Justice, Mishegas, Politics

On the road to Jewish self-government

As I mentioned in my post on the latest WJC scandal, I desire to see a MoveOn-like organization that would empower Jewish individuals to have more direct democratic control of the Jewish communal agenda. While the fulfillment of this vision is quite a ways off (it will take at least two years to build up such an organization) there is at least some light on the horizon.
Often, when I publicly fantasize about “a Jewish MoveOn,” people say to me, “but MoveOn is the Jewish MoveOn,” citing the prevalence of Jews in both MoveOn’s leadership and constituency. While that’s certainly true — there are a lot of Jews involved with MoveOn — there is nonetheless nothing about MoveOn that lends the authority of the wider Jewish community’s voice to the positions of the MoveOn community. It is a secular organization, comprised of not only Jews, but the wider American progressive community. Furthermore, MoveOn does not focus on internal Jewish community issues, nor on the America-Israel relationship.
Now, thankfully, moving us further in this direction, there is JSpot.
Though its scope is limited to domestic social issues (ie., it too says nothing of foreign policy nor of internal Jewish community issues), JSpot has just launched a remarkable new initiative that invites the wider American Jewish community to participate in setting our own policy agenda as a Jewish community.
What are your priorities for 2008? Child care, civil rights, education, the environment, health care, housing, immigration, Katrina/Rita relief, seniors, wages? Pick your top five issues and JSpot will average out the top five of greatest concern to all participants, and forward our collectively-drafted agenda to all the 2008 presidential candidates, along with our signatures and a request for their stated positions on these issues.
Again, this is a direct democratic initiative, and one that provides a clear alternative to both the JCRC bureaucracy-driven representative model and the Conference of Presidents oligarchic model. This gives you, the individual, the power to call the shots, rather than entrusting so-called “Jewish leaders” to decide on our behalf that which is in our own best interests.
It’s a great start, and hopefully something that will grow into a more concrete and powerful initiative over the course of the 2008 campaign cycle, and perhaps within American domestic politics in general, in the coming years.
Kol hakavod l’JSpot.

32 thoughts on “On the road to Jewish self-government

  1. It’s a list building exercise for jspot’s owners. Now, it may be a pleasant, affirming exercise, all the more so because of the pretense that it might affect something in the real world, but….
    It doesn’t. It builds Jspot’s lists, and generates a democratic feeling that encourages people who participate to feel as though that JFJ is an organization accountable to a membership. (it’s not.)
    BTW, MoveOn is similarly non Democratic. I’d hope that a ‘Jewish MoveOn’ will depart from the practice of MoveOn and actually construct itself to have a component of democratic accountability, where joining actually gives the donor rights to have a say.

  2. j.g., you can’t be a player with a seat at the table without the numbers behind your organization to back it up. if we want these initiatives to have weight, then we need mass support. end of story. jspot is moving us in the right direction, whether or not it’s the “ultimate solution.” at least they’re trying, which is more than i can say for 99% of the american jewish community.

  3. Hahaha. Saw that list. It’s a bit funny. Do you realize that this is merely a list of which 5 causes you would like to take a left wing perspective on? In fact, the precise perspective given to you on the list? This is not an exercise in ‘Jewish democracy’ at all, in which issues which concern Jews from varying perspectives would be included. This is just a political party within the Jewish people, one representing a particular sub-group and their interests, nothing more. I’m glad you feel empowered by it. Good for you.

  4. Eitan is entirely right – there is nothing distinctly Jewish about this list -why isn’t Israel even on the list?

  5. JG –
    I can understand your cynicism. This campaign isn’t a perfect exercise in democracy. It has significant limitations. For example, folks aren’t given an open-ended list of issue areas; we preselected them.
    But you comment makes it seem like the only purpose is to build our list. Do you really believe that? The fact is, there are many easier ways to build lists (ask anyone, if you want to build a list you don’t force people to answer questions). We’re doing this because we believe that these issues are important and that the Jewish community doesn’t pay sufficient attention to them, and that this message of neglect is heard by candidates and reflected back to us. When we receive the candidates’ responses and put them online for comment, it will provide a real service for the vast majority of Jews who care about these issues and want to know more about where the candidates stand on education, or immigration, or child care, or whatever. It will create a Jewish forum to discuss public policy, which is in no small part why jspot.org exists.
    Eitan –
    jspot is a liberal blog. But the list of issue areas are neutral as to solutions. Is it liberal or conservative to point out that 47 million Americans lack health insurance? Or that child care can cost more than $13,000 per year? Or that 2 out of 3 fourth graders couldn’t read proficiently in 2000? Or that the flow of ice from glaciers has doubled in the past decade? We are reaching out to all the candidates, from both parties. It is my hope that they will have serious solutions to these problems, whether they are “liberal” or “conservative” solutions.

  6. I like Mik’s explanation about the strategy — the presentation of the list to the candidates and the open debate about their platform through the website. We need these intermediate spaces between national politics and our small sphere.
    And there is a reall problem addressed by this project. The American Jewish Committee and National Jewish Democratic Council both held their conferences in DC recently. Many presidential candidates and members of the Cabinet spoke to many of the most “traditionally” politically active Jews in the US. What were the topics? As I understand from the press, Israel. Israel’s Security. Fine. Great. (Somehow I feel relieved knowing that future leaders care about Jewish lives)
    But [enter MLK voice]I once heard “do not oppress the stranger.” I was told long ago to protect the most vulnerable — children, widows, orphans. The Jewish voice in domestic politics matters for a variety of reason, both self-intered and altruistic, political and moral.
    I support efforts to act from the moral impreative of our tradition. And nothing is truly democratic except an endless meeting. In the balance between more or less, clearly this project leans toward mo(o)re.

  7. Mik, you write:
    “When we receive the candidates’ responses and put them online for comment, it will provide a real service for the vast majority of Jews who care about these issues and want to know more about where the candidates stand on education, or immigration, or child care, or whatever. It will create a Jewish forum to discuss public policy, which is in no small part why jspot.org exists.”
    My response:
    I’m not hostile to your effort at all. It was Mob’s over arching endorsement that raised my hackles.
    I think that jspot all by itself is the good service. The current exercise feels gimmicky to me. Why not allow an open ended selection of issues from your bloggers and the readers? Still a gimmick but with more integrity.
    jspot’s efforts are all about ‘informing’ because of the limitations of the c3 status. What we need is an explicitly political version of this exercize, with organizing moxie. Hey Mob – let’s do it using http://www.democracyinaction.org. Use Jewschool as a platform. No pussyfooting. Just go after Dem candidates to spank or thank, and let bloggers actually call for participation in campaigns. Specific campaigns, for specific reasons. Let’s raise money for a progressive Jewish PAC. C’mon man!
    (Mik, seriously, I’m not down on jspot. Thanks for chiming in!)

  8. MoveOn’s Noah Winer published two official bulletins. One supported the Palestinians against the Israeli “occupation” while citing sources like the Electronic Intifada. The other talked about “divided loyalties,” a typical anti-Semitic slur.
    Here is the stuff Winer quotes in his official bulletin (which was apparently so embarrassing that MoveOn.org took it offline, but a cached version was fortunately available so now it can be displayed for the world to see).
    “For in failing to focus on the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, about to enter its 37th year, and on Israeli settlements, which underpin that occupation, the Road Map misses an opportunity to end this conflict. Instead, it concentrates on Palestinian violence and how to combat it — as if it came out of nowhere, and as if, were it to be halted, the situation of occupation and settlement would be normal.”
    In other words, per Noah Winer, the Israelis are to blame for the Palestinians’ violent behavior.
    “In July, 2000 Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak broke off talks with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat at the Camp David summit hosted by U.S. President Bill Clinton. That September, Ariel Sharon, chairman of the Likud party, made a provocative visit to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Control over this holy site for both Muslims and Jews is contested by Palestinians and Israelis. The visit implied Israeli sovereignty over all Jerusalem, the eastern portion of which is considered occupied territory by the international community. So began the second intifada, or Palestinian uprising.”
    Again, Noah Winer blames the Jews for the Palestinians’ violent choices. His bulletin cites the Electonic Intifada!
    Mobius (and Mik Moore), MoveOn.org is a liability to your party, and the same goes for the prominent racist and anti-Semite Al Sharpton. You also ought to check out what Obama’s pastor Jeremiah Wright says about the United States and Israel, and of course Obama’s sugar daddy George Soros despises Israel.
    When Jewish Democrats see this stuff, a lot of them may just stay home on Election Day if they simply cannot bring themselves to touch a lever with an “R” on it. I suggest that you talk to someone like Joe Lieberman, or a centrist Democratic governor, so I will actually have to make a choice next November instead of voting for “Not Sharpton’s and Soros’ puppet.”

