Is J Street still relevant?
You should feel GREAT today!But did J Street really have such a big impact? No, argues Lori Lowenthal Marcus, director of Z Street.
All 49 JStreetPAC-endorsed incumbents in the House – elected.
All 7 JStreetPAC-endorsed Senate candidates – elected.
JStreetPAC's challengers and candidates for open seats – elected in 13 out of 15 races (Ami Bera hanging on to a razor thin lead in his race for a Congressional seat in Sacramento would make it 14 of 15.)
You helped raise and contribute over $1.8 million to these 71 pro-Israel, pro-peace candidates for Congress, and, thanks to you the 113th Congress will have 50 percent more JStreetPAC-endorsed members than are in Congress today. Not only did you help elect champions like Tammy Baldwin, Martin Heinrich and Tim Kaine to the Senate, you defeated some of the most outrageous voices on our issue. Come January the House of Representatives will no longer have One-State Caucus members like Joe Walsh, Allen West, Bobby Schilling, Frank Guinta, or Ann Marie Buerkle.
This is an incredible victory – one that is part of transforming the political atmosphere around Israel in the U.S. that has blocked meaningful American efforts to achieve a two-state solution for decades.
Our work doesn't end here, of course. We have to spread the word about the incredible success of pro-Israel, pro-peace politics so that more candidates and more public officials in the future will start to speak out in pro-Israel, pro-peace way.
J Street’s president, Jeremy Ben-Ami, boasted in an email sent out to thousands with the subject line “Astounding! J Street Goes 71 for 70 on Election Day,” but with respect to Jewish voters—whom J Street claims it represents, and whom it is trying to persuade—in very few of the campaigns in which it contributed heavily did the Jewish voters who were in play make a difference.
In an upstate New York race, Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R) was defeated by the man she herself had defeated two years ago, Dan Maffei. J Street backed Maffei, but the hot issue in that race was abortion, not Israel. Maffei successfully tied Buerkle to Missouri’s Republican contender for Senator Todd Akin, notorious for his unfortunate “legitimate rape” comment.
In Florida, Republican Rep. Allen West was defeated by Patrick Murphy in an extremely tight race. West was redistricted out of his comfortable seat, and Israel was far down on the list of issues on which Murphy focused.
In Illinois, Democrat Tammy Duckworth defeated sitting Congressman Joe Walsh. Walsh is an ardent Israel supporter, but the district they battled over is a majority Democratic one, and Duckworth had received the endorsement of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The focus of her attention was energy, the economy and education – not Israel.
And in Ohio, where Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown handily won over his upstart Republican challenger Josh Mandell, a New York Times editorial written by Mitt Romney back in 2oo8 probably did more to defeat any Ohio Republican challenger for office in 2012. In this state, second only to Michigan for auto-related employment, Romney’s opposition to the automobile industry bailout and his op-ed, “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt,” was just too much of a kick in the home state face to overcome. Even though what Romney actually called for was a re-structuring of the car companies, a “managed bankruptcy,” the details were swept away while the headline hung there and hanged the Republicans.
It is clear that J Street’s role in this year’s election was basically irrelevant, and certainly far humbler than its own superlative: “astounding.” While revealing just how unabashedly anti-Israel their choices are, Ben-Ami et al simply have not demonstrated that they mobilized the Jewish vote in a direction it wasn’t already following.Steve Rosen also minimizes J Street's impact on the election:
However, J Street's political victory is not nearly so sweeping as it would have observers believe. Almost all the Democratic candidates the group supported were also supported by AIPAC-inspired PACs and individuals affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. According to AIPAC insiders, the AIPAC-inspired donations to these Democrats in most cases dwarfed the $1.8 million raised by JStreetPAC. (Unlike J Street, AIPAC does not have a directly affiliated PAC and does not publish numbers for PACs known to be friendly toward the organization.) AIPAC staff and volunteers have long been engaged with the same Democratic incumbents and challengers, and it has secured pro-Israel position papers from them. AIPAC will also be far more influential than J Street in influencing coming committee and leadership assignments that go to select Democrats.However, he argues that Israel is becoming a partisan issue, and that's thanks, at least in part, to J Street's efforts to push the Democratic party to the Left.
But it is true that more funds are being raised today than ever before from donors who depict Israel as the obstacle to peace and favor U.S. pressure to force Israeli concessions. The campaign contributions put muscle behind a flood of articles and speeches that portray Israel as a strategic liability rather than an asset -- a trigger-happy country that exaggerates the Iranian threat and is plotting the annexation of the West Bank at the expense of the Palestinians.
Spokesmen for this view, like author Peter Beinart and J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami, are taking ideas from the far left of the Israeli political spectrum and transforming them into mainstream beliefs of the Democratic Party. Meanwhile, however, their counterparts in Israel have shrunk to insignificance: Meretz, the party of Peace Now and Yossi Beilin, has contracted from 14 seats in the Knesset to a mere three. Shelly Yachimovich, the new head of the Labor Party and informal leader of the Israeli opposition, has resisted fierce pressure to embrace the Beilinist agenda. The vast majority of the Israeli public has spoken, and it has rejected the ideology these critics are bringing to the United States.
But in America, these voices have found fertile ground. The American Jewish community is on average more liberal and more dovish on the Middle East than the Jewish majority in Israel. Reform temples and college campuses are particularly receptive to Beinart and Ben-Ami's message.
As a result, these ideas are moving gradually from the far left to the center-left of the Democratic base. And as the older generation of Democratic stalwarts gradually passes from the scene and new Democrats to the left of their predecessors enter the House and Senate and slowly climb the ranks, there will be an evolution within the Democratic Party.
Trends on the Republican side generally go in the opposite direction. Twenty years ago, the party was split between the "Reagan Republicans," who were ardently pro-Israel, and old liners like Brent Scowcroft, James Baker, and the nativist Pat Buchanan, who had a far more skeptical attitude. Today, the movement conservatives are in almost complete control, and stalwart support for Israel is the norm among Republicans.
That fact, however, will only come as slight consolation to AIPAC and successive Israeli governments, which have struggled for decades to prevent support for the Jewish state from becoming a partisan issue. So far they have succeeded: In fact, AIPAC is still producing record-breaking bipartisan majorities on pro-Israel legislation, with more Democrats than ever in support.
But there is no guarantee this state of affairs will continue forever, and we could be witnessing the first rumblings of a gradual shift today. A change is taking place under the surface inside the Democratic Party, and it is bound to burst out into the open at key moments down the road.Israel needs to do more - a lot more - to staunch the identification of the American Left with the Arab desire for the destruction of Israel. A good place to start might be with American Jewry, which is still mostly staunchly Democratic. That does not require that we commit suicide by putting a 'Palestinian' reichlet on the outskirts of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion Airport. But it does require that we do a much better job of explaining why the Left, as represented by Meretz, is dead in the Jewish state.
Perhaps replacing some of our Meretz-supporting diplomatic corps, especially in the US, would be a place to start.