J Street’s Bigotry & Intolerance: A response to Jeremy Ben-Ami

On Tuesday, May 13, Jeremy Ben-Ami, president and co-founder of J Street, published an article in the Times of Israel discussing the positions his organization takes on major issues. According to Ben-Ami, many in the pro-Israel community have been deluded about J Street’s mission and so he decided to go about “setting the record straight” with his article.

The crux of the piece was a call to refrain from issuing baseless personal attacks against J Street and to instead engage in a more intelligent debate about the substance of the organization’s arguments. I agree with this approach. Unfortunately Ben-Ami’s article was dismally lacking in upholding the very standards he claimed to advocate. Instead it was replete with contradictions, half-truths, and snide remarks against those who disagree with J Street’s positions.

Ben-Ami began his piece by claiming that J Street is pro-Israel. To illustrate this point, he began by talking about his family history, of how he is the “descendant of four generations of Israelis,” and how his ancestors “are buried in Israel on the Mt. of Olives… .”But such an assertion is entirely irrelevant as to whether one is pro-Israel or not. One’s claim to be pro-Israel is not contingent upon where (s)he comes from but rather the principles (s)he espouses. My ancestors come from Africa and I consider myself to be as Zionist as the next pro-Israel advocate.

Ben-Ami further suggests that the pro-Israel community dislikes J Street because they believe that one must “agree with all the policies of the government of Israel.” But this is disingenuous. We in the pro-Israel community do not oppose J Street because it rebukes the Israeli government. One of the pillars of open and free debate is, of course, the practice of questioning policies to ensure they are steadfast and reasonable. The problem we have with J Street is that its leadership does not actually permit open and free debate.

 Ben-Ami claims to see many of the Israeli government’s policies as “counter to Israeli interests,” and thus rebukes them. Fair enough. We in the pro-Israel community see many of J Street’s policies as counter to Israeli interests as well.  Yet, when one rebukes them, one is bullied and personally attacked by Ben-Ami.

For example, many of us believe it is fundamentally contradictory (and downright duplicitous) to claim to oppose BDS and support Israel, while simultaneously giving a platform to those who support BDS and who call for the destruction of Israel. (Shocker, I know.) Yet, when we voice these concerns, BenAmi describes us as “conservative” or part of the “establishment,”as though such terms were “dirty” words or even remotely applicable to the topic at hand. He even suggests that those who disagree with him are not “sophisticated” enough to really “get it.”

So, not only are those who disagree with Ben-Ami ideologically inept, but he would have us believe they’re also stupid.

Another example of Ben-Ami’s wrath against those who disagree with him comes later in his article. He describes those who believe in the fundamental right to live in the heart and soul of the homeland of the Jewish people as engaging in “nationalist extremism” and suggests that they are a threat to Israel and the “soul of the Jewish people.” This is intellectual hypocrisy at its worst. There is perhaps no more effective way to silence debate then by describing your opponent as a monster while claiming that you’re the one being bullied because he disagrees with you.

But Ben-Ami’s shtick wears thin. In suggesting that those who challenge J Street’s positions are intellectually incompetent, he does not live up to the very standards he purports to promote. He does not debate the substance of arguments. Instead, he smears his opponents by calling them names so he won’t have to address the issues. Ben-Ami portrays those who object to his musings as evil people who must be censored and whose ideas must not be considered.  He imagines that his own opinions are inherently superior and displays prejudicial intolerance for the views of others. This is fascism and it is unacceptable.

J Street engages in the tactics its founders claim to eschew. This is why we have an aversion to the organization. We are less concerned with its official policies (regardless of how utterly ludicrous they are) and more disturbed by its members’ deliberate feigning of victimhood all while they harass those who disagree with its policy prescriptions. The notion that J Street alone possesses all the right answers and that dissenting naysayers are to be perceived as a threat to the Jewish people illustrates just how hot the air is that fills all of Ben-Ami’s sanctimonious talk about refraining from “calling us [J Street] names because one doesn’t agree with us.”

We have a phrase for your scam, Mr. Ben-Ami.  Pot. Kettle. Black.

About the Author
Chloé Simone Valdary is an expert in Israel-Engagement in the millennial space. As a Tikvah Fellow at the Wall Street Journal, she developed a blueprint on the topic of Israel advocacy on campus -- namely what works, what doesn't, and how to make it better.