Where Does Jewish Support For J Street Come From?

I wrote a week or so ago about the recent revelation that the left-wing Jewish group J Street was largely funded by George Soros. That revelation has kicked off a long simmering debate among competing factions within the Jewish community both here and in Israel.

J Street has an unfortunate history of being very anti-Israel. J Street condemned Israel for its Gaza offensive against Hamas calling it a “disproportionate response.” It routinely attacks AIPAC and lobbies the Obama administration to put a stop to Israeli settlements. Their list of offenses goes on and on.

As a conservative and frankly as an American I firmly support Israel. Like most Americans and nearly all conservatives I see Israel as a place that must be defended. Not only is it a place that’s sacred to both Jews and Christians, but like us the Israeli people are under constant threat from radical Islam. The Jewish State is a lone beacon of freedom and democracy in a sea of militant, repressive, barbaric Islam. Also, the Jewish people have a hard working and entrepreneurial spirit just like Americans do.

As of 2010, the tiny state of Israel ranked #2 among foreign countries with the most companies listed on US stock exchanges. That is simply amazing.

In short, we have everything in common with Jewish people and nothing in common with Muslims (regardless of Obama’s rhetoric in Cairo).

So why then is there Jewish support in America for organizations that seem to undermine Israel? Moreover, why in the heck is the Jewish community primarily Democrat?

For the answer to the second question I suggest you read Norman Podhoretz’s book “Why Are Jews Liberal?” As for the first question, I’ll try to aide in answering it here.

I’ve never understood why Jewish Americans who profess to care about Israel would support groups and politicians who clearly don’t care about Israel or are outright hostile to it.

My friend Jeff Pozmantier has written a fascinating piece over at BumpSpot on this very issue. Jeff is a Jewish American who makes regular trips to Israel and knows many of the players in the Israeli government. He’s also a liberal who strongly supports J Street.

Jeff lays out the clearest and most sensible argument I’ve read on this question. He says the battle is between “Loyalists” and “Independents” but considers both factions ultimately pro-Israel.

The Loyalists  looks outward.   They see  virtually any Jewish criticism of  an Israeli policy or action as akin to helping  countries and terrorist groups that aren’t Israel fans make their delegitimization arguments. They see “in the family” criticism making it easier for a democratic Israel to suffer unfair and unbalanced attacks from autocratic countries that severely discriminate against women, restrict freedom of speech and, in some cases, shelter terrorists and develop weapons of mass destruction. Some  Loyalists see  Independent wing members as self-hating or disloyal  or both.  A tinier percentage even view  them as “capo”- like facilitators for Israel’s enemies.

However, if  the Loyalists  were  to become  more self-reflective and turn their gaze inward they would see several problems, not the least of which is generational. With  the majority of American Jews born  well after Israel reached a peace agreement with Egypt and Jordan, the point of reference between  many Pro Israel party members greatly differs.

Loyalists tend to be older and  frame their concerns and actions against the backdrop of the Holocaust and the various wars and intifadas  many of them have directly or indirectly experienced since Israel’s founding.  (Living in  fear of Israel’s extinction does heighten one’s sensitivities.) They tend  to  view  most of the Palestinian leadership as untrustworthy and (not without some historical justification)  incapable of  organizing effectively enough to actually deliver on any commitments they might make.  The Middle East  is seen as largely a zero sum game.

On the other hand,  many of the Independents  tend to be younger. They  feel less threatened and are, in their minds, safely assimilated in America.  They read in their history books and “on line” about what   many Loyalists have lived through.  Independents  tend to ask more questions and  are far less likely to offer 100% support for every Israeli policy or action.   Many Independents have experienced some portion of the Mideast conflict,  but it has been through a much different, more occluded lens.  The Palestinian narrative has more resonance for  Independents as it carries a human rights appeal that connects with their traditional Jewish  values.  They are less likely to view the Palestinian leadership as monolithic and  more likely to view  Israeli concessions on issues  (such as  settlements) in the context of peace negotiations that they feel are  in Israel’s interest just  as much as they are in the Palestinians’  interest.

So when an organization like J Street  takes a position that criticism and support for Israel are no more mutually exclusive than is criticism and support for America, the argument has great appeal. It also has great, perhaps unrecognized value:  Any hesitation to enthusiastically support Israel is removed as Independents don’t feel constrained by a fear that  a public disagreement over Israel’s tactics will be seen as anti-Israel.

I encourage everyone to click over and read Jeff’s entire piece. Even if you don’t agree with it you’ll better understand where Jewish support for organizations like J Street comes from. I routinely read Jeff’s articles because he tends to bring a point of view to Middle East issues I might not otherwise be exposed to. I recommend putting BumpSpot on your regular reading list.