Guest column by J Street U Penn | Unproductive dialogue

By J Street U Penn

Progressive student voices are under attack.

Hillel of Greater Philadelphia, the parent organization of our campus Hillel, is participating in the screening of a film called “The J Street Challenge,” which attacks and maligns the work of J Street U Penn , a progressive student organization dedicated to Israel and a future state of Palestine. HGP decided to do this without consulting any students, and their actions are akin to the Office of Student Affairs attacking one of its own member groups.

Read the full article here.

Originally published on The Daily Pennsylvanian

Film contests J Street ideas

By Hannah Wulkan
On Wednesday night in the Wasserman Cinematheque, there was a screening of the recently-released film The J Street Challenge, which criticized the organization J Street, a “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization as identified on their website, for being too liberal and trying to persuade the United States government to intervene in Israel. The viewing was followed by a question-and-answer session with the executive director of the Emergency Committee for Israel, Noah Pollak, who was interviewed in the film. The Emergency Committee for Israel is “committed to mounting an active defense of the U.S.-Israel relationship,” according to its website.

Zevvy Goldish ’15 brought this film to Brandeis for a screening because he thought it was important for people to see. He wrote in an email to the Justice that he reached out to the producers of the film, and they funded the screening on campus.

“I think people need to know what kind of organizations they are getting involved in, and a film like this really exposes what the organization is about,” Goldish said in an interview with the Justice, when asked about his reasons for wanting to screen the film. The event was not sponsored by any group on campus.

Continue reading here

Originally published on

Challenging “The J Street Challenge” (or, Why I Didn’t Go To AIPAC This Year)


I am an American. I am neither an Israeli, nor am I a Palestinian. However, I am a Jew, and a pro-Israel American, who lives in a country which has strong, positive relations with Israel. As a Zionist, I see it as my job to defend Israel as a Jewish State, and that means protecting its democratic character.

The one, and only, time, that I attended AIPAC’s Policy Conference was in 2012, when I was a junior in high school. I was, at once, bewildered, and also somewhat disappointed. I was amazed by the 13,000 other pro-Israel Americans who had flocked to Washington, D.C. to learn, to advocate, and to lobby. I was amazed to hear President Obama, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and various GOP candidates sacrifice valuable time on Super Tuesday, the height of their primary elections, to address AIPAC.

At the same time, though, I felt there was something missing from the conference. So upon returning home, I began searching for literature and organizations that were pro-Israel, but discussed what the “classical world” of Israel advocacy was not: namely, if Israel was only doing the right things, why was there no peace yet? In the “classical world” of Israeli advocacy, I was taught that the onus was on the Palestinians, but all around me on my university campus, I was being told that Israel shared the blame, too. And I couldn’t just dismiss those claims like I had been taught.

This past week, Israel came again to the forefront, with Columbia’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine hosting its Israeli Apartheid Week, and the firing of dozens of rockets from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel. And, again, I was forced to reengage with the possibilities that, perhaps, Secretary Kerry’s negotiations are futile: it will all go down in flames, rockets will not stop terrorizing Israelis, and we’ll be back to square one.

That, in essence, is the despondency that I got out of my AIPAC experience in 2012. The Arab Spring would doom the Middle East, the Palestinians would refuse to negotiate, and Iran is a nuclear duck. And that forced me to question: If I cannot change the Palestinians, what, then, is the point? That is the question that I was forced to ask once after attending AIPAC, again after Israel’s military operations in Gaza, and yet again after reading about the barraging of rockets from Gaza into Israel.

And the answer to that question is that I can’t change the Palestinians. Israel will, forever, remain a permanent mark of Western imperialism upon the face of a region which has been hurt terribly throughout the early modern and modern eras by the Western Europe that Israel continues to represent to Arabs living in the Middle East. And that is something that no one — not Bibi, not Abbas, not Obama, not Kerry, not J Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami, and, least of all, not I — can ever change. What we can change, however, is Israeli society and the way Americans perceive both Israel and Palestine. And we can engage with the reality in a constructive way that vilifies the inexcusable violence of the Palestinians, without dismissing their hatred of Israel.

