Brett Cohen

J Street U: Reveling in Ultimate Victimhood

It has become increasingly clear that J Street U​ is the home of three main populations: the ignorant, the petulant, and the malicious.

Essentially what we are seeing is an orchestrated attack on the cohesion of the Jewish community by a bunch of hypocritical narcissists. J Street, after all, was founded under the anti-democratic ideal that they knew better than the Israeli electorate, and envisioned themselves as the saviors of a country committing suicide.

Chemi Shalev just published in Ha’aretz an eye-opening look into the recent J Street conference. Read what is the major concern of their “hipsterish President Benjy Cannon”, “Cannon said that despite the Jewish community’s strong objections to settlements, its communal organs refuse to criticize the Israeli government, usually for fear of angering their right-wing benefactors. “And what does the administration learn from that? That the American Jewish community does not object to settlements.” (

They are seeking approval from the US Administration. That is the goal.

What sort of historical image does that garner in your mind? 2015 isn’t Anatevka, and nobody should be afraid of the czar. Even Thomas Friedman thinks President Obama has been wrong on a number of issues in the Middle East. Their desire for approval is actually kind of creepy.

The biggest insult though, is the shocking hypocrisy and lack of self awareness on behalf of the organizers pushing this line and the student attendees. More than 1100 students and Hillel staff attended the J Street​ conference free of charge, including J Street donors covering their flights, hotels, registration fees, and meals. This is unique in the Jewish/pro-Israel community, where many students pay their way to conferences and only receive partial subsidies.

Who paid for this? At least with “right-wing” megadonors like Sheldon Adelson, you have the integrity of basic transparency and they aren’t afraid to name their projects.

When I spoke at a J Street U conference last spring at Johns Hopkins University I witnessed a similar conspiratorial attack being planned, at that time demanding that Hillel International allow student representation on the executive governing board of Hillel​, and for J Street U to lead the charge and dominate that board.

What was most shocking though, was that at my banquet table I had to draw a map of Israel and the West Bank on a napkin to explain to the students I was seated with how a land swap deal would work, where Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are in relation to the West Bank, and where the bulk of the settlement blocks, which are actually just suburbs of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, are located. Enter the ignorant.

At the panel the following day, which was on the similarly hypocritical Open Hillel​ movement, I called out this hypocrisy and told the students there that they were being essentially lied to and used as a cynical weapon. Hillel isn’t a monolith for the Jewish community on campus. It is a non-profit organization, and a self-declared Zionist one at that. I told them that looked like petulant complaining brats, and there are only three rational choices:
1. Rather than demonize donors and board members, try to convince them to change based on sound arguments and actual policy. Good luck.
2. Bring in your own ideological donors and attempt a hostile takeover. I don’t think that would fly well or be productive.
3. Start your own organization. Again, good luck.

Instead, what we have seen is the narcissistic and frankly malicious choice of attacking Hillel, which has clearly bent over backwards to welcome in J Street U, from writing New York Times Op-ed’s welcoming J Street U, to the very sponsorship of their conference that is seeing more Hillel staff than virtually any other Jewish communal function.

The most cynical part is that J Street demands acceptance and a place at the table, and after they are offered it reject it out of hand in favor of playing a perpetual victim-hood game, and refuse to collaborate. I have had recent personal experience with this phenomenon trying to coordinate BDS strategy among pro-Israel organizations on multiple campuses.

Eric Fingerhut was right not to want to appear on the same stage as Saeb Erekat, a man who ludicrously rants that Jews are not indigenous to Israel ( and routinely bypasses negotiations with Israel to go to international bodies for the explicit purpose of demonizing his supposed negotiating partner. Eric Fingerhut was also right not to want to appear on the same ticket at James “F*ck the Jews” Baker. Why any pro-Israel organization would choose these rank antisemites and obstacles to peace as headliners (and be sure, they received raucous applause from the crowds this weekend) is a complete mystery.

The real question in all of this, that I always ask JStreeters when I meet them, is why after over 9 peace plans that were rejected by the Arabs between World War I and 2014, do you think that it is Israel that is the one saying no to peace? When are we going to hold the Palestinian leadership accountable for the billions of dollars it has wasted, for Mahmoud Abbas’ $1 Million A MONTH official PA salary (,7340,L-4305124,00.html), or their utter failure to instill coexistence like Israel spent doing in its schools for the past 25 years, even after the Second Intifada murdered thousands of civilians on both sides.

Instead, J Street uses students as ideological pawns in their actual mission, which is to sew discord in the Jewish community and mainstream the Palestinian narrative of no consequences, zero accountability, and ultimate victim-hood.

About the Author
Brett Cohen lives in Tel Aviv, Israel and is currently pursuing a Masters Degree in Archaeology and Cultural History at Tel Aviv University. A native of the South Side of Chicago, Brett graduated from Loyola University Chicago in 2008 with degrees in Political Science, International Studies, and Anthropology. From 2008-2016 Brett was a leader in the pro-Israel campus movement in North America, serving as Executive Director of Campus Affairs for StandWithUs. He has also been a long time campaigner for LGBT rights, pioneering marriage equality in Illinois by marrying his husband in 2012.