AIPAC American Jews Arab-Israeli conflict Dan Fleshler Front Page Israel J Street Noah Pollak Palestinians

Why the Jewish right is terrified by J Street’s conference

J Street, the political arm of the American Jewish pro-Israel, pro-peace movement, will convene its second national conference on Saturday night. There will be an enormous turnout. An organizer told me that about 2100 people are pre-registered (at their last conference, only 850 people were pre-registered but 1500 people showed up). There will be about 500 students from 100 campuses.

Why are all of these people converging? There are many reasons. They are desperate to find hope in what often seems like a hopeless mess in Israel and the territories. They want answers to troubling questions, like, “Is the 2-state solution dead?” and “What, in God’s name. can the U.S. do to help?” They want community. They want inspiration. They crave ideas for mobilizing somnolent American Jews and cowardly U.S. politicians. I’m going, and I want all of those things.

This won’t be quite as large as AIPAC’s legendary policy conferences, but AIPAC has had more than 50 years to build momentum; J Street is only three year old.

So what is the reaction from the American Jewish and Israeli right? Abject terror.

There is no other way to explain the panicky screeds on the right-wing Judeo blogosphere. Check out these widely-publicized riffs from Noah Pollak of the Emergency Committee for Israel and the permanently truculent folks at Front Page magazine. I won’t dignify all their arguments and character assassinations by conveying them here, but one of their objections to the conference is that some of the speakers are, gasp, Arabs who are unhappy with Israel!

American Jews, you see, are not supposed to listen to Arabs who are unhappy with Israel, people with different narratives and perspectives than those of the pro-Israel community, people like James Zogby or Mustafa Barghouti. Spend three minutes reading about Barghouti here, and you will learn about the kind of impassioned, articulate Palestinian nationalist that not all Israelis like very much. But surely all Israelis need to figure out how to live with a neighbor like Mustafa Barghouti.

But Americans Jews, you see, are not allowed to hear him speak. Perish the thought! And, of course, if an organization gives him a podium, that automatically means the organization endorses each and every one of his views. That is an enduring principle of the Jewish thought police. He will be speaking at a panel on Hamas, summarized as follows: “Hamas remains in control of the Gaza Strip, armed and opposed to the existence of the State of Israel. What is the best way to counter the threat posed by Hamas? Is reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah a prerequisite to peace, or would it make peace more difficult to achieve? Can Hamas be neutralized by undermining its popular support among Palestinians or splitting its moderate elements from its militants?” It would make perfect sense to exclude Palestinians from the ground who actually know what they are talking about from such a panel, wouldn’t it?

American Jews are not supposed to hear from Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, the physician and friend to many Israeli moderates whose daughters were tragically killed by Israeli forces during Operation Cast Lead. Perish the thought! We must not hear about his experiences or his lovely, lost daughters because, Front Page asserts, he denounced the Israelis but not Hamas. We must run the other way if we see him coming.

Front Page sums up the other principal objection: “Any illusion that J Street has included these speakers merely to give insight into “the other side” is dispelled by the roster of Jewish speakers scheduled to speak at `Giving Voice to Your Values.’ All are leftists, and most are even more radically anti-Israel than the Islamists who will appear.” There are certainly a lot of leftists, and it is not hard to show that they are, in fact, pro-Israel. But what scares these righties more than anything, I think, is all of the thoroughly mainstream, centrist speakers who are also gracing J Street with their presence: Knesset Members from Kadima; Dennis Ross; Kenneth Pollack of Brookings; Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute for Near East Peace; Tom Dine, who used to run AIPAC; Ethan Felson of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs; Rabbi David Sapirstein, head of the Religious Action Center of the Reform movement–the largest synagogue movement in the US.

