By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country
The most interesting bit I picked up about J Street in reporting on its inaugural conference this week: The liberal Jewish group is not seeking to influence President Obama's Middle East policy. Rather, it wants to give him the political cover to pursue strategies in the region that he has already articulated, including restarting Israeli/Palestinian peace talks, insisting that Israel freeze settlements, and negotiating with Iran.
"Our primary mission is to open up political space," Jeremy Ben-Ami, J Street's executive director, told me yesterday. "There has not been a political base of support for these positions, and our mission is to open space for policymakers to pursue what they know is right for America."
Translation: J Street wants to give the Obama administration Jewish political cover as more-hawkish Jewish groups voice skepticism or outright opposition to the president's approach to Israel. Ben-Ami and his supporters want to counter the impression that all American Jews endorse everything Israel does.
Remind you of anyone?
Sounds similar to what groups like Faith in Public Life are trying to do, countering the impression that all Christians, particularly evangelicals, are right-wingers who are only about culture war issues. A big part of what they do is give Obama and the Democrats Christian political cover on issues like healthcare and climate change.
And newish groups like Catholics United and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good provide Roman Catholic cover for the White House and the Democrats.
That's not to say that these groups are acting cynically or dishonestly. They truly feel that conservatives have monopolized the political discourse for too long.
The danger, of course, is that these outfits become appendages of the Democratic Party, the equivalent of what they say the religious right has become to the GOP. We'll have to wait and see.