J Street Los Angeles!

Because I am a glutton for punishment with no sense of restraint, when the email came in saying that J Street was opening up local chapters, not only did I immediately sign up, but I checked off every single skills/interests box. (Can I help it that I’m so well-rounded?)

Sooo, I’m going to need some help, people! Sign up, please! And maybe we can even get a Long Beach branch going? (I have no idea what these local chapters entail, by the way, but I’m pumped.)

(Cross-posted at Modern Mitzvot.)

This entry posted in Jews and Judaism, Palestine & Israel. Bookmark the permalink. 

37 Responses to J Street Los Angeles!

  1. 1
    Sebastian says:

    Hmm… This is a rather controversial organization. My significant other, who is or Jewish origin and I had a pretty long discussion, and she brought arguments that made me a lot less sympathetic towards J Street.

    I do not remember seeing any discussion of J Street here. Before you rush and support them, check at least the Wiki entry… and maybe look into how mainstream Israel supporters feel about them. Maybe also read Seven Jewish Children and remember that J Street endorses the play.

    In case anyone cares, I personally:
    1. think that the approach they advocate is the only logical one
    2. am put off by the way they claim that they are the first to suggest so
    3. have been uncomfortable with some of what Jeremy Ben-Ami say, without being about to find anything I can reasonably oppose

  2. 2
    Ampersand says:

    I like J Street, although they’re not perfect.

    That said, I don’t have any problem with “Seven Jewish Children.” And I’m not aware that J Street seriously claims to be the first organization ever to share their ideas for peace.

  3. 3
    chingona says:

    I do have a problem with Seven Jewish Children, but J Street didn’t “endorse” it. They said it wasn’t necessarily antisemitic, and they defended a theater company’s decision to put it on, basically using the “let people decide for themselves” defense.

  4. 4
    Sebastian says:

    I was indeed mistaken about J Street stance on Seven Jewish Children. This is the first time I bothered reading the original statement, and researching the origin of the ‘endorses’ and ‘stages’ assertions. I wish I knew why I agree with the letter of anything these guys say, and still feel that I should dislike them. My problem.

    As for Seven Jewish Children, I think that it’s worth reading and discussing, but staging it according to the terms of the author is taking a stance with which I most certainly do not agree.

  5. 5
    Ampersand says:

    Sebastian, these are the terms of the author, which you can read with the script for the play (reproduced here and many other places):

    This play can be read or performed anywhere by any number of people. Should you wish to apply for rights, please contact ruth@casarotto.co.uk, who will license the performances free of charge provided that no admission fee is charged and that a collection is taken at each performance for Medical Aid for Palestinians.

    Since I can’t imagine you find that objectionable, what terms are you referring to, and where did you read about them, please?

    (By the way, that link also contains videos of a few different productions of the play, which is only about 10 minutes long.)

  6. 6
    Sebastian says:

    Actually yes, I do find that objectionable. Remember how the play ends? The tone of the last parent? The racist, power drunk, fanatic comments interspersed among arguably true phrases often heard in defense of Israel’s actions? And right after that, the spectator is asked to help the suffering little children in Gaza. Not for example the ONE Family Fund (which would be just as wrong) That’s taking sides – and it is a side that I do not agree with.

    The play is a very coherent narrative which I feel says ‘from victims of horrible violence, the Israeli have turned into its willing perpetrators’. Sure the author does have the right to say that, but I do not have to like it.

  7. 7
    Ampersand says:

    First: Although like you I blame both sides in the conflict, that doesn’t mean the two sides are identical. One major difference is that the physical needs, including medical care, of the Palestinians are unmet far more frequently and far more severely. I don’t think it’s reasonable to say that charitable aid towards Palestinians is only acceptable if it’s matched with equal aid for Israilis, when the needs are so unequal.

    Second: Yes, I do remember how the play ends, but apparently you don’t.

    This is how the play ends: The racist diatribe you mention (which is harrowing, and hard to hear) occurs. After which someone responds:

    Don’t tell her that.

    Tell her we love her.

    Don’t frighten her.

    That’s the end of the play. And given how incredibly short the play is, every line counts; it’s unfair to say the play ends on the racist diatribe, when it actually ends on with disagreement with the diatribe.

    Tony Kushner and Alisa Soloman wrote:

    There’s a vast difference between making your audience uncomfortable and being anti-Semitic. To see anti-Semitism here is to construe erroneously the words spoken by the worst of Churchill’s characters as a statement from the playwright about all Jews as preternaturally filled with a viciousness unique among humankind. But to do this is, again, to distort what Churchill wrote. The monologue belongs to and emerges from a particular dramatic action that makes the eruption inevitable and horrifying.

