The fresh, young, ignorant faces of J Street

The New York Times Magazine this weekend will publish an article about J Street, an organization which has made its mark by redefining  being ‘pro-Israel’ as knowing what is good for Israel better than the Israeli government and the great majority of Israelis.

The author, James Traub, is at pains to show how J Street is an entirely new kind of Jewish group:

Important Jewish organizations are normally reached through a series of locked doors presided over by glassed-in functionaries. The peril may be real. But it can also feel like a marketing device…

J Street, by contrast, is wide open to the public. Visitors must thread their way through a graphic-design studio with which the organization shares office space. There appears to be nothing worth guarding.

The peril certainly is real, as they found out in 2006 at the Seattle Jewish Federation — not exactly a radical settler organization — when one woman was killed and several wounded by a Muslim terrorist who said he was “angry at Israel”.

What terrorist would try to shoot up the office of J Street, an organization which called for an immediate cease-fire on the first day of the Gaza war, believes that negotiations with Iran should be carried out without threat of sanctions, opposed — lobbied against — a congressional initiative asking the President to encourage Arab nations to normalize relations with Israel, called for a complete freeze on construction inside settlements, approved of President Obama’s granting the Medal of Freedom to  Mary Robinson (who as UN Commissioner for Human Rights presided over the 2001 Durban conference), favored an American performance of the antisemitic play Seven Jewish Children, calls for negotiations with Hamas, and is funded not only by the dollars of liberal Jews, but those of known supporters of Arab and Iranian causes?

In any event, Traub is impressed by the fresh young faces that aren’t burdened by Holocaust consciousness:

The average age of the dozen or so staff members is about 30. [J Street director Jeremy] Ben-Ami speaks for, and to, this post-Holocaust generation. “They’re all intermarried,” he says. “They’re all doing Buddhist seders.” They are, he adds, baffled by the notion of “Israel as the place you can always count on when they come to get you.”

There you have it. At the risk of being revealed as being old enough to remember if not the Holocaust, the aftermath of it, I need to repeat the cliché that nobody learns from history, especially when they are ignorant of it. They are baffled by the idea that despite their Buddhist seders and non-Jewish spouses, it might be dangerous to be a Jew, and even more dangerous to be one when there is no Jewish homeland.

Why should they think otherwise, having grown up in possibly the only place and time in Jewish history — late 20th/early 21st century America — where Jews could live among non-Jews in complete security and equality?

These young people are Jewish only in the most accidental, genetic sense. They are not religiously observant, but — unlike a previous generation of left-wing secular Jews — neither do they have a consciousness of themselves as members of a people. For them, like some other notable young Jews, Israel is just another country.

Traub himself shows how much he doesn’t understand about the Mideast when he recycles this bit of nonsense by way of explaining J Street’s lobbying to back up the administration’s settlement freeze demand:

Like Israel, mainstream Arab states are worried about Iran and want American support for a hard line toward Tehran and its nuclear ambitions. The Palestinian problem is an obstacle to uniting against Iran. Indeed, Netanyahu himself has tried very hard to change the subject from Palestine to Iran. But that won’t fly either in Riyadh or in Washington; as the Cairo speech demonstrated, White House officials recognize that they must make real progress on Israeli-Palestinian peace in order to regain credibility in the Middle East. Such progress, they believe, will be possible only if Netanyahu curbs the settlements, which Palestinians and the larger Arab world see as part of an ongoing effort to alter “facts on the ground” to preclude a two-state solution.

Let’s suppose for a moment that Obama somehow forces Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and the Golan Heights. 300,000 ‘settlers’ are relocated to the Negev. A Palestinian state is established in the West Bank and Gaza with a unity government composed of Fatah and Hamas, under the leadership of, say, Marwan Barghouti. God knows where the Palestinian refugees go. Now what?

