davids are on the right, to the far right, and there are people to our left, and we are in the middle trying to put forward a thoughtful, moderate, mainstream point of view about how to save Israel as a Jewish home."

 

Editor’s Note: Jewcy is a media partner for the J Street conference. This piece was not commissioned by Jewcy and all views expressed in it are those of the author.

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