J Street to put our money where our mouth is

Somebody squealed. The “J Street” project, America’s first progressive Israel PAC, was supposed to be launched next month, but the Jewish Week breaks the story that indeed, forces of the American Jewish community are organizing to kick the right-wing stranglehold on Congress in the knees.

Having been to DC in legislators’ offices for various causes and in particular Israel, it’s disgusting how the Hill functions. Most legislators don’t make decisions on Israel — they defer to the Jewish Congresspeople. Who in turn defer to Jewish money. In exchange, a Jewish legislator votes according to those other reps on their issues. As a result, issues with single-constituent lobbies (i.e. almost nobody lobbies on Israel except the Jews) get their way, which means a donor in New York can easily influence a legislator from Arizona on an issue with little or no Arizonan constituency. Lastly, Bills are rarely written by legislators but by the lobbies, who pitch them to friendly lawmakers, and then whip other legislators into line. Lobbies invent faux grassroots groups and think tanks to support their interests (case in point: CMIP, a publisher of repudiated research on Palestinian textbook hate speech).

And it’s sad that real votes (local constituents calling, phoning and visiting) are only an expression of money, as in how many votes can you organize for your issue with the money you have? For comparison, AIPAC is on the Hill four times a year; ZOA brought 300 people to their last advocacy conference; the JCPA (although far from the worst) represents 125 organizations of the American Jewish community’s old guard yearly. Despite all that, Brit Tzedek v’Shalom was founded in 2002 to put Jewish votes behind pro-peace legislation and has brought to Washington a new knowledge (and a few slim victories) that the Jewish community is diverse — and that the old guard poorly speaks for the average Joseph. BTVS just announced it’s annual leadership conference and advocacy visit to the Hill, June 21-24, which you should join.

But sadly, American democracy is more coin-operated that hand-crank.

AIPAC’s real influence is it’s coordination of millions of dollars of other PACs’ monies; it gives very few dollars directly to campaigns itself. In DC, legislators pay lip service to voter groups. I speak from experience: who gets appointments with Senator Clinton herself, and who gets a 10-minute meeting in the hallway with an intern? Yep, the monied and the unmonied, respectively. It was a sad day when I realized that instead of fighting for two weeks to get a meeting with my Crown Heights representative, all I had to do was donate $500. That might be significant enough for some name recognition and some customer service. This is how American government presently functions.

J Street was founded with an impressive list of big name advisors — from former Presidential aides, former MKs and Mossad cheifs, prominent rabbis and communal leaders — with the intent of putting money and political pressure behind candidates which existing dove groups cannot. AIPAC’s most successful tactics are prohibited from tax-exempt nonprofits: tallying Congresspersons’ votes along right-wing “pro” and “anti” Israel bills, publishing vote score cards, and endorsing candidates. With J Street, now we can count votes our way, and counter the flagrant scare tactics with some balance.

And it’s about freakin’ time. I’m damn frustrated that progressive Israel organizations flounder with tiny staffs and tiny funds — UPZ has one staffer to combat the combined ugliness of the entire ICC; Brit Tzedek and APN have two DC staffers alongside the offices of AIPAC. I don’t say this to imply they are always at odds or that right-left groups don’t work together on a suprising basis. Our similarities outweigh our differences; we want a secure and safe Israel. But those differences make all the, well, difference. And it’s a function of money. Money money money.

This begs a bigger question of why we are allowing ourselves to stoop to the level of playing along with a corruptable “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” approach to justice, fairness and rights. (You can join the BTVS conference in DC to push back against it anyway; scholarships available.) It’s all platitudes and this is politics, so we’ve got no choice but to ante up and pay for the democracy we want. The right-wingers are right: Freedom ain’t free, democracy ain’t free. But I bet this isn’t what they meant.

With the official launch of J Street in about a month, you can count that I’ll be making it one of my top donations — and I don’t care about the lack of tax-deductibility. I’ll be expecting my dividends in peace.

7 Responses to “J Street to put our money where our mouth is”

  1. I hope this helps create more space for organizations made up of Jews who do not see protecting Israel and the end all and be all of US foreign policy.

