This is a battle between the old and the new guard of the (still largely male) American institutional Jewish leadership. The old guard? AIPAC with its $100 million budget and Likudnik agenda. Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America. Abe Foxman at the Anti-Defamation League. They believe there is an anti-Semite behind every door. In their increasingly obsolete, and for many younger Jews, downright alienating world view, you’re either for us or against us.
The new guard? Folks who understand that we’re actually part of a global community, all equally entitled to dignity and fairness. People who get that dialogue–amongst ourselves, with others, even with those who threaten us– is critical for the health of our community and our world. People like Rob Eshman, editor of the LA Jewish Journal; and Dan Sokatch, the founding director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance who was just named the CEO of the San Jewish Community Federation of SF (and 3 other counties) which, by the way, allocated $200 million last year alone. Or Paul Katz at the Progressive Jewish Alliance at Harvard who wrote this op-ed about discovering he was “anti-Israel” when he invited a group of Israeli IDF veterans to share their stories of service in the territories.
And now, the latest salvo in this generational struggle over institutional Jewish identity is the announcement yesterday of the J Street Project, a pro-Israel lobby and PAC that supports an end to settlements and a two-state solution. Though they have been ambivalent in their messages, not wanting to ruffle any feathers, its clear they mean to be the alternative to AIPAC. Thanks to the support of lots of small checks, they think they can grow from their 1.5 million budget to challenge AIPAC hegemony.
Their unabashed Israel-first approach will not please everyone: they will have to be kept accountable to a vision that equally recognizes the humanity of Palestinians and Israelis, and we can only hope they avoid the disturbing racist undertones of some liberal groups that find even the assertion that Palestinians have equal rights to be threatening.
But regardless of one’s political position, this is good news. In this whole terrible, bloody war, it is US Congress and our massive unconditional support not of Israel herself, but of Israeli hawks and extremists, and our diplomatic protection of those same people, that is THE primary obstacle to a just peace. The J Street Project has gone to the heart of darkness and is ready to play the game that Congress understands. Most of us don’t have the stomach for that.
Let’s hope this is one more nail in the coffin of an old guard whose time has come and gone.
Shmuel Rosner, an unusually conservative (and snarky) voice at Haaretz, has a nice survey of left to right responses to the project.