Jeremy Ben-Ami, founder and president of J Street, has written a highly misleading book titled “A New Voice for Israel” portraying himself as a passionate supporter of Israel and a dedicated Zionist and extolling the virtues of his purportedly “pro Israel pro-peace” organization
The opening section is sourced from the autobiography of his father Yitzhak Ben-Ami, whose antecedents settled in Palestine. Yitzchak became a devoted follower of Zev Jabotinsky and was sent to the United States on behalf of the underground Irgun Zvai Leumi, initially to recruit volunteers for a Jewish army and then to support the campaign by the Peter Bergson [Hillel Kook] group to alert Americans to the plight of the European Jewry. Together with Ben Hecht, Edward G Robinson and others, he confronted Rabbi Stephen Wise and the Jewish establishment who, under the spell of President Franklin Roosevelt, remained silent in face of the Administration’s unwillingness to provide haven for European Jews being murdered by the Nazis.
Jeremy Ben-Ami insinuates that although his father may not have endorsed his current outlook, he follows in his footsteps by “courageously” standing up against the Jewish establishment, and Ben-Ami Senior “would be pretty glad I care enough to be involved”. In reality, had Yitzchak lived, he would almost certainly have been devastated and outraged to witness his son’s attitude towards Israel.
However, readers will discover that whilst the views Ben-Ami conveys in his book are far left and offensively anti-establishment they are still ‘moderate’ compared to the fierce anti-Israeli hostility implemented by J Street.
He writes that “our generation must fulfill the dream of Zionism and achieve peace with its neighbors” and that if a new war were to break out threatening Israel’s existence, “world Jewry would without a doubt appropriately rally to the flag”.
He supports a two state solution, (which subject to national security provisions most Israelis would today endorse), favors the division of Jerusalem and opposes settlements.
He claims (falsely) that the Jewish establishment muzzles any criticism of Israel. He urges that J Street supporters Walt & Mearsheimer, authors of the book defaming the Jewish lobby, should not be treated in a McCarthyist manner. He considers as counterproductive, personal attacks on Richard Goldstone, who he describes as a “noble Jew”. He says that Israelis should respect the Palestinian narrative.
One may strongly disagree with such viewpoints but one would hesitate before deeming even such shrill criticism as “anti-Israeli”.
Yet Ben-Ami’s book is a disingenuous attempt to spin a sanitized respectable portrait of an organization whose principal objective is to undermine the policies of the democratically elected government of Israel. It does so at a time when the Jewish state is under global attack, facing existential threats and undergoing an international campaign of demonization and delegitimization.
The red dividing lines between J Street and mainstream Jewish groups are not its views but its efforts to convince the American people to encourage President Obama to pressurize the Israeli government. It is surely unconscionable for trendy American Jews to canvass their government to force Israel to act contrary to its will in relation to national security issues with potential life and death repercussions on its citizens. J Street justifies this on the grounds that Israelis need “tough love”, comparing us to children on drugs who must be pressured to do what is good for them or impounding car keys from a drunken friend.
The blatant dishonesty of Ben-Ami’s stated willingness to back Israel during war was demonstrated by J Street’s approach to the Gaza conflict – which united all sections of the Israeli political spectrum, including the far left wing Meretz. J Street then applied moral equivalence to Israel and Hamas claiming “that there are many who recognize elements of truth on both sides of this gaping divide” and reproached Israel for launching “a disproportionate response”. It stated that “we recognize that neither Israelis nor Palestinians have a monopoly of right and wrong” and accused Israelis of “lacking sanity and moderation” in their attitude towards Hamas.
J Street also supports and finances the candidatures of anti-Israeli congressmen and constantly campaigns against pro-Israel resolutions in Congress. Immediately following the Fogel family massacre, J Street even opposed a bi-partisan congressional resolution condemning the PA for anti-Semitic incitement, claiming that “the current PA leadership has taken great political risks and shown real willingness to end the conflict”. It facilitated meetings in Capitol Hill for Richard Goldstone to promote his discredited report. Furthermore, in 2009, at the height of the Iranian sanctions debate, Ben-Ami published an article opposing UN sanctions against Iran, although he has since changed his position.
It lobbied against a US veto of a one-sided anti-Israeli resolution at the UN Security Council, prompting Democratic Congressman Gary Ackerman to sever relationships with them quipping that “J Street is so open-minded about what constitutes support for Israel that its brains have fallen out”.
J Street repeatedly slanders AIPAC and its efforts to generate bi-partisan support for the policies of democratically elected governments of Israel, labeling it as an extreme right wing body. It warns American Jews that by their “one-sided support of Israel” they could face charges of dual loyalties. One of its founding partners and a member of its advisory board, Daniel Levy, even told a gathering in Abu Dhabi that “the creation of Israel” was “an act that was wrong”.
J Street now ritually condemns boycott, divestment & sanctions, yet it still welcomed organizations promoting BDS, like Jewish Voice for Peace, as participants in their conference. It also co-sponsored a congressional mission to Israel with Churches for the Middle East, a pro BDS coalition. It honored Israeli soldiers who refused to obey orders. It supported the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity group which calls for the liquidation of the Jewish Agency and Jewish National Fund.
Ben-Ami tries to make light of the scandal which exposed him as a serial liar, obliging him to apologize for having repeatedly denied that J Street was clandestinely being funded by George Soros, a pathologically anti-Israel Jew. There is also odium about other anonymous off shore donors and evidence that much of J Street’s funding emanates from sources hostile to Israel including Arabs.
The list of J Street anti-Israel initiatives is endless. Most are either ignored or played down in Ben-Ami’s misleading book which could well serve as a case study of Orwellian double-talk by the dishonest manner in which it portrays itself as “pro-Israel”. It is reminiscent of the “pro peace” communist front organizations which sought to dupe bleeding heart liberals into believing they were promoting peace, whilst in reality they were advancing the interests of the “Evil Empire”
Ben-Ami claims that it requires courage for detractors of Israel to speak up. Yet in reality the liberal media, especially the New York Times, adulates him and other Jewish critics of Israel as heroes, providing them with exposure that they would otherwise never obtain.
Despite this, J Street has failed to expand beyond the very narrow band of the anti-Israeli far left and naive fellow travellers. It would be an act of folly to now accept them as part of the Jewish mainstream.
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post