  9. But seriously, if Bush doesn’t end the Iraq war soon, I might just have to vote Democratic in the next election. Don’t let this happen, Bill!

  10. Mobius and Mik,
    It gets better (or worse, depending on one’s perspective) every day; I finally got around to keyword-searching the 30 megabytes of MoveOn.org Action Forum I downloaded last year (before they took it down), and numerous postings take the position that Israel should not exist. Others say that Jews control all the media, blah blah blah… Noting that MoveOn.org was exercising editorial control in favor of this sort of thing, MoveOn.org is responsible for it–and the same for Noah Winer’s pro-Palestinian bulletins.
    BZ,
    I agree that Bush is mismanaging the war, the way Lyndon Johnson mismanaged Vietnam. You will not get me into an argument in which I tell you how great Bush is. Unlike MoveOn’s defenders, I don’t defend what cannot be defended. Quite frankly, the deficiencies at Walter Reed’s outpatient facilities, and the hoops they make veterans jump through to get benefits, disgust me. So do the rules of engagement that are getting our soldiers killed.
    On the other hand, the Democrats who voted for a withdrawal deadline have just told the enemy that, if he keeps murdering our men and women in uniform, he will win. Lieberman is the sole Democratic Senator who is not guilty of this mistake (or worse).

  11. i actually think that eitan has a very fair point.
    i relate to jspot differently than i guess others would because i see it as being comprised of the members of my community. some of jspot’s writers are also contributors to jewschool and radical torah. most are also readers of jewschool. i consider them my friends, more or less, and people with whom i’m engaged in a continued political discourse. i can thus be sure that jspot is taking my positions under consideration.
    but i believe that jspot represents the interests of the greater jewish community as well. it’s true that they preselected the issues featured in this initiative. but they didn’t choose these issues inside a vacuum. they chose them based upon what, through research and experience, they conclude to be the issues of utmost concern to the american jewish community. by hewing down the options and refining the language to appeal to the broadest possible base, they’ve actually done us a service. that’s why they stick solely to domestic concerns: the foreign policy stuff is far too contentious.
    most jewish organizations look at what the jewish community wants, and then they invest in trying to change our minds to desire what they want. conversely, jspot has their finger on the pulse of what we want. they’re doing the work to figure it out. they’re paying attention to what we’re doing and saying.
    frankly, i don’t believe that more than a slim minority of the jewish community supports a conservative social agenda. a conservative security agenda? hell yes–i wouldn’t be surprised if it was the majority (77% opposition to the iraq war notwithstanding). but even satmar votes democratic.
    we’ve been pursuing a progressive social agenda since the neviim. that’s what inspired the maskilim.

  12. BTW, Bill is a good friend of one of my harassers, Rachel Neuwirth. Ban the bum.
    Sorry to sound a sour note about JSpot but…I think they carry their domestic issue focus too far. They refuse to list any Jewish blogs in their blogroll who they deem to be too Israel-focussed. Tikun Olam is out. Jewschool is in. Don’t ask me how they determine this. A far greater percentage of my overall posts may be purely about Israeli policy than Jewschool’s; but you can hardly say that Israel isn’t one of this site’s major foci (& I’m glad it is). And I blog about lots of Jewish cultural, political, social & theological issues besides Israel.
    If we progressive Jews insist on ghettoizing ea. other like this by saying yr. blog is kosher for my blogroll but yours isn’t, then where will that lead us?
    My e mail to Jspot’s site owner asking similar questions went unanswered.

  13. Mobius,
    (1) “Users who repeatedly delve into ad hominem attacks or other troll-like behavior will be banned.” Noting your gratuitous ad hominems about not only me but Richard Silverstein (“richard, no disrespect, but why do you always make yourself out to be a victim?”), perhaps it would be good judgment on your part not to talk about banning people. Not that your ad hominems bother or offend me–they just show that you can’t defend your position–but rather, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”*
    (2) Do you feel that you should be banned from commenting at my blogs (you have done so) because I disagree with what you say? I left your comment online and answered it, because I am sufficiently confident in myself and my position to take on all comers.
    (3) Your inability to answer my point about Action Forum participants saying “Israel should not exist” (and an official MoveOn.org bulletin that promotes Electronic Intifada) coupled with your desire to have me banned, shows that (a) you have NO defense whatsoever to offer in MoveOn’s behalf and (b) you know what circulation of this news will do to MoveOn.org’s status among progressive Jewish voters.
    xisntox, the material about MoveOn.org saying that Israel should not exist is NEW. I only began to go through the archived material last night. Of course, it backs up what I have been saying before, but I would think that Jewschool might have a problem with overt statements that Israel should not exist. Perhaps this is what Mobius really has problems with; I can understand why he would want to muzzle me (see the premise of Muzzlewatch.org) to keep me from bringing this to the attention of Jewish progressives.
    * As the National Jewish Democratic Council is learning the hard way. By condemning Mitt Romney for appearing at the museum of a long-dead EX-antisemite (Henry Ford) it set a standard by which Democratic candidates can be judged for appearing with a live and unrepentant one (Al Sharpton).

  14. bill, your remarks are entirely disingenuous and entirely evasive of the actual issue at hand. that is, that you are, as bz said, a concern troll. you rarely have anything to offer our conversations other than hysterical demands that we condemn moveon.org for the remarks visitors leave on their website. you use this cudgel to attack any expression of liberal political views, essentially making the argument repeatedly that there are antisemites on moveon.org’s action forum, ergo moveon is an antisemitic organization, and politicians that receive support from moveon are therefore antisemites as well. beyond being illogical and ridiculous, your arguments are almost always posted as off-topic remarks that have nothing to do with the discussion at hand. this post’s subject is the need for a moveon.org-style web-based lobby in the jewish community. you took this as an opportunity to, once again, promote your anti-moveon agenda, despite the fact that my mention of moveon itself was entirely an aside. it is troll like behavior. i’m not silencing you — you’ve got an entire internet to spam with your anti-moveon obsession. i, on the other hand, would prefer that our conversations stay on-topic and focused on our goals, as a progressive jewish community, rather than on your goals as — in all likelihood — an agent of an organization that is paying you to smear moveon. you claim that i never answer you, but i have answered you again and again and again, and done, as far as i’m concerned, a pretty damned good job of shooting giant holes in your positions, seeing how you never seem to be able to refute my facts. rather, you move on to the next post with the same song and dance all over again. i’ve had enough of it.

  15. On the other hand, the Democrats who voted for a withdrawal deadline have just told the enemy that, if he keeps murdering our men and women in uniform, he will win.
    Who precisely is this enemy who stands to “win”? Saddam Hussein? Osama Bin Laden? The Sunnis? The Shiites? Fear itself?
    Lieberman is the sole Democratic Senator who is not guilty of this mistake (or worse).
    Lieberman is not a Democratic senator.
    But anyway, Bill, you blew your chance to sway me. I thought I was really going to have to make a choice in November 2008, but now I see I have no choice but to vote for the Democratic candidate. If the Republican party keeps up like this, it’s going to lose the support of voters like me.

  16. So the discussion has moved from “is JSpot’s project not democractic enough” to condemning JFSJ and progressive Jews in general for not taking, or taking poor stances toward Israel. Both issues super-important and we clearly have some really smart and passionate men here.
    I’m the first to admit my Israel feelings and thoughts need to get worked out more, and I’d like to do that with other progressive Jews. But I’m less interested boring repetition.

  17. Mobius wrote,
    “you took this as an opportunity to, once again, promote your anti-moveon agenda, despite the fact that my mention of moveon itself was entirely an aside.”
    Mobius, your entire posting was about MoveOn.org and the idea of creating a Jewish equivalent! (As shown below, I think you did Jspot a disservice by comparing it to MoveOn.) In any event, though, I am going to give you the surprise of your life: I am going to support the position you took in your original post, namely that Jspot should become the central organizing point for Jewish progressives.
    I have actually acquired some respect for Jspot even though I don’t agree with some its agenda. I do agree with it on issues like mine worker safety and fair wages for working people. Jspot could be a good place for progressive Jewish Democrats to organize without having to be part of MoveOn.org (and there is no need to continue to recite the long litany of its problems).
    We seem to agree, albeit for different reasons, that it would be good if Jspot expanded at MoveOn.org’s expense. I want to see Democrats, and especially Jewish ones, walk away from MoveOn.org in disgust. You would like to see them walk over to Jspot, which is fine with me. That is what is commonly known as a win-win solution and, instead of arguing with you, I will now support your agenda in those other forums you mention.
    I admit that, by comparing Jspot to MoveOn.org, your initial post put me off. Had it not been for this, I would probably have seen this win-win solution up front. I would strongly advise against calling Jspot the “Jewish MoveOn.org,” because this will turn a lot of people off. Instead, why not just call it “an organization for Jewish progressives?”

  18. Sorry to sound a sour note about JSpot but…I think they carry their domestic issue focus too far.
    To the contrary, JSpot’s decision to focus on domestic issues was spot on [rimshot]. The divisions between progressive Jews on Israel are intense, and for the most part unbridgeable. Some left-wing Jews take the position that the dismantling of the Jewish state is somehow the preeminent step towards reparing a broken world. Other progressive Jews consider this view to be just as delusional as the idea of redeeming the world through the discovery of a red heifer. But all justice-seeking Americans Jews agree that more needs to be done to combat poverty and climate change. Debates over Israel would quickly drown out the discussion over how best to tackle these critical issues.

  19. Thanks Bill, nothing makes me happier than someone taking over a discussion with a one-sided angry agenda. Really.

  20. Nothing about pulling our troops out of Iraq? This is number one on my list. Let me know when this “progressive” agenda includes this minor point.
    I guess if we had a military draft this issue would become a “domestic” one and therefore important.
    Sorry about the sarcasm.

  21. Sorele, it looks like there is no pleasing some people. 🙁 I just said I was going to support Mobius’ agenda of making Jspot the organizing center for Jewish progressives (I would advise against calling it the Jewish MoveOn.org, due to the negative connotations–and it’s a disservice to Jewish Funds for Justice.)
    Even if you (and/or Mobius) do not share my views of MoveOn.org, you will agree that Jspot and MoveOn are competitors for members and donations. This is true of any group of organizations on the same side of an issue; a dollar that is given to one cannot be given to the other. MoveOn’s loss can and should be Jspot’s gain.
    Jspot may have to set up a 501(c)(4) entity if it wants to lobby actively, and its likely growth may make this necessary. It should contact a tax professional or attorney for details.
    mhpine wrote, “Some left-wing Jews take the position that the dismantling of the Jewish state is somehow the preeminent step towards reparing a broken world.” They are very few in number, and this is not a position that any responsible person advocates. Gay rights advocates may want to note, incidentally, that gay Palestinians try desperately to get INTO Israel to avoid being brutalized or even killed by their own people. Israel is also good on women’s rights–including the basic right to live–noting Palestinian “honor killings” of women who date the wrong men, or who “dishonor” themselves by being raped.
    This is something that Jspot should make clear, and it will attract even more progressives (plus even moderates and conservatives who don’t think people should be murdered because of their race, religion, ethnicity, sex, or sexual orientation).

  22. Now I see why you were so upset about my post on Lauder!
    The last time that the Jewish community was governed by the will of the people was….never.
    You present such a fiction, that it is sweet if it were not so naive. I admire your idealism.
    On online initiative run by JSpot is not going to be representative and democratic. Imagine the entire generations of Jews before us who are not net savy. They have no say? My grandma, who was born before the first World War and lived through an entire century of Jewish bloodletting doesn’t deserve a vote and you do? And who gets to vote and from where? Is this “list” geographic or can anyone vote from anywhere…
    The Conference of Presidents attempts to bridge the intensely opposing viewpoints of some mainstream Jewish orgs into a cohesive lobby group. It works.
    The WJC is the voice of small communities that have been ravaged by the Holocaust, of survivors, of communities all over the world. It works.
    Are they perfect? Nope. And your model will not be any different.
    I too wish that it was not money, power and/or connections that ran the Jewish world as much as I wish that they didn’t run modern politics. But they do.
    So go forth with your zoozon.org but realize that entire generations and large segments of Jewry are left out of the picture.

  23. I’m sorry to get involved in an issue that is not my business. But your title interested me – Jewish Self-Government? Isn’t that what we’ve been making a mess of since 1977 in Israel? As in, a Jewish-majority democracy since 1948? And you’re leaving so soon?

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