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Monday, September 14, 2009

What motivates J Street? Part 1

At Sunday's bloggers' conference, I had the pleasure of meeting Lenny Ben David in person. One of the first things he said to me was "have you seen the New York Times Magazine piece on J Street?" I told him that it although it was open on my computer, I had not read it yet. He said, "I have a piece on it in tomorrow's Post. The only thing the Times got right is that they share the Obama administration's agenda."

In fact, Lenny does have an excellent article in Monday's Post, which I urge you all to read, that argues precisely that while showing some of the important facts the Times missed or ignored in its article, like the presence of Arabs and Muslims among J Street's donors, J Street's biased polling methods and George Soros' quiet support and funding for the organization.

But as I read the article in the Times Magazine, I got to thinking of a different question that I haven't seen answered in the blogosphere before: What motivates these people? Why would Jeremy Ben Ami and his cohorts act in a manner that is so contrary to what most of the Jewish people see as our best interest? I came up with some very uncomfortable answers that I'd like to share with you.

I saw some interesting parallels between the backgrounds of J Street founder Jeremy Ben Ami and White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. This is from the Times article on J Street:
His father served as a commander for Betar, the youth arm affiliated with Irgun, the fervent nationalist movement that fought the British to gain Israel’s independence. Ben-Ami’s father was tasked with purchasing the Altalena, a naval vessel left over from World War II that was then filled with arms and was on its way to Palestine when David Ben-Gurion declared the independent state of Israel and ordered all fighters to accept the authority of the state. After Menachem Begin, the head of Irgun, refused to turn back the Altalena [pictured atop this post burning on the beach in Tel Aviv on June 20, 1948. CiJ], it was sunk by Ben-Gurion’s forces, led by Yitzhak Rabin. Ben-Ami, who was born in New York, says, “I grew up with my father spending his entire life arguing with his friends about the Altalena and Ben-Gurion and what a schmuck he was and how could Begin give back the Sinai.”
Does that background sound familiar? It should. Here's some of White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel's background:
Shortly after Obama selected Emanuel for his post, a story in the Israeli tabloid Maariv quoted his father, Benjamin Emanuel, asserting that his son "obviously … will influence the president to be pro-Israel. Why wouldn't he? What is he, an Arab? He's not going to clean the floors of the White House."

That comment caused an outcry among Arab American groups and prompted an apology from his son [which should have told you all you needed to know about Rahm Emanuel's support for Israel. CiJ].

But late last month, Benjamin Emanuel – a retired Chicago doctor who was born in Jerusalem and served in a pre-Israeli-state militant Zionist group known as the Irgun or Etzel – lashed out at Israeli treatment of his son.

"I'm simply surprised that in Israel they jump down his throat," he told a Haaretz reporter angrily—and in Hebrew.

"I love the country, my children are Zionists, they came to Israel every year, and I don't know why they're attacking Rahm. I support Netanyahu, I was a member of the Etzel," he is quoted as saying.

Asked about his comments, Benjamin Emanuel told a POLITICO reporter, “I don’t talk to journalists, I’m sorry.”
By the way, there's a third contemporary leader who is the son of a former Irgun commander who lives in the United States: Binyamin Netanyahu. He's also the most powerful and successful of the three. But Netanyahu is different. He and his brother Yoni HY"D (may God avenge his blood) both came back to Israel and served in the IDF. Maybe that's why he's different or maybe he came back and served in the IDF because he is different. Maybe Netanyahu was raised differently.

As some of you may recall, in the post about Rahm Emanuel, I had some very harsh words for yordim, Jews who leave Israel.
Rahm Emanuel grew up in the United States. His parents left Israel at a time when parents across the board were ashamed of their children who left this country (today, that feeling only predominates in the national religious community - everyone else takes it for granted that some of their children may move abroad). They looked at their children as abandoning them and abandoning their heritage. If the parents moved to Israel themselves - especially if they came from the West - the parents looked at the children moving to the US (for example) as rejecting their beliefs.

While Haaretz may have believed that Emanuel would protect Israel from the Obama White House, I doubt that anyone on the right of the political spectrum here believed that from the outset. First, because the old-time Israelis who left here before it became fashionable in the serious economic crises of the '80's are mostly creatures of the far left (think Noam Chomsky). And second, because there was nothing in Emanuel's background to indicate that he would support an Israeli government that leaned at all to the right.


The problem with Rahm Emanuel isn't that he isn't protecting us from Barack Obama. No one who was realistic should have expected him to protect us. The problem with Rahm Emanuel is that like your spouse in (God forbid) a divorce proceeding, he knows how to hurt you like no one else does. Your spouse knows where you've been cutting corners with the tax authorities for years. Rahm Emanuel knows just where Israel has been cutting corners allowing just a little more 'natural growth' for years. Your spouse knows just how to get you angry and will pick the moment in court to do just that. Rahm Emanuel knows just what to say that will make the weaker parts of Prime Minister Netanyahu's coalition think that maybe supporting Bibi isn't such a smart idea after all.

Israelis are sour on Emanuel because he's shown a willingness to behave like that hostile spouse in the divorce court. Many Israelis (not this one) believed he'd be discreet enough to keep his mouth shut. They were wrong. Unfortunately, there may yet be a price to be paid.
Is it an Irgun thing? Were the Irgun members who left after the State was established bitter because they did not get control of the State and because the Labor party ignored their contributions and kept power for thirty years (1948-77) excluding the Irgun and its leadership from positions of power? Maybe. I recall reading somewhere that unlike the others, Ben Zion Netanyahu - Bibi's father - left Israel because there was no way to further his career in Israel, and that he could only advance in his career in the United States.

