Red tent lines

star-red-linesPresidents Conference nixes J Street

Defining the American Jewish community as a big tent is fine but isn’t it time to draw some clear red lines?

You probably have heard that J Street failed to be admitted to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Membership required a 2/3 majority and the final vote was 17 in favour, 22 against and three abstentions.

If you were me you would be thinking how was it even that close?

Where and what are the red lines?

This isn’t an article devoted to condemning J Street but if you have been hiding in a cupboard for the last few years or an Israeli Meretz voter (come to think of it most educated, middle-class, Ashkenazi Israelis whose source of information is Israeli television) I think Dr. Charles Jacobs has J Street dead to rights.

[American Jews] can freely criticize Jewish leaders in Israel—we can do it publicly, but we who do not live there or have our children on the front lines do not have the right to use our American power to circumvent Israeli democracy, and to try to lobby to get an American administration to impose our views and policies on the Israelis. … J Street’s entire program is designed to break this long standing agreement.

D10207_2Add to that controversies about J Street finances – including initial denial of George Soros’s funding and unexplainable contributions from other sources; accusations of conflict of interest with Ben Ami’s PR company; invitations to declared enemies of Israel to speak at J Street conferences; allegations that lobbyists for Iran had seats on J Street’s advisory committee …

On the other hand

Clear simple red lines should be available when deciding who should and who should not be allowed inside the tent. Walks like a duck; talks like a duck; is a duck is too arbitrary.

J Street and its defenders have responded with three main arguments. The first is to recycle the venerable mantra Criticism of Israel is not Antisemitism. The second is the claim that J Street actually represents American Jews while the organisations are actually unrepresentative. While the third is a criticism of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations voting system. In their minds, the vote only succeeded because of the unfair voting system, giving organisations no matter what their size an equal vote.

Debunking all three is material for another post but it does illustrate the need for guidelines.

How’s this for a red line?

No organisation should be accepted which supports actual damage to Jews or gives support to those who advocate actual damage to Jews. Note I didn’t say Israel.

Fadi AbuNe’meh and Taka Yamaguchi

Fadi AbuNe’meh and Taka Yamaguchi, were apparently leading activists with the campus chapter of J Street U wearing T-Shirts that say “Resistance is Not Terrorism,”  a picture of Leila Khaled, a notorious PFLP terrorist who hijacked airplanes in 1969 and 1970, caressing an AK-47‡.

Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) crosses this red line. If successful it causes financial damage to Jewish-owned businesses – remember around 6,135,000 Jews live in Israel. It can damage the careers of Jewish academics although, at least in theory, also damage the careers of Israeli Arab academics. The same goes for Jewish musicians, artists, etc.

Even if we take the J Street claim that it is actually pro-Israel – or in other words that they know better what is good for Israel than its voters – Tough love has no place for an organisation claiming to represent Jews.

Just out of interest has J Street ever advocated tough love for the Palestinians? I think not.

D10215_1Campaigning for a Palestinian State, over Israel’s objections, crosses these red lines. There may be good arguments that such a state is in Jewish Israel’s best interests, although I haven’t heard any. However, so long as the two strong Palestinian horses, nationalist PLO and Islamic Hamas openly incite for the death of Jews an organisation that actively campaigns for statehood as a goal before the Palestinians renounce the incitement has no place in the umbrella Jewish organisation.

This is not the same as supporting the rapidly failing Two-State Solution. It may be a fine line but it is a clear one. It is not up to any group claiming to be pro Jewish to use their influence to encourage American politicians to undercut the Israeli government doing what they think is necessary to protect Jews.

Similarly, campaigning to cut Israel’s financial aid will cause actual damage to Jews. That could be financial as some major Israeli industries who employ Jews (and Arabs) depend on that influx of capital. More importantly it protects their lives of Jews. That is unless you believe that killing Jews is protected free speech and that stopping rockets falling on Jewish heads by the Iron Dome system is somehow a waste of time.

There is an argument which I have made myself (see Dollars & Sense) that it would be in Israel’s interest to cut these financial ties but that is hardly the argument that the Israel Haters make. To be fair to J Street, their official position is to oppose aid cuts but these are red lines, an organisation doesn’t have to cross all of them.

In short criticism isn’t the issue, actual damage is. It should be clear what side you are on – and frankly the on again – off again J Street Pro Israel labelling clearly doesn’t convince. 

Extra credit


† Morton Klein is the President of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA).  The ZOA is a founding charter member of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
‡ This is apparently a screen grab from Fadi AbuNe’meh’s Facebook page. AbuNe’meh describes himself as born in Abu Dis and living in Ramallah. There is no evidence of any Jewish connection but that doesn’t seem to phase J Street.

About David Guy

B.A./B.C.A. (Communication and Media Arts) University of Wollongong, AUSTRALIA M.A. in Government (Diplomacy and Conflict Studies) Inter Disciplinary Center, Herzliya, ISRAEL Twitter @5MFI
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