“Are you here for community, or to build an effective lobby?”

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JJ Goldberg asked this question Tuesday morning at a much-reported J Street conference panel with Matt Yglesias and Jonathan Chait. Navelgazing afterwards, it’s clear to see that two conversations were occuring in parallel:

  1. How do we solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
  2. Can I have some “oppressed Jewish left and— happy to be out of the closet” therapy time?

And I don’t blame these people for holding conversation #2 and I don’t blame them for finding their way to the J Street conference. Having done this work for 5+ years and found my own community (built it, actually) I do not need the therapy for myself. But I beleive it is unavoidable as we open up the conversation. People whose political views— never been validated before will absolutely need that space to be excited, thankful, and giddy.

As an aftereffect, people who are ecstatic to be around a more open conversation will need to search their heart and soul for the willpower to belong to an organization. One organization is not a movement — which is why there were 20 official conference sponsors and a plethora which came anyway: Tikkun Magazine, Jewish Voice for Peace, CODE PINK, and others. The conference belonged to an organization, although it was attended by a movement.

Since this was the first conference, there will be plenty of people who come, hear the conversation, and discover that they’re not comfortable coming again. These will be the ardently pro-Palestinian, the one-staters, those who can’t stand the I-love-Israel credential vouching, or those who squirm at speaking as American Jews. And those who stayed away waiting to see the results may stay away for another conference (or two) until J Street has time to prove it will not suddenly endorse Hamas.

I don’t need the therapy anymore, but I benefited from my own community’s giving to reach this point. Overcoming victimhood viz a viz being a political minority took some time, some whining, some chances to buck up, and some finding of places to channel my righteous indignation. We cannot look down on the attendees of JJ Goldberg’s workshop who clearly used the event to work through their own allegiances.

However — I believe it vastly important to channel that relief into productive actions. Thus it irked me a little bit that of the 1200 conference attendees, some 500 went home early and skipped the visits to legislator’s offices on Capital Hill. The lobby visits are the manifestation of political power and every body counted. It is now the task of J Street’s new grassroots field program — formerly Brit Tzedek v’Shalom — to sift through these one-time attendees and find leaders for the local chapters.

So I’m agreeing with JJ Goldberg’s retort to his audience full of whiny, label-haters. I— too rolled my eyes with impatience and disagreement as I listened to them. For those who can’t abide J Street’s parameters (pro-Israel, pro-peace) then there are other organizations for you (see above). But I also defend the role of community in our organization.

3 thoughts on ““Are you here for community, or to build an effective lobby?”

  1. ABG

    “The conference belonged to an organization, although it was attended by a movement.” excellent point

  2. Yes yes yes: this exactly. I’ve been thinking a lot about the tension between on the one hand those who want to create an effective lobbying group, and on the other hand those who have felt so disenfranchised for so long that they truly want and need community-building. Many of us, of course, are in both camps. But I think some of us at the conference were more there for the community-building, and others were more there for the political work, and those two interests aren’t always comfortable bedfellows.

    That said, I appreciated the conference as a space where both of those things could happen.

  3. JJ Goldberg put his views into a Haaretz peice on this just today: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1124782.html

    Just important to note that JJ has been a loyally left-wing pessimist in the many of the contexts I’ve met him. I respect his work and brainpower so highly, and yet can’t help but feel he’s worn out on hoping. I think that strongly comes across in his article, which I think shouldn’t necessarily be seen as overly harsh criticism on J Street itself.

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