Does Iran suddenly agree to scrap its nuclear weapons (which it will have by then)? Does Syria suddenly agree to stop taking weapons from Iran, give up its interest in Lebanon and embrace an end of conflict with Israel? Does Hezbollah decide that they no longer have a quarrel with Israel? Does the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt stop trying to overthrow the Mubarak regime? Does al-Qaeda stop trying to subvert Saudi Arabia and attack the US? Does Pakistan renounce its nuclear weapons? Indeed, do the Palestinians even stop trying to reverse the nakba?

I think Barry Rubin wrote something like the above, although I’m sure he did it better. The point is that the policy rehashed by Traub, which also may be the position of the Obama Administration, and which is being lobbied for by J Street, is irrelevant to the real problems of the Mideast. The only certain outcome is that Israel will be smaller and much weaker. But maybe that’s its goal after all.

Technorati Tags: ,

Share:
  • Print
  • email
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Reddit
  • Google Bookmarks
  • StumbleUpon
  • Technorati
  • Tumblr
  • NewsVine

6 Responses to “The fresh, young, ignorant faces of J Street”

  1. eathummus says:

    JStreet is ludicrous. Most of the Jews who support that kind of outlook are assimilated, or will be in the future. I think it is a last chance act of desperation for an aging baby-boomer (leftist) population.

  2. Shalom Freedman says:

    The New York Times seem to feel that its most important foreign policy mission in the world is undercutting support for Israel. It frequently has op-eds of critics of Israel, including one yesterday in which the accusation and complaint was that the poor Palestinians had not really benefited from anything Netanyahu has done in regard to furthering their economic development, but remain mired in a dismal economic swamp due to Israel. There was nothing of course said about how the Palestinians destroyed their economic development opportunities with the first Intifada, or how well they had done in Jordanian times. In any case the Times even before it was dependent on the largesse of Lebanese born Carlos Hilu has always seen Israel as a disturbance and embarassement. Assimilated Jews or former Jews on the masthead have always needed to dissociate themselves from
    the Jewish state.
    The late Abe Rosenthal was the great exception here.
    As for Traub he has made anti- Israel noises in the past.
    Barry Rubin has a recent article on Jacob Weisberg of Slate , another of these so bright young Jewish men who know absolutely nothing about Israel, Jewishness and above all, the Middle East.

  3. Mike Packer says:

    J Street is a sad reflection of Jewish youth today. I know I might be sounding like an old guy who is reminiscing about the “good old days” but I find this trend in the young people of Israel too.

    I am constantly amazed by the sincerity of their belief that it is OK to give up parts of your country in the hope of a peace with uninterested parties. These are intelligent, talented people who have acquired peace-in-or-time syndrome due to their gullibility.

  4. dsokal says:

    Hello Vic Rosenthal and Friends – Someone might as well try to present an alternative point of view to liven up this otherwise somber, somewhat self-righteous, hand-wringing and anxiety-ridden blog.

    I am 52 years old, so not one of the “fresh young faces” of J Street. Actually I’m involved with Brit Tzedek v’Shalom which has a much larger membership and also claims to be the voice of Pro-Peace, Pro-Israel American Jewry.

    This blog is filled with fantasies that support your sense of despair and isolation. Here is one:

    “These young people are Jewish only in the most accidental, genetic sense. They are not religiously observant, but — unlike a previous generation of left-wing secular Jews — neither do they have a consciousness of themselves as members of a people. For them, like some other notable young Jews, Israel is just another country.”

    Perhaps this impression you have of J Street staffers is based on the NY Times article. Perhaps the writer is accurate, but, as you yourself have pointed out many times in this blog, who can trust the NY Times? I myself have not visited the J Street headquarters, and yet, I would not be too surprised if any number of the folks there do fit parts of the stereotype being portrayed by the NY Times writer and embellished upon by yourself.

