While J Street’s decision to feature Mahmoud Abbas at its virtual national conference this week rightfully generated much criticism from Israel supporters, a different decision even more seriously demonstrates just how far J Street is from the pro-Israel group it wants American Jews to believe it is: At the conference, J Street honored Jimmy Carter with its Tzedek v’Shalom “peacemaker” award.
More than almost any of its other recent moves, this decision reveals that the group will partner with anyone who will help it grow stronger – no matter how much that person lies about Israel and strives to defame Zionism.
Carter has been Hamas’s most significant ally and booster within the Democratic Party’s power structure for nearly 15 years. In 2014 Carter said, “Hamas cannot be wished away, nor will it cooperate in its own demise. Only by recognizing its legitimacy as a political actor…”
There can be little doubt that without Carter’s anti-Israel diatribe – Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, published in 2006 – the BDS movement would have struggled much harder to find fertile ground in the U.S.
In other words, Carter did much to pioneer the path that the Squad and others in the Democratic Party have followed in bashing Israel and taking center stage in liberal politics at the same time.
It must be stressed, though, that J Street’s deplorable decision to bestow a prize on Carter can hardly be considered an isolated mistake. J Street has frequently featured the harshest critics of Israel at its annual meetings. One can go back as far as 10 years and find the same behavior from J Street.
On February 28, 2011, for example, Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), was invited to speak about BDS at a J Street event. On the Zionism page of its website, the organization states, “Jewish Voice for Peace is guided by a vision of justice, equality and freedom for all people. We unequivocally oppose Zionism because it is counter to those ideals.”
How can J Street claim to be “pro-Israel” and connect itself to an anti-Zionist group that the ADL named in its “Ranking the Top 10 Anti-Israel Groups”?
Among the charming statements that Vilkomerson made at the J Street conference was, “BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. It’s a Palestinian led, globally active, nonviolent movement in support of equality and freedom for the Palestinian people.”
J Street never disavowed Vilkomerson’s extremism or condemned her words. In fact, quite the opposite. In 2019, J Street praised Vilkomerson stating, “A group of activists led by Women’s March co-chair Linda Sarsour and Jewish Voice for Peace Executive Director Rebecca Vilkomerson demonstrated Thursday in front of the New York offices of CNN, demanding they hold anchorman Jake Tapper accountable.”
In 2011, Vilkomerson also told the J Streeters that one “of the strengths of BDS is that it actually requires conversation and coordination.” Also: “BDS is an opportunity for each of us, personally, to act on our values.”
Recently, J Street has tried to take advantage of the Jewish community’s desire to have a big tent and gain power and legitimacy through participation in various so-called umbrella organizations – that is, the associations made up of independent organizations that govern much of organized Jewish establishment life in America.
If the American Jewish community thinks boycotting Israel is a Jewish value, then, by all means, it should welcome J Street and JVP into leadership roles in the Jewish establishment.
But J Street, in truth, has no place in such federations. No one is demanding that other far-left groups like Americans For Peace Now – a member of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations for decades – should be expelled from the tent. J Street, however, through its deeds and words has placed itself much closer to extremists like JVP, Neturei Karta, and IfNotNow than to Peace Now.
Ninety-nine percent of American synagogues would never welcome speakers from Neturei Karta or IfNotNow, and they should similarly bar J Street presentations.
I hope that the Jews of sanity and rationality will soon find their voice and speak out against J Street so that they remain beyond the tent and on the street where they belong: on the outside looking in.