J Street: Rebels Without a Cause–Or a Clue

Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president and founder of J Street, has an op-ed in Politico today calling upon AIPAC to “get with the peace program.” It’s not clear exactly what he wants AIPAC to do, though. AIPAC has supported the peace process and the two-state solution, as Ben-Ami himself acknowledges. So what point is he making?

J Street styles itself as the Obama administration’s “blocking back” on Capitol Hill. To that end, it has pursued some legitimate goals–such as support for the peace process–and some illegitimate ones: opposing sanctions on Iran, promoting Richard Goldstone, and even asking the Treasury to investigate Jewish charities in Israel.

So perhaps J Street is trying to do its part for Secretary of State John Kerry, who is expected to describe the Obama administration’s proposed “framework” for Israeli-Palestinian peace when he addresses AIPAC’s Policy Conference this afternoon. Yet it is not clear what, exactly, Ben-Ami and J Street are urging AIPAC to do.

Consider the following critical paragraph from Ben-Ami’s article: 

AIPAC officially supports a two-state solution. So why not take this week’s conference as an opportunity to support the difficult compromises a two-state solution will actually require and to endorse the secretary’s efforts to advance a conflict-ending deal?

Ben-Ami does not stipulate what those “difficult compromises” will be. One of the most important sticking points between the Israeli government and the Obama administration is the future of security in the Jordan Valley. But while important, that is a rather technical issue, not the sort of stuff that excites activists.

In any case, AIPAC has already expressed its support for Kerry’s diplomacy. New AIPAC president Bob Cohen went out of his way to thank Kerry for his efforts for peace, even though many of AIPAC’s members probably disagree both with the substance of Kerry’s proposals and the manner in which he has pursued them.

What Ben-Ami seems to be doing, then, is creating deliberate ambiguity, onto which J Street supporters can project their paranoid fantasies about AIPAC’s real intentions. Rather than admit AIPAC has always favored peace, or that it has bent over backwards for Obama, he wants to preserve AIPAC as the left’s bogeyman.

Politically, J Street is Obama’s “community organizing” arm within the Jewish community. Substantively, it is empty. Its members are a hodgepodge of anti-Israel activists, pacifists, and alienated Jews. They are committed to criticism of Israel as an end in itself. Otherwise, they are rebels without a cause–and, often, without a clue.

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