Actually, J Street Won

The Conference of Presidents has compromised its integrity as a group that truly represents American Jewry.

Jewish Week Online Columnist
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Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik
Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik

Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose.  Sometimes you win, but really lose. And then other times you lose, but really win.

On the face of it, J Street lost this week in its effort to gain membership in the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. After an application process that lasted almost a year, the organization that calls itself “pro peace, pro Israel” failed to garner the requisite votes to meet the constitutionally mandated membership threshold of the Conference. Those who opposed J Street’s candidacy will no doubt see this as a victory. I’m not at all so sure…

As President of the Rabbinical Assembly, the international association of Conservative rabbis, I have been a member of the Conference for the past two years. In fact, I served on the Membership Committee that shepherded J Street’s application from its inception to this week’s vote. The Rabbinical Assembly voted to admit J Street. I supported that vote.

Though I sit in the Conference as the President of the Rabbinical Assembly, what I write in this article is not to be construed as an official comment of the RA. And the Rabbinical Assembly’s vote was not an endorsement of J Street. We have members who support it and members who oppose it. What we wanted to do with our vote was affirm the reality and the importance of pluralism in the Zionist community – and in the Conference of Presidents.

Truth to tell, I am not a big fan of J Street. My personal inclination in matters relating to pro-Israel activism are much closer to the AIPAC view of how Israel is best helped and protected in these perilous and uncertain times. Jeremy Ben-Ami, the founder and President of J Street, has always seemed to me unnecessarily provocative in his advocacy efforts. Of the Palestinians, Abba Eban once famously said that they “never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” Mr. Ben-Ami, in the name of providing an alternative, left-of-center advocacy voice for Israel, has never shied away from taking a stance on a controversial issue that went beyond an alternative advocacy voice, and veered into something dangerously close (some would say over the line) to obscuring J Street’s fundamentally pro-Israel posture. He rarely, if ever, missed a chance to critique the more mainstream Jewish leadership.

But my personal feelings, and those of the other members of the Conference, were not what was being voted on this week.  What was at stake was the integrity of the Conference of Presidents as an umbrella group that truly represents the broad swath of American Jewry. 

J Street would not have been the first left-leaning organization to sit in the Conference. There are others, including Ameinu and APN, the American branch of Peace Now, but their views are largely overwhelmed by the consensus-driven nature of the Conference and its leadership, which tend to be far more conservative as Israel goes. J Street is much larger, better organized, and far more influential than either of them, or any other left-of-center organizations in the Conference. Its reach, particularly on college campuses, is something that most mainstream Jewish organizations can only covet.

Despite my own personal misgivings about J Street, I advocated for its admission to the Conference precisely because I don’t share its views. There are other members of the Conference whose views are not consonant with my own on matters that are of the greatest concern to me, including my legitimacy as a rabbi and as a Jew, and religious pluralism in Israel. But in the years that I have participated in its meetings and programs, the Conference has afforded me – and those with whom I differ – a crucial opportunity to move beyond the instinctive demonization of “ the other” to a healthier, more reality-based appreciation of the areas of commonality that we share.

That is exactly what should have happened with J Street. Membership in the Conference would have afforded its leadership a crucial opportunity to see the world though the Conference’s eyes, and for the Conference to see the world of Israel advocacy through J Street’s eyes. It would also have sent a much-needed message to the many college students who have found their voice on Israel through J Street that the leadership of the American Jewish community hears them, and values what they have to say, even if it sometimes disagrees. But the Conference of Presidents did not do that, and that was, in my view, most unfortunate.

I continue to believe that the Conference of Presidents plays a vital role in advocating for Israel’s cause and security, and for the security of the Jewish community as a whole, both here in America and around the world. When the Conference talks, governments listen. I think, however, that the Conference’s voice would have been strengthened, and made more authentically representative of the community that it serves, had more of its members transcended their fears and voted to include J Street. Now that it has not, Jeremy Ben-Ami, who has never missed an opportunity to accuse the mainstream Jewish leadership of being out of step with reality, has been handed his next op-ed piece for the New York Times on a silver platter.

