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Monday, September 14, 2009

What motivates J Street? Part 2

In an earlier post, I wrote at length about my theory of what motivates J Street leader Jeremy Ben Ami - and possibly others in the organization - to take positions that most Israelis and many American Jews believe to be inimical to Israel's interests. In this post, I'd like to look at the broader universe of people supporting J Street and what might motivate them.

The answer to that question is hinted in the Sunday Times Magazine article about J Street. Here it is:
J Street, by contrast, is wide open to the public. Visitors must thread their way through a graphic-design studio with which the organization shares office space. There appears to be nothing worth guarding. The average age of the dozen or so staff members is about 30. Ben-Ami speaks for, and to, this post-Holocaust generation. “They’re all intermarried,” he says. “They’re all doing Buddhist seders.” They are, he adds, baffled by the notion of “Israel as the place you can always count on when they come to get you.”
Well, that explains an awful lot, doesn't it? Survey after survey shows that intermarried Jews have consistently lower identification with the State of Israel than do Jews who have married within the faith. And indeed, the Times itself notes:
J Street maintains that most American Jews share its views on the Middle East. They are reliably liberal on questions of war and peace; three-quarters of Jewish respondents to a 2007 Gallup poll, for example, opposed the war in Iraq. The question is how much of an exception they make for Israel. J Street sought to answer this question by commissioning an extensive poll of Jewish opinion on Middle East issues. The survey, taken in July 2008 and repeated with almost identical findings in March, found that American Jews opposed further Israeli settlements (60 percent to 40 percent), that they overwhelmingly supported the proposition that the U.S. should be actively engaged in the peace process even if that entailed “publicly stating its disagreements with both the Israelis and the Arabs” and that they strongly supported doing so even when the premise was revised to “publicly stating its disagreements with Israel.” Strikingly, the average respondent placed Israel eighth among a list of concerns; only 8 percent placed it first or second.
Noah Pollak has already shown how J Street's biased polling methods allow it to 'fix' poll results. Especially in light of that assertion, these statistics are striking. Wouldn't you think that J Street would have wanted to show that its members are more concerned about Israel?

But it's important to understand that the statistics cited by the Times don't show the beliefs of the Jewish community. They show the beliefs of those who are peripherally attached (if at all) to the Jewish community. They show the beliefs of those who have intermarried. In that light, they are not so surprising.

That's a pretty simple explanation but it has profound implications for the State of Israel. You may recall that last week, I defended a Jewish Agency advertising campaign for its Masa program, which acts as a follow-up to Birthright by bringing unaffiliated Jews to Israel for longer programs. You may recall that a lot of people were upset by a campaign that sought to save American Jews from assimilation. Some of the comments were downright nasty and asserted that there was nothing wrong with intermarriage.
Four of the five blogs linked there - and Goldberg himself - treat intermarriage as if there is nothing wrong with it and as if there is a distinction between intermarriage and assimilation (which reminds of the old Saturday Night Live line in the '70's about becoming bisexual because it doubled your chances for a date on Saturday night - try explaining that to your significant other). The fifth blogger favors Israel programs as a means of strengthening young Jews' connection to Judaism but then throws away a line that "this is not Anatevka" and that if your kids intermarry (God forbid) you shouldn't treat it like the end of the world.
The intermarried 'Jews' are supporting J Street. The authentic Jews who were born into the faith, converted into the faith, maintain the faith and are marrying within the faith are not supporting J Street. Unfortunately, the Jewish Agency backed down under pressure and canceled the ad campaign for Masa.

Those intermarried Jews don't like being told they're not really part of the Jewish people. Neither does J Street.


At 1:16 PM, Blogger Abu Yossi said...

re: that end paragraph. is this your personal view or is it generally accepted? just wondering because the definition of who is jewish keeps getting narrower and narrower.

At 1:35 PM, Blogger Carl in Jerusalem said...

Abu Yossi,

It's my personal view. But it's backed up by the reaction to the Masa campaign and by J Street's (apparently admitted) dependence on the intermarried.

At 5:01 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

The standard definition of who is Jewish according to Jewish Law has never changed. In recent centuries, more and more Jews (or would-be Jews) have been unaware of, or misled about, or opposed to the standard definition and have been using home-made definitions.

At 9:38 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

It should never be changed. Rescuing children from intermarriages is an urgent question. Whatever the Jewish parent's sin, the child should not pay the price. And more needs to be done to prevent intermarriage in the future. Or there will be more J-Street progeny. It is time for the American Jewish community to wake up.

At 4:36 PM, Blogger Philosemite said...

People seem to resent that being Jewish is just like being American. That is, you can be BORN within the US, authomatically receiving citizenship, or you can study, apply, be tested, and then accepted to US citizenship. The same is true of Jewish affiliation - birth or conversion - and similar traditions of responsibility as a citizen apply to all who swear allegiance.

Questions of who is a Jew, when seen in this context, are considerably less painful and invasive than when seen as merely a matter of faith. When you are Jewish, you are part of a nation existing parallel but unbound to geographically-defined nations, sve that Israel represents our origin and our dream and sanctuary. That Jewish nation has a faith attached, but many, perhaps most of its members are agnostic or atheist, yet still feel loyal and bound to their people. That is the complex privilege and burden of citizenship, even Jewish citizenship.

At 12:35 PM, Blogger Youngest Elder said...

What motivates J Street? George Soros money.


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