    Other concerns might be justice (the abstract kind, which sometimes harms our own perceived interests), solidarity with the downtrodden (say, the Palestinians, as opposed to the pro peace Israeli minority), and ending US military engagement in the Middle East (even when that means weakening an Israeli ally).


    jew guevara · March 28th, 2008 at 1:31 pm
  2. How exciting to see the courage and conviction of American Jews who are willing to speak out against the voice of the AIPAC with a voice that says it is NOT being anti-semitic to want to see an Israel at peace with its mid-East neighbors, and a US Government who dares to adopt a just and enlightened foreign policy! The voice of the AIPAC will only lead the entire world down a path of hatred and war, both of which may now appear to be endless, but neither of which is a sustainable way of life! What J Street has the courage to stand for can easily become the beacon that finally lights the way to a lasting peace between the US and Israel and their Arab and Muslim “enemies” who hate us both so much that they are willing to give up their own lives to make their statements! I am a Cathlic, not a Jew, but I will happily be one of J Street’s first contributors!


    Jim Santagata · April 2nd, 2008 at 4:14 pm
  3. how great it is to see jewish defeatists crumbling under the pressure of their fellow leftist comrades to seel out israel underthe guise of being “pro-peace”

    When a minority of american jews, who despite their lip service as being “pro-peace, pro-israel, pro-palestinian”, basically treat aipac as their enemy and do all they can to weaken israel, those who relish in israel’s destruction rejoice.

    We love it when in timid fear of anti-semtiism. leftist jews feel if they were only a little more cirtical of israel – their non-jewish colleagues in academia and other fields will love them more. while they preach ethnic pride and strength for all other minorities but jews and israelis, they love to be hypercritical of israel and whitewash islamist/palestinian and arab atrocities – especially those directed against jews and israelis.

    remember – your careers and your self-perceived love from thise you want to impress is selfishly more important to you than the well-being of jews worldwide and israelis – so keep on coddling those who hate israel and bend over backwards to attack it….
    never demand any concessions from the palestinians – only from israel who is to blame for everything…

    yes, it’s tough being a hated minority and being vastly outnumbered by islamists and anti-semites world over who have no moral bottom and brew hatred and bloodshed towards jews, israelis and others.

    so why not join them, or at least do their work and prove to them through your hatred of a strong independant israel that when they come to kill you – you are on of the “ggod jews” – the ones who support Jimmy Carter, “The Israel Lobby” Reverend Wright and Noam Chomsky….

    Thanks,

    Derek


    derekl · April 14th, 2008 at 8:50 am
  4. I would gladly contribute to helping J-street establish their offices in Sderot.

    They might get a different perspective of their “goals” for Israel.

    Sincerely,

    Michal


    Michal in Sderot · April 15th, 2008 at 2:02 pm
  5. Because Sderot is a sign of how successful the existing policies have been?


    BZ · April 15th, 2008 at 2:19 pm
  6. BZ–You know that things are always more complicated than that.

    I can just as easily say that the situation in the territories is a result of Oslo and/or evacuating Lebanon as we did, although nothing ever is really that simple.

    In any case, it is great that this organization is giving a voice to the Jewish Left in the States.

    Why, though, does everything seemed to be couched in anti-AIPAC rhetoric?

    I would think that J-Street has its own, positive, agenda. We don’t need to say things like AIPAC says it is anti-Semetic to want to see Israel at peace with her neighbors. Was AIPAC not supportive of the governments of Rabin, Peres, Barak?


    Jonthan · April 15th, 2008 at 4:02 pm
  7. Kung Fu,

    Another great post. I think a lot about the things you wrote about here, but you have a much clearer understanding of what goes on at some of the higher levels of government. I want to encourage you to write more about this –

    What are the steps to engaging with lawmakers today?
    What are the obvious challenges?
    Are those challenges clearly unjust?
    Is it important to lobby?
    Is it worth working to change the current system? How would you like to change it?
    Is lobbying the most effective way of changing America’s relationship with Israel?

    Please! I want to know more!

    See you around.


    Tal Beery · June 11th, 2008 at 11:21 pm

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