Monday, October 26, 2009

Blogging from the J-Street Conference

I will not rain on the parade, I will not rain on the parade, I will not rain on the parade….

So last night I was at the J Street opening, and it was deeply gratifying to be with the liberal-Zionist-peace crowd. Yes, there were many moments when I thought that we had not moved much further than the peace discourse that led to Oslo, and, yes, there was no grappling with what I consider to be the real issues, either of the conflict or of the Jewish state. But how can one not be pleased to see more than 1200 people who care about Israel, and who are not satisfied with the status quo. And who can't stand AIPAC.

Of course, one has to be impressed with how a few people put together such an organization that has received such media and government attention in such a short time.

Still, last night was mostly smoke and lights, and so there was not much to comment about, except that I heard some interesting remarks about the future of the American Jewish community, and, mostly American Judaism (I seldom venture out of my orthodox Jewish enclave; I haven't seen so many non-orthodox Jewish Jews in one place in years.)

It seems that out there in America, we have developing, possibly, a non-ethnic Judaism, a Judaism that is being formed by intermarriage and conversion. The lost of ethnicity will mean a loss of connection with the center of Jewish ethnicity, Israel. The liberal rabbi who communicated this news seemed alarmed; I, actually, thought, "Wallah, that sounds promising." What this means for American Jewry and Israel is not clear. Will it mean that the Israel Lobby will end up being an orthodox enclave, an NRA with kippot? Will it mean that Israel will continue to lose relevance for American Jews? Is that a bad thing? Who knows? I would like to hope that with an American Jewry that is increasingly distanced from Israel, the Israel Lobby will shrink to the republican rightwing. I can live with that.

But we are not there yet, and maybe we won't get there.

I am now listening to a power-point presentation by Akiva Eldar, which is taken from the updated version of his book (with Idit Zertal). The room, one of the largest for the individual sessions, is packed. We are talking about the easiest issue for the liberal Zionists, the West Bank settlements. He gave background and came up with the standard line about the settlements – that they are undermining the viability of a two-state solution.

Now, Hagit Ofran is pointing out that 60% of the settlers on the West Bank (I don't know if that includes East Jerusalem) arrived after Oslo, and that is why there is a Palestinian insistence on freezing totally the settlements. She hopes that the Obama administration will hang tough, and she reports (as good news) the increased building prior to a feared freeze, which she believes is around the corner. And now, Jerusalem

Have you learned anything that you didn't know? Well, of course, you haven't. And neither have many of the people sitting in the room. So what are they doing here?

Well, at the end of the session, people will ask what they always ask, and what they have always asked: What can be done? And the answer will be, get active and get other active.

But does anybody really think there can be change? With an American Jewish community that is becoming distant from Israel, with an Israel that is increasingly ethnonationalist and orthodox?

I will not rain on the parade, I will not rain on the parade, I will not rain on the parade….


Rachel Barenblat said...

Hi. You don't know me; I'm the very pregnant woman to whom you yielded your seat in the first panel this morning. I just wanted to say thank you. Attending this conference six weeks before my due date was a slightly crazy decision, and standing for long periods of time is pretty tricky for me - I'm incredibly grateful to you for giving me your chair. Thank you so much.

Y. Ben-David said...

Jeremy Ben-Ami aligns J-Street with the Kadima Party.

What do you make of that? After, if memory serves, they were the party that bombed the heck out of Lebanon and Gaza and whom Goldstone called war criminals.

Was there as significant groups of people at the conference who, like yourself, reject the label of "Zionist". Was there significant support for BDS? Would Kadimah agree with those positions (especially since it is their people who would be put in front of the war crimes tribunal)?

Brett said...

Out of curiosity, what do you think Obama can do other than complain about the settlements? Foreign aid money is allocated by Congress, after all, and theoretically if he were to try and hold up some of it for leverage purposes, they might be able to rally enough votes to pass it over his head.

Interesting comments about the non-ethnic Judaism. Speaking as someone almost totally ignorant of any Jewish religious doctrine, practice, or traditions, how does that work? I know conversions to Judaism are possible, but I thought it was a fairly difficult process for the most part.

Lee Diamond said...

Oh, well if it was written in the Jerusalem Post it must be true. This is the f-ing USA . J Street is not aligned with an Israeli political party.

One thing we have to do is stop messing around with BS.

I saw NO support for "BDS" at the conference but thanks so much for asking. Your terrific questions are appreciated.