J Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami says that some of the recent publicity challenges his group has faced are merely a matter of “finding the right tonality” (“J Street Vows To Calibrate Tone Amid Criticism,” Feb. 18).
Most notably, J Street was stung by the recent departure of Rep. Gary Ackerman after it supported the United Nations resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity. But, in framing the issue this way, Mr. Ben-Ami fails to own-up to the central value position of his own organization. J Street is not simply a left-of-center alternative in the world of Israel advocacy, that now requires smoothing over its edginess or striking the right balance for its audience. J Street is a fundamentally different way of viewing Israel advocacy.
The central question here is what is the best activist role for a U.S. citizen concerned with the State of Israel? Is it, as the more established model would hold, to extend your voice on behalf of the elected Israeli government in an effort to garner American political support for Israel’s positions? Or is it to use the American political system as a means of leveraging a particular point of view on the elected Israeli government? J Street is clearly about the latter, as evidenced by its support of policies that differ from the current Israeli government.
So Gary Ackerman’s departure should not disturb them one bit. In taking their position on the UN resolution, J Street was attempting to use the American political system as a means of leverage against an Israeli government position it did not agree with, consistent with the organization’s central view on conducting Israel advocacy.
Mr. Ben-Ami’s organization may find a growing following for its new approach. But when he backs away from J Street’s fundamental position on Israel advocacy, saying instead that it’s just a matter of tone, he appears conflicted about the central value upon which his organization operates.