This week J Street are launching their first major convention at which they claim 160 members of Congress and a number of former Israeli left-wing politicians will participate. Only launched 18 months ago, J Street already boast of a $3 million budget which whilst miniscule compared to AIPAC’s $70 million, is nevertheless impressive. They also receive glowing liberal media coverage, especially from the New York Times.
American Jews take pride in being an open and pluralistic community. So why make a fuss about an organization, even if it does engage in activities that many would consider offensive? Besides, blackballing such a fringe group would lead to accusations of attempting to stifle freedom of expression and transform them into martyrs.
However, the fact is that no one is seeking to deny freedom of expression to J Street or other groups hostile to Israel. The issue is whether organizations should be enabled to exploit the Jewish community as launching pads to campaign against the Jewish state whilst presenting themselves as mainstream Jews.
Most Jews would concur that a red line should be drawn between legitimate criticism of Israel and concerted campaigns to pressure the US or any government to force the democratically elected government of Israel to make concessions which could imperil the lives of its citizens.
J Street have crossed that red line even though they continuously recite the mantra that they are “pro-Israel”, insisting that whilst they “disagree with certain Israeli government policies our bottom line is that we always support the State of Israel and its future as a democracy”. Or to quote Executive Director Jeremy Ben Ami “we are trying to define what it means to be pro Israel… you don’t have to adopt the party line”.
Yet they have the chutzpa to openly campaign against Israel on the grounds that they possess a superior understanding of what is best for Israelis. They obscenely spin this by likening themselves to parents who are obliged to employ “tough love” with children who are drug addicts. It is surely unconscionable for Jews resident in America to lobby their government to pressurize Israelis contrary to their will, to take steps that could have life and death implications.
In fact, J Street policies are more extreme than even their radical Israeli counterparts. During the conflict with Hamas, which was endorsed by all Jewish political parties in the Knesset, J Street proclaimed that Israel’s “escalation in Gaza would be counterproductive” and was “disproportionate”. They also alluded to a moral equivalency between the policies of Israel and Hamas stating that they found difficulty in distinguishing “between who is right and who is wrong” and “picking a side”. Rabbi Eric Yoffie head of the US Reform Judaism movement (who inexplicably will now be participating in the J Street convention) then described J Street’s views as “deeply distressing, morally deficient and profoundly out of touch with Jewish sentiment and appallingly naïve”.
J Street also “oppose the role of force by Israel or the United States” against Iran and even canvassed Congress to block a bi-partisan resolution calling for tougher sanctions. They also urge the United States and Israel to negotiate with Hamas. Despite President Obama having done so, J Street chief Ben-Ami refused to endorse Israel as a “Jewish state” relating to it as a “Jewish democratic home in the state of Israel”.
J Street also raise the issue of dual loyalties which has been resurrected by anti-Semites in recent times. Ben Ami expresses concern about “the impact of Israeli policies on our interests as Americans and Jews”, suggesting that continued “blind” support for Israel would lead to alienation from the American public who would conclude that Jews display greater loyalty to Israel than America. J Street raised similar sentiments when they defended President Obama’s initial choice of Chas Freeman, the fiercely anti-Israeli former ambassador to Saudi Arabia to become chairman of the National Intelligence Council. Not coincidentally, Stephen Walt the co-author of the viciously anti-Israeli “The Israel Lobby and Foreign Policy” publicly hailed the emergence of J Street as “good news”.
An even more ominous cause for concern was the recent disclosure that Arab and even pro Iranian elements were funding J Street. One donor and member of the organization’s finance committee, Genevieve Lynch, was a participant of the National Iranian American Council, the unofficial lobby group for the Iranian government. Judith Barnett, a former registered agent for Saudi Arabia, is a donor and serves on the J Street Advisory Council. Nancy Dutton, until 2008 an attorney for the Saudi Arabian Embassy, donates to J. Street’s political action committees which have been actively financing anti-Israeli Congressional candidates.
In summary, J Street have established a virtually consistent track record of hostility against Israel. One has yet to see them releasing a single statement backing Israel on any substantive issue. They vigorously campaign to pressure the US government to be “tough” and force Israel to make unilateral concessions. They financially support the election of anti-Israeli Congressmen and raise the specter of dual loyalties. They continuously defame mainstream Jewish organizations, depicting them as extremists. They receive financial support and praise from Arabs and foes of Israel. To suggest that such an organization is “pro-Israel” is utterly preposterous.
Today Israel is undergoing a critical phase in its relationship with the US. The pressures on the Jewish state are not limited to calls to freeze settlements. In the aftermath of the toxic Goldstone report, Israelis travelling abroad may now face the threat of prosecution. Israel also faces the challenge of defining defensible borders and addressing the danger of a nuclear Iran. In these and other existential challenges, Israel is largely dependent on United States support which J Street seeks to undermine.
There is no doubt that the vast majority of committed Jews are outraged by a Jewish organization whose principal raison d’être is to lobby the United States to act harshly against Israel. The limited support J Street enjoys comes principally from those uninvolved in Jewish life. Indeed, Ben-Ami even told the New York Times that his members comprised primarily of intermarried youngsters who attend “Buddhist Seders”. That probably explains why J Street could endorse the staging of the contemporary anti-Semitic blood libel play “Seven Jewish Children”.
No one seeks to deny Israeli bashers freedom of expression. But there is a need to make the public aware that J Street represents an insignificant group of uncommitted Jews. Their “pro-peace” pretensions are comparable to the Jewish communists whose bogus peace campaigns only promoted the interests of the “Evil Empire”. Like their communist forerunners, J Street must be exposed as hostile to Israel and marginalized from the Jewish community. If Americans understand this, J Street’s ability to undermine Israel will largely be neutralized.
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post