The Alienation Thesis or the Distancing Thesis or the Detachment Thesis or whatever we’re calling it this week — the claim American Jews are increasingly estranged from Israel because of Israeli policies — is the central dogma of the anti-Israel left. If it’s true then groups like J Street are engaged in the salutary work of broadening pro-Israel Jewish politics to include traditionally anti-Israel positions. If it’s false then those groups are taking Jews who would have ended up with muddy pro-Israel sentiments and are needlessly bombarding them with anti-Israel propaganda. “Alienation” or “distancing” or “detachment” is the argumentative premise at the source of everything that happens downstream.That bit about "all the American Jews they personally know" reminds me of the deathless line uttered by then-New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael (a non-Jewish Jew who, according to the recent biography by Brian Kellow, slammed the documentary Shoah because it was too one-sided and she couldn't detect any beauty in it) upon Richard Nixon's election. How could he have possibly won?, asked Kael. No one she knew had voted for him.
It’s not an accident that sophisticated erstwhile J Street defenders like Jeffrey Goldberg instinctively throw it in whenever they try to defend the organization. J Street itself, for all of the organization’s borderline aggressive lack of tactical acumen, makes a point of blandly asserting that the thesis is true. Hand wringing pathos-soaked “why must Israel do things that make me sad” Jews like Peter Beinart have been blandly pretending it’s valid for the better part of a decade.
Except it’s false. It’s so false that when you unpack it into constituent parts it’s false in multiple distinct and borderline contradictory ways, none of which manage to cancel each other out. In the most generous case J Street-style partisans assume American Jews are alienated from Israel because all the American Jews they personally know are alienated from Israel (figuring out the precise degree to which that’s breathtakingly revelatory is left as an exercise for the reader). In the less generous case they’re hoping against hope that no one ever scrutinizes their pretexts for uniquely mainstreaming anti-Israel smears into the American Jewish community.
But back to the J Street M.O. Its foundational thesis may be completely specious, but you have to hand it to them for figuring out they can say the most dreadful things about Israel provided they sugar coat it in the fiction that they do so out of love. In truth, their love is reserved for themselves and their unfounded yet overweening sense of moral superiority.