Short video from J Street Conference

In our effort to keep you up-to-date on Jewish happenings in DC, here’s our last report from this past weekend’s J Street conference.  (Click here to see the opening remarks from J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami and click here to see the remarks of Special Assistant to the President, Dennis Ross).

Video taken at conference (not sure what’s up with the Puff The Magic Dragon soundtrack):

11 replies
  1. Jon Garfunkel
    Jon Garfunkel says:

    Harp Jaegr, a Brown University student, was one of the 6 people interviewed in the video. Here’s his response. He felt he was ambushed into making this video and his recorded statements were not true to his opinions.

    • Will G
      Will G says:

      The guy doesn’t deny his own rediculous statement in the
      video, but rather attempts to rationalize it. Sure, he disagrees with some stuff the other people said, but it doesn’t help his cause.

  2. Stephen Richer
    Stephen Richer says:

    There’s undoubtedly another side to the story — media can be used to sell the story it wants to sell. That being said, the words were still said…

  3. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    An “update from the J Street Conference” would more accurately be portrayed an interview with any of the participants who spent three days, tirelessly listening to the hopes of change and policy makers, inspired by the words of those who see peace as the neccesary solution. This video is not a reflection of what happened at the conference or of the majority of J Street’s community ; it is only to vilify and polarize a large chunk of the Jewish and secular pro-Israel community who believe in peace for both Israeli’s and Palestinians. Shame on you GTJ for posting such a hateful and hurtful message.

  4. Alan
    Alan says:

    What’s the deal?
    I know a lot of folks who were at the J Street conference who have nothing in common with the crazies in this video.
    It looks like somebody went around trying to find the most ridiculous inflammatory statements they could… and out of hundreds of people to videotape, they found like five?
    This isn’t a news report so much as a smear.

  5. Stephen Richer
    Stephen Richer says:

    Hi Sarah,

    Thanks for reading GTJ, and thanks for the response. We certainly encourage and appreciate both.

    Gather the Jews exists to present view points. No more nor less. We don’t believe that anyone has a monopoly on Judaism, nor do we think that anyone has a monopoly on “what the right approach is to Israel.”

    We posted a couple of speech transcripts from the J Street event to keep people aware of a Jewish event in DC. These were official, J Street line opinions. When we received this unofficial video from a community member with a different perspective, we posted it because it is also a perspective, nor does it promote anything that is illegal or hatred toward a particular group. All information in the video has been confirmed (these people really did say these things, they weren’t dubbed or something).

    We at GTJ believe that censorship is a poor method for solving questions, and we only do so when something violates our fairly permissive policies.

    We instead believe that a free exchange of opinions and ideas is the best method for arriving at excellent solutions.

    With that in mind, I hope that you will provide us a response that you feel defends J Street as you feel it was attacked in the video.

    And I hope the dialogue will continue to flourish — I think we both agree that America’s relationship with Israel is an important topic that merits consideration and multiple perspectives.

    Thanks again!


  6. Eli Elias
    Eli Elias says:

    Hi Stephen,

    That’s very strange – “media can be used to sell the story it wants to sell” – that’s exactly what I was thinking, but apparently the same point has led us in very different directions. That thought led me to ask, ‘Why would you, as community leader and website administrator, decide to post this questionable video about J Street?’

    From watching this video, I’d come away with the general impression that J-Street associates with the “radical left” of the political spectrum, supports the boycott / divestment / sanctions movements, and considers the IDF and Hamas something close to moral equivalents.

    I’m probably not as fluent as most regarding the details surrounding the current J-Street discussion, but I know that J-Street is none of those things, at least not to the overwhelming consensus of observers, even to opponents of J-Street.

    Sure, you’re merely posting this video. You just “provide viewpoints,” you didn’t actually create it. But that doesn’t absolve you of responsibility. You have editorial discretion. And with that discretion comes at least some responsibility.

    If the clip is misleading, or at the very least strongly one-sided, why would you advance it? If the clip is not misleading and you think it constitutes legitimate journalism, then you should explain your decision.

    Your free-speech and anti-censorship arguments have no place here. They are beside the point. You try to take the moral high ground in your response by declaring that GTJ prefers a free exchange of ideas and opposes censorship. It’s just a bad argument, and using the moral front just obfuscates the issue.

    If I, as a member of the community, had e-mailed you a clearly absurd video [just imagine something we could all agree is absurd] to post on the website, would you have posted it and then employed the same free-exchange and anti-censorship points? To be absolutely clear: No, I don’t think the videos is absolutely absurd, but I do believe it’s strongly misleading, and have no place in a constructive discussion.

    You cannot have your cake and eat it too. You cannot use your discretion regarding what to post and then abdicate responsibility by asserting your preference for free exchange. You posted it, not a random community member. And GTJ is not an open source site; you decide and exert control.

