I am a member of a closed list-serve called RAVKAV that includes all Reform Rabbis. There everything under the sun is discussed on a daily basis. The agreement is that all communications are confidential.
That being said, there has been some confusion of late about J Street and JStreetPAC that I and several other colleagues cleared up, and since we rabbis were confused I must assume that many in the Jewish community beyond rabbinic circles are likewise confused. Hence, the purpose of this blog-post.
The matter was raised concerning the Denver JCRC’s exclusion of J Street as a member organization in May of this year. One of my colleagues pointed to JStreetPAC’s endorsement of candidates for national political office (i.e. the House and Senate) as justification for the Denver JCRC excluding J Street from membership.
The Denver JCRC is a coalition of nearly 40 organizations, synagogues and at-large members in the Denver area and acts as a service provided to the community by the Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado. The purpose of this JCRC is to convene the ‘common table’ around which member organizations can engage in civil discourse through open dialogue to address issues and design strategies on issues of concern to the Jewish community. Included in the list is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The nearly 40 member organizations can be found here http://www.jewishcolorado.org/page.aspx?id=241337
If this is an inclusive organization, why did the Denver’s JCRC exclude J Street? I do not have an answer, but I do believe it is important to clear up confusions about what J Street is.
J Street’s mission is simple – “We believe in the right of the Jewish people to a national homeland in Israel, in the Jewish and democratic values on which Israel was founded, and in the necessity of a two-state solution.” www.jstreet.org
J Street includes an Educational Fund and has a division within it called JStreetPAC. My colleagues confused the two divisions of J Street, their functions and the legal distinctions, and on that basis one stated that the Denver JCRC’s position vis a vis J Street is correct and appropriate.
The J Street Education Fund is a 501c3 entity and is legally independent of the JStreetPAC that does the political work.
For the record, J Street is a member of other JCRCs including in Boston, Westchester, Atlanta, and Baltimore that all recognize that J Street’s community based work is done by the J Street Educational Fund.
With regards to the Denver JCRC, an overwhelming majority of those voting yay and nay on J Street’s application voted in favor. The final vote was 18 in favor, 12 opposed, and 8 abstentions. J Street did not attain the needed votes because of arcane rules for JCRC membership that require a two-thirds majority (a super-majority!).
For the record, the litmus test is not whether a candidate is Republican, Democrat or Independent for an endorsement by JStreetPAC. The litmus test is whether said candidate supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and advocates an activist American involvement in mediating between the parties, as the United States is currently doing.
JStreetPAC has supported two Republicans in the past on this basis. The fact that all 71 candidates that JStreetPAC endorsed in the last election cycle, of whom 70 won their elections in the House and Senate, were Democrats is a reflection not of JStreetPAC’s partisan orientation at all (it is not partisan in the sense of supporting one American political party over another), but rather because the two state issue was not embraced according to J Street’s principles openly by Republicans, nor did Republicans welcome JStreetPAC’s endorsement in the last cycle.
JStreetPAC would be delighted to work with any Republican or Independent that embraces openly the principle of the two-state solution.
One colleague justified excluding J Street from the JCRC based on the fact that the JCRC then would have to include the Republican Jewish Coalition. But would the RJC be open to Democratic candidates for office? Obviously not, as it is purely partisan whereas JStreetPAC endorses candidates based on a clear policy position not party affiliation. This is a distinction with a clear difference.
I suspect that as time progresses Republicans may be open to JStreetPAC endorsements given that even the Israeli ruling coalition (or that part of it that is not against a two state solution) and a significant majority of members of the Knesset are in favor of an end-of-conflict two-state solution with a state of Israel sitting securely side by side with a state of Palestine.