From the moment it began operations, the left-wing lobby J Street’s assertion that it’s mantra of “pro-Israel and pro-peace” better represented the true sentiments of American Jews than the position of mainstream groups was disingenuous. While its leader, Jeremy Ben-Ami, claimed that the new organization’s efforts provided a way for Americans to support peace in the Middle East, its goals were really always more about the politics of the United States than that of the Jewish state.
That has been never more apparent than lately as J Street has taken an active role in the civil war within the Democratic Party about Israel. But it has done more than sink to a new low in discourse by using The New York Times to claim that those groups that are actually pro-Israel are engaging in racism by seeking to defeat candidates who are opponents of the Jewish state.
J Street says that those who help elect Democrats who aren’t enemies of Israel are “driving a wedge between communities of color, especially progressives, and the Jewish community” and targeting “women of color.” It was one thing for J Street to say that it was saving Israel from itself. It’s quite another to brand those who disagree with that preposterous position as racists. In doing so, it told us more about J Street than AIPAC.
By seeking to delegitimize AIPAC and the rest of the pro-Israel faction of the Democratic Party in this way, J Street has shown that it has abandoned any pretense that its purpose is to help Israel. Such rhetoric is both inaccurate and divisive. It’s also proof that it is operating from the same ideological playbook as the most virulent and radical forces in American politics. It is demonstrating that its sole loyalty lies to the far-left faction of the Democratic Party that has discarded the pretense that it is “pro-Israel” by any definition, let alone one that might be recognizable to the people of the Jewish state.
The context for this controversy was a primary race in Maryland in which Donna Edwards, a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives, was seeking to get her old seat back. Edwards has powerful ties to the Democratic Party establishment and was endorsed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But she was beaten by Glenn Ivey, a challenger who, like Edwards, is an African American and a liberal Democrat. But unlike Edwards, who has a history of being a bitter opponent of Israel, Ivey is supportive of the Jewish state.
Ivey benefited from support from AIPAC’s political action committee and that of other pro-Israel groups while Edwards was helped by J Street. That prompted a Times article in which reporter Jonathan Weisman, someone with a long record of anti-Israel bias, sought to portray the actions of pro-Israel activists as somehow ominous or illegitimate — something that would never be written about the efforts of the supporters of any other group or industry that sought to advance its cause.
The voters in Maryland’s 4th Congressional District may not regard support for Israel as a litmus test issue, but the majority were clearly influenced by arguments about Edwards being out of step with the best interests of her community. If pro-Israel donors helped bring about this outcome by highlighting her poor record, it may dismay left-wing ideologues, such as those at The Intercept, who regard AIPAC as part of a sinister Zionist conspiracy. But holding people accountable for their records is the essence of democracy.
As the party’s left-wing base has fallen under the influence of those who espouse intersectionality and critical race theory, the ability of anti-Israel extremists to win primaries and gain seats in Congress has called into question the viability of a bipartisan consensus in favor of the Jewish state. With the ranks of congressional “Squad” growing beyond the original quartet of celebrity politicians, moderate forces have sought to stem the tide by backing candidates in Democratic primaries who, though liberal or left-wing in their politics on a host of other issues, still support Israel and oppose those who seek to demonize it.
Giving the lie to the “pro-Israel” part of its slogan, J Street has been investing considerable resources to backing candidates who are not supportive of Israel. This is in part a response to AIPAC’s decision to drop its tradition of not seeking to directly intervene in elections by rallying support for pro-Israel candidates, be they Democrats or Republicans.
Pro-Israel forces have lost a lot of these battles. “Squad” members like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) have not only knocked off mainstream Democratic incumbents but then go on to become feted as their party’s rock stars who are fawned over by the media, late-night television hosts and pop-culture institutions. But the willingness of what’s left of the pro-Israel faction of the Democratic Party to resist this trend is viewed as somehow illegitimate by those who subscribe to the left’s groupthink mentality.
The effort to save the Democratic Party for the pro-Israel cause may be doomed in the long run if the intersectional left continues to gain ground while AOC and her openly antisemitic House colleagues like Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), and their allies, ultimately begin to replace the geriatric leaders of the party. But that ought not to deter those who are working to defeat leftists who share their animus for Israel, as well as their willingness to both tolerate and engage in antisemitic rhetoric.
In some cases, as in Ohio, where Rep. Shontel Brown defeated Nina Turner — a former Bernie Sanders campaign chair and would-be “Squad” member in a Democratic primary — pro-Israel groups have been successful. The same thing happened this month in Maryland with Ivey’s defeat of Edwards.
But rather than acknowledging that opposition to Israel is not as universally popular as they thought, Ben-Ami used the Times — whose sympathetic and enthusiastic coverage of J Street has been a major factor in its ability to pose as a major player in Washington — to attack supporters of Israel as racists.
The J Street charge about targeting communities of color and women of color is fiction, especially when you consider that many of the candidates AIPAC backed are themselves Black and, in Brown’s case, female. It is also a direct product of the same intersectional and CRT ideology that seeks to turn every discussion into one about race and to label those who speak up for Israel as part of the oppressor class.
These toxic beliefs act as a permission slip for antisemitism because they treat all support for Zionism as inherently racist. So, for the supposedly “pro-Israel” J Street to play the race card in this fashion illustrates how deeply invested they are in the very forces they would be opposing if they actually cared about the Jewish state’s survival.
Yet it’s also understandable since J Street’s purpose has always been to help a specific kind of Democrat gain power and use it as a weapon against Israel. During the presidency of Barack Obama, that meant supporting every attack his administration launched against Israel, in addition to its efforts to appease Iran. That J Street’s positions were completely out of touch with mainstream public opinion in Israel — both on concessions to the Palestinians and Iran — demonstrated their irrelevance when it came to the realities of the Middle East.
But J Street is anything but irrelevant when it comes to the war over the future of the Democratic Party. It is fully engaged not just in efforts to eradicate what’s left of the pro-Israel wing of the party, but also ready to demonize and falsely brand those who wish to salvage bipartisanship on the issue as racist. That it is mimicking the catechism of the antisemitic left is not surprising. However, it does send a clear warning to anyone who wasn’t already aware of just how dangerous their efforts are for Israel, the Democrats and American Jewry. PJC
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate) where this first appeared.