“Censorship reflects a society’s lack of confidence in itself,” wrote Justice Potter Stewart. And that is what is going on here. We are listening to the sputterings of an insecure right wing that has no answers. They have no suggestions about the Israeli-Palestinian situation other than grim, bloody “conflict management,” which should really be called “nightmare management.” They have no notion of how to preserve the democratic Jewish state. They don’t know how to stop the steady drift of young people out of the American Jewish community because what is happening to the Palestinians cannot be reconciled with either Jewish or universal values.

And they are panicking. They want us to put our hands over our ears, like the haredim who don’t want to hear women’s voices singing, or the fanatics who want to burn down the offices of newspapers that print cartoons of the prophet Muhammed. Sorry folks. It won’t work. Thousands of American Jews and others will show up in DC this weekend, eager to hear complicated truths and nuanced arguments, instead of the useless pablum of those who cling to a horrific status quo.

42 thoughts on “Why the Jewish right is terrified by J Street’s conference

  1. Wow… that is the first time I’ve seen Front Page. The tone is so much like that of the old White Power rags in the south… scary similar!
    Anyway, I hope the dialogue in DC has some resonance for a change. People are suffering…
    And as usual… thank you for your blog Dan…

  2. Thanks, TP. I don’t know which “old White Power rags” you are referring to. If you have any examples to post here or provide via email (address is on this site somewhere), I’d appreciate it. A comparison would be fascinating.

  3. “Thousands of American Jews and others will show up in DC this weekend, eager to hear complicated truths and nuanced arguments, instead of the useless pablum of those who cling to a horrific status quo.”

    Hope all is well Dan but this piece here, that you also put in the Huffington Post, hardly reflects the nuanced arguments and complicated truths that I’ve always seen you bringing productive attention to. Here’s what I think:


  4. The Jewish Right is terrified of change & losing power. They are afraid WE will think out of the Box, which is why we have J Street. Same can be said of The Right wing in America. Control, power to the rich, keep the middle in The Box, you get the message

  5. Ok Dan, I know you think that the Jews in Israel are unsophisticated rubes who don’t know anything at all about the Arabs or the middle east. But Let me ask you this. ( And Witty, good friend of Phil ( Hitler should have finished the job ) Weiss can chip in also.) Since this is obviously Israels fault ergo they can wind this baby up by next Tuesday. Ok, What’s the plan? Seriously.

  6. Bill, I don’t have a plan. Hoping to learn from people who do this weekend I do think it is insane to take steps that preclude the possibility of any plan succeeding Lighting a match and throwing it on the tinderbox of East Jerusalem, courtesy of Irving Moskowitz and his pals, is one such step The people who do that are not rubes. That is what makes them dangerous.

  7. My comment from yesterday above was cut-off. My apologies–see anonymous above.

    Dan, I think I have a pretty progressive view on most things and have been a supporter of a two-state solution along the line of the Clinton Parameters since before there were any such parameters. I would submit that I’m hardly the only American Jew who holds these views and who also has come to be disappointed with J Street. J Street doesn’t speak for me Dan, and if you want to call me a paranoid right-winger then so be it. I had the same reaction to J Street’s mealy-mouth position on the recent UN veto that Gary Ackerman had, and I don’t subscribe to the cheap and ugly notion that Ackerman is just another member of Congress who doesn’t breathe without permission from AIPAC. I read your book and I didn’t think you subscribe to that notion either. To borrow from you, I thought your explanation of the Israel lobby was far more “nuanced” and “complicated”.

    This “right wing hysterical Jew thing” is tiresome and, frankly I’m surprised that this is the tact you would take on the eve of this conference. This is just my opinion Dan, and I continue to respect you. I do hope you find comfort at the J Street conference. I make no apologies, however, for not being there with you.


  8. There are MANY parties at play in Israel/Palestine. It is herding cats, short of militarily running “them” out of town. (“Them” being Israelis, or “them” being Palestinians.)

    A permanent peace is best. A temporary peace that could become permanent is good. A temporary peace that has to renewed every couple years is ok. A state of animosity is a drain. A state of war is dangerous. A permanent state of war leaves the 40:1 Arab population winning sovereignty.

