Why J Street is Speaking out about Trump’s AIPAC Speech

Logan Bayroff
on March 25, 2016

 J Street’s blog aims to reflect a range of voices. The opinions expressed in blog posts do not necessarily reflect the policies or view of J Street.           

This week, in the wake of the warm reception Donald Trump received at the AIPAC Policy Conference, J Street asked our supporters to take action and make clear: We don’t support the hateful and racist campaign of Donald Trump, and we stand up for different values.

One individual, a rabbi in the Reform Movement, emailed to ask why J Street felt compelled to take this action, and to take a clear public stand on Trump and the applause for him at AIPAC. He worried that our stance could prove unnecessarily divisive.

Our President, Jeremy Ben-Ami, wrote a response. This, slightly edited for length, is what Jeremy had to say:

First, I want to say thank you for taking the time to write a thoughtful email on such an important topic.

I appreciate your perspective and value your passion for Israel and for AIPAC. I would like to hope that this could be the beginning of a deeper engagement and conversation between us — not a moment to disconnect.

I would like to offer you the perspective that I bring to the events of the past few days and perhaps give a sense of the view from outside the Verizon Center.

Whether intended or not, the impressions coming through to those of us watching the speeches on Monday live (and then reading about them later) were of a large number of Jewish Americans at the conference of an organization — which has claimed for itself the right and therefore shoulders the responsibility to speak for American Jews who love Israel – warmly welcoming both a man and a message profoundly at odds with values at the core of the identity of our community.

The applause and ovations that we heard and saw from the participants were widespread and long-lasting. For hundreds of thousands of Jews who were not in the hall, it left a very bad taste.

AIPAC purports to rise above partisanship to promote and build broad-based support for Israel in the United States — yet here it was welcoming and applauding the most divisive political figure in the United States in a generation or two.

The email we sent says that thousands stood and applauded Trump — and that is true. By pointing that out and by asking people to stand with us for what we believe, I do not believe we sowed rancor and discord.

With polling showing Trump with a 75% disapproval rating and only 15% approval from Jewish Americans, I’d say that the overwhelming majority of the American Jewish community would not have stood and applauded — if they would even have stayed in the hall to hear him speak, let alone agreed to invite him in the first place.

J Street has called what Trump says and campaigns on bigoted and racist. I stand by that. His campaign is toxic — running counter to core values of the Jewish people. His rhetoric, his appeals to fear and his incitement to violence scare a very large portion of the Jewish community — in large measure because of the experiences we’ve had in our history.

I would say that AIPAC’s decision to invite Trump divided not just the Jewish community but the organization itself. And the reactions the speech engendered evidently proved divisive within the organization as well — leading to the Tuesday morning apology for the attacks on President Obama.

For evidence that this perception goes far beyond J Street’s ranks, you can read such commentators as conservative Rabbi Menachem Creditor in the Times of Israel or Jane Eisner in the Forward.

J Street asked people to stand against the bigotry and hatred that Donald Trump has exhibited and to make clear that those who stood and applauded in the name of pro-Israel advocacy do not speak for us.

Across the community there is simply sadness and shock that when three-quarters of Jewish Americans disapprove of Donald Trump, such a large portion of one of the largest and most well-known organizations purporting to represent us cheered for him and what he represents. To give expression to the feelings of that large majority and to offer them a home that speaks to their values and stands for their beliefs is not divisive — it’s actually a service. That’s why thousands of people answered our call and why the reactions we received were so overwhelmingly positive.

I can assure you that J Street seeks only to be one voice among many in the Jewish community creating a vibrant and diverse pro-Israel community. American Jews don’t all see things the same way — we can’t be artificially united under one umbrella and one umbrella only.

AIPAC has the right to take the positions it takes, to invite the speakers it wants and to applaud or rebuke who they choose.

But they don’t have a pre-ordained right to be the lone voice heard on behalf of the community.

The rest of the community doesn’t have to remain silent in the interest of “unity” when core interests and values are at stake as they are in all of these discussions. We too have the right to be represented by an organization that stands for and advocates for what we believe.

I do hope that we’ll have the opportunity to continue this discussion. The ability to discuss these differences civilly and in the spirit of strengthening the Jewish community is critical to healing the rifts that are emerging in our community.

Thank you again for taking the time to reach out to me.

– Jeremy

P.S. – I thought it would be relevant to cite a reading found in the current Reform prayer book:

“And May You Partake of God’s Peace”

To think the same way, to share the same opinions —
this is not peace.
Unity is not uniformity.
True peace comes through the expression of differences;
many perspectives, each offering a partial view of the truth.
Shalom means wholeness.
Only when we open ourselves to understand all sides of an issue
will we attain peace.
And so it is written: Torah scholars increase peace in the world.
Through their disagreements, truth will emerge and we will find shalom.

Logan Bayroff is a Senior Communications Associate at J Street. He’s on Twitter at @Bayroff