On the surface, it looks like the mainstream leadership won, and J Street lost. But like I said, some times you lose but you really win, and that’s exactly what J Street accomplished. It didn’t have to be that way. And the Jewish community as a whole will wind up paying the price.

Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik is the spiritual leader of the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens.


Last Update:

08/21/2014 - 10:06
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Israel, J Street, Jeremy Ben-Ami, Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik

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I am glad that there are ample replies that disagree with Rabbi Skolnick's opinion and thinking on this matter. A snub of J Street is a vote for Israel!

With leadership like this which stands for nothing but dialogue, the Jewish community in America is doomed. Thankfully we have an independent Israel to fulfill the promise that the people of Israel is forever. The basic flaw in the rabbi's reasoning is that J Street is a pro-Israel group interested in daialogue. They are Stalinists. Their goal is to destroy the organized Jewish community. It Is the chutzpah of the liberal crowd that they are so articulate and persuasive and so open to listening that they will win hearts and minds. This is the liberal icon- if we could only talk to each other we would understand each other. They do not want to understand you; they want to destroy you because you stand in their way of eliminating Israel. Rabbi, You do not make me proud to be a member of a Conservative synagogue.

I found one bit of false logic particularly troubling- When the Rabbi asserted he supported the groups inclusion especially because he disagrees with their positions. Shall we all then vote for the candidate we don't like? How about ordering the food we don't like.? There is nothing Jewish in this type of thinking. It is however very Liberal. J street is an antisemitic organization run by American Jews.

Jeremy speaks from two sides of his mouth. You can't be pro Israel, and support BDS. You can't be pro Israel and blame Jerusalem for failed peace negotiations.... His thinking is convoluted...
The conference made the smart decision to deny J Street membership. J Street may have a big following, but I wonder how many really understand what they are supporting. Some of J Street followers are like the anti Semites who don't know what anti semitism means - they think it's the right thing to do

I agree with the decision of Conference not to grant membership to J Street. An organization who has consistently taken positions, publicly in opposition to Israel and its governments, who, as a result of its actions helps to undermine support for Israel in the Congress, does not merit a voice at the CoP. One can disagree with a position as a parent might of a child, but one may never through actions and pressure undermine the government or the people of Israel. A stick can be bent only so much before it snaps.

Dear Rabbi,

Allowing Jewish organizations into the Conference's open tent is important, but not if their past actions indicate that the only reason they want to enter the tent, is to burn it down. Please re-consider your stance.

Conservative Jews must understand that most Israeli Jews don't give a dam about J Street types and extreme collage leftists.In fact, most Israelis don't care what Jewish Americans think of them.They just want to live-and the the Arabs want them dead. That's the reality!

after reading the rabbi's defense of j street all i could think of was a quote of barnum's - you can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time. when it comes to j street too many jews fall into one of those catagories.

Ben Ami referred to the CoP--and mainstream Jewish organizations in general--as components of a "many-headed hydra." That is not the sort of language ones uses among friends, even when they disagree politically. But JStreet, like all extremists, has always put politics ahead of the unity of the Jewish People.

J-Street is neither pro-peace nor pro-Israel.

It actively lobbies against Israel, seeking to damage the image of Israel throughout the world. When the UN tried to pass a recent resolution against Israel, JStreet lobbied congress and President Obama NOT to veto. In other words, J-Street was in favor of an ant-Israel resolution. These, and other actions just show that J-Street is not pro, but rather ANTI-Israel.

But are they pro-Peace? Well J-Street supports the unity of Fatah and Hamas, and wants Israel to make concessions to them. Hamas has vowed to Destroy Israel. Hamas launches rockets DAILY into Israel. Hamas is officially anti-peace. Fatah, is not much better, as their former leader Yasser Arafat once said 'peace for me is the destruction of Israel'. By supporting continued attacks against Israel, they are, by definition NOT pro-peace!

J-Street supports those who want war, and who do NOT want Israel. They do deserve legitimacy in the Jewish Community

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