October 16, 2010


The Problem With J Street (Walter Russell Mead, 10/16/10, American Interest)

With the Israeli government’s latest (and in my view, misguided) decision to start construction on housing in East Jerusalem, the struggle over the future of the peace process has grown more intense. Meanwhile, as Middle East diplomacy heats up, J Street–an organization primarily representing American Jews who disagree with the hardline policies of the current Israeli government and look for alternative negotiating strategies–has been engulfed in a scandal. It turns out that despite some repeated weaselly and disingenuous statements by the organization’s president Jeremy Ben-Ami extending over a long period of time and made to many different people –statements which at least one journalist has characterized as ‘a lie‘– J Street has received funding from George Soros and family to the tune of more than $700,000. Additional questions are being raised about the organization’s other funders; some of the money seems to come from mysterious foreign donors whose identity, so far, has been difficult to establish.

I can’t speak to the unknown foreign donors issue. The problem of wealthy individuals transferring large amounts of money around the world under a murky veil of cut outs and bank secrecy is a serious one; there is no indication, however, that either the donor or J Street has done anything wrong. Still, it is always a bad idea for the presidents of public policy institutions to repeatedly attempt to mislead the public about the sources of their funding, and that is particularly true when they are working on hot button issues like the Middle East. Resignations are normally the correct response to screw ups this big and this ugly, and the organization’s failure so far to demonstrate that it considers this breach of the public trust to be a deeply serious matter is not a good sign. [...]

J Street fundamentally misreads the politics of America’s Middle Eastern policies, and as a result it is essentially irrelevant to the real debates that will decide what America will do in the region. Globally, one of the most common (and idiotic) assumptions about American foreign policy is that “the Jews” control it. Virtually everyone in the Middle East, a deeply depressing number of Europeans (who cling to anti-Semitic myths about Jewish power and clannishness even while claiming to be completely free of prejudice), and even a handful of misguided Americans think that American gentiles are so weak and so foolish that a handful of clever, rich and unscrupulous Jews have led us around for decades with rings through our noses when it comes to the Middle East. The allegedly awesome mindbending power of Jews in the media and the allegedly irresistible power of Jewish money (through AIPAC and other organizations) bribed politicians and bamboozled the public. How else, these theorists of occult Jewish power ask, to explain America’s stubborn and stupid support of the Jewish state?

Everything I know about the history of American foreign policy, the state of American opinion, the nature of American ideology and theology, and the state of American politics tells me this is wrong. Support for the construction of a Jewish state in the Holy Land has been an important part of American Christian and political thought going back to colonial times. The ideas of Jewish exceptionalism and American exceptionalism have been bound together in the American mind for more than two hundred years. During the Cold War, Americans gradually got into the habit of considering Israel one of our most valuable and reliable allies. In recent years this longstanding association has been substantially strengthened by the widespread public belief that the same people who most hate Israel and want to bring it down are the bitter enemies of the United States and will stop at nothing to kill as many American civilians as they possibly can.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at October 16, 2010 8:11 AM
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