Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
J Street Exclusion: The Action
The vote of the Presidents’ Conference not to accept J Street’s application for membership in the organization reflects an inability of the Jewish leadership to accept alternative, dissenting voices when it comes to questions involving Israel. While there are already groups such as Americans for Peace Now who do articulate a J Street like position within the President’s Conference and are somewhat similar to J Street, these groups are not threatening and are rather marginal politically. The President’s Conference tolerates them rather dismissively. On the other hand, erroneously from many observers perspective, AIPAC—among other Conference members– sees J Street as a potential grassroots organization which they contend poses a threat to their –until now—virtual single mounted voice lobbying Congress.
Instead of making the tent wider and not fearing alternative voices, by a vote of 22-17-3 the Presidents’ Conference rejected J Street’s membership application. Groups with small almost miniscule memberships have been grandfathered into the organization while a relatively new group with a sizeable, diverse, and mixed following of Jews has their application rejected. While some members of J Street do hold views which are offensive to most pro-Israel Jews, there are certainly many Presidents’ Conference members whose own leaders and rank and file hold right wing positions which also are far outside the mainstream of the pro-Israel community.
J Street: The Implication
Rejecting the J Street application could well have a major impact on the capacity of the Jewish community to sustain its powerful ability to speak on behalf of American Jews. If organizations such as the Reform and/or the Conservative movements’ synagogual and rabbinic bodies, for example, proceed with their pronounced threat to leave the Presidents’ Conference, it could have a significant impact in Washington as there would now be multiple voices seeking to speak for American Jews.
For young people and less affiliated Jews–to say nothing of marginal Jews–this action confirms for them why they do not want to associate with the organized Jewish community. When they see elites making internal institutional arrangements like the decision to exclude J Street, this also moves to reinforces their lack of desire to support and engage with institutional Jewish life in America. It also increases their pro-Israel marginality.
The Ambassador’s Seder
In a nice gesture to Secretary of State Kerry, Israel’s Ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer invited him to the second Passover seder at his home in Washington. Ambassador Dermer has yet to disclose who else attended the seder despite repeated requests from Israeli reporters who now have filed a request for the information under the Israeli equivalent of the Freedom of Information Act. It appears that the Ambassador believes that he does not need to disclose whom he entertains with Israeli Government funds on Israeli Government property. Kerry’s attendance was a positive gesture for both the U.S. and Israel, but it is curious why he is withholding the list of whom else he invited.