J Street snags Susskind

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

J Street’s legion of detractors have something else to be unhappy about; the year-old pro-Israel, pro-peace process lobby and political action committee has hired one of Washington’s most highly regarded Jewish activists.

Hadar Susskind, who currently works as vice president and Washington director for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), has signed on as director of policy and strategy for the political arm of the group.

“My goal is to build as broad a base of support as possible for Israel at this politically pivotal moment when there is both great opportunity to make progress in resolving the conflict and a tremendous risk of squandering it,”  Susskind said in a statement. “I look forward to working to grow a strong and integrated progressive pro-Israel movement and to build that much needed support across the spectrum of American political life.”

His background – he was born in Israel and served in the IDF in Lebanon – won’t  please those right-wingers who say J Street is anti-Israel because it disagrees with …well, them. And it probably won’t mollify more mainstream leaders who worry that  the new group undercuts American Jewish unity on key questions involving Israel.

I’ve watched Susskind since he came to the JCPA job in 2005; what’s been striking is his ability to frame progressive positions with a distinctly mainstream touch.

He’s the kind of Jewish liberal who can ease concerns among Jewish centrists that there’s something inherently anti-Jewish about being progressive – a bizarre perception, when you think about it, since Jewish voters as a group remain one of the most liberal in the country.

My best is that Susskind will strengthen J Street’s credibility and effectiveness.

Lest I be accused of saying J Street is about to topple AIPAC from the top of the pro-Israel heap, let me repeat what I’ve written before: it faces big hurdles, starting with the fact that its political base, while big,  is diffuse and not committed to the Israel issue with the same narrow focus and high intensity of AIPAC’s base.  That gives the traditional pro-Israel groups a big edge.

And while a majority of Jews support a two-state solution, political chaos on the Palestinian side and a non-responsive rest of the Arab world have created a pretty unfavorable climate for pro-peace process activists.

Still, you have to think J Street is playing is playing a pretty smart game these days,  and the Susskind hire is one more piece of evidence.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.