    The play traces the processes of repressed speech. The violence forcing that repression comes initially from without; the monologue gives voice to a violence that’s moved inside. The play stages the return of the repressed, an explosion of threatened defensiveness that, unexpressed and unowned, has turned into rage. Encountering it is terrifying; we don’t want to own it. But that doesn’t mean we don’t recognize it.

  8. 8
    Jenny says:

    Er, J Street seems apathetic towards the big problem of settlements: http://www.maxajl.com/?p=2428

    And they banned two poets who were outspoken for comparing auschwitz and gitmo: http://www.muzzlewatch.com/2009/10/20/more-on-poet-josh-healey-getting-the-boot-from-j-street/

  9. 9
    David Schraub says:

    @Jenny: Yeah, I hate it when organizations don’t openly engage with performers of Holocaust trivialization.

    No, wait, you hate that. I call that “being a human rights organization.” My bad.

    Meanwhile, here is J Street’s position on the settlement freeze. They’ve been quite clear that they support a total freeze, including East Jerusalem. That they don’t feel like making the perfect the enemy of the good and still support talks even if construction continues in east Jerusalem doesn’t mean they are pro-settlement — anymore than you believing Israel should give Palestinians benefits before Hamas amends its anti-Semitic charter means you believe Jews are pigs deserving of death.

  10. 10
    Mandolin says:

    Did you read the poems, David?

  11. 11
    Ampersand says:

    There were two poems in question. For one of them, “Queer Intifada,” some of the right-wing criticisms strikes me not only as unfair but also rather homophobic.

    For the other poem, “Chosen,” the criticism is fair (imo). Hyperbole like this does trivialize the Holocaust:

    we call ourselves the chosen people
    but I’m asking chosen for what?
    chosen to recreate our own history
    merely reversing the roles
    with the script now reading that
    we’re the ones writing numbers
    on the wrists of babies born in
    the ghetto called Gaza?

    In fact, not only does it trivialize the holocaust, it’s also a very unoriginal sentiment expressed in an unoriginal way, which is a problem in a work of art.

    Nonetheless, that’s just a small portion of one poem, and that one poem is itself a small part of a larger body of work.

    I oppose a policy which amounts to “if a Jewish poet makes a hyperbolic holocaust comparison in one verse of one poem, then he cannot be part of an event intended to include a range of Jewish views.”

    That’s dogmatic, and unhelpful, in my view.

  12. 12
    Mandolin says:

    The poem itself also meanders to a different place, and is very much about his trying to find a place within his Jewish identity to reconcile his love of Judaism with his hatred of violence. It’s not a very well-written poem, but it seems to emerge from a genuine and recognizable pain. It’s not an anti-semitic poem.

    The other poem… well, read it. Anyone who calls a poem anti-semitic because it draws parallels between gay rights and Jewish history… well, that person can go fuck themselves, and I certainly hope that J-street’s decision to ban this poet had nothing to do with the other poem.

  13. 13
    Emily says:

    J Street walks a fine line. They are trying to NOT be the “whatever Israel wants to do is fine” crowd, while still advocating for Israel as a Jewish state. They are trying to represent a constituency that supports a two state solution but is wary of the way the world community treats,or may in the future treat, Jews. And they are staking out a claim as a mainstream organization with a mission and viewpoint that is counter to what pretty much all mainstream Jewish American organizations (organizations, not individual Jews) have espoused in the past.

    I don’t agree with every single position J Street takes. I have personally at times found them too conciliatory toward the old guard organizations. But I appreciate having an organization stand up and say – the opinions of most American Jews are not represented by AIPAC. J Street is politically saavy, and really has a chance to change the terms of debate on Israel. That is why I share Julie’s excitement at their activities and growth.

  14. 14
    chingona says:

    The purpose of J Street is not to be an organization that embraces every Jew who has been made to feel bad or excluded from the mainstream Jewish community because of their views on Israel. The purpose of the J Street is to lobby the US government to adopt policies toward Israel that its members think are more likely to move us toward a two-state solution and, hopefully, eventually, peace. They took a lot of flak for the number of openly anti-Zionist and non-Zionist folks who attended the conference and sat on panels. There were a lot of accusations that for all they claim to be Zionist, they’re actually a stealth anti-Israel organization. Now, most of the anti/non-Zionist people at the conference are two-staters for practical reasons, even if ideologically they might find a one-state solution preferable, so they’re throwing their support behind J Street. But J Street is a Zionist organization. It believes in the idea of a Jewish state for the Jewish people. It also NEEDS mainstream legitimacy if it’s going to be effective in changing US policy, and the mainstream Jewish position in this country is that regardless of Israel’s many flaws and faults and even misdeeds, it ultimately is a good thing for the Jewish people to have a state. It seems to miss the point to criticize them for not making room for every view and perspective on Israel that’s out there. As it stands, they’re the biggest tent out there right now, a far bigger tent than the anti-Zionist radical left, which, if you haven’t noticed, hasn’t gotten anywhere in changing US policy.

