J Street and the Haters

Jews tend not to like far-right politicians from Kentucky (AIPAC photo)

Jews tend not to like far-right politicians from Kentucky (AIPAC photo)

James Besser at The New York Jewish Week keeps trying to swear off writing about progressive Jewish organization J Street but keeps getting dragged back in by the over-the-top hatred of Jeremy Ben-Ami’s relatively new outfit. He wonders what the deal is. I’m not sure myself and don’t want to psychoanalyze other people, but I do think Eric Alterman’s 2006 column about AIPAC’s ties to the Republican Party and conservative causes more generally is relevant here:

It’s a truism that most American Jews are liberal Democrats. For decades, neoconservatives have argued that they are bucking their own interests in staying true to these values and should join the Republicans, where, together with right-wing conservatives they will insure that support for a fair settlement for the Palestinians will remain as low as taxes on the extremely wealthy. So far, these arguments have had almost no effect on Jews, who supported Democrats as loyally as any single constituency in the last election. But the argument has worked on the leaders of many Jewish organizations. What we are left with, therefore, is a paradox. American Jews are liberals; they support Democrats. But Jewish organizations strategize with Republicans on how to smear these same Democrats, supported by the funds of these same liberal Democratic Jews.

This is just an inherently unstable situation. And I think it helps explain why much-larger and better-established organizations seem to find the very existence of J Street so threatening. Normally a conservative institution is relying on the financial and institutional support of, you know, conservatives. So while conservative organizations obviously disagree with progressive organizations, they’re not actually threatened by them. The Center for American Progress, for example, couldn’t possibly displace Heritage and AEI as go-to think tanks for conservative policymakers. But AIPAC and others are actually depending to a large extent on liberals and it’s very plausible to imagine Jews with progressive political opinions drifting away to support a left-wing organization. And of course Jews with progressive political opinions are the overwhelming majority of American Jews.