J Street: The Radical Center

J StreetThe following is a guest post from Moriel Rothman
I think I know what J Street needs to be. I was having a conversation with Moises Salinas, the Vice President of Meretz USA, following a phenomenal presentation (by Ron Skolnik, Aziz abu Sarah, Ralph Hexter, Susannah Heschel and Elizabeth Wendt) on the deeply problematic and unhelpful nature of the BDS movement, and he used a term that really struck me: “the radical center.” That’s it, I thought, that’s what we need to be. J Street needs to be the radical center. The “radical center.” Isn’t that a contradiction?
Yes, it is. And that is the beauty of it. Allow me to break this down:
What is the center? The center is nuance, the center is complexity, the center is tolerance for a diversity of views, the center incorporates elements from both the left and the right, the center rejects the paradigms of right and wrong, the center opposes simplification.
What is radicalism? Radicalism is conviction, radicalism is dedication to a cause which is believed in which an overflow soul, radicalism is the burn of passion, the drive of action.
What is often wrong with the center? The center can be a lack of conviction, the idea that they are right and they are right, so we can’t really take a position. Center can be the perversion of nuance; its use not as a guiding beacon, but as a impediment for action.
What is often wrong with radicalism? Radicalism can be narrow, radicalism can blind, radicalism can alienate, polarize, extremicize, radicalism can be a tool for making oneself feel good by avoiding the complexities that confuse and frustrate and hurt.
So. J Street needs to combine the positive elements of both, to adopt centrist politics that buy into neither the simplifications the radical right or the radical left, but also positions that are forged with conviction, stances that are taken strongly. J Street needs simultaneously to be open, broad, thoughtful and to be willing to take strong, radical stances within those guidelines.
Confusing? It should be. If J Street falls into simplicity, if J Street becomes easy to understand and to categorize, then J Street fails. We need to be the contradiction of the radical center.
As Billy Wimsatt said, maybe J Street’s message should be: “Don’t be meshugganahs.” Let’s do it, team, let’s be nuanced centrist radicalist non-meshuganahs.

2 thoughts on “J Street: The Radical Center

  1. Sadly, the center will never sound sexy. You can redefine where left and right are and sound sexy doing that, but you can’t claim the center and sounds cool. And J Street desperately needs to be cool.

  2. Regarding your statement that “The center is nuance, the center is complexity”… This sounds very profound but is in fact mumbo-jumbo. The center refers to the mean or median, the middle of the spectrum of ideas.
    J-street has taken much flak for its seemingly far left positions and has launched a damage control effort to portray itself as representing the middle of the road. Bravely stating that you stand to the right of the BDS movement will convince no one. The BDS movement is viciously hostile to Israel and utterly indifferent to the fate of its Jews.

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