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Reaction: Disappointment at J Street joining JCRC

By Joseph Friedman, special to IJN

On June 22, the Jewish Community Relations Council voted on a motion to allow the Colorado chapter of J Street to become a member organization. This was tried once before — in 2013 — and it failed. This time, however, for a number of reasons, J Street cleared the membership committee hurdle, and going into the meeting, it appeared a foregone conclusion this time they would be admitted. Despite an impassioned, last-minute appeal by Larry Mizel, the motion passed by about 71%. It was a sad day, indeed, for the Colorado Zionist community.

Let me be very clear: My issue is not with diversity of opinion. I truly believe that all voices should be heard and all opinions aired, allowing for a healthy and open discussion. However, as Scott Friedman so eloquently put it at the meeting, the issue is with tactics and methods.

One of the most dramatic episodes in the Torah is found in the Book of Genesis, when Joseph is about to reveal his identity to his brothers. We read in Chapter 45, “Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, ‘Have everyone leave my presence!’ So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. When the room cleared, he finally said, “I am Joseph.” The great French medieval commentator, Rashi, in explaining Joseph’s need to clear the room before his great reveal, says “[Joseph] could not bear that the Egyptians were standing there and witnessing his brothers’ embarrassment when he revealed his secret to them.” Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar, the Orach Chaim, makes the same point even more pointedly, saying, “[Joseph] did not want to belittle his brother, that [the Egyptians] would consider them villains for having sold their brother.”

I once heard Dr. David Luchins, chair of the Political Science department at Touro College and former senior advisor to Senator Daniel P. Moynihan, explain this Rashi. He said the moment Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers, he was indicting them, which is why he sent everyone out of the room. We Jews can disagree with each other, he explained, but never in public, never for the world to see. For the moment the world sees us divided, we’re finished.

There are many Jewish bloggers who compare J Street to Korach, the Biblical figure who publicly challenged the authority of Moses and Aaron, and died as a result. I disagree; such a comparison does a disservice to Korach! Korach did not take his Moses to the outside world; he took them straight to Moses. I would add that the Torah records Moshe allowing him to speak, allowing his opinion to be heard, despite the obvious coup d’état Korach was fomenting.

There are differences of opinion between the constituents of AIPAC, the primary voice of the US pro-Israel community. Internally, there are those who consider them too liberal; others who consider them too conservative. Yet, to the public, AIPAC presents a united front when standing in front of members of Congress and the media. As a result, for decades, the US pro-Israel community spoke with one voice, and therein lay our strength. Any Congressperson or Senator knew, going into an Israel-issue vote, that if they took the anti-Israel position, they would have to answer for it.

Well, those days are over. Since the advent of J Street, the political clout of the US pro-Israel community has been forever weakened. Now, members of Congress can vote anyway they want, knowing they have political cover to say, “Even the pro-Israel community is divided; what do you want from me?”

It is true J Street tried to work from within the tent, but for many reasons they were rejected. However, rather than building a grassroots voice within the tent which would have forced the US pro-Israel community to accept them as a legitimate organization with a constituency, J Street left the tent, and proceeded to divide the community. They went straight to the Keith Ellisons, the Al Greens and the Hank Johnsons in Congress, giving them the political cover to vote against the interests of Israel.

They went straight to the previous administration, giving them the political cover to order the State Department to abstain on the UN Security Council resolution in December condemning Israel for settlement construction, an act the Simon Wiesenthal Center ranked as the most anti-Semitic act of 2016. When, in January of this year, a bipartisan bill was introduced condemning that vote — a bill which passed 342 to 80 — of the 80 votes against the resolution, 60 came from members endorsed by J Street in 2016. The members knew they could get away with their vote . . . and they did.

I love my family, even when we disagree. But I don’t ever take sides against my family in public.

Israel is a democracy. People living in Israel, paying taxes in Israel, risking their lives defending Israel, who want to voice their opposition to the current government and its policies, should do so loudly and proudly. That is the hallmark of a democracy.