    And if you take a quick look at the videographer who posted the video on youtube, there are several traces of shadiness that might have alerted you to be suspicious. Cynically named “TearsForPalestine,” our mysterious videographer has posted a total of one – yes, one – video on youtube (i.e, this gem that we’re discussing). And no one is willing to take responsibility for the clip. Not a soul. Someone made it, and you’re just sharing it. But no one is responsible.

    If no one is willing to take responsibility for it and be accountable for it as a fair representation of what it purports to cover, why would you trust it enough to share with others, especially without providing any editorial context?

    Stephen: you should either be prepared to defend your decision or correct it by taking the video down (or replacing it with something that offers a more fair representation). But don’t hide behind the hollow and irrelevant free speech argument.

    Either way, I think it’s very unfortunate that you’ve introduced this kind of irresponsible and incendiary material into what is normally a fun and stress-free communal space (GTJ).

    Weak, very very weak.

    A good shabbos to all,
    Eli Elias

  7. Anon
    Anon says:

    Actually, Eli, what’s “very very weak” is making a claim like “I know that J-Street is none of those things, at least not to the overwhelming consensus of observers, even to opponents of J-Street” without providing any proof or evidence to back up that statement. Also, to say that the views expressed by the J Street participants in the video “have no place in a constructive discussion” means, essentially, that you don’t think their views are worthy of debate. I’m sure the people who appeared in this video and freely offered their opinions would disagree with the notion that their beliefs are not worthy of your kind of “constructive discussion.”

    • MJ
      MJ says:


      I’m going to assume you’re the producer of said video above as you have consciously made an effort to keep from identifying yourself here, and you have clearly taken issue with something that Eli said.

      The views expressed in the ambush video above are not the views of the overwhelming majority of J Street supporters and staff. I am a J Street supporter, I attended the conference, I do not support BDS, I do not support the use of language characterizing Israel as an apartheid state. What do I do? I recognize that the last, best hope for Israel to survive is to establish normal relations with its neighbors, and assist in the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state, ending settlement policies, and allowing Palestinians to achieve the social and economic justice necessary to build civil society and democratic governance.

      The reality is this: you cannot be pro-Israel without also being pro-Palestine. Why? Because an independent Palestinian state with secure, permanent borders is in the best interests of the State of Israel. A people cannot be kept under a boot heel and be expected not to resist. Throughout the Arab World people say “we will continue to hate Israel until there is justice for the Palestinians.” Do you understand what that means?

      The Palestinians are living under an occupation. It is structural violence which leads to physical expression of dire emotional and psychological circumstances. It is things like “settler-only” roads and the crosscutting of the entire West Bank that drive Palestinian anger. In order to traverse between the north and south of the Occupied Territories as a Palestinian you must go through no less than five checkpoints, facing humiliating and degrading searches. A few hundred Palestinians daily are able to get work permits to enter Israel.

      There are entire villages in the West Bank cutoff from their fields, settlers burn olive groves and appropriate land by force. Is that what you want Israel to be?

      J Street believes that by establishing a state for Palestinians, reconciling the anger on both sides through constructive open forums for dialogue, and building economic cooperation Israel can strengthen its security, withdraw its forces from the West Bank, and fundamentally alter its relationships with the Arab League. Changing the relationships between Israel and her neighbors is the best possible weapon to have against extremist spoilers.

      By changing the narrative around the Israeli-Arab relationships it places public opinion on the side of peace. When that happens, Arab governments have more legitimacy to deal directly with the anti-peace elements of their societies, dismantling, discrediting, and if necessary, destroying them.

      So here’s the real question that J Street asks: are you pro-Israel, pro-Palestine, and pro-peace, or do you want to see Israel become a binational state that will ultimately lose its Jewish character to demographic changes, religious fascism (Lieberman, Dov Lior, Ovadia Yosef), and international isolation?

  8. Stephen Richer
    Stephen Richer says:

    Dear Eli,

    Thank you for your interest in Gather the Jews, and thank you for the high compliment — “a fun and stress-free communal space (GTJ).”

    I’m sorry you disagree with my line of reasoning. I’d be happy to try to articulate it in person if you see value in that.

    The video is from a source that is well-informed on this subject. We have let people posts anonymously in times past (see our article on “Why Jews should be Democrats”), so long as they do not incite hatred, violence, or illegal activity.

    We do indeed have editorial discretion. But we use a light hand. Most of our sources are unofficial. Will Gotkin is an unofficial Torah scholar — he does not possess a rabbinical degree — and he certainly points forth a certain interpretation of the Torah that is sometimes exclusive of other interpretations. Diddo Anna Batler. But we feel that these are both valuable contributors.

    This video should not be construed as what “GJT thinks J Street is.” Rather, just as the Democrat article reflected one community member’s thoughts on Jewish partisan affiliation, and just as Will Gotkin’s articles represent one perspective on Torah interpretation, this video represents one community member’s perspective on J Street.

