More J Street craziness
07/22/2009 - 17:31
James Besser

Jeremy Ben-Ami. Photo: J StreetOkay, I’d resolved  not to blog about J Street for a while, since every time I do it takes days to sort through the angry email, but I just have to ask again: what is it about this group that drives people so batty?

Read through J Street’s press statements, Web site and op-eds, and it’s obviously a strongly pro-Israel group, even if its views of what constitutes the best policy to secure Israel’s future aren’t the same as the Israeli government’s or AIPAC’s and even though it is clearly not a big fan of the current government.

Yet I get emails almost every day calling it an “an anti-Israel group,” or “the viciously anti-Israel J Street,” or “the Israel bashing J Street.”

I’m not flacking for the group, I’ve never had Jeremy Ben-Ami to dinner and I haven’t given them a dime. I’ve written that their longterm prospects are far from assured, since they represent a huge but unfocused base, while AIPAC, the group they are often seen as competing with, represents a smaller but intensely committed and focused core of activists.

But I’m still wondering: why is it so threatening to have different points of view about complex Mideast policy issues?  And what is it about this group that drives people to extremes of outrage?

There are a few right wingers I quote regularly in stories because their views are well thought out and interesting.  I’ve never received an email telling me I was hurting Israel when I quoted them, even though there are plenty of people in the Jewish community who dislike their views.

But J Street is branded as an enemy of the Jewish state and the Jewish people pretty much every time its leaders speak and every time journalists utter its name, except when it’s part of a slam.

Is Israel so fragile that the biggest threat to its existence is open debate over Middle East policy, not Iranian missiles?

Or is it that J Street has delved into the realm of political fundraising and is using that to back up its lobbying operation – a formula that helped build the mainstream pro-Israel movement?  Is that what’s so threatening to so many of the people who send me emails about J Street?

Or is it that J Street’s message resonates with younger Jews, a demographic the traditional organizations have had a hard time attracting in large numbers?

Or do these emailers genuinely believe that anyone who disagrees with their positions  on Israel and U.S. Middle East policy is an implacable enemy of the entire Jewish world? That’s the scariest possibility.

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