Reader Post: Why I Left J Street


24-year old Ada da Silva was excited and hopeful as she entered the bustling Grand Lobby of the Washington DC Convention Center on March 24th of 2012. Banners emblazoned with J Street’s trademark leaning arrow logo and that year’s convention theme, “Making History”, festooned the huge atrium.   J Street offered itself as a brash young voice; a solutions-based movement, non-dogmatic and open to dialogue. All of these things appealed to Ada as she prepared herself for three days of intellectual engagement and inspiration. Most of all, Ada looked forward to being amongst fellow lovers of Israel, all like her thirsting for a solution, a desperately needed respite from war and conflict. She found something else entirely.

Why I left J Street: By Ada da Silva

I signed up for the J Street conference in the hope of unveiling a genuine and profound dialogue – something akin to the wealth of nuance and complexity that one encounters when discussing the Israel-Palestine conflict with Israelis in Israel. I hoped to find a space where support for Israel was a given, yet dialogue in pursuit of solutions and effective advocacy would abound.

On the very first night of the conference, I made a comment to my table-mate that I thought would be relatively mainstream, given the recent publication of The Crisis of Zionism: “I’m not such a fan of Beinart.” I was immediately reproached, and told that I was too closed-minded for the conference: the very one I had come to in order to be exposed to new ideas. No matter that I have Palestinian contacts with whom I maintain a dialogue on their views and hopes, and no matter that I seek to encounter every viewpoint on the conflict, and expressed willingness to read any new sources that this individual might wish to recommend. I was instantly and immutably classified as right-wing, and as such, no longer worthy of conversation. Through this and other interactions, my hopes of encountering a moderate and welcoming crowd at the conference were quickly dispelled.

Ada (left) with Senator Maria Cantwell and J Street colleagues. “I was told that I was too closed-minded for the conference”.

Ada (left) with Senator Maria Cantwell and J Street colleagues. “I was told that I was too closed-minded for the conference”.

The J Street conference hosted many overtly anti-Israel speakers, both Palestinians and Americans, who were cheered by conference attendees no matter how appalling their statements. Dr. Mustafa Barghouti came to advocate non-violence (a movement that he claims has been current and common in Palestine for the last ten years). When asked by an attendee about the guarantees for the security of Israeli citizens in a potential two-state solution, Dr. Barghouti presented various iterations of the same idea: the Israeli military is the only current obstacle to peace. When the attendee requested that Dr. Barghouti answer the original question, the attendee was shushed by the crowd.

We never did get an answer on Israel’s security, but we were plainly told by Dr. Barghouti that Israel is the sole source of violence in the Israel-Palestine conflict, and that Hamas, and “even [Islamic] Jihad” are committed to non-violence.

Another memorable moment with Dr. Barghouti was this thinly veiled threat, which was met with applause by the crowd: “What you must understand is that we want [a] two-state solution, but if we are told ‘either two states or enslavement and apartheid and segregation forever, no, we will look for another solution, and it will be [the] one-state solution.”

I failed to encounter any expression of concern for the welfare or reputation of Israel that was not booed or shushed

Mohammed Abu-Nimer stated that the real issue at hand is the Jewishness of the state, which “inherently contradicts the democratic nature of the state.” He added that, after all, “we [Palestinians] built the Israeli state.”

I failed to encounter any expression of concern for the welfare or reputation of Israel that was not booed or shushed by attendees. Iain Levine, from Human Rights Watch, stated that his organization’s and the UN’s disproportionate focus on Israel is not moral relativism: “we [at HRW] make it a point not to take the behavior of a country’s neighbors into account.” Alan Elsner (then from The Israel Project), noted in his reply that firing rockets into civilian areas “is against the rules of war,” suggesting that HRW might consider recalculating its coverage of human rights in the West Bank and Gaza. When Elsner commented on the UN’s spending half of its time focused on Israel’s human rights violations: “I refuse to believe that Israel is at fault for half of the world’s human rights violations,” he was heartily booed by the audience.

