Column: Invoking Racism: J Street’s Race To The Bottom

Jeremy Ben-Ami might best be advised to check Principle #4 of J Street’s mission before he opens his big mouth in the future.

Principle #4 of the Israel-centric organization advocates “vibrant but respectful debate about Israel.” Is “respectful” how J Street’s longtime president would characterize his statement in Saturday’s New York Times?

“There seems to be something particularly on the line for some parts of the Jewish community when women of color speak out,” Ben-Ami told a Times reporter in a larger story about the role of Israel as a political issue in a range of Democratic primary elections in recent months.

Mark Mellman, who leads the Democratic Majority for Israel, swiftly retorted, “The reality is the anti-Israel side created this problem. It’s not us who is creating conflict here.”

Mellman is right. Neither Jewish members of Congress nor mainstream Jewish organizations like the Anti-Defamation League challenge “women of color” without a credible reason.

A small number of members of Congress, mostly “women of color,” yes, but also white women and white and black men, have been unfairly critical of Israel during nearly the last four years. Two in particular, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, have lapsed into crude language to bash Israel.

Especially memorable was Omar’s reference to “the evil doings of Israel.” Both Omar and Tlaib are the only two Muslim women in the House of Representatives. Omar, who is Black, is a refugee from Somalia who has represented Minneapolis since January 2019, and Tlaib, whose family emigrated from the West Bank prior to her birth, represents part of Detroit. Tlaib is running for re-election in a neighboring section of Detroit because of redistricting.

Of course, there are Jews who are racists and/or anti-Muslim. I know a fair number of them. However, most Jews I have known never gave me reason to believe that they are against the Black community or hate Muslims.

Some Jews will criticize the Black community specifically for the anti-Semitic sentiments that frequently emerge, not because of their race. Plus, we sometimes feel betrayed considering how American Jews put their lives on the line during the civil rights movement.

Tlaib, Omar and company are attacked because of what they say or do, not because of their race or religion.

Likewise, a few columns ago I criticized Orthodox Jews because some segments will move into a given community – notably Lakewood, N.J., Monsey, N.Y., and Long Island’s Five Towns areas – and dominate those areas once they form the majority.

Orthodox Jews who send their children to private religious schools will get elected to their local school boards and slash programs so that the savings in taxes can be used by Jewish residents to pay tuition to religious schools.

Again, our problem with them is what they do, not who they are.

An organization like J Street would have been useful as an alternative to establishment Jewish organizations more than two decades ago. Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians was confusing then because it was hard to assess what either side was doing.

J Street would have had plenty to criticize of both sides, but such a role became obsolete in the summer of 2000 when then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak proposed a plan for an independent Palestinian state during a summit at Camp David with Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader. Arafat rejected the proposal and followed it up with an uprising that claimed the lives of 1,000 Israelis and 3,000 Palestinians.

With that, Arafat told us where we stood. The Arabs would not settle for what it needed, but what it wanted far more than Israel could afford to give them. Any infractions on Israel’s part subsequently became relatively minor. Arafat had drawn the battle lines.

Whatever J Street has said or done since its inception – in 2007 – has been disingenuous. J Street urges “an end to the ongoing occupation” when the Arabs, through their fraudulent leadership, do not want the “occupation” to end.

Ben-Ami dropped to an all-new low when he portrayed pro-Israel advocates as racists and sexists.

“The divide in the United States is tragically growing deeper,” states First One Through on its website. “We may now also be witnessing the cleft in the Jewish community break open, as J Street slanders Jews to the right of their far-left ideology as irredeemable bigots.”

Ben-Ami’s comment could move us in that direction. However, he does not damage the credibility of those who confront Tlaib and Omar, but rather the credibility of J Street. Perhaps irrevocably.

About Bruce Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker, who writes from Philadelphia, also blogs for The San Diego Jewish World and Smirking Chimp and previously for the suspended Philadelphia Jewish Voice. He was previously a reporter and copy editor for daily newspapers in eastern Pennsylvania.

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