As the J Street – George Soros controversy goes into it second full week, here’s a quick update on a few of the threads entangling the pro-Israel, pro-peace process group.
1. The controversy is solidifying into familiar lines, with ardent supporters blaming the press for heaping fuel on a relatively minor matter – the failure of J Street’s leaders to tell the truth about Soros contributions – and detractors piling on with real criticism and outright hyperbole.
Yes, as I’ve written, J Street’s leaders were stupid. No, the group isn’t anti-Israel, pro-Arab or a buzzing hive of self-haters, as so many emailers and callers insist.
But it strikes me that none of this is really meaningful. What matters is what happens on Capitol Hill. Will members of Congress who are sympathetic to J Street’s positions and maybe even accepted money from its PAC be warier of being seen in public with the group, or even repudiate it?
Or will J Street’s lobbyists be able to fix the trust problem their actions caused?
Here, the jury is still out. Trust can be restored, but it’s a tough job; politicians get lied to every day, but they hate getting lied to in ways that make them politically vulnerable.
2. New charges about South African jurist Richard Goldstone, author of a report on the Gaza war widely regarded as biased against Israel and a reviled figure to the pro-Israel establishment, are hard to sort out. Did J Street materially contribute to Goldstone’s Capitol Hill meetings? At this point it’s not just clear.
And in the global scheme of things, I suspect it’s actually not that important to J Street’s recovery efforts.
Goldstone is anathema to the pro-Israel establishment, but I’m not sure anybody else cares very much, certainly not J Street’s core supporters.
Here I get back to Point 1: what really matters here is the reaction on Capitol Hill. I doubt whether the Goldstone accusations will change many minds in that rarefied atmosphere. To many Capitol Hill centrists, I imagine he’s still the “distinguished jurist who got it wrong on Israel and Gaza,” not the self-loathing, Israel-hating fanatic depicted by many on the right.
Indeed, the unrestrained rhetoric batting around the blogosphere about J Street and Goldstone could help reinforce the impression among lawmakers inclined to J Street’s positions that most of the criticism is just the same-old same-old from the extreme right.
3. I wonder how the faltering Israeli-Palestinian peace talks will affect J Street as it struggles to recover from recent events.
J Street’s real pull on Capitol Hill – and in the Jewish community – depends on a sense that peace is possible and that a more active U.S. role is worth pursuing.
But the Obama administration did pursue negotiations, and almost as soon a they began they hit the usual brick wall.
The Jewish right is energized by what many see as a golden opportunity to put the final nail in the peace process coffin; the pro-Israel mainstream is energized by the feeling it needs to circle the wagons to protect Israel in the face of mounting worldwide criticism.
I wonder what’s going to energize the left, including J Street’s core constituency, if this latest peace process iteration crashes and burns even faster than its predecessors.
And I wonder what it means to J Street’s efforts to recover its equilibrium that there doesn’t seem to be much pro-peace process passion out there – passion that drives the movement it represents. I know a lot of lefties, and these days I hear a lot talk about the economy, about global warming, about a host of other issues, hardly any about Middle East peace.
That would be bad news for J Street and the rest of the pro-peace process left in the best of circumstances.
Which these are not.