Who's Afraid Of J Street? And Why?

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on April 1, 2009

Ezra Klein posits that the traditional AIPAC folk are worried about the rise of J Street because of “generational anxiety.” Klein believes that older Jews have a great deal more sensitivity to the threats Jews have traditionally been subjected to than do younger Jews and the relative lack of sensitivity on the part of younger Jews “changed the relationship young Jews have to both Judaism and Israel.” Furthermore, Klein believes that thanks to Walt’s and Mearsheimer’s work in examining the Israel lobby, Jewish opinion has been polarized between the AIPAC approach and the J Street approach.

Klein does not, alas, provide any information by way of demographic data to back up his claim that “AIPAC’s demographics — and even more so its active membership — wouldn’t bar the organization from membership in AARP.” But assuming that he is correct, should we not be concerned that the younger J Street set may be disregarding the long-view brought to the table by the elder AIPAC set? To be sure, Klein is quite correct when he says that Judaism is living through interesting times; American Jews are part of a smart, privileged and overachieving set, and Israel is no one’s punching bag. Quite a change from the way things were.

But “the way things were” was pretty much the norm for Jews. We are, alas, quite familiar with what it means to be persecuted, bullied, hunted down. My parents lived in Iran during the days of the Shah and while Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was good to Iranian Jews, they still felt the sting of discrimination and bullying. They have it better in America, but who can guarantee that the good times will last? Remember the famed Chinese response when asked about American democracy at the time of the American Bicentennial; “it’s too soon to tell.” Is it possible that it is too soon to tell whether there has been anything approaching a permanent change in the fortunes of Jews and Judaism? The situation in Europe alone ought to give us pause. Who can assure us that America may not go the way of Europe?

Who, for that matter, can assure us that Israel will continue to exist. One hopes she will, but with a nation constantly under siege, one cannot say for sure.

I hope that the bet younger Jews have made is the right one. I hope that we will no longer be the hunted, that those who would mess with us will think twice. But I know my history. If the J Street crowd wants to tell me that it’s sunshine and unicorns (or something like that) from here on out for Jews, I want off that bus. Much as I would like to believe it, I’m not yet that sanguine.

Previous post:

Next post: