Do you remember those beer advertisements telling viewers to “know when to say when”? If not, the basic message was, know when you have had enough and stop drinking before you are inebriated. There was a related message of telling your friends to stop drinking before they get too drunk. This campaign entered my mind around the recent kafuffle regarding J-Street’s rejection of membership in the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. Stick with me and I will try to explain why.
From its genesis, J-Street presented itself as the sober alternative to the supposedly belligerent AIPAC. Continuing with the drinking metaphor, J-Street aimed to straddle the fence between abstinence (anti-Zionism) and drunkenness. In other words, J-Street sought to fill the vacuum of an absence of a pro-Israel voice on the left.
I do not think the left is intrinsically anti-Israel or anti-Jewish. David Hirsh and the good people at Engage do a fine job in this regard. J-Street does not. Instead, they have taken it upon themselves to demand a larger role for American Jews in the diaspora to guide Israeli policy in a direction more to their liking. While AIPAC is regularly criticized by its opponents for doing the same thing, AIPAC was not established to influence Israeli policy it was created by Americans to lobby American politicians. Agree or disagree with AIPAC’s support for Israel—whether headed by liberal or conservative government—but we cannot disagree who AIPAC seeks to influence, it is American politicians not the government of Israel. This is a fundamental difference between the two organizations. Mainstream Jewish organizations as represented by the Presidents Council have placed themselves in an analogous role. Namely, their purpose is not to influence Israel but to have an impact on the US.
J-Street met great acclaim in the mainstream liberal press. However, they were not as welcomed by the organized Jewish community. And as Jews became more critical, the leadership of J-Street became nastier in their condemnations of the mainstream. J-Street should have known that their increasingly bellicose statements were going to marginalize them in the community. For example these comments by J-Street founder and president, Jeremy Ben-Ami at the New America Foundation:
I think we’re taking on much more than AIPAC. I think that it is the Conference of Presidents. It’s the American Jewish Committee. It’s the lobbying structures of the Federations. It’s the network of JCRCs, the Jewish Community Relations Councils…
It’s a really multi-layered, multi-headed hydra. This monopoly, this many-headed monopoly, has been trying to squash us.
That is not the sort of language one uses among friends even when you disagree politically. J-Street and their supporters should have known when to say when.
[If you refer to mainstream Jewish organizations as a multi-headed hydra, you are not a friend of mainstream Jewry.]