Concern for Israeli national security and the safety and well-being of the Jewish people seems to have been forgotten

J Street seems to devote more of its time to complaining about the AIPAC “conspiracy” than to outlining why it is pro-Israel, and how it is helpful as an organization to the safety and security of the State of Israel. A frequent talking point among conference attendees was how resolution of the conflict is a key interest for US national security. Concern for Israeli national security and the safety and well-being of the Jewish people seems to have been forgotten, or conveniently omitted. I heard several attendees claim that their only connection to Judaism was through a concern for social justice, as if social justice were exclusive to Judaism, or that a concern for social justice alone qualifies them to speak on behalf of the American Jewish community. The concern that they seem to be missing is for the safety and security of Israel; a concern for not taking Israel’s existence for granted. Strangely, though it is unfashionable for moderate and liberal Jewish Americans to express support for Zionism, many are comfortable unilaterally re-branding Zionism as a venture in which making common cause with anti-Semites is not only condoned, but also seemingly mandated.

Ada with Amos Oz at the J Street Conference.

Ada with Amos Oz at the J Street Conference.

This appeared finally to be too much for even Avishay Braverman, a member of the Knesset for the Labor Party, a particularly restrained and meticulously moderate voice throughout his conference appearances, who, at the conclusion of his last speech, felt compelled to respond to a particularly vehement heckler: “Try to point the finger in the right direction.”

I entered the J Street conference with high hopes. Instead I found a forum in which delegitimization of the State of Israel was brushed off as a trivial concern, and pro-Israel sentiment was scarce. The very people who had been concerned about being lumped into the pot with the so-called “Israel-firsters” had become unquestioning “Palestine-firsters.” Not quite the practice to uphold a slogan of “pro-Israel pro-peace.”

I left the conference wishing the road to peace advocated by these self-proclaimed friends of Israel weren’t paved with finger-pointing and one-sided criticisms of the world’s only Jewish state.

Epilogue: Since attending the J Street conference in 2012, I have started donating both my time and my tzedakah to two organizations I initially thought “too right-wing”: StandWithUs and AIPAC. Despite the posturing of the opposition, I have found in them a home that is truly both pro-Israel and pro-peace. In different arenas, they are both simply doing the work necessary in order to ensure the continued existence of the State of Israel. To advocate for anything less than a safe and secure Israel is to renounce your own right to live freely as a Jew anywhere in the world.

Happier times: Ada with Irwin Cotler (and SWU staffer Jonathan Arkin) at StandWithUs Northwest Community Event.

Happier times: Ada with Irwin Cotler (and SWU staffer Jonathan Arkin) at StandWithUs Northwest Community Event.


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  • steven

    I’m happy Ada saw how anti Israel Jstreet really is.

  • mzk1_1

    The irony is that AIPAC only became a big organization as a result of the conspiracy theory, way back in my youth. I still remember the cartoon in the NYT Book Review (*). Once people heard about the Israel lobby, they naturally wanted to give it support, and thus it grew. It would be as if an organization were attacked as “a small, pernicious conspiracy to spread peace and justice throughout the world”.

    Of course, there are other pro-Israel organizations who think AIPAC is a bit too milquetoast. AFSI has long been one; the ZOA has become another.

    (*) Or the New York Review of Books. Hey, I was a kid.

  • mzk1_1

    Let’s not forget that the White House visitor logs show that J Street was basically orchestrating the Obama Israel policy in the early days of the administration.

  • Merkaz

    J-Street also was opposed to Iran sanctions.

  • Norman_In_New_York

    So Ada discovered that the J in J Street stands for JINO. The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations did the right thing in keeping them out despite whining from the political left.

    • Jim from Iowa

      JINO…RINO…SINO (Sane In Name Only). Tell me who the “real” Jews are, then. Pamela Geller? I thought Jews encouraged open and honest debate on such important issues. Where are all the pro-Israel Republican Jews in Congress?

      • Norman_In_New_York

        The debate described by Ada was neither open nor honest. As for Pamela Geller, she is the real deal. I don’t know of any falsehood she has uttered.

