A defence of British JStreet equivalent Yahad in the JPost:
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.