Among the 17 conference members who voted for J Street in April were the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and the Conservative and Reform Jewish movements. Twenty-two conference members voted no and three others abstained. The remaining member groups did not send a representative to vote.
"I wouldn't characterize them as enemies of Israel," Weiss said. "I would characterize it that their self-avowed statement that they are pro-Israel is not accurate."
"We now have more people who care deeply about Israel and more people who care very little about Israel," said Steven M. Cohen, a professor at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute on Religion who specializes in research on the American Jewish community.
Meanwhile, liberal Reform Judaism, which has worked for years to underscore its deep commitment to the Jewish state, grew to become the largest movement in American Judaism. The result: a pro-Israel American Jewish community largely split between conservatives and liberals, both emotionally attached to Israel but with conflicting outlooks on many Israeli policies.
At Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel, a Reform Jewish synagogue in South Orange, New Jersey, Rabbi Daniel Cohen struggles to hold the ever-shrinking common ground among his congregants over Israel. Before Cohen delivers a sermon on the subject, he re-reads what he wrote and asks himself, "How are they going to hear it?"
From the pulpit, he tries to weave together the views of doves and hawks among the 850 families in his congregation, comparing Israel to a flawed friend who nonetheless should be defended against slander. Still, he hears complaints — about his personal involvement with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the long-established lobbying group, and his simultaneous support for congregants active in J Street.
"I'm very, very careful to focus on the importance of Israel and the American Jewish community and being involved in activism. I'm not proscriptive about how people should get involved," said Cohen, the temple's senior rabbi for 16 years.
A Pew Research Center survey conducted last year found more than two-thirds of American Jews feel somewhat or very attached to Israel, but only 38 percent believe the Israeli government is sincerely pursuing peace with the Palestinians and 44 percent said settlement construction hurts Israeli national security. (In the same poll, just 12 percent of U.S. Jews said Palestinian leaders were making a sincere effort to resolve the conflict.)