      • Art Deco

        When you shove the median of the normal distribution in one direction, the change in the populations in each tail can be immense. American Jews have a propensity to vote Democratic in federal elections which exceeds that of the gentile population by a factor of 2.3 to 4.0. Consequently, the share of those in the tails (working politicians, petition carriers, and contributors) will be severely skewed. N.B. Republican members of Congress are drawn heavily from rural and small-town constituencies which have within them almost no Jews.

        The Podhoretz / Decter clan are Jewish with scant qualification (which was bog standard in this country fifty years ago but now is not). Only one of their four children inter-married (not their son), their younger daughter moved to Israel at age 19, their distribution of religious affiliations puts them at about the mean of the Jewish population as a whole, and they are mildly philoprogenitive (unremarkable in the 1950s, but not now among our residual Jewish populations). Midge Decter has 11 grand-children, all raised as Jews. Most of her contemporaries were blessed with about 3 grand-children and many got stuck with an annoying shiksa daughter-in-law.

        Here’s the things (and a free piece of unsolicited advice from the goy peanut gallery): every debate has boundary conditions and questions for which the answer is taken as a given. Acting as partisans for hostile foreign powers should be ruled out of bounds at the start of the discussion. An indispensable aspect of debating as Jews is that the Jewish people are collectively something of value and should survive and prosper. This is most particularly so as the dispute between Israel and a selection of her neighbors incorporates existential questions which have not been raised in any other circumstance in the post-war period (bar perhaps the Korean and VietNam war re the civil society of those two countries).

        It’s also not an optimal use of anyone’s time to unmoor debates from reality. Any durable agreement between Jews and Arabs is going to have to respect the core values of each. You cannot get much more to the ‘core’ than survival as a political entity, something neither Al Fatah nor Hamas are willing to concede at the beginning, middle, or conclusion of any discussions. There is no Crisis of Zionism. There are abiding conditions to which the Zionist enterprise has to adjust and against which it has to protect itself.

    • A F

      According to Wikipedia: “[J Street] derived its name from the alphabetically named street plan of Washington, D.C.: J Street is missing from the grid (the street naming jumps from I Street to K Street for historical/orthographic reasons).”

      So, in other words, they are named after something that doesn’t exist.
      Perhaps it is a metaphor for their claimed “pro Israel” stance, i.e. it doesn’t actually exist?

  • Art Deco

    The observable behavior of the Arab political class on the West Bank and Gaza and public opinion surveys on the West Bank and Gaza are not esoteric information. Creatures like the Secretary of State or Peter Beinart are knocking about advocating the equivalent of cheap-air-fares-achieved-by-the-suspension-of-gravity. Is it all a con, or do they fritter away their research time looking at ephemera?

    There are people in this world – largely bourgeois – who have an aversion to police officers, soldiers, and domestic patriarch and gag on the idea that they are dependent on them. There are people in this world who are deeply invested in the idea of the talking cure. There are people in this world who act reflexively to manufacture patron-client relationships. There are people whose self-concept is driven by self-congratulation for being ‘special’. A corporate body which sticks up for itself and is rough and coercive with the enemies of mankind is anathema to such people. Many such people have Jewish names (even if their actual Jewish affiliations are fictional). Former kapo George Soros has put some of them on salary.

  • Nina

    nothing worse than a jew whose only connection to being jewish is slamming israel every chance they get. welcome to jstreet.

  • fizziks

    I remember an e-mail I got from J Street a while back – I used to be on their list. The e-mail was denouncing some plan to annex a settlement or extend the security fence or something, It specifically bemoaned the fact that if this happened a future Palestinian state in the West Bank would be untenable and unsustainable because it would “only be 15 miles wide”.

    I couldn’t believe it. That is still 4 miles wider than these people think Israel should be! If 15 miles is unsustainable for “Palestinians” why is 9 miles just fine for Israel?

    That is when I decided that the J-street “pro-Israel” self-characterization was, at best, a delusion. This was later confirmed when they sponsored an event with anti-Zionist David Harris Gershon. J Street is a rat.

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