J Street deserves a place at the table

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J Street logo

J Street logo

J Street logo

No doubt about it. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (CPMAJO) laid an egg in rejecting the membership of J Street, the dovish lobbying outfit in Washington.

A two-thirds majority was required, and the vote wasn’t close, going 22-17 against J Street. Although the ballot was secret, it’s clear that there was a religious division between the large non-Orthodox bodies and the smaller and more numerous Orthodox ones.

“We’re very pleased and relieved, because J Street’s positions were not within the mainstream of the Jewish community,” Farley I. Weiss, the president of the National Council of Young Israel (an association of Orthodox synagogues) told the New York Times‘ Michael Paulson. “On virtually every single issue, their position is contrary to that of anything that would be considered pro-Israel, and they don’t represent the rank and file of the Jewish community in America.”

While there’s room for disagreement about what’s pro-Israel, to assert that J Street is less representative of the rank and file of the Jewish community than, say, Young Israel, is nonsense. According to last fall’s Pew survey of Jewish Americans, the community as a whole supports a peaceful two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by 61 percent to 33 percent. The Orthodox, who constitute 10 percent of the community, oppose it by 61 percent to 30 percent. J Street is leading a vigorous campaign on behalf of a two-state solution. Enough said.

There are other dovish organizations that belong to the CPMAJO, but they are small and nowhere near as effectual as J Street has become. Sure, J Street president Jeremy Ben Ami has a talent for annoying people. But if having an annoying president is grounds for blackballing a Jewish organization from the CPMAJO, well, let’s just say that the CPMAJO would be a lot smaller than it is today. Speaking of which, the ADL, which voted in favor of J Street’s membership, has sent around a press release announcing the planned retirement of its “iconic” national director, Abe Foxman. Somewhere there’s a pedestal…

But I digress. Three years ago, I and a number of colleagues at Trinity wrote a letter to the Hartford Jewish Ledger protesting an editorial that attacked the local Jewish Community Relations Council for joining with J Street to sponsor a talk by Colette Avital, the former Deputy Speaker of the Knesset and Israeli Consul General to New York. We said:

Contrary to what you claim, J Street exists comfortably under the umbrella of worldwide Jewish support of Israel. To be sure, there are profound disagreements beneath that large umbrella, in Israel as well as in America. While we may have our own disagreements with J Street, we believe that its policies and actions on behalf of a Jewish and democratic Israel are fully consonant with American Jewish political discourse. And we believe that it would be both wrong and counterproductive to exclude J Street from American Jewish or Diaspora-Israel discussions, as you urge. Rather, it is important to foster a respectful and constructive discussion amongst all who advocate on behalf of a Jewish and democratic state of Israel, and not rush to label those with whom we disagree as inauthentic or illegitimate.

Yesterday, the head of the Union of Reform Judaism accused the CPMAJO of being unrepresentative of the Jewish community as a whole and beholden to large number of small right-wing organizations. His own organization, he said, would consider dropping its membership in the wake of the J Street decision. I say, go for it.

  • Lynne Newington

    Good on you Mark; I hold the same view as far as rushing in and label those whom we disagree [as in the Jewish community], as unauthentic and illigitimate.
    Diversing a little like yourself, I’ve been reading how the Argentinian government, [not that long ago in the scheme of things], in promoting the country a Catholic nation much to the pleasure of the Catholic Bishops Conference, tried to force the Jewish communities to include Catholic doctrine into their education system as patriotic Argentinians, any thing less causing a division and a mentality of lesser countrymen.

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