But career advancement may not have been the motivation of Jeremy Ben Ami's father and Rahm Emanuel's father for moving to America. They may have been bitter at the Irgun's exclusion from the halls of power in the young State of Israel, and they may have - intentionally or unintentionally - passed that bitterness on to their offspring. After all, you can fool a lot of people about your true feelings about something important. You generally cannot fool your children.

The Mishna in the 5th chapter of Tractate Succa refers to a certain family of Kohanim (priests) named Bilga that had certain sanctions imposed upon it in the Temple. The Gemara (Talmud) on that Mishna explains that the sanctions were imposed because when the Greeks came and defiled the Temple, a woman named Miriam from that family kicked the altar and said "Wolf, Wolf, how long will you devour the Jews' money and not protect them?" The Rabbis sanctioned the entire family because they concluded that if this woman was talking this way... the apple doesn't fall far from the tree and she must have heard this sort of language at home.

Ironically, by the way, if you follow that last link, you will see that it points out that the Greeks didn't wish to destroy the Jewish people, 'only' to rip their heart out. That's why Chanuka - the holiday that celebrates the Temple's re-dedication after the Greeks were expelled - is considered a more spiritual holiday than Purim, the other holiday that the Rabbis added, in which we celebrate our salvation from physical destruction. Hmmm.

Could Jeremy Ben Ami and Rahm Emanuel have imbibed with their mothers' milk resentment for the way in which the Irgun veterans were treated during the early years of the State? If they did, it would certainly be motivation enough for their actions today.

The only other type of person who might go out of their way to hurt their own flesh and blood like that would be a divorcing spouse. And as I pointed out regarding Rahm Emanuel, perhaps Jeremy Ben Ami is also motivated to hurt the State of Israel as one divorcing spouse is motivated to hurt the other.

I also have an explanation that covers the motivation for some other people in supporting J Street, but this post is too long already, so I will write about that in another post.


I forgot to mention Lenny Ben David's other article that talks about some of the prime movers behind J Street.

Read the whole thing.


At 11:34 AM, Blogger Chrysler 300M said...

is it an Irgun thing? Were the Irgun members who left after the State was established bitter because they did not get control of the State and because the Labor party ignored their contributions and kept power for thirty years (1948-77)


you forgot to mention the ensuing communism aka. socialism that followed in the 50s and 60s, lack of economic freedom, lack of consumer goods (hazilim steaks) which made thousands of disillusioned people leave for the US and Europe (even Germany). This chapter is now ignored. d`sh

At 11:41 AM, Blogger Alpha3958 said...

What about Livni? Her parents were also bitter Irgun veterans, weren't they?

At 11:52 AM, Blogger Carl in Jerusalem said...

Chrysler 300M,

Yes, but that was among the people who stayed here. Ben Ami and Emanuel both left long before the 60's - probably within a year or two after the War of Independence. Both of them were born in America.


If Livni's parents were bitter, they never showed it by leaving. Was Menachem Begin bitter? If he was, he kept it to himself. He stayed here and his son is still a part of the State's leadership today.

At 12:50 PM, Blogger YMedad said...

I offer an insight: many of those who left, not all, presumed to achieve higher political positions in Herut. But Begin was doing well with those who actually fought against the British rather than provide support from the USA (Hillel Kook, Mike Ben-Ami, etc. from the Bergson Group). Others like Netanyahu Sr. were faced with a poor position in academia. Others had poor economic luck.

Of course, many leftwingers, for artistic and creative reasons left for Paris in the 50s so it's not just a rightwing thing or political.

At 4:56 PM, Blogger Daniel said...

While there are some Irgun yordim, and even some hareidi, and nat.rel., it seems to me that the vast majority are secular "I'm not Jewish ,I'm Israeli" labour types.
Also yerida is analogous to intermarriage in the States. Both are the best litmus test for Jewish commitment. I suppose the J-Street intermarried are exponetial.

At 9:33 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

J-Street claims to be pro-Israel but then does things that weaken and undermine Israel. A truly pro-Israel organization would not say one thing and then act contrary to its principles. The only conclusion then is J-Street is anything but pro-Israel.

At 6:52 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

It's rather a bold conclusion Adoni.
Let's see the facts:

1948-1977 Left
9. Kneset Likud M. Begin
10. Kneset Likud M. Begin
11. Kneset Unity Gov. Peres and Shamir
12. Kneset Likud Shamir
13. Kneset Labour Rabin *****
14. Kneset Likud B. Netanyahu
15. Kneset Labour Barak *****
16. Kneset Likud Arik Sharon
17. Kneset Olmert Kadima
18. Kneset Likud Netanyahu

M. Begin was The leader of Irgun
Shamir was the member of Irgun and Lehi
About Netanyahu You wrote
For The Time being PM= Netanyhu
The Head of the Opposition = Livni
Livni's parents were members of Irgun!

May I ask You Sir
What motivates J Street? :)

At 6:59 PM, Blogger Carl in Jerusalem said...


With the exception of Netanyahu, none of those you cite grew up in the United States.

None of their parents were bitter enough at the end of the War of Independence to leave Israel. Emanuel and Ben Ami obviously were bitter. And that carried over to their children.

At 8:57 PM, Blogger Unknown said...


Do You think seriously "the bitterness" is the privilege of the ex-irgunist, and their children?
Mapay, Mapam, Rafi, Gurion <-> Meir,
Rabin <-> Peres, Barak is in the cabinet of Netanyahu and so on.
With your logic, every single politician in Israel would be bitter.

Emanuel and Ben Ami are american first of all. It is so simple, I'm afraid.


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