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Going Left on J Street



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When 54 congressmen sent a letter to President Obama on January 21 asking him to press Israel (and nominally Egypt) to lift the blockade on Gaza and provide “immediate relief for the citizens of Gaza,” I looked for J Street’s fingerprints. Since its inception two years ago, the well-heeled PAC has rarely missed an opportunity to attack the policies of the Olmert and Netanyahu governments: It criticized Israel’s military operation in Gaza, held out the option of negotiating with Hamas, called for freezing all Israeli building in east Jerusalem as well as in the West Bank, refused to support sanctions against Iran, and more. But, lo and behold, there was nary a word about the Gaza relief letter on the J Street website or in the press materials of the supposedly “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization.

Others, however, did credit J Street with supporting the letter, and even with sponsoring it. According to Ha’aretz, “In addition to members of Congress, several leftist organizations also signed the letter, including Americans for Peace Now and J Street.” 

Wrote Michael Rosenberg, one of Israel’s harshest critics, “The [54 members of Congress] deserve our thanks as does J Street and Americans for Peace Now which pushed the letter.”

And who appears first on the Minnesota Independent’s list of the letter’s backers? “Among the groups supporting the letter: J Street, The Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF), The American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP), The American Near East Refugee Association (ANERA), The Methodist Church, The Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), and Rabbis for Human Rights.”

With the exception of the rabbis, none of J Street’s colleagues on the letter are known for their fraternal feelings toward Israel.

Is that why J Street avoids claiming credit for the letter or publicizing the fact that it trucks with some unkosher characters? Perhaps the “pro-Israel” group wanted to avoid appearing “pro-Gaza” on the eve of launching its national grassroots operation last week. Or perhaps J Street got burned over the last year when it was revealed that a large portion of its PAC funds (possibly close to 10 percent) were coming from individuals never known for being “pro-Israel.” Indeed, the most recent Federal Election Commission records (for the last quarter of 2009) suggest that the J Street PAC donors with ties to Saudi Arabia — the tarnished National Iranian American Council and the Arab-American Institute — didn’t like the publicity and are keeping their checkbooks closed.

What Commentary’s Jennifer Rubin found interesting about the letter was “the extent of the overlap between the pro-Gaza blockade lifters and the roster of J Street–supported congressmen” recently published by J Street. “At least we know the sort of congressmen that J Street supports and the sort that are only too glad to accept J Street’s largesse,” Rubin states.

And now we also know that J Street continues to try to hide its fellow travelers, just as it tried to hide the backgrounds of some of its PAC contributors, its George Soros donations, and its decision-making process.

The “word on the street” now is that several members of Congress are disassociating themselves from their letter, much the same way members pulled out of J Street’s national conference in October 2009.

– Lenny Ben-David served as a senior Israeli diplomat in Washington and works today as a public-affairs consultant. He blogs at www.lennybendavid.com.



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