J Street Swims Upstream in Election Year

Group Targets Dovish Message at Obama Democrats

Not Easy for J Street: J Street’s pro-peace message may be a tough sell during an election year in which even liberals are moving to the right on Israel.
liz malby
Not Easy for J Street: J Street’s pro-peace message may be a tough sell during an election year in which even liberals are moving to the right on Israel.

By Nathan Guttman

Published March 28, 2012, issue of April 06, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

“These are two different things,” he said, “how people vote and how they think about issues.” He argued that based on current and historic survey data, Jewish voters still do not see Israel as a deciding factor when they go to the polls. He also argued that there is no significant shift away from Democratic candidates.

Despite J Street’s willingness to go to bat for Obama and to make the case for a pro-Israel view that echoes that of the president, relations between the dovish lobby and the White House are less than rosy. J Street has made clear it is not pleased with Obama moving the Israeli-Palestinian issue to the back burner.

The White House, on the other hand, has been giving J Street a dose of tough love, perhaps with one eye on November. The lobby had asked the White House to send Jack Lew, the newly appointed chief of staff, to represent the Obama administration at its conference. Lew could be a big catch for J Street, since it would be his first address at a major Jewish event. The administration, however, offered to dispatch Jarrett, a frequent speaker at Jewish gatherings.

J Street initially balked at the offer and instead agreed to host Tony Blinken, vice president Joe Biden’s national security adviser. Later the lobby asked to add Jarrett as an additional speaker.

Blinken, in his March 26 address, repeated the exact talking points made by Obama in his speech to the AIPAC conference three weeks earlier, an effort, according to administration sources, to make clear that Obama carries the same message to hawkish and dovish groups alike.

Though not asked directly about it, Blinken tried to address the lobby’s sense of disappointment with Obama’s lack of activity on the peace process front.

“Just because we don’t say something, or you don’t see something, doesn’t mean we’re not doing it,” Blinken told the crowd in a comment that did not appear in his prepared remarks.

While struggling to remain close to the Obama administration, which has focused its appeal on the hawkish end of the American Jewish political spectrum, J Street is making strides toward forging a more positive working relationship with the Israeli government and public. The group has been shifting gradually toward the mainstream, a move demonstrated by its clear rejection of author Peter Beinart’s call for a boycott of Israeli settlements. There was also no sign of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel on the conference’s agenda.

This move did not go unnoticed by the Israeli government, which in the past distanced itself from any formal ties with the pro-peace lobby. This year, the Israeli Embassy in Washington sent Deputy Chief of Mission Baruch Binah to deliver the first-ever address of an Israeli official to the J Street conference. It was not an easy speech for J Street’s ears, as Binah listed Israeli grievances with the organization, stressing that “pressures on the elected government of Israel can present [Israel] with a problem.”

Still, Binah’s appearance, complimented by a warm public embrace by former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert and a schedule packed with Israeli politicians and social activists, helps J Street bolster its acceptance into the circle of pro-Israel groups.

Contact Nathan Guttman at guttman@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Sigal Samuel's family amulet isn't just rumored to have magical powers. It's also a symbol of how Jewish and Indian rituals became intertwined over the centuries. http://jd.fo/a3BvD Only three days left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • British Jews are having their 'Open Hillel' moment. Do you think Israel advocacy on campus runs the risk of excluding some Jewish students?
  • "What I didn’t realize before my trip was that I would leave Uganda with a powerful mandate on my shoulders — almost as if I had personally left Egypt."
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.