Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Real Problem the Right Has With J Street (It's Exactly What You Think)

Perhaps the most grotesque part of David Friedman's record regarding Israel was when he referred to J Streeters as "far worse than Kapos" -- Jews who collaborated with Nazis during the Holocaust.

In a post titled "The Real Problem with J Street" (twitter teased with "it's not what people think") The right-wing pro-Israel blog "Israelly Cool" more or less endorses the attack, writing that while Kapos were "forced" to betray their coreligionists, "J Street turned against its own people all by themselves. They didn’t need Nazis pointing guns to their heads to do that." I've said what needs to be said on that bit of viciousness, and won't rehash.

But they also contend that the reason Friedman and others dislike J Street actually has nothing to do with its advocacy for a two-state solution.
Let’s be real guys, J street isn’t about two states. Friedman would not have called them that if they were just a bunch of liberal Jews fighting for a two state solution. Heck, the Likud does not oppose two states. I don’t see Friedman having problems with them. I wouldn’t be against J Street if all they were about was advocating a two-state solution.
So what is it? Well, we're told, the problem is that J Street is nothing but a scold. It never praises Israel when it does things well.  It never backs Israel up when it's under attack. All it does is nag, nag, nag.
J Street is that snitch who screams about all your wrongdoings to not only your parents but also your aunts, uncles, cousins, your hairdresser, your manicurist, your dogsitter, your straight edge friend whom you know might judge you, and even that cute frum guy from shul who you’ve been trying to attract for the last few months. 
When you do right J Street is quiet. You get an A on an exam in a class you’ve been failing? Quiet. You defend a kid at school who is being bullied? Silence. You win a medal for citizenship? Silence. You sneeze the wrong way and you get a 2-hour lecture.
“You can never learn from praise, only criticism can make you better, so praise is pointless.”
That’s J Street’s motto. It was also something my mother said to me several years ago when I asked her why she never praised me, and then she apologized and changed her ways and now she’s great. J Street has no plans to apologize anytime soon. Actually everything is Israel’s fault.
I've never been a member of J Street. But I've seen them attacked this way a lot.* And it's untrue. Obviously, transparently, easily-proven-to-be untrue. As a public service, below is a small list of recent occasions where J Street praised, defended, or otherwise backed Israel:
August 23, 2016: J Street Condemns Fatah Boast of Murdering Israelis.

September 13, 2016: J Street Welcomes US-Israel Memorandum of Understanding [securing $3.8 billion of annual US aid to Israel].

October 9, 2016: J Street Saddened and Outraged by Jerusalem Terror Attack.

October 13, 2016: Resolution Adopted by UNESCO Member States Shows Contempt for Jewish People's Ties to the Temple Mount.

Oct. 26, 2016: Authorization of New Palestinian Construction in West Bank is Welcome Step; Must be Followed with Further Action.

Nov. 25, 2016: J Street Stands with Victims of Fires in Israel and West Bank.
Of course, this is not all that J Street does (nor should it be all J Street does). But it does falsify the argument from a certain class of J Street critics that their objections have nothing to do with J Street's policy ambitions and are simply due to the organization being "silent" any time Israel does something good or needs legitimate aid. When Israel does praiseworthy things, J Street praises it. When it needs backing, J Street urges it. These are mixed in -- as they should be -- with criticism when Israel does critique-worthy things, and pressure when Israel needs pressure to do things.

So why do people pretend that their problem with J Street is something that it isn't? Earlier this month  on Twitter, I wrote the following:
That is the rub. The right's problem with J Street isn't that their criticisms are illegitimate. The right's problem with J Street is that's its criticisms are, by and large, entirely fair play. And thus they sting. And to alleviate that sting it is easier to project them into a different class of critic -- one that does exist! -- who only levels ridiculous, outrageous, one-sided attacks on Israel and does nothing else, than it is to grapple with the hard, jarring, disorienting thought that they might well have a point that needs attending to.

In short, the real problem the right has with J Street is exactly what you think it is: They don't like that J Street makes them think difficult thoughts about Israel. Nothing more. Nothing less.

* Well, not the mommy issues part. That one's new.

13 comments:

Alexandra said...

Thanks for pointing out the times J street did laud Israel. I had never seen these before. However I am aware that they are few and far in between. However most of J Street's criticisms are not only completely void of context, but actually give ammunition to the haters and credibility to sites like Mondoweiss. It is frankly irresponsible given Israel's parish position in the world which is an undeserved double standard.

The fact is that they see Israel through a western lens, not taking into account the harsh and very different realities we have to deal with on the ground, not realizing that sometimes we make decisions we aren't happy about but that the alternative is much worse.

It's the patronizing way these American democrats who are American first, Jewish second (or third or fourth or 54th...) think they can just tell us what to do because they know better than us. It positively reeks to me and Israelis across the spectrum of "white man's burden".

I used to support J Street until I dated the son of a farhud survivor. He drilled that mizrachi wisdom into me really well - the cultural differences that make it hard for a westerners to understanding the conflict, his story being expelled from Iraq, etc. But when I was a j street supporter I remember basically thinking "you know, if Israel has to do so many horrible things to exist, maybe we are better off without it." Indeed, Jeremy Ben-Ami came to that exact conclusion. It is only natural when immersed in J Street logic long enough. It is my experience that J Street is a gateway drug to actually hating Israel - after all if Israel does all the horrible things J street says it does, what's there to love?

Moreover, I never once said that I agree with the kappo analogy. I do not. I called it harsh and offensive. But I understand where he is coming from and have been under fire for making similar comments about Nazi-supporting BDSers Jewish Voice for Peace. The universalists who don't value their Judaism and whom I consider traitors. I don't think J Street is that bad, since although I think J Street has a terrible influence on the world, and bolsters the naive yet patronizing anti Israel attitudes we Israelis love to hate, I don't think they outwardly advocate for Israel's destruction. However they contribute nothing good to Israel and only serve as a Jewish voice to lend credibility to the demonization, delegitimization, and double standards the world foists upon us.

