November 18, 2011

What J Street has over the Emergency Committee

Once again, the Washington Jewish Week's Adam Kredo has conveniently informed one of the questions immediately facing American Jews. This time, it's the comparison between J Street and the Emergency Committee for Israel.

When it was launched a few years ago, J Street -- a left-wing political organization -- was ridiculed by right-wingers for not representing a significant constituency among American Jews or the pro-Israel community. But today, J Street has 177,000 online "supporters" and drew 2,000 participants to its latest policy conference, including 500 students.

The Emergency Committee is a right-wing political organization that appears to claim no membership beyond a three-person board and a small staff. Behind the scenes, some Bush administration veterans are helping out, too. It was founded back in 2010, just in time to help win Republicans the House of Representatives and a cloture-proof Senate. 

Of course, J Street also has a national political agenda, focused on helping Democrats, and plenty of its own limitations. But there were already many influential right-wing voices in the pro-Israel community before the Emergency Committee came along, while J Street is the first full-scale, pro-peace, Israel-focused group in a long time, if ever.

Both organizations do represent significant segments of American Jewish opinion, but -- ironically -- J Street has more grassroots representation than the Emergency Committee. It's ironic because many right-wing advocates complain that the peace advocates are out of touch with the vast majority of Israelis. That may be true, but at least the peace advocates at this end are in touch with a couple million American Jews who have their own expectations for Israelis. And let's be honest, most American Jews have expectations of Israelis, whether from the left or the right.

Not content with bashing the peaceniks on the left, now the Emergency Committee team has attacked the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee. What was the crime of these bastions of mainstream American Jewish establishment? They called on all American Jewish groups to join a "National Pledge for Unity on Israel," including the offensive suggestion that "U.S.-Israel friendship should never be used as a political wedge issue." How dare they...

So now, it's the Emergency Committee for Israel that is bucking the American Jewish consensus, and it's the Emergency Committee that has no grassroots. There may be good reasons for that, but it's worth noting, all the same.

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