Philadelphia Feud Erupts Over Federation Embrace of Anti-J Street Film

Troubles Just as Group Makes Bid for Mainstream Acceptance

Fairly Balanced? J Street leader Jeremy Ben-Ami is portrayed as an incoherent voice for appeasement in a controversial video embraced by the Philadelphia Jewish federation.
youtube
Fairly Balanced? J Street leader Jeremy Ben-Ami is portrayed as an incoherent voice for appeasement in a controversial video embraced by the Philadelphia Jewish federation.

By Nathan Guttman

Published March 26, 2014, issue of March 28, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

J Street, the dovish Israel lobby that has struggled for acceptance in the wider Jewish community, is facing its greatest challenge yet. In the coming weeks, the Jewish establishment’s most prominent gatekeepers will vote on whether J Street can come under the proverbial communal tent.

The odds of success for J Street’s bid to join the Conference of President of Major American Jewish Organizations are not clear. But acceptance in organized Jewry’s primary umbrella group for Israel-related issues would constitute an official mainstream stamp of approval for J Street six years after its founding.

Now, a controversy has erupted in one of the nation’s largest Jewish communities that highlights the bumpy road the group still faces.

At issue is a March 27 event sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and by the local Hillel, titled “What It Means To Be Pro-Israel.” The answer to the question, at least in the eyes of the organizers, is revealed in the event’s content: It will feature a screening of a full-length anti-J-Street documentary and a panel made up mainly of critics of the organization.

The upcoming event has sparked an angry debate within the Philadelphia community, the nation’s fourth largest, and has brought to the surface accusations against the Jewish federation’s leadership and its decision-making process. “Political views on the right are listened to more, because the few people donating large amounts of dollars are on that political side,” said Jill Zipin, a community activist who has protested the decision to sponsor the event. “The Jewish federation shouldn’t be a tent of one Jewish donor.”

Panelists at the event, which will take place on the University of Pennsylvania campus, include Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, a staunch defender of Israel and just as staunch a critic of J Street; Charles Jacobs, who heads the group that produced the anti-J-Street film, and Sara Greenberg, a Harvard University graduate student who has been active in fighting attempts to boycott Israel.

Supporters of J Street have taken issue with the makeup of the panel and, more importantly, with the movie that will be the evening’s centerpiece. The J Street Challenge, released earlier this year, is a documentary aimed, according to the film’s official synopsis, at “examining and debating J Street’s message and its leaders.” It does so through clips from speeches of the lobby’s leaders and a series of interviews with experts, almost all of them known as leading critics of the group. Speakers in the movie accuse J Street of “dividing the Jewish community,” of being “imperialistic” and of manifesting “arrogance” in their views on Middle East peace. The J Street Challenge was produced by Americans for Peace and Tolerance, a not-for-profit organization devoted to fighting Islamic extremism.


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!
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah: http://jd.fo/g4SIa
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • 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.