But to be living here, enjoying the comforts and security of this great country, and then to become a fifth column, dividing Congressional support for the one Jewish state in the world, such that members of Congress are now free to vote against her? That is beyond the pale.

To be actively circumventing the democratically elected government of Israel, elected by the citizens of Israel, by attempting to orchestrate external pressure from the US government or from the United Nations? That is the quintessence of chutzpah.

There is no question such pressure is J Street’s mission. Jeremy Ben-Ami, J Street’s executive director, in a famous op-ed in the Times of Israel (May 13, 2014), made clear his organization’s raison d’etre is leveraging American political power to influence Israeli policy in a specific direction. He wrote:

“The wrongs [the Palestinians] have committed don’t give Israel a pass from choosing either to give up some of that land to create a separate national homeland for the Palestinian people or to sacrifice either the democratic or Jewish character of the state. At the end of the day, American Jews who care about Israel owe it to ourselves, our people and our history to have an open and honest discussion about that choice and the role we should play in how that choice is made” (emphasis added).

Am I missing something? Does J Street believe in democracy or not? What gives them the right to play a role in the destiny of a sovereign country of which they are not citizens — because they buy some Israel Bonds for someone’s Bar Mitzvah? Because they visited Israel once in their life? Because they enjoy hummus?

As you are probably aware, AIPAC takes the position of the current government of Israel, regardless of how its members feel about the government of Israel. One state, two states, hawkish, dovish — the people of Israel spoke, and AIPAC follows their lead. But the patronizing arrogance to suppose that “American Jews who care about Israel owe it to ourselves, our people and our history” to attempt to circumvent the will of the Israeli electorate is breathtaking.

The discussion at the JCRC meeting kept boiling down to one issue: inclusivity. We heard about the need for free expression of opinions, an open tent, a seat at the table, etc. I am all for diversity of opinions. As evidenced by the vote, the opinions held by the J Street are already represented at the JCRC. Clearly, “expression of opinions” is not the issue.

But by allowing J Street to be present organizationally, they have been given both the organizational approbation of the Colorado Jewish community, as well as national legitimacy. Did I mention that only four other JCRCs in the country have accepted them — Baltimore, Boston, Atlanta and San Francisco?

Did I mention that even the Jewish Student Union at UC-Berkeley, arguably one of the most liberal universities in the US, rejected J Street, as well?

J Street’s official motto is that they are the “Political Home for pro-Israel, pro-Peace Americans.” Sounds great! But are they? After all, anyone can say anything about themselves. So, I decided to look at the Facebook page of the Colorado chapter of J Street. After all, that’s where one can see what they actually promulgate, not what they claim to promulgate.

The page has been up since Feb. 4, 2010, and I read every single post, from that very first day until the present. Most of them are simply reposts from the national J Street page, with a few local events sprinkled in. My research bore out three stunning facts:

1. In over seven years of posts, there is not a single positive statement made about the State of Israel. Not about Israel’s humanitarian aid efforts throughout the world, not about Israel’s revolutionary energy initiatives in Africa, not about Israel’s life-saving medical breakthroughs, not about Israel’s progressive stance regarding the LGBTQ community . . . nothing. J Street, the “Political Home for pro-Israel, pro-Peace Americans,” cannot find a single good thing to say about Israel.

2. In over seven years of posts, there is not a single condemnation of any Palestinian acts of terror. Not the shooting of rockets from Gaza into civilian population centers, not using the billions of dollars of international aid to make terror tunnels to attack kindergartens, not the stabbing to death of 13-year-old Hallel Yaffa Ariel while she lay sleeping in her bed . . . nothing. Yet J Street is the “Political Home for pro-Israel, pro-Peace Americans.”