Alexandra said...
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Alexandra said...

*pariah position

Pardon my typos I'm typing on a stubborn phone with a nasty autocorrect that autocorrects properly-spelled words.

David Schraub said...

I am curious how you square this: "Thanks for pointing out the times J street did laud Israel. I had never seen these before."

With this: "However I am aware that they are few and far in between."

The admission in the first should cause reassessment of the reliability of your instincts in the second. After all, if you weren't aware of them in the first place, how could you confidently be aware of their frequency? Six instances in the last four months (there were others too, these were just a selection) isn't that few or far between (especially given that these last few months were, shall we say, a busy time here in America). And more broadly, in the first you admit that a key building block of your anti-J Street case was built upon a (relatively serious) misconception about how they operate. It seems like the virtuous thing to do, at this point, would be to reserve judgment about them going forward at least until you're able to more thoroughly update your priors. The idea that Jeremy Ben Ami thinks that Israel should not exist, for example, strikes me as entirely unsustainable and precisely the sort of misapprehension that should cause you to think twice about whether your outlook is adequately grounded.

Does J Street provide ammunition to groups like Mondoweiss or JVP? Perhaps, though such groups get far less ammo from J Street than they do from Arutz Sheva or anytime Bezalel Smotrich talks. Anyone who thinks that anti-Zionists need to rely on liberal American Jewish organizations for R&D isn't taking the former seriously enough.

In general, groups like Mondoweiss et al view J Street and its ilk much the same way the Jewish right does -- as internal traitors (to the left) who sell out their putative principles and compatriots for power, influence, or tribal or provincial interests (indeed, I've often remarked that JVP and ZOA have a lot in common except for the part where they hate each other). They are not, to put it mildly, friends. To illustrate, here's a selection of recent Mondoweiss headlines on J Street (too many hyperlinks make my spam filter cranky, but they're googlable):

"J Street is in denial of one-state 'consensus'"

"J Street joins gathering of leading pro-settlement funder"

"J Street has nothing to say on 'the current situation'"

"J Street names Jewish victims of latest violence, but leaves out Palestinians'"

"'J Street' leader promotes Israeli 'change' coalition that could include politician who called for beheading Arabs"

"J Street's progressive illusion."

Clearly, best buddies.

The points about Western hubris (and, particularly, the Mizrahi issue) are important and valid -- people in tough neighborhoods make tough choices, and high-handed lectures from the outside aren't always as useful as they think (though I'd suggest that this applies with equal weight in how we talk about Palestinian choices....). If you read my blog you'll see I engage with those issues at length (see, e.g., the Mizrahi Jew tag). And one of the reason I haven't joined J Street is that I think parts of their tactical approach are misguided. But tactical errors are not the same thing as being a sellout, or a Kapo, or "only serv[ing] as a Jewish voice to lend credibility to the demonization, delegitimization, and double standards the world foists upon us." Such rhetoric is wildly overwrought and is predicated off presuppositions about the organization that you now are well on notice are incorrect.

Binyamin Arazi said...
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Binyamin Arazi said...
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David Schraub said...

The content I've seen there seems to have a definitive right-wing tone and slant. Just my read.

Binyamin Arazi said...

As someone who writes for Israellycool (although not so much anymore; I'm looking for other, less restrictive outlets), I'm disappointed that you referred to it as a "right wing blog". Not everybody who writes there is right wing (I am a two stater who is politically aligned with Hatnuah), and Dave generally tries to keep IC articles in the center without veering too far to the right, or (in my case) too far to the left (he's edited/censored a lot of my content for this reason). What is it about IC that you find right wing?

Binyamin Arazi said...

"The content I've seen there seems to have a definitive right-wing tone and slant. Just my read."

Can you specify?

Binyamin Arazi said...

I mean, other examples aside from the article you criticized here (as I mostly agree with your rebuttal).

David Schraub said...

I follow them on Twitter, and I don't think I've ever seen a "liberal" article. Which isn't to say there aren't any, just that the skew seems definitively towards the "rah rah" (or "nyah nyah") right, with "neutral" demarcating its leftwing border. I've seen no evidence that Vox is "fairly characterized as anti-Israel", for example, and such an assertion seems like the sort of thing one would only hear from those for whom anybody to the left of Likud is by definition "anti-Israel."

Binyamin Arazi said...

"I don't think I've ever seen a "liberal" article"

Not even the one I wrote that you shared on your blog (Progressive Case for Israel)? Either way, I will admit to not being a regular IC reader. Aside from what I've contributed on my own, I only read the occasional pieces from Justin Amler and Ryan Bellerose (whose indigenous rights-based articles are fundamental to my own work on Jewish liberation, although he is definitely further to the right than I am, and I have clashed with him on numerous occasions), or whatever else comes up in my feed. Beyond that, all I know is what Dave himself tells me, which is that he tries to unify Zionists on both ends of the spectrum without veering too far left (hence why he censored some of my articles and flatly rejected my anti-Trump, anti-Bannon, and pro-two state pieces) or too far right.

David Schraub said...

I can't imagine what "too far right" is in this context (given the post under discussion). Clearly, he's not interested in "unifying" Zionists if he'll put out this dreck bashing J Street but kills anti-Trump, anti-Bannon, pro-2S pieces. The fact that he'll publish liberal pieces that say exactly what conservatives would like liberals to say does not falsify my read, it confirms it. Put simply, he'll publish pieces by liberals that make conservatives happy, and pieces by conservatives that savagely attack liberals. That is a right-wing site.