On Monday night, the 92nd Street Y, the center of Jewish communal life on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, hosted a panel called "Why We Need a Liberal Israel Lobby: What It Means for Israel and American Jews." The "liberal" speakers were J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami and occasional TAP contributors Michelle Goldberg and Eric Alterman. Steve Gutow, executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, represented traditional Zionist organizations, and the event was moderated by Jane Eisner, editor of The Forward.
Unfortunately, I wasn't there, but Philip Weiss, a magazine journalist and self-declared anti-Zionist Jew, has a good rundown of the proceedings. I think it's significant that in a Jewish space as influential as the 92nd Street Y, Jews are finally getting together to talk about the fact that there has been a silencing within the community of both Jewish and non-Jewish voices critical of the Israeli right wing. When Gutow denied such silencing was taking place, Ben-Ami responded forcefully. Weiss reports:
It was at this point that Ben-Ami gave a speech about his own isolation that was very moving. I did not record the event so I can't give it verbatim. He said that Gutow reminded him of Claude Rains being "shocked" by the gambling in Rick's Cafe. "Very large numbers of unaffiliated American Jews and very large numbers of non-Jews feel that they cannot speak their mind when it comes to Israel." And when Ben-Ami meets these people, they say, "Thank god you're here." On issues like pressuring Israel, ending the settlements, even the two-state solution, these people feel they can't speak up.
Ultimately, Weiss left the event disappointed that the speakers hadn't done more to acknowledge the human rights atrocities occurring daily in Gaza and the West Bank. I identify with his complaint, but I'd urge some patience. It has taken the American Jewish community a long time to begin to sanction these kinds of conversations, and if they remain an internal, family affair for now, that is okay. Many synagogues in Manhattan would refuse Jeremy Ben-Ami even the opportunity to speak to their congregants about J Street. We're seeing some real progress.
You need to be logged in to comment.
(If there's one thing we know about comment trolls, it's that they're lazy)