J Street endorsed Jamaal Bowman. Then it rescinded that endorsement and suggested the outgoing congressman’s Israel rhetoric was beyond the pale. Then its president, Jeremy Ben-Ami, mourned Bowman’s loss last night to George Latimer.

This has been quite a ride for J Street.

In fact, J Street’s involvement in the Bowman campaign is worth studying. It is the logical endpoint of J Street’s business model, which is the Jewish communal version of negative partisanship: It exists mostly in opposition to things it doesn’t like. What does it stand for? Both its president and its endorsees appear to struggle mightily to figure that out.

The bad romance between J Street and Bowman begins in earnest in 2021, because that is when J Street seems to have turned Bowman against Israel.

J Street’s raison d’etre is being Not AIPAC. AIPAC’s work is designed to improve relations between U.S. officials and their Israeli counterparts; J Street takes lawmakers on trips to Israel seemingly designed to increase their distrust of the Jewish state.

And that’s exactly what happened in 2021. Jamaal Bowman entered Congress a skeptic of Israel but a supporter of the two-state solution and the legitimacy of both sides in the conflict. J Street cured him of that, as Politico explained:

Bowman had been in the Middle East for just three days, but he was already seeing sights that were changing the way he understood the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That day, along with a handful of his congressional colleagues on a trip sponsored by the liberal Zionist organization J Street, he toured a boys’ school administered by the United Nations. The young students there regularly heard live ammunition and smelled tear gas seeping through the school’s walls.

The trip was a “transformational moment” for him, he tells me, one that left him doubtful about the prospects of a two-state solution — the default stated policy of most Democrats in America and liberal Zionists the world over. “[The two-state solution] was the thing that you say so that everyone leaves you alone … so that at the very least you could satisfy both sides, Palestinian freedom and the Jewish state,” he says. But what he took from five days of meetings and interviews, over boxed lunches and fancy dinners, was that there was no political will at the top of the Israeli government to pursue a two-state solution or engage in any sort of sustainable peace process — and that America’s willingness to send significant aid to Israel without any conditions attached was therefore unwise.

It’s worth noting here that one of the places J Street took Bowman to chip away at his belief in Israeli legitimacy was Hebron. The Jews of Hebron go back to biblical times, to Abraham purchasing land for the Cave of the Patriarchs nearly 4,000 years ago. The ancient Jewish character of the town was ended violently in 1929 when an Arab pogrom broke out and the Jews there suffered one of two fates: violent death or expulsion.

The brief interlude of Judenrein Hebron was ended in 1967, and ever since then, the Jews returning to Hebron have had to live under Israeli military protection.

All of which is to say: If you manage to use Hebron as an example of Jewish illegitimacy, you must be well-practiced in the arts of deception and propaganda. The argument over the concept of indigeneity begins and ends with Hebron. You have to really try, in other words, to make the expelled and murdered Jews of Hebron into the bad guys.

But J Street knows what it’s doing, and Bowman was convinced of Jewish villainy.

The fact that J Street is trying to drive a wedge between Democrats and Israel is important. Last night, after Bowman lost his primary to Latimer, Ben-Ami sat by the waters of Babylon and wept: “It’s a mistake to read Jamaal Bowman’s defeat as a victory for pro-Israel Americans,” he posted on X. “In fact, turning Israel into a wedge issue in Democratic Party politics is actually a major loss for those who hope to promote a bipartisan US-Israel relationship.”

As many people pointed out on social media, this is demonstrably incorrect. The result of the Latimer victory was a more bipartisan U.S.-Israel relationship, by definition. Democrats last night improved the party’s relationship with Israel and with pro-Israel voters, even if modestly, and signaled that not only can it still be safe to support Israel and be a Democrat but that there are times when it may noticeably benefit your intra-party campaigns.

Ben-Ami’s message, then, contradicts his organization’s stated mission. But it does not contradict his organization’s actual mission, which is to turn Israel into a wedge issue in Democratic Party politics.

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