(July 20, 2022 / JNS) From the outset of its operations, the assertion by the left-wing J Street lobby that its “pro-Israel and pro-peace” mantra better represented the true feelings of American Jews than the position of mainstream groups was misleading. While its leader, Jeremy Ben-Ami, argued that the new organization’s efforts provided Americans with a means to support peace in the Middle East, its goals were always more about the politics of the United States than that of the Jewish state. .
This has never been more evident than in recent times, when J Street has taken an active role in the civil war within the Democratic Party over Israel. But he did more than sink to a new low in the discourse using The New York Times at claim that these groups which are in fact pro-Israel engage in racism by seeking to defeat candidates who are opponents of the Jewish state.
J Street says those who help elect Democrats who are not enemies of Israel “drive a wedge between communities of color, especially progressives, and the Jewish community” and target “women of color.” It was one thing for J Street to say it was saving Israel from itself. It is quite another to label those who disagree with this absurd position as racists. In doing so, he tells us more about J Street than about AIPAC.
By seeking to delegitimize AIPAC and the rest of the Democratic Party’s pro-Israel faction in this way, J Street has shown that it has abandoned any pretense that its purpose was to help Israel. Such rhetoric is both inaccurate and divisive. It is also proof that he operates from the same ideological playbook as the most vocal and radical forces in American politics. It demonstrates that her only loyalty is to the far-left Democratic Party faction that has rejected claims that she is “pro-Israel” by any definition, let alone one that might be recognizable to the people of the state. Jewish.
The background to this controversy was a primary race in Maryland in which Donna Edwards, a former member of the United States House of Representatives, was seeking to reclaim her old seat. Edwards has powerful ties to the Democratic Party establishment and was endorsed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But she was beaten by Glenn Ivey, a challenger who, like Edwards, is African American and a liberal Democrat. But unlike Edwards, who is used to being a bitter opponent of Israel, Ivey supports the Jewish state.
Ivey had the support of AIPAC’s political action committee and that of other pro-Israel groups while Edwards was aided by J Street. This sparked a Time article in which the journalist Jonathan Weisman, someone with a long experience of anti-Israeli prejudicesought to portray the actions of pro-Israel activists as somewhat ominous or illegitimate – something that would never be written about the efforts of supporters from any other group or industry that sought to advance its cause.
Voters in Maryland’s 4th congressional district may not see support for Israel as a litmus test, but the majority were clearly swayed by arguments that Edwards is out of step with the best interests of his community. If pro-Israel donors helped bring about this outcome by pointing to its poor record, that might dismay leftist ideologues, like those of The interception, who view AIPAC as part of a sinister Zionist conspiracy. But holding people accountable for their records is the essence of democracy.
As the party’s left-wing base has fallen under the influence of those who espouse intersectionality and critical race theory, the ability of anti-Israel extremists to win primaries and congressional seats has challenged the viability of a bipartisan consensus in favor of the Jewish state. As the ranks of the Congressional “squad” expand beyond the original quartet of celebrity politicians, moderate forces have sought to stem the tide by backing Democratic primary candidates who, although liberal or left-leaning in their policies on a host of other issues, yet supporting Israel and opposing those who seek to demonize it.
Denying the “pro-Israel” part of its slogan, J Street has invested considerable resources in supporting candidates who do not support Israel. This is partly a response to AIPAC’s decision to abandon its tradition of not seeking to intervene directly in elections by rallying support for pro-Israel candidates, whether Democratic or Republican.
Pro-Israel forces have lost many of these battles. “Squad” members like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (DN.Y.) not only toppled traditional Democratic incumbents, but went on to become their party’s rock stars who are adored by the media, TV hosts late night clubs and pop culture institutions. But the willingness of what remains of the pro-Israel faction of the Democratic Party to resist this trend is seen as somewhat illegitimate by those who subscribe to the group mentality of the left.
The effort to save the Democratic Party for the pro-Israel cause may be doomed in the long run if the intersectional left continues to gain traction while the AOC and openly anti-Semitic colleagues in the House like Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), and their allies, eventually begin to replace the party’s geriatric leaders. But that should not deter those working to defeat leftists who share their animosity for Israel, as well as their willingness to both tolerate and engage in anti-Semitic rhetoric.
In some cases, like in Ohio, where Rep. Shontel Brown defeated Nina Turner — a former Bernie Sanders campaign chair and future “Squad” member in a Democratic primary — pro-Israel groups have had success. The same thing happened this month in Maryland with Ivey’s loss to Edwards.
But rather than acknowledge that opposition to Israel is not as universally popular as they thought, Ben-Ami used the Time-whose sympathetic and enthusiastic coverage of J Street was a major factor in his ability to portray himself as a major player in Washington – to attack supporters of Israel as racists.
J Street’s accusation of targeting communities of color and women of color is a fiction, especially considering that many of the AIPAC-backed candidates are themselves black and, in Brown’s case, women. It is also a direct product of the same intersectional and CRT ideology that seeks to turn every discussion into a discussion of race and label those who defend Israel as part of the oppressive class.
These toxic beliefs act as a pass for anti-Semitism because they treat any support for Zionism as inherently racist. So the fact that the so-called “pro-Israel” J Street people play the race card in this way illustrates how deeply invested they are in the very forces they would oppose if they really cared about the survival of the Jewish state.
Yet it’s also understandable since J Street’s purpose has always been to help a specific kind of democrat seize power and use it as a weapon against Israel. During Barack Obama’s presidency, that meant supporting every attack his administration launched against Israel, in addition to his efforts to appease Iran. The fact that J Street’s positions were completely disconnected from mainstream public opinion in Israel – both on concessions to the Palestinians and to Iran – demonstrated their inadequacy to the realities of the Middle East.
But J Street is anything but irrelevant when it comes to the war for the future of the Democratic Party. He is fully committed not only to efforts to root out what remains of the party’s pro-Israel wing, but also willing to demonize and falsely label as racists those who wish to salvage bipartisanship on the issue. That he mimics the catechism of the anti-Semitic left is not surprising. However, it sends a clear warning to anyone not already aware of how dangerous their efforts are for Israel, Democrats and American Jewry.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.