3. Finally, in over seven years of posts, every single post about Israel’s government is negative. There is nothing the government of Israel does which is commendable. Not the fact that the Israeli economy not only weathered the global financial crisis —with no burst housing bubble and no bailouts — but there was barely a blip in its growth trajectory. Not the fact that under Bibi’s watch, unemployment has fallen to record lows and the stock market is at a record high. Not the fact that Israel’s high tech industry is thriving and the envy of the entire world. Nothing. Yet J Street is the “Political Home for pro-Israel, pro-Peace Americans.”

A member of the JEWISHcolorado staff said to me a few weeks ago that she was surprised someone as open to diversity as me was so opposed to J Street being on the JCRC. I responded:

“I am a first generation American, a child of survivors. Perhaps I understand better than many American Jews — particularly millennials — the existential importance of the State of Israel. Two of my children served in the IDF, and I have a third son who currently serves in Mishmar HaGevul (Magav). Our family has skin in the game.

“Here is an organization whose entire modus operandi is to mount a fifth column opposition, threatening the very political existence of Israel, because, while sitting in their cushy homes in the US, they are offended by the tactics our national homeland must utilize to protect its citizens from an existential, barbaric threat. I’m sorry, but there is a line, and J Street long ago crossed it.”

In the final analysis, there is nothing new under the sun. Moses, while still in Egypt, had to contend with Jews who had such a slave “galut” (exilic) mentality they would rather stay behind in Egypt and serve Pharaoh than to be free and serve G-d. Wherever we have been, in whatever country we found ourselves, there were always Jews who were more interested in looking good before their host government than before their own people, and before their own G-d.

Nothing has changed. Today, sadly, there are far too many Jews so lost in exile that their self-esteem, their sense of right and wrong, their feeling of connectivity is inextricably linked to the culture in which they live, rather than in the history from whence they come.

Rather than appreciating Divine royalty, they settle for begrudging acceptance by their hosts.

Rather than studying our sacred Torah for moral direction, they trust some vague inner compass, which spins as quickly as moral fads come and go.

Rather than connecting to the great totality that is Klal Yisrael, the Jewish people, and to our Heavenly Source, they connect to movements, to governments, to “isms,” all in a desperate attempt to belong to something bigger than themselves and to feel good about themselves.

When will it all end? I am convinced that day is near. Any day now, a Divine light, so clear and so convincing, will shine forth from Zion — a light which will clear away all our confusion, a light which will awaken even the most spiritually comatose, a light which will lead us all home, to Jerusalem Rebuilt. May that light shine forth swiftly and soon.

Rabbi Joseph Friedman is the spiritual leader of the DAT Minyan.

2 thoughts on “Reaction: Disappointment at J Street joining JCRC

  1. R. Alexander

    Rabbi Friedman, yashar ko’ach! J Street is nothing but a collection of traitors and collaborators that sprung up throughout our history since the days of Moshe Rabbenu. I agree that Korach was a rebel but the real traitors were the 75-80% of our ancestors who chose to remain in Egyptian slavery instead of joining the Exodus. It seems that this curse of cowardice and treachery is visited upon every generation of proud upstanding Jews ever since.

  2. Jake

    Beautifully written, but I do have 2 comments I respectfully urge you to consider:

    First, why the swipe at Israel bonds? While buying a bond certainly doesn’t give the buyer any extraordinary rights to influence Israeli democracy, it is an important, tangible way to tie one’s fortunes to the future of the Jewish state. I know you were suggesting nothing different, but I’m concerned that you may have inadvertently and unintentionally diminished the meaningfulness of investing directly in Israel, and particularly when doing it in a way that connects others to the investment as well (i.e., as a gift).

    Second, it’s important to note that AIPAC does not “take the position of the current Israeli government.” AIPAC is an American organization made up of American citizens and does not represent any foreign government. It takes the positions that are best for America and the US-Israel relationship, appreciating that when that alliance is strong, the world is better for both America and Israel. As you mention, AIPAC also fundamentally recognizes the sovereignty of Israel and the beauty of its democratic process.

    Thanks again for your important commentary.


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