No, I haven’t yet read “A New Voice for Israel: Fighting for the Survival of the Jewish Nation” (Palgrave MacMillan), but I did attend the New York book launch last week, in the form of a discussion between J Street founder and president Jeremy Ben-Ami and the New York Times writer James Traub. A substantial number of people braved the ungodly heat to be there.
What I want to address here is the review by Ami Eden, the editor in chief of the JTA news service. Eden is critical but not truly hostile in his view of J Street. The problem is that he’s not always accurate.
His most problematic point is on the contentious matter of George Soros.
Eden writes: “J Street had spent years essentially denying Soros was a donor when in fact he was one of the organization’s biggest funders.”
Soros withdrew from the group that was planning J Street’s creation. As I wrote in a news article in In These Times magazine, May 2008:
On April 12, 2007, Soros indicated in an article in the New York Review of Books that attacks on his character prompted him to withdraw his involvement from the group so as not to damage its efforts. As a result, Soros is not among the 100 people named on J Street’s advisory council.
What became a public relations nightmare for J Street was the revelation that Soros has contributed several hundred thousand dollars (significant for J Street but chump change for Soros) leaving the unfortunate but false impression that J Street had lied about Soros. The real problem is that Soros is unjustly demonized in much of the Jewish community as anti-Israel.
But Eden goes on to write that J Street’s positions are not extreme and not hostile to Israel. He concludes:
You don’t like J Street’s policies? Jewish Voice for Peace supports some boycotts and divestment measures targeting Israel and takes no position on whether it backs a two-state solution.
You don’t like J Street’s tactics? JVP activists heckled Israel’s prime minister at another Jewish organization’s conference.
By comparison, Ben-Ami’s talk about Zionism, support for U.S. aid to Israel and opposition to the BDS movement sound downright establishment. And if JVP’s influence and popularity grow, it might not be long before establishment folks start telling themselves that maybe J Street wasn’t so bad after all.