Pro-Israel and together? Thoughts on the lobby.

A defence of British JStreet equivalent Yahad in the JPost:

Yahad and the British Jewish comm… JPost – Opinion – Columnists.

Many young and committed Jews of today see Israel’s security and existence as a given, anti-Semitism as an evil which can (and must) be combatted, and the continued rule over another people as a blemish on the reputation of Israel. They love Israel, but wish it to take its proper role as a true equal among nations on the global scene. They do not, in the words of the Zionist Federation director, “claim to be pro-Israel” any more or less than all other pro-Israel organizations, nor should they be required to apologize for their credentials simply because they are not part of the age-old establishment community organizations, who rightly feel threatened by their popularity and freshness.

There is some legitimacy in this, although I still have a massive issue with the way JStreet chooses to operate. Here’s why (my bold):

… The appearance of yet another competitor on the street obviously raises concerns for those organizations who traditionally had a monopoly over fund raising.

Many donors have, in recent years, preferred to switch away from the general organizations and give directly to causes with which they identify. Yahad and J Street, along with other political lobbies and educational organizations, are also out there competing for the minds and the hearts of this small nucleus of donors.

Want to be a left-wing Israeli? Fair enough. I am, however, not in favour at all of this idea of influencing American/British politics to put pressure on Israel and force the Israeli government into a particular position. Luckily this hasn’t really caught on in Australia (yet…).

I met with representatives of both AIPAC and JStreet on a recent trip to the US. JStreet call themselves a “left wing answer to AIPAC”; AIPAC call JStreet “insignificant”, for good reason. What JStreet (and pretty much everyone else who talks about AIPAC) miss is that AIPAC is not a right wing organisation. It has no particular agenda either way and takes no specific stance on Israeli politics. The criticism that AIPAC gets from left wing Zionists is because it isn’t a left wing organisation, but it actually gets similar criticism for the opposite reason from right wing Zionists.

AIPAC is very effective because it has a very narrow — and often misunderstood – agenda. The organisation exists for the sole reason of improving the relationship between Israel and the US Congress. That is it. It chooses a few specific policy items to work on at any one time and will do its best to push them through. It also tries to only picks battles it knows it can win, which gives the impression that it wields much more power than it in fact does.

JStreet, on the other hand, takes a stance on everything to do with the Middle East and tries to push a very specific and very broad agenda onto Israel through the US. It is also extremely partisan — the amount of Republicans it supports can probably be counted on one hand. As a lobby group, therefore, JStreet will only have marginal success in Democrat administrations and will have absolutely no success in Republican administrations.

The other issue is “broadening the tent” within the Jewish community. This I am in favour of — if people want to think like JStreet, why not let them? I think I stole this quote from Jeffrey Goldberg: I don’t agree with all of JStreet’s policies, but I support its right to exist.

Plus the old pro-Israel organisations are to a great extent overly-bureaucratic, anachronistic behemoths with fading relevance. After the current generation of donors die, I’d be surprised if JNF, UIA etc are half as successful – they need to change dramatically if they hope to be. That is why new grassroots initiatives are important. Again, I don’t support a lot of NIF’s donees, but they’re at least doing something different.

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  1. #1 by Liam on February 14, 2012 - 12:14 pm

    You’re missing the point. J Street — to my understanding — doesn’t seek to replace AIPAC. It aims to be a principled couter-weight. It’s not meant to attract Republicans, because it wouldn’t be able to express honesty in its positions if it did.

    It says, “We believe in X” (where X is a two-state solution, end to the occupation, more liberal democracy, etc. etc.), so as American citizens we’re going to lobby our government and organise our friends around what we believe in.

    AIPAC says “We believe in Israeli government policy.” AIPAC can say they back a two-state solution because Israel (theoretically) does, though it seems to do so with the same vigour that Bibi and Lieberman do (that is, very little). J Street’s issue is that it’s not principled enough. They’re different kettles of fish, J Street and AIPAC.

    This was the most crucial paragraph for my mind: “The marketplace of Jewish and Israeli ideas and organizations has become very crowded in recent years. If the ZF start to exclude organizations, such as J Street (or its Yahad counterpart) or cast aspersions concerning their “loyalty” to Israel or to the wider Jewish community, then they would appear to have lost their role as an umbrella organization which offers the widest possible inclusivity to all who share the basic belief in, and support of, Israel.” That’s the crux of the issue.

    L.

  2. #2 by MK on February 14, 2012 - 2:22 pm

    Sure, I agreed with the general sentiment of that paragraph.

    But you’re missing the point, and so is JStreet. It’s not counter-balancing AIPAC at all, it has nothing to do with AIPAC. The “counter-weight” argument shows a fundamental misunderstanding for what a lobby group is supposed to do in the first place.

    AIPAC doesn’t support Israeli government policy, they take no stance either way. They are only concerned with the America-Israel relationship. This is what I was trying to say: they have a very narrow agenda, they work on things like trade ties, national security operations, Iran sanctions and continuing military aid — the peace process is not within their domain.

    If JStreet were an organisation aiming to be a part of the “communal umbrella” and facilitate a conversation, that’s all well and good, but it isn’t. It purports to be a lobby group, i.e. a group representing a particular interest that works to change government policy.

    By supporting only Democrats who agree with their agenda and by taking a stance on every little controversy to come out of Israel, they will be an extremely ineffective lobby group. Even if they were able to effectively lobby the US government (which they won’t be), they would still be ineffective as their goal is really to change Israeli policy, so it’s the Israeli government they need to be lobbying.

  1. Criticising an organisation you do not understand: J Street and AIPAC « Major Karnage

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