05/08/2014 05:03 pm ET Updated Jul 08, 2014

J Street Will Win, Without Congress


The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations' decision to ban J Street demonstrates, if there was any doubt, that the Israel lobby is nearly identical to the gun lobby.

Both successfully advance the view that any deviation from an ever more lunatic orthodoxy will lead to the unravelling of the lobby itself. Although, to be fair, few things the Israel lobby has ever done comes close to the gun lobby's policy of driving out of business any gun shop that dares to sell guns that make it harder for little children to accidentally kill their siblings, parents, or friends. Nonetheless, the Conference of Presidents, by banning J Street, is saying that a Zionist organization that opposes the occupation, even when strongly supporting Israel itself, is the enemy, meaning, as the NRA does, the enemy of the lobby.

The difference between the NRA and the Israel lobby is that the former does not try to destroy organizations that oppose its agenda. It is content to keep its own people in line (munitions makers and gun sellers) while using its voters and campaign cash to buy both Congress and state legislatures. It has succeeded so well that even the slaughter of 20 first graders (and 6 teachers) in Connecticut led not to the tightening of restrictions on guns but to further loosening of existing gun laws. In 1968, the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King and Sen.Robert Kennedy led almost immediately to passage of the Gun Control Act of 1968. Today comparable horrors would no doubt lead to new laws allowing more concealed guns in more public places.

It is unlikely that anything is going to change this situation, not if 20 murdered children didn't. It would if the United States was a democracy but it isn't. After all, the overwhelming majority of Americans (including gun owners) favor more restrictions on guns. That barely matters; the NRA says "no how, no way" and they will take out politicians who oppose them.

The Israel issue is different. It is even easier to maintain the status quo on Israel than on guns because Americans do not oppose current U.S. policy on Israel. Just last month, a Pew poll showed Americans favoring Israel over the Palestinians 53 to 14 percent, which is consistent with every other poll in recent years. In other words, in contrast to the NRA, the Israel lobby is on the popular side of the issue. More relevant, however, is that the people who matter on this issue, the people who donate money to politicians, back Netanyahu to the hilt.

J Street's mission has been to show politicians that there is more than one way to support Israel and that, in fact, helping to sustain the occupation harms Israel. But it is up against the Israeli government and the lobby, both of which equate (not coincidentally as the Israeli government is pulling the strings) the survival of Israel with West Bank land grabs and the ugly repression of Palestinians. And that means the money power is against J Street.

J Street simply cannot afford to buy politicians. AIPAC, like the NRA, collects them and stores them in a cabinet for use whenever it needs them. If Israel voted tomorrow to annex the West Bank without giving the Palestinians who live there the right to vote, AIPAC would get Congressional Democrats and Republicans to immediately pass resolutions applauding the action, much like the NRA got legislators to loosen gun laws after Newtown. (After all, why else were Lindsey Graham, Brad Sherman and Elliot Engel invented?)

The banning of J Street certainly does not help it in its mission. Now that the "official" voice of Jewish community buffoonery has said it is beyond the pale, it will be even harder for it to influence legislators who might worry that their basement meetings in dark Arlington coffee shops with Jeremy Ben Ami might be reported to AIPAC. This could lead to such fearsome results as the loss of a few hundred dollars in campaign contributions and the drop in their winning margin in November from 66 to 65 percent. (Ask Cory Booker or Nita Lowey to explain this dynamic to you.)

Also harming J Street is the rise of the BDS movement, which is leading some Jews who oppose the occupation to pull back from involvement in the whole issue. As I demonstrated here, the boycott movement is dedicated to the dismantling of the Jewish state, not to ending the occupation. That makes it irrelevant as far as ever affecting policy but very relevant in terms of giving the Jewish establishment something with which to beat up legitimate opponents of the occupation.

This is no more fair than was the use of the Communist party to discredit progressives in the 1950's. But that does not mean it won't work. BDS is the club Netanyahu and the lobby are using to scare Jews who care about Israel away from anti-occupation activism. It is working, to the joy of both the Jewish establishment and BDS, both of which despise "liberal Zionists."

I don't blame J Street (or Americans For Peace Now or AMEINU) for any of this. There is nothing wrong with these organizations that could not be solved with a few million dollars in their coffers to use to elect friendly Members of Congress. Maybe more than a few million dollars, given that the other side can always raise as many millions as it needs.

But that does not mean the two-staters should give up. No, they will never win over Congress so long as AIPAC's millionaires are giving it its marching orders. But, as the Obama administration has demonstrated, they can win over a president.

No, Secretary of State John Kerry's mission fell far short of its goal. But he pushed Israel hard, he blamed Netanyahu for his mission's failure and he said (surely with President Obama's approval) that without an end to the occupation, Israel would become an "apartheid" state. If Obama or the next president decides to force an end to the occupation, she can do it. Remember how AIPAC surrendered on Iran when Obama pushed back, the same can happen on Israel/Palestine and Congress could not do a thing to stop it.

That reason, above all, justifies the strengthening of J Street and the other pro-Israel anti-occupation groups. They are needed to provide political cover for the next president or the one after that when he steps before the cameras to announce the deal that would end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict once and for all, guaranteeing security and sovereignty for both peoples.

That president will need Jews at his side when he does that, not renegade Jews who oppose Israel's existence but Jews who are dedicated to its survival and to justice for the Palestinians too.

That is why, despite the utterly corrupt Congress, the anti-occupation organizations like J Street matter even more than they ever did no matter what the Presidents Conference does. They can keep J Street out of their stuffy little meeting room in Manhattan but they have not been able to keep them out of the White House. And that is what drives the Conference of Presidents crazy.

Every time Malcolm Hoenlein, chief of the Conference of Presidents, and David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, walk in, they see Jeremy Ben Ami of J Street walking out. Seven years ago, the Jewish organizational hacks had the field to themselves. No more. And that ultimately will make all the difference in the world. No wonder they are going crazy.