    Is it accurate? That (obviously) is a contested point. I think you will find a significant mass who agree (and hence why we didn’t feel like it would be so ridiculous to post), and you will obviously also find many who disagree. If you feel that this latter opinion was inadequately represented by President Ben-Ami’s remarks chronicling the efforts of J Street, then I ask that you, or somebody of a similar persuasion, submit something to GTJ that more accurately characterizes the goals and aims of J Street.

    While we will strive for equanimity; we will not purposefully avoid controversial subjects. Following our Democratic and Republican perspectives, I received numerous emails stating that I should not allow such biased and empty rhetoric on our site. Considering I received these complaints from both sides, I felt we did a decent job. The post series proved very popular, and many people told me they enjoyed it.

    I received numerous complaints following the Ben-Ami posting from people who claimed that I unfairly presented the post as a legitimate Jewish opinion. These complaints have been balanced by the comments on this thread. So, once again, I hope we are somewhere near the middle.

    Regardless, I look forward to you taking this opportunity to show your perspective on J Street — an increasingly relevant and noteworthy force in the community — and I thank you again for your readership.

  9. Stephen Richer
    Stephen Richer says:

    In response to another reader’s emails:

    1) “The video did not come from an official source.”

    True. 100% true. But neither do the majority of our posts. They are opinions. Will Gotkin is not an official rabbi. Neither is Anna Batler. Yet they both share their perspectives on the Torah. The anonymous author of the “Why Jews Should Vote Democrat” is not a leader of the Democratic Party, but we still considered his voice legitimate. Diddo the Republican’s.

    We will continue to give voice to unofficial persons, and we think that this brings real value to the website because these voices are often more direct and cut to the heart of genuine disagreements, interests, and concerns of the Jewish community.

    The author of the video (yes, I know who made and submitted it, and no, it was not a GTJ staff member), is, however, a recognized expert on Israel affairs and the Jewish American community. He does indeed have a perspective (one that is decidedly anti-J Street), but this does not disqualify him from speaking.

    We won’t post anything by any joe-blow, but (believe it or not), the sentiments presented in this video are reflective of a significant number of people in the Jewish community. So we felt it an appropriate contribution to this discourse.

    2) “This video is truly only meant to hurt.”

    I think this video is meant to portray J Street as an organization that hurts Israel’s security and general well-being. I think this is a legitimate sentiment aired by many. I think you can make a legitimate claim that it is the opposite. I felt I had presented this capably in President Ben-Ami’s remarks about why J Street is important.

    3) “When Stephen clearly commented on the video.”

    One. I don’t speak for GTJ. I speak for Stephen Richer. When something is a GTJ opinion or words, it will be presented under GTJ Staff or signed by all three cofounders. We are not squelching our individual voices as the result of our positions with GTJ.

    Two. This is the entirety of my “commentary.” “In our effort to keep you up-to-date on Jewish happenings in DC, here’s our last report from this past weekend’s J Street conference. (Click here to see the opening remarks from J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami and click here to see the remarks of Special Assistant to the President, Dennis Ross).
    Video taken at conference (not sure what’s up with the Puff The Magic Dragon soundtrack):”

    I don’t see how this constitutes a GTJ-sanctioned wholesale endorsement of all the video suggests.

    3) “Are you moving in more of a political direction?”

    Nope. We exist to comment on, and allow for commenting on, things that interest the young professional DC Jewish community. As evidenced by the number of readers of this post (over 300) and the number of readers of our Republican/Democrat series (over 1,000), I’d say that the community is interested, at times, in political matters.

    4) “If so, that is fine, but I urge you to tell your community and also review the rules for 501C3 status.”

    Thank you for your concern. I am very familiar with political allowances under c3 status, and this well within our rights. I’ll simply point out that Center for American Progress (a c3) did little but bash the Bush administration’s policies. Heritage (also a c3) does little but bash the Obama administration’s policies. GTJ is not even talking about elected officials.

    Most colleges are c3s. And if you think they don’t have heated discussions about Israel… (I was a poli sci graduate student at UChicago, which, along with Harvard government, was home to the Israel Lobby book and the ensuing debates).

    5) “‘Gather the Jews exists to present view points. No more nor less,’ but actually GTJ is a LOT more than that”

    That is what we do. And that is what we did here.

    If you feel that your perspective on this issue was inadequately represented, then I encourage you to submit something that better informs our audience what you feel J Street really is. You will see that I will post it (provided that is isn’t absolutely abhorrent writing… which we do reserve the right to reject.)

    Again, please share this with the other concerned parties. And again, thank you for reading GTJ, and thank you for your friendship to GTJ.

    And I look forward to your contribution to the GTJ blog.



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