Highlighting Michael Omer-Man's article asking why J Street is so controversial, I said in my last post that I would offer an answer. Omer-Man's answer that it's because J Street is the new kid on the block seems too easy and fails to address the reason J Street is so venomously and irrationally attacked by those on the right.
I'd like to begin by re-framing the question a bit. I think the question in this context essentially asks what is it about J Street that drives the right wingers so crazy. Because other than right wing rage, there isn't a whole lot of controversy about J Street.
So here's my answer: the right wing is more concerned about winning the argument than ending the conflict. The right wing will not be satisfied until every last living creature acknowledges the moral superiority and righteousness of the Jewish people. We are just and the Palestinians live to destroy us. So it doesn't matter to the right wing that the Palestinians have put down their arms, have accepted Israel's right to exist and have absolutely no military capability to destroy the Jewish state. The right wing wants a declaration that Israel is justified in all its actions, whether it's the expulsion of Arabs during the War of Independence or maintaining a 44 year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. To prove their point, the right wingers are only too willing to double down, and continue in this vein - we ain't doing anything wrong, so why stop - until the world acknowledges that Israel had good cause for all its actions. They cannot stomach the idea that Israel, like every other country that has ever existed, is not pure. Because the right wingers have an infatuation (which is different than love) with Israel, they are unwilling or unable to recognize its past sins. Doing so would destroy the idealized Israel they hold dear to their hearts. Israel is good and the Palestinians are bad. Add this to death and taxes. And you better not question it.
Here's the thing. These are not stupid people. They are smart, educated and successful people most of them. They know (or at least suspect) deep down that Israel is not pure, but rather than acknowledge that in any meaningful way, they continue to insist that Israel is pure as if insisting on it will make it true. Arriving at a compromise with the Palestinians, however, necessarily admits that the right will not get their declaration of victory and further implies that they acknowledge Israel's misdeeds. So they resist compromise, cast the conflict in moral terms and assert absolutist positions. (By the way, there are those on the far left that do the same.) For those in the United States it is a comfortable stance to take. They can hold their idealized view of Israel and bask in self righteousness with impunity because they are not being asked to pay the price of the continued conflict.
So getting back to the question of why J Street is so "controversial," the answer is not because J Street is the new kid on the block. And it's not because J Street espouses a two-state solution. But it's because J Street seeks to end the conflict, rather than win the argument. And along the way, J Street has been courageous enough to acknowledge Israel's failings. When the right hears J Street call on Israel to end the blockade of Gaza or to cease settlement activity, the right's anger flares not because J Street is wrong, but because they know J Street is right. Accepting even the legitimacy of J Street, however, is too much for them to bear in the face of what they also "know," i.e., that Israel is right and the Palestinians are wrong. It is this cognitive dissonance that makes J Street so "controversial."
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As I shared via social media outlets last week, over at the Tikkun blog there was an article posted discussing 'History Centrism'. The thesis being, "Due to the significant emphasis on prophetic history, religious groups can become ... 'historical societies' — preserving, codifying and interpreting the religious histories of their founders. In conflict, they come to question each other’s histories, and therefore the legitimacy of each other’s faiths."
Now many will quickly point out that the I-P issue is a human rights issue, not a religious one which is objectively true--but others, like me, will say one's religious outlook, should that outlook be guided by one of the Abrahamic faiths, is about human rights above all else (see: Abraham leaving his conversation with the Divine in order to welcome strangers; not historically true, but metaphysically true in the sense that the Hebrew biblical worldview is one of open tents).
By appealing to tradition those Jews who choose to use historical events to define our values are focusing on the wrong tradition: Jewish values have never been "what did you do before" but always "what are you doing now." Everything from the grammatical formulation of brachot "Blessed is ... who creates [actively/present]" to the classic words at Sinai, "we do and we understand," idyllic Jewish values are defined not by what came before but by how you act in each unfolding moment of every day.
J Street is controversial because it shifts the paradigm from a passive entitlement system ("this is our destiny") to an active behavior based model ("here is how we are actively creating a better world"). History must inform our values, not define them, and that is a controversial challenge.