  15. 15
    Ampersand says:

    Chingona, I agree that kicking out the poets — who, for all I know, are “zionist” as I think you’re defining the term — may have been the politically wise thing for J Street to do. And (as I’ve already said upthread), I like J Street, and I hope they’re successful for exactly the reasons you say.

    It still reflects a de facto standard for who is part of “acceptable” Jewish discourse that I think is dogmatic and close-minded. I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with pointing that out and criticizing it.

    And I’m not convinced this sort of dogmatic censorship will actually do a thing to buy J Street “mainstream legitimacy.” The people who went ballistic because Josh Healey was speaking at the J Street conference are,90% of the time, far-right-wingers who will never find J Street acceptable. And I think the more reasonable critics of Healey — such as David, for instance, and yourself — would be likely to judge J Street as a whole, rather than assuming the entire organization has no legitimacy just because they disagree with a line in a poem by a single invited speaker.

    We’ve seen to much of this in the Obama administration too; a strong faith that if we on the left only compromise enough, only give in enough, only fail to fight enough, then Republicans will suddenly become reasonable and open to compromise. I see little evidence this is true.

  16. 16
    chingona says:

    I wouldn’t call myself a critic of Josh Healy (though if I were one, I would certainly be a reasonable critic). I hadn’t read any of his work until you linked it here. Having read both the poems now, I think they both contain lines that trivialize the Holocaust, and neither poem is remotely anti-Semitic when read as a whole. And I think neither poem is particularly well written, and he needs to keep working on his craft. In general, but especially if he feels it’s important or necessary to use Holocaust imagery.

    I still disagree that deciding not to include him represents some sort of dogmatic position on what is and isn’t acceptable discourse. I don’t consider “It’s not worth the political energy to defend this, when some of us perhaps agree that the language trivializes the Holocaust and we’re not comfortable appearing to endorse that” to be a dogmatic position, particularly when plenty of other people who are significantly to the left of J Street proper did participate in the conference.

    I also find the criticism particularly disingenuous coming from Jenny, who opposes just about everything J Street supports.

    Edited to add: And I’m not in lockstep with everything J Street does. They aren’t perfect, and they aren’t above criticism. I just think that criticism should keep in mind that the organization does not exist to provide a forum for expressing our feelings about Israel and Judaism and Jewishness.

  17. 17
    Mandolin says:

    Chingona — what lines did you find objectionable in the one comparing jewish history and gay rights? i’d be interested to see if they were the same ones that were publicly objected to.

  18. 18
    Jenny says:

    Uh, I just disagree with J street’s position that there should be a two state solution I’m for the one state solution, actually. And they’re pretty lax about people expressing anti palestinian views:g
    http://mondoweiss.net/2009/11/liberals-and-racism.html

  19. 19
    Jenny says:

    P.S. And yes, I’m sorry,but they are rather close minded about anything other than a two state solution and denouncation of Hamas(you may not like em but they should be an important part of negociations): http://www.huffingtonpost.com/antony-loewenstein/dispatch-from-j-street_b_339853.html

  20. 20
    chingona says:

    I object to comparing Guantanamo to Auschwitz. In the context, with the other parallels he’s drawing, I think it’s clear he’s not saying they’re exactly the same, that he’s talking about solidarity, etc., but I think it’s clumsy and I think it’s wrong. If this makes sense, I think I understand what he was trying to do, and I don’t find what I think he was trying to do particularly objectionable, but I still find the result objectionable.

    And I’m aware only from the Muzzlewatch piece that that line was objected to publicly, but I really wasn’t up on this before the thread. I didn’t go into the poem assuming it did or didn’t trivialize the Holocaust.

  21. 21
    Jenny says:

    Fair enough, but they didn’t have to ban both poets for it.

    David: You’re right about the statement, my apologies.

  22. 22
    Mandolin says:

    “I think I understand what he was trying to do, and I don’t find what I think he was trying to do particularly objectionable, but I still find the result objectionable.’

    Absolutely. And I think the fact that he’s an inept poet creates two results makes it harder to draw conclusions about the poem because it doesn’t really say what it wants to say. it’s an unfortunate wrinkle.

    “And I’m aware only from the Muzzlewatch piece that that line was objected to publicly, but I really wasn’t up on this before the thread. I didn’t go into the poem assuming it did or didn’t trivialize the Holocaust.”

    They also complained about the line about Matt Shepherd though. I find that really rather upsetting.

  23. 23
    chingona says:

    Exactly, Jenny. You would disagree with J Street even if they said no negotiations until there is a complete settlement freeze and held a parade for Healy. That’s why I find it disingenuous that in your first comment you bring up those issues as if that were the only thing holding you back.

  24. 24
    Jenny says:

    Did you read Lowenstein’s huffington post article? I applaud their speaking against settlements, but I wish they weren’t so dedicated to the belief that “Two state is the only solution’”. How about actually reading it along with the mondoweiss entry I posted?

    And your fixation on Healy is damn bizzare.

  25. 25
    chingona says:

    Jenny, I am not remotely obsessed with Healy. I didn’t even know about it until you brought it up. In my comment @ 23, I was responding to your comment @ 18, at which point there wasn’t the other link. Again, I don’t think they’re perfect. They could be more aggressive and more outspoken on any number of fronts. But at the end of the day, your problem with them is that they aren’t pushing for a one-state solution. So say that, instead of nitpicking this and that and the other thing.

    And for the love of God, please stop beginning every comment with “er” and “uh.” It’s incredibly condescending.

    (And yes, I read your other links, and I don’t think they say what you think they say.)

  26. 26
    Jenny says:

    No, my problem is they won’t allow anyone who supports the one state solution into their convention.

  27. 27
    chingona says:

    What do you mean by “allow into the convention”? There certainly were bloggers there who favor one-state.

    If you’re talking about allowing people who want a one-state solution to play a formal role in the organization, I’m not sure why an organization whose platform is explicitly two-state would do that. Again, their goal is not to be a forum for any and all opinions. Their goal is to get the U.S. government to change its policies to the ones favored by J Street.

  28. 28
    chingona says:

    They also complained about the line about Matt Shepherd though. I find that really rather upsetting.

    I’m assuming the objection is based on the difference between state-sponsored violence and individual violence. Obviously, the United States doesn’t have camps in which gay people are gassed or worked to death, and the current situation here is a far cry from that. But there’s also a pretty strong tendency to over-atomize hate-based assaults and murders as the work of a few pathological individuals and ignore the social and cultural cues, rhetoric, etc. that give implicit sanction to those acts. Not to mention people getting acquitted using the gay panic defense.

    I took the common theme to be the dehumanization that’s necessary for those acts to occur, and indeed the Matthew Shephard line reinforced my guess about the Gitmo line that he wasn’t trying to say “these things are THE SAME,” but rather that “these things all have their origins in the dehumanization of others and that’s what we have to fight.”

    That said, I think he leaves himself open to the misinterpretation. I think you have to be already sympathetic to his point and charitable in your reading to get that, and that’s a problem.

  29. 29
    David Schraub says:

    I think a lot of this has to do with J Street being a relatively young organization that in some ways is still establishing its identity. There is a pretty broad swath of views on Israel to the left of AIPAC that until now was pretty disorganized, and it seems like the entirety of that sector has been converging on the organization as the most promising avenue for establishing a countermovement — including folks whose basic premises aren’t in really compatible with each other. Precisely because it is looking to generate excitement, gain members, and solidify its foundations, it is really hard for the group to turn away potential support. At the same time, a free for all threatens to undermine both its credibility and coherency. The sooner it can solidify what it is and what it’s not, the sooner we can all get a bead on whether it is an organization that it makes sense for us to support (or not).

    That being said, J Street has been reasonably clear that at the end of the day, it doesn’t see itself as a clearing house for every leftwing view on Israel. It has a pretty clear identity in terms of its vision for the region, one that is Zionist, pro-two states, pro-negotiated settlement, anti-extremist. Jeremy Ben-Ami has openly triangulated against the far-left, which is consistent with his group not being created as a happy fun camp everyone who identifies as part of the Jewish left, and makes sense given J Street’s overall political orientation, as the perspective of folks opposed to the existence of a Jewish state — regardless of whether they come to that position from putatively left or right-wing orientations — is as equivalently opposed to J Street’s agenda as folks implacably opposed to a Palestinian state.

    Point being: if J Street remains what it started as, then folks like Weiss and Jenny aren’t supposed to like it, and it’s not supposed to like them — anymore than it’s likely to get buddy-buddy with Mort Klein or Marty Peretz. From the political space J Street maps onto (and I agree with them), both sets are aligned with relatively thuggish, anti-egalitarian, anti-humane, and anti-peace camps — they are part and parcel of the destructive elements that continue to pour gasoline on an already raging inferno. Why would we expect them to be particularly open to them? From my perspective, this isn’t a bug but a feature.

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