When I argued at the J Street Conference that J Street couldn't simultaneously appeal to people with Walt/Mearsheimer-esque views on Israel and a significant chunk of the American Jewish population, one of the names I cited as an example of the former was Phillip "The U.S. Without Israel is Like A Fish Without A Bicycle" Weiss, who writes for the Nation. I tried not to exaggerate the connection -- for all I knew, Weiss was just an anti-Zionist writer who had a nice word for J Street.
But it turns out Weiss attended J Street's conference, and he apparently not ony recognized me but was closely studying my facial expressions in the hallway:
I saw Jonathan Chait of the New Republic glowering as if he had just been forced to dine on porcupine. The institutions that Chait is engaged with, the New Republic and AIPAC, had just taken a giant hit. Celebration. ...
But still I celebrate it. I keep thinking about Jonathan Chait’s angry face.
Creepy. I don't want to ruin Weiss's celebration, but I had a terrific time at J Street's conference, and I left feeling much better about the group's future, for reasons I'll get into momentarily. I suppose my default facial expression is a little cold, especially early in the morning and in crowded places. But I'm a happy guy, and I had a great time debating Matt Yglesias, who I disagree with quite a bit on foreign policy but is really smart, and was extremely gracious in conceding my main point. Also, while I am "engaged" with TNR -- I'm employed here! -- I have no idea what Weiss is talking about with his claim that I'm "engaged" with AIPAC. A couple times a staffer at AIPAC emailed me, but by that standard I'm "engaged" with half the policy groups in Washington. I'm also a little confused by his belief that I'm part of some conspiracy to destroy J Street. I thought this would have been refuted by the fact that I, you know, appeared at J Street's conference.
Anyway, I'm encouraged by the fact that J Street's leader, Jeremy Ben-Ami, seems to recognize exactly the predicament I wrote and spoke about. In an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, he repudiated the "one state solution" and the Walt/Mearsheimer thesis, called U.S. military aid to Israel non-negotiable, and said he welcomed attacks from his left. In a subsequent Jerusalem Post interview, he described J Street's ideology as similar to Kadima. If true, that would put J Street slightly to my ideological right (I'm closer to the Labor view.) The fact that Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the head of the reform rabbi organization and a relative dove, was booed at J Street's conference for criticizing the U.N. Commission on Human Rights shows how big the gap is between Ben-Ami's positions, which are well within the Jewish-American mainstream, and the passions of J Street's most ardent supports, who are not.
I think, in reality, J Street is going to remain further left than Kadima (and me) -- maybe close to the Meretz line, but certainly far, far to the right of the likes of Phillip Weiss. (By the way, I'm not slurring Weiss by calling him anti-Zionist -- that is his proud self-identification.) Weiss in his gloating post predicts that it's "inevitable" that J Street will endorse a full boycott of Israel. I won't say that's impossible, but it's vanishingly unlikely. J Street aspires to be a politically influential group that challenges AIPAC for the loyalty of the Jewish mainstream. An organization representing Jewish anti-Zionists would have about as much clout as a group representing Jewish professional athletes.
Before this week, I thought J Street was going to be a small left-wing group with more press clippings than members. Now I think it's got a chance to become what it says it is -- a mainstream liberal Jewish organization that helps redefine "pro-Israel" away from territorial maximalism. That would be a cause for celebration.