In a sign of how the ground has shifted domestically when it comes to Israeli politics, the progressive-minded Israel advocacy group J Street announced its first ever presidential endorsement on Friday. And its recipient, former Vice President Joe Biden, eagerly embraced it.
“I’m honored to have earned J Street’s first-ever presidential endorsement,” Biden said in a statement sent to The Daily Beast. “J Street has been a powerful voice to advance social justice here at home, and to advocate for a two-state solution that advances Middle East Peace. I share with J Street’s membership an unyielding dedication to the survival and security of Israel, and an equal commitment to creating a future of peace and opportunity for Israeli and Palestinian children alike. That’s what we have to keep working toward—and what I’ll do as President with J Street’s support.”
Founded in 2007 as a philosophical counterweight to more reflexively pro-Israeli government advocacy organizations like AIPAC, J Street was, for a time, treated as a creature of the liberal foreign policy diaspora—an institution that intellectuals were fine embracing but mainstream Democratic politicians kept at a safe distance. That has changed in recent years as public opinion among Democrats has turned more sour on Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, particularly as it trashed Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear deal and cozied up to Donald Trump. Today, J Street finds itself to the ideological right of a good chunk of the current Jewish left.
Biden, more a traditionalist on U.S.-Israel relations, has resisted some of those tectonic shifts. He was one of the few presidential candidates this year who declined to skip addressing AIPAC’s forum. He’s criticized the BDS movement and has said he would not move the U.S. Embassy back to Tel Aviv after Trump relocated it to Jerusalem. But his embrace of the J Street’s endorsement is being hailed by the group as evidence of its own growth on the domestic political landscape.
“The alignment in the Democratic Party and the shift of the conversation on our issues allows us to feel really great about lining up behind someone like Joe Biden,” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, J Street’s president. Asked if he felt that shift had occurred even within the last four years, since J Street passed on endorsing Hillary Clinton, Ben-Ami conceded that “it probably” had.
“Whether or not it is the moment or the candidates, there has been a shift,” he said. “Politics is different in 2020 than it was in 2016, and this issue is no exception. The way the politics in Israel has moved so far right and the way Trump has embraced what’s going on there has created a lot more space for Democratic candidates.”