    The path is electoral in Israel. What happens in the US can only be support for what happens electorally in Israel, the proverbial “bridge” when bi-lateral talks hit obstacles.

    And before electoral, there has to articulation of best attitudes/best law/best case and articulation of how to get there and risks. ALL out on the table, so that those that object can object to specifics, even to adding up the specifics to “that can’t possibly work”, with the required response of an alternative proposal on the table.

    Not getting lost in trees. Not getting lost in who said what a month ago. That is all distraction, and distraction always plays into the hands of opportunists.

    Israelis have to make the better argument, why it is a more pleasant and safer life to not be surrounded by enemies, but instead to have increments of Israel’s borders be in a state of truce or long-term peace (nothing is permanent).

    Lebanon (how many miles), Syria (how many miles), Palestine (how many miles), Jordan (how many miles), Egypt (how many miles), Mediterranean (how many miles).

    Given a baseline in a status of danger of maybe 4-5% of GDP consumed on defense, each of those borders represents a savings of maybe 1.5% of GDP per state border that is animosity. 4% vs 11% on defense is a big deal.

    Not to mention emigration, loss of investment, citizens’ safety, state of environment (war is not good for ecosystems), our collective character.

  9. Bruce, J Street has a difficult path to travel and I understand why you are disappointed, I think. However, I fail to understand why you are not upset at the right wing drivel that got me so upset. They really went over the top with their enemies lists. I have spent time here denouncing the drivel of the far left, as you know, but extremists on the other side should not be ignored. I don’t think it’s “tired.” I guess we must agree to disagree.

  10. Does j-street have a picture of George Soros up on the podium. Does everybody bow down. Whats the deal?
    What about that Chinese broad from Hong Kong. Or Singapore, that put almost a million into the j-street pot. Does she show up?

  11. “Lebanon (how many miles), Syria (how many miles), Palestine (how many miles), Jordan (how many miles), Egypt (how many miles), Mediterranean (how many miles).”
    What the foxtrot do you mean here? Do you mean to say by ‘increment’ that Israel will be able to gain any territory of Egypt, Jordan or Lebanon, or any additional territory from Syria, without a war?
    If you actually did mean to say that: Have you finally gone off the deep end for good?

  12. Koshiro,
    I guess you can only read the simplistic.

    “Lebanon (how many miles), Syria (how many miles), Palestine (how many miles), Jordan (how many miles), Egypt (how many miles), Mediterranean (how many miles).” refers to borders at confident peace.

    Negotiated peace, rather than increments of borders at a state of war.

    Historically, you’ve been unclear if you favor Israel to have borders at a state of peace, or a state of war.

  13. Dan,
    Are you at the conference? If so, what is happening? What is being discussed (publicly and privately)?

    Is there a feeling of hopefulness or hopelessness?

  14. Richard, I am here. Will write about it once I figure out something useful to contribute. I will say there is a mixture of hope, fear and confusion, all of which I share. More later

  15. The one question asked in a forum that I saw, affirming the importance of BDS and single, was essentially ignored by forum.

  16. Bill, I have seen you in person, so I know you are not 10 years old. So why do you act like that is your age? I don’t have the time or strength to moderate this blog and delete your comments every time you say that disgusting thing about Weiss. But it is the remark of a child craving attention. Why don’t you look for that somewhere else?

  17. Dan, Phil Weiss thinks that the establishment of Israel is the greatest evil that has ever been perpetrated. He also feels that it is a colonial project that would not have happened without Jews fleeing from Europe moving there. He also thinks that Pat Buchanans book where he postulated that Churchill was the real villian not Hitler was a terrific read. He also entertains holocaust denial in both his blog and his comments. What else am I to believe. Phil Weiss feels that Judaism is absurd and evil and that the Jewish state is the height of that evil. That leads me to believe that he feels that the world would have been better off if Hitler had seen things through. What makes you think differently?

