Choice of JStreet symbolism raises questions about Zionist identity

Friend of the blog Liam Getreu (see my links page) sent me an article from a JStreet activist at their recent conference, who was complaining that JStreet needed to idolise Peter Beinhart for “merely [articulating] the need to reinstate ‘open debate, a skepticism about military force, a commitment to human rights.'”

Fair enough. What bothered me about the article was this:

Choice of JStreet ‘mascot’ raises questions about Jewish identity.

One of the things that struck me about the J Street conference was that, despite the grandeur of the event (understandable due to its effort to rival the show put on by the veteran America Israel Public Affairs Committee every year), it was actually understated and done with taste. There were no giant Israeli flags waving above Jeremy Ben-Ami’s head when he was at the podium, no centerpieces at the tables with Star of David-shaped chocolates to take home, and no gaudy items of merchandise distributed in the conference kits.

I got to thinking about what exactly had been “understated”. If you scroll up to the top of this page, you will see what was behind Mr Ben-Ami, the JStreet President, while he was speaking: a big JStreet sign. The writer also notes that she used to be a part of JStreet’s precursor, the “Union of Progressive Zionists”.

So JStreet is busy imitating but distancing itself from AIPAC, let’s look at the AIPAC logo:

Note how this is, in essence, a composite of the Israeli and American flags. Having been to AIPAC’s conference myself, I can tell you that this blogger is not wrong – AIPAC puts Israeli and American flags everywhere, it is packed with Zionist symbolism. There are little Magen David chocolates on every seat, there are also american and Israeli flags for you to wave, there are Magen David backdrops during speeches and Zionism is something that is generally overt and even celebrated. The JStreet logo, in comparison, doesn’t mean anything – it’s just “J Street” with an arrow.

I’ve never noticed it before this article, but in a lot of ways, JStreet have distanced themselves from words and imagery associated with Zionism. They brand themselves as “pro-Israel pro-peace”, and everyone knows what the “J” stands for, but it’s weird to me that a supposedly pro-Israel organisation wouldn’t have an Israeli flag anywhere on the main stage while their president was addressing their annual conference.

I just had a look over the two websites and AIPAC has overt photos of Israeli politicians and Israeli flags, JStreet has none, anywhere. AIPAC has an “Israel” in its name, JStreet has a suggestive “J”, that doesn’t officially mean anything. The name “JStreet” is completely innocuous, it could quite easily be a TV sitcom or something.

See, I have many friends who identify with JStreet and would call themselves “progressive Zionists” or the like, and they are proud and ardent supporters of Israel. I can’t imagine that someone just forgot the flag at home, so this definitely raises some obvious questions:

Is JStreet ashamed of being Zionist? Are they ashamed of Israel? When they stopped being the “progressive Zionists” and became “pro Israel pro peace”, and when they dropped the “UPZ” and became just “JStreet”, they made a conscious decision early on not to brand themselves with anything overtly related to Israel or Zionism.

I’m actually interested in this, it’s not just baiting JStreet out of contempt.

UPDATE: To anyone that was there, did they sing one or both of Hatikvah and The Star Spangled banner?

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  1. #1 by Liam on March 7, 2011 - 8:50 am

    Just because you couldn’t see a flag in a photo doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. (There were plenty around.) Maybe you could have asked someone who was there? Did you know anyone who was there?

    Stop trying to stir the pot. Argue against J Street using real arguments, not bullshit ones.

  2. #2 by MK on March 7, 2011 - 9:44 am

    I was going on what the article said, I thought I made that clear.

  3. #3 by anon on March 7, 2011 - 11:53 am

    The J is supposed to stand for the missing street in Washington, not for Jew. Its akin to the term KStreet except there is no J Street. The idea is it represents the “missing” pro-peace lobby.
    Anyways I’m sure the archtype J-Streeter is embarrassed by both American and “zionist” patriotism.

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