    However, one glaring fact is being ignored. If these “accidental” young Jews who have no “…consciousness of themselves as members of a people” are as assimilated and nonchalant about their origins as you indicate, why the heck are they spending so much time trying to save Israel? You may disagree with their methods and philosophy, but your questioning of their motives is unfair. You even state that they may prefer to weaken Israel: “The only certain outcome is that Israel will be smaller and much weaker. But maybe that’s its goal after all.”

    I cannot speak as well for J Street as I can for Brit Tzedek. I have spoken with the Executive Director and am good friends with several of the local chapter leaders. I also know myself. Our goal is not to weaken Israel but to strengthen it. We simply don’t believe that strength lies in the barrel of a gun and in the constant war of words that this blog represents so well. Strength lies in peace, equality and justice. And more than anything else in mutual respect, very little of which is in evidence here.

    So yes, perhaps we are “aging baby-boomer (leftist)[s]” as so aptly put by “eathummus,” committed to worn out ideologies from a bygone era.

    Then why are you so fearful of us? Simply because Obama seems to agree with our position and he is after all President of the United States of America, Israel’s one and only true ally in this cruel and unpredictable world where Nazism is not only yesterday’s nightmare, but also today’s constant threat waiting to blossom with the next desert rains?

    I suspect the fear and bitterness (second only to that which you have for Palestinians and other Arabs … and anyone else who says anything critical about Israel, including Israelis) goes beyond mere political disagreement.

    The fact that we continue to hope and work for peace stands directly in the way of your campaign for hopelessness. It bugs you to see people, especially fellow Jews, that can maintain a sense of the possible and don’t confirm your grim view of the deadly nature of life, especially for the Jewish People.

    A few days ago, at my congregation’s Rosh Hashannah services we read from the Torah portion, as we do every year, about Hagar and Ishmael’s banishment from the house of Abraham. The fact that this story is read on one of our most important holidays, one that is about renewal and forgiveness (T’shuvah), confirms my own belief that this break between the children of Abraham is so central to our story.

    Our Rabbi also read from another chapter this year, one which provides an illustration of the nature of hope.

    He read from the chapter about the death of Abraham. Ishmael and Yitzchak, who have not seen nor spoken to one another since Ishmael’s expulsion, both show up at the funeral. “His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah …” 25v9. Not much to it. They bury their father; no arguing, no fights; they leave and go on to become two great nations as G-d had promised Abraham they would.

  5. Vic Rosenthal says:

    David,
    You wrote,

    If these “accidental” young Jews who have no “…consciousness of themselves as members of a people” are as assimilated and nonchalant about their origins as you indicate, why the heck are they spending so much time trying to save Israel? You may disagree with their methods and philosophy, but your questioning of their motives is unfair. You even state that they may prefer to weaken Israel: “The only certain outcome is that Israel will be smaller and much weaker. But maybe that’s its goal after all.”

    My questioning of their motives is my main point. The world is full of left-wing anti-Zionism, and this organization exemplifies it. The fact that many of its supporters are Jewish is irrelevant — indeed, some of its contributors were recently discovered to be people clearly hostile to Israel, with Saudi or Iranian connections.

    What I really, really don’t like about them is their insistence on saying that they are ‘pro-Israel’. This adds insult to injury. Let them admit that they, like the more honest Phillip Weiss, admit that they want to see the end of the Jewish state.

  6. Vic Rosenthal says:

    David,

    You wrote,

    The fact that we continue to hope and work for peace stands directly in the way of your campaign for hopelessness. It bugs you to see people, especially fellow Jews, that can maintain a sense of the possible and don’t confirm your grim view of the deadly nature of life, especially for the Jewish People.

    Do you also think “history is bunk?”

    My grim view is validated by history. It is you — who grew up during the golden age of diaspora Jews in the US and think you can extrapolate this to the future — who have an unrealistic view.

    You are not working for peace. You are working for surrender, which I suppose is a kind of peace.

    I am not campaigning for hopelessness. My philospohy is simple: Si vis pacem, para bellum. If you want peace, prepare for war. This is certainly the lesson of Israel’s history since 1948.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.