  18. You know Dan, I don’t know where or how you grew up. Or how Weiss was raised. ( I can guess though ) But I grew up in a time and place where you didn’t betray your family, your friends, your people. Thats how I’ve lived and thats how I’ll go out. I know that old codes of honor don’t count much in this new world but what can I say. Thats the way I see it.

  19. Bruce Levine,

    Maybe it’s unfair to call Gary Ackerman a stooge of AIPAC, but can you name one signifigant issue where he’s diverged from AIPAC or the Israeli government? The very fact that Ackerman got so apoplectic over J-Street’s position on the UN settlement resolution – a resolution that is completely is standing with US policy since 1967, not to mention the policy of the rest of the world- is evidence of his hardline views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

  20. Peter, you ask.

    “Maybe it’s unfair to call Gary Ackerman a stooge of AIPAC, but can you name one signifigant issue where he’s diverged from AIPAC or the Israeli government?”

    No, I cannot name one issue. Is there any issue in particular that you are referring to?

    More importantly, I understand why Ackerman reacted the way he did. I think Ackerman would like to have a more progressive pro-Israel group to turn to and I think that explains why he become so frustrated with J Street on the veto issue.

    You seem to be suggesting that it is somehow unreasonable to take issue with the United Nations and the position of its member states on Israel. I understand that, and I disagree. As Rabbi Saperstein said the other night at the conference, J Street screwed up big time by sticking its finger in the ear of so many of its natural constituency. Reasonable supporters of a two-state solution, including Gary Ackerman, had cause to be upset by J Street’s decision. I share his disappointment. I don’t think it is at all unreasonable to distrust the UNSC on matters pertaining to Israel, as well as on matters pertaining to the United States.

  21. I see that Pete Seeger, who was once pro-Israel, is now boycotting Israel, and not because of the settlements but because of the JNF which he defines as a “racist organization”. The Jewish “progressives” are ecstatic.
    This is very instructive and it proves to me that J-Street will dissolve itself pretty soon. When Seeger was pro-Israel 50+ years ago, the JNF was around, the Nakba had happened, yet Pete was worried about it. Why? Because the Palestinians had not yet become the litmus test of “progressive” thinking and Israel was not yet considered the most monstrous, criminal state in the world and the Jews were not condemned as an inherently racist people. Young “progressives” come up to Pete and all the other “with-it” limousine Liberals and “progressives”, they keep whispering in his ear “they are racists and if you support Israel YOU are a racist”. Soon he folds up. Well, this is what is going to happen to J-Street and its supporters. The line is going to be drawn……
    IF YOU SUPPORT ISRAEL, IF YOU SUPPORT ZIONISM YOU ARE A RACIST! You support apartheid! You are a monster!
    The radical antisemitic Left will keep at you guys until you decide….I am a Jew and I support Israel or I will turn my back totally on them. That is what Rabbi Brant Rosen has done, that is what Rabbi Brian Walt, two “Jewish spiritual leaders” who curse Israel with their every breath and work tirelessly to destroy it (i.e. they support the “one-state solution”). IF “Rabbis” can do this, the rest of you “progressives” will go next.
    The line is drawn. Which side are you on?

    Regarding the two “rabbis”, go see their blogs:

    I especially recommend Rabbi Brant’s endorsement of Palestinian terrorism:

  22. Fascinating. Nowhere did Rabbi Brant endorse terrorism in that link. There was a Palestinian cited who said something that might have been meant as an endorsement of terrorism and when asked about this, the rabbi replied–

    “Of course I don’t condone suicide bombings against civilians. To say I feel this article provides a powerful view of life in one West Bank city doesn’t not mean I agree with every single comment made by every interviewee.”

