When it was founded 11 years ago, J Street claimed to be a pro-Israel and pro-peace organization. That was taken to mean partnering with the mainstream Israeli political left to build support in Washington for a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians. Or so we were led to believe.
Since then, alas, J Street has become something else altogether: an organization that spends almost all its time and money besmirching Israel, smearing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and other leading American Jewish organizations, boosting U.S.-Iran relations and backing political candidates for whom promoting the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is a badge of honor.
Its campus arm, J Street U, has become a primary vehicle for conveying the most poisonous messages against Israel to students and the sapping of support for Israel at American universities.
I hear firsthand more and more about J Street U’s venomous campaigning and destructive activities—from young Israeli men and women who serve as Jewish Agency emissaries on campus, and Hillel and Orthodox Union professionals who work with students. Almost every truly pro-Israel activity they try to organize is opposed or disrupted by J Street U hatchet men and women.
About one year ago, J Street launched its “Stop Demolitions, Build Peace” campaign, designed to “challenge our communities to wake up to the omission and erasure of Palestinian perspectives and narratives, which create the environment that makes it easy to ignore demolitions, settlement expansion and occupation.”
The younger J Streeters hosted teach-ins and sleep-ins, marched to Israeli embassies and called consulates, formed coalitions with progressive campus organizations across America, and pressed congressmen to speak out critically against Israeli policy in Judea and Samaria (which, of course, many J Streeters call by its U.N. moniker, the “Occupied Palestinian Territories” or OPT).
Now J Street is on a second phase of its campaign: to undermine the Birthright program because it serves the “right-wing annexationist agenda.”
Birthright is one of the American Jewish community’s most important and successful initiatives of this generation; a lifeline in the difficult struggle to keep young American Jews Jewish and to give them some Zionist foundations.
But J Street is not happy with Birthright because it and many other trips that bring some 50,000 students on tours of Israel are major sources of “omission and erasure,” i.e., the trips “omit Palestinian narratives in their programming and erase Palestinians and the occupation from our collective consciousness.”
I’m quoting here verbatim from J Street campus propaganda: “Birthright completely ignores the voices and experiences of Palestinians living under occupation in the West Bank. These trips therefore perpetuate the attitudes and politics that help make demolitions and occupation possible.” They might, God forbid, lead “our communities to feel no compulsion to speak out on behalf of Palestinian rights.”
J Street claims it wants to reform Birthright content, but it hasn’t approached Birthright with thoughtful, constructive educational ideas; it’s just sought to sabotage the program. Dozens of campus professionals in the field tell me that J Street U activists work assiduously to undermine Birthright recruitment drives. They make life hell for potential participants.
So you see, “bringing home the realities of the occupation and mobilizing our communities to help bring it to an end” is the hostile hobgoblin that J Street has become.
In the name of “our communities”—a term that J Street loves using, denoting a hard-left orbit of Jews and non-Jews for whom haranguing Israel is the psychoneurotic driving force in their lives—J Streeters are prepared to throw the baby out with the bathwater and kill Birthright.
Crushing the “occupation” and promoting Palestinian independence-cum-dictatorship is more important than building basic Jewish identity and core Zionist sympathies.
The truth is that in historical perspective we can’t be too surprised that members of J Street’s younger generation have ended up so distant from Israel. Their elders certainly laid the groundwork over the past 20 years for such souring on Israel.
Have you ever heard of a place where “fundamentalists and gangs” in a “surging tide of extremism,” “spit,” “beat,” “vandalize,” “assault,” “attack,” “fight” and “brutally abuse” innocent people?
Are you familiar with a country (mention Afghanistan and Iran to hint at its nature) where “religious extremists” seek to “turn back the clock” (mention this three times for emphasis), notoriously practice “discrimination” (repeat four times), and otherwise seek to “impose,” “intimidate,” “demand,” “repress,” “coerce” and “dictate” (nine repetitions) their “intolerant” views on a beleaguered society?
Well, that was the language used by the New Israel Fund to describe Israel in a fundraising campaign launched in 1997 to “promote religious pluralism in Israel.” Israel was further described as a country that “shows the world a repugnant face of Judaism,” and where it is not safe to walk down the street without being “set upon by a gang of angry, enraged men.”
All this hyperbolic, radical imagery, which wasn’t true then and it’s not accurate now either, had the long-term corrosive effect of painting Israel as a dark, extremist place. Think of Israel and think of cancer. Think of Israel, and think of intolerance and occupation. Who in their right mind wants to be associated with such a retrogressive, thuggish place?
It’s no surprise, then, that not a few sons and daughters of the Jewish leaders of yesteryear are J Street U, Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow leaders today. They are next-generation poisoned fruit, carrying the demonization of Israel a step further.
J Street campaigns love to reference the “character” of Israel; Israel’s “soul that is being corrupted,” as it were. They’re out to save Israel from rot, and they will fight on until Israelis realize just how good American-style religious pluralism really is or how wonderful full-fledged Palestinian statehood would be.
Of course, all Jews on either side of the Atlantic are entitled to their opinions and their political campaigns. But to spuriously malign Israel as medieval and militaristically criminal is beyond the pale. In painting the situation in such dire and apocalyptic terms, and by attacking Birthright, hard-left activists are cutting away the limb—love for and identification with Israel—upon which all pro-Israel Jewish community activity must be based.
David M. Weinberg is vice president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, jiss.org.il. His personal website is davidmweinberg.com.
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