J Street, the progressive Israel advocacy organization, has a serious problem.
Many left-wing members of Congress who have been aligned with and supported by J Street are leading the relatively small but vocal congressional faction demanding that Israel end its war with Hamas right now. J Street doesn’t agree. And some J Street friends have gone even further and accused Israel of committing genocide in its Hamas war in Gaza. J Street doesn’t agree with that, either.
So, what is J Street going to do about these disagreements with its friends? Absolutely nothing.
According to J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami, there will be no change in his organization’s continuing endorsement of its progressive friends who demand that Israel stop efforts to eradicate Hamas and no consequence for those who accuse Israel of genocide — a particularly hateful designation that is defined as “the deliberate killing of a large number of people from a particular nation or ethnic group with the aim of destroying that nation or group.”
According to Ben-Ami, it’s simply too late to make any change in the organization’s endorsement choices. “We’re now in December of 2023, so we’re more than halfway through, essentially the [election] cycle. We probably will not change our endorsements in mid-cycle.” But he did say that “the kind of things that are being said and done now will probably have an impact on our reevaluation of people for the 2026 cycle.”
Ben-Ami’s argument makes no sense. It’s never too late to do the right thing. Moreover, there is no reason why a principled endorsement or withdrawal of an endorsement can’t have a meaningful impact in the second half of an election cycle. Indeed, if the J Street endorsement process is to have any credibility, it needs to stand for something. If circumstances change during an election process, why wouldn’t a principled organization call out the change and adjust its position with the same moral rectitude and commitment as its original decision?
The case of Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) encapsulates J Street’s challenge and reflects the organization’s lack of backbone to stand up to friends when they do wrong. Bowman, who has traveled to Israel and the West Bank with J Street and is close with its leadership, was part of a pro-cease-fire protest in front of the White House in November that attracted a lot of press coverage. At that protest, Bowman said: “We are against genocide. We are against ethnic cleansing. We have all read about genocides. We have all read about mass murders. I cannot believe I am living through one. And I cannot believe I am living through one and the U.S. government is condoning it and being complicit.”
Bowman’s remarks were offensive. His alignment with the Hamas narrative and his vilification of Israel and the U.S. deserve the scorn of everyone. J Street’s Ben-Ami seems to agree, as he acknowledged that Bowman’s hateful speech “certainly crossed the line in terms of the type of language that we use.” And yet, J Street still endorses Bowman’s reelection campaign.
We have disagreed with J Street since its inception. Nonetheless, we had a grudging respect for many of its principled arguments. But now that principle no longer drives the organization, what’s left?