  23. Donald-
    A “Rabbi” who approvingly quotes an Al-Aqsa Brigades terrorist leader but then qualifies it by saying “I happen to disagree with him on the point about suicide bombings” is morally reprehensible and is totally disqualified to claim the title of “Jewish spiritual leader”. He also has no right to tell us in Israel that WE have to give up OUR hard-earned state so that HE can feel better about himself as a “progressive” Jew.

  24. YBD:

    Always a pleasure. The Pete Seegers of the world at least come out and endorse BDS. J Street, which unlike you I once had high hopes for, “tolerates” BDS while “disagreeing” with it. If J Street wants to be more than a haven for the hardcore “I only believe in Israel’s right to exist–and then just maybe–but only if it behaves” crowd, then it needs to take progressive positions on the peace process (I know you disagree) AND AT THE SAME TIME it must be willing to take on, and aggressively so, the BDS movement and other expample of poisonous hating and othering of Israel. J Street’s failure to treat the “hard so-called left” the same way it treats the “hard right” is why, I submit, it will never succeed–as measured by having influence on American policy, and not on getting 1, 2, or 3 thousand people at a DC junket with no kosher food (another bonehead move). Best YBD.


  25. You’re a disgrace, Fleshler. I go to the same synagogue your brother does, and while he would never come out and actually say it, I can tell by the look on his face when your name comes up just how much he disapproves of what you are doing and how ashamed he is of you. As for this conference, it is noteworthy that they didn’t have an honorary sponsorship committee for the gala, which is, of course, because they knew Congress would stay away in droves and wouldn’t be caught dead lending their name to it, Gary Ackerman especially. But most telling of all is the conference’s obsessive focus on Israel at a time when the rest of the Middle East is going up in flames, which is a far greater American security concern right now. Add to that the fact that J Street sat on its hands during the Security Council Settlements Debate and that the Israeli Embassy won’t come near you, and you get a pretty good idea of what is going on. My next donation for settlement expansion will be in your honor and you will get a nice card for it.

  26. Eric, you seem like such a charmer and I’m sorry we never met when I’ve visited Portland. Really seems like I would get a lot out of spending time with you. As it happens, something like 60 Members of Congress showed up at either the conference or the gala dinner. As did 4 MKS from Kadima. And Tzipi Livni wrote a nice note to the organization. Why don’t you get in touch with each and every one of their brothers and sisters, and find out if they’re ashamed? Then come back and report to us. Seems like you would enjoy doing that.

  27. @ Eric: you have no right to speak for me, my politics, my views of my brother’s politics, or my feelings about him. All of that is strictly between my brother and me. I expect an apology, in person.

  28. J-Street is wasting its time. With the freeze in the “peace process” the already strong American support for Israel is INCREASING. This means most Americans (and I also believe this is true of Europeans as well) realize the Arabs are at fault for the lack of peace. This is from a Gallup poll:

    Thus J-Street can try as hard as it wants to turn American Jewish opinion against Israel, but that is just a drop in the bucket compared to the large support from non-Jewish Americans. Note that people who define themselves as “liberal” are also solidly pro-Israel.

  29. How to honor one’s parents? How to honor the Creator? How to live a good life?

    Do your very best, individually and collectively.

  30. I think the Gallup poll probably means that Americans don’t pay attention to the details of the I/P conflict (which is not exactly surprising) and just cheer for the side they think is more like themselves. For instance, the article says

    ” About two-thirds of Americans have a favorable opinion of Israel and 19% have a favorable opinion of the Palestinian Authority — largely unchanged from February 2010.”

    The view put forward in the American press is that the PA is a wonderful organization which cooperates with Israel and is doing great things for its people and for peace. Now either the people reading this poll also read Human Rights Watch reports on the PA use of torture against their own people, or, more likely, they pay almost no attention to the details, see the word “Palestinian” and think “terrorist”.

  31. When I was a kid I would cringe when the adults would fight. I tried to make sense of it all but rarely could I figure out who was right or even what the fight was about. Reading some of the people who post here makes me again feel like a kid.

    I walked away from my youth certain of one thing. The man who puts words in another mans mouth only hears what he wants to hear.

    Dan… you’re posts are fair and thoughtful and for that reason I will always read your work. But some of the others on this blog will never be moved to change… they are afraid… and this fear makes them incapable of anything but defensiveness.

    Thanks for the blog… someday fear will not rule us…

  32. I agree with the idea that the far-Right is intellectually bankrupt and utterly worthless, mostly because the far-Left is equally lacking in any merit and the two poles are basically each other wearing reflective masks.
    Having said that…the problem with J Street is the same problem of the Mondoweiss school, the beliefs that the solution to the Left being wrong is to go further Left, that centrists don’t exist, and being conservative equals being a racist/fascist/combine-the-two-and-that-now-must-equal-Ziaonist. I don’t hate J Street, I simply don’t agree with the views of either their alternately cocksure or hectoring leadership or their more extreme followers. And I don’t see that changing at this point in time.

  33. Nothing that I have seen coming out of the J Street conference appears to corroborate what I see as Dan’s central thesis in this piece, to wit, that J Street, unlike what he might see as the “see no evil, hear no evil” component of the American Jewish community, had a conference with with speakers from myriad perspectives. I think it was a conference doling out red meat to folks who are convinced that Israel and Israel alone is responsible for the quagmire in the Middle East. People came, they heard what they wanted to hear, and to me that sounds like what happens at a garden-variety AIPAC conference, or one put on by the Brotherhood of the Elks for that matter. The fact that J Street invited BDS proponents probably made loads of folks in that conference feel all warm and fuzzy and of course superior to regular old-fashioned and outmoded Jews like me, but the cost of that is the loss of the base constituency J Street needs–if it wants to be more than an organization that holds an annual conference of smug and holier than thou know-it-all so-called lefties who are ashamed of the Jewish State.

    Of course, true diversity in programming would have fascist right-wing settlers of the worst caliber on the stage with the BDS folks. To me there is no daylight between BDSers and such extremists on the right–they are both poison.

    My dream is for a progressive pro-Israel lobbying group that sees both Palestinians and Israelis with whom they disagree as human beings.

    My dream is for a progressive pro-Israel lobbying group that sees its American brothers and sisters in the Jewish community who don’t agree with Gideon Levy as potential allies.

    J Street doesn’t do that, and that’s why, contrary to what Dan has written, the see-no-evil, hear-no-evil folks on matters pertaining to the Middle East have absolutely no reason to fear J Street. Peruse Commentary and you’ll see ridicule, not panic, about J Street. And J Street has only itself to blame.

  34. And, for the record, I genuinely did have high hopes for J Street. Indeed, I’ve met Dan Fleshler in person once, and that was at a J Street-sponsored event with Jeremy Ben-Ami and Jeffrey Goldberg in Manhattan. And I didn’t come alone; I brought two of my kids who are in their 20s. I wanted them to hear what Jeremy had to say, and I still do. But I won’t pretend that I endorse the J Street I see now.

  35. What disappointed me about what I saw of the conference, was the absence of definitive leadership and argument for progressive electoral and legal reforms.

    Reform is needed. Not qualifications.

    Today I read in Haaretz that Netanyahu spoke of “some” (some that he listens to, not the left) supporting the idea of a bi-national state.

    That is something that I was not aware of at all. I read Orens’ piece in the NY Times a couple months or so ago, but his thinking seemed to be an academic speculation, not anything that people were speaking of seriously.

    Maybe that is not the case. Maybe it is being spoken of seriously.

    I resent many on the left’s litmus tests for Pavlovian raging against Israel, and too often unwillingness to actual dialog.

    I’m tempted sometimes to reject the advocacy for Israeli (and American) reform. But, I try to remember what my political convictions are, and not just react to excess.

    My political convictions are live and let live, no compromise from either.

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