Ultimately, that is the allure of the liberal Zionist movement, as critiqued by the new documentary,The J Street Challenge. But the movie’s claims and the claims made in its trailer (it is not available publicly yet, except through prearranged screenings) are wrong, this is not an allure or an allusion: this is the reality with which we must contend. We cannot win this perpetual battle by dismissing the arguments lodged against Israel in the academy with counter-protests and blue-and-white cupcakes, because that is not the way to win anyone over. Instead of simply responding to rhetoric with more rhetoric, which neither side will accept, we can, instead, begin to educate.

That, to me, was the appeal of the liberal Zionist movement, and why I did not feel welcomed in the institutional pro-Israel community represented by AIPAC. As a university student, I must engage actively with the beliefs that Israel is an apartheid state which are as real and deep-rooted to the other side as my Zionism is to me, and I cannot dismiss them out of hand…

Continue reading here. Originally published on


American Thinker: Lies, Damn Lies, and J Street

By: Janet Tassel

A film is coming your way called The J Street Challenge. If you don’t see it coming your way, say something to your pastor, rabbi, or librarian to insist that it be shown.

A production of Americans for Peace and Tolerance, with APT’s Charles Jacobs as  special consultant; produced, directed and written by Avi Goldwasser and Ilya Feoktistov, The J Street Challenge lines up a phalanx of illustrious academics and activists to expose the deception, the lies, and the anti-Israel animus behind J Street. But the film is not a snooze-parade of talking heads; ideas — important ideas — are supplemented with illustrations, maps, videos, and images both heartwarming and heartbreaking.

The film opens with shots of terrorism against Israel, and then, a veritable deus ex machina, breaking through the tumult, from on-high comes the voice of Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, crying, “We want this conflict to end!”

Well, that certainly gets your attention. Who doesn’t want the conflict to end? But Ben-Ami knows the way.  Ben-Ami and others, including George Soros, founded J Street in 2008, to (according to their website) “provide a home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans who believe that a ‘two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is essential to Israel’s survival as the national home of the Jewish people and as a vibrant democracy.'”

“The majority of the people on all sides,” he says in the film, “share a desire for a peaceful world for their kids and their grandchildren. They want to figure out how to compromise in order to live together in peace.”

He’s slick, no doubt about it; but can he really be preaching to the Jewish people about peace? Harvard professor Ruth Wisse retorts, “One of the most seductive messages to the Jewish people, for the last two centuries at least, has been the message of peace.” And she puts “the conflict” in perspective:

“There is no such thing as an Arab-Israeli conflict. There is an Arab war against Israel. There is an Arab war against the Jewish people’s right to a state. It is the conflict of over twenty countries, with an enormity of land, more land than they know what to do with, that refuse to allow one people its sliver of land.”

Ben-Ami, however, wants a slice of that sliver. A piece for a peace. “Israel’s long-term security depends on fulfilling the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a two-state solution,” he says. And further:

“We believe that the Palestinians too must have a national home of their own, living side by side with Israel.  This is in Israel’s interest, in America’s interest, and it is right and just.”

In other words, says Daniel Gordis, vice-president of Shalem College, “J Street advocates a complete exit from the West Bank without alerting anyone to what the real dangers are.” Or as Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens says,

“The  moment Israel withdrew from the [Gaza] Strip entirely, the rocket fire didn’t abate; it expanded. The Palestinians didn’t take the greenhouses so generously left by the Israeli settlers.  They trashed them.  The Gaza Strip did not become a showcase for Palestinian moderates to prove what they might do with a state — turn Gaza into a little Hong Kong or Singapore, or Dubai even. They turned it into a giant terrorist entrepot.”

And, he adds, “I’m not against a two-state solution, if the other state is Canada. Do we think Israel should be party to the birth of the 23rd Arab state, another Iran hard on its borders?”

The map created by J Street’s two-state solution is displayed,  ironically showing just how vulnerable Israel would be, reducing the country’s narrowest width to nine miles, its population centers open to rockets, missiles, and worse. And even more scarily, it shows how insane it would be to surrender control of the Jordan Valley, creating essentially a land bridge from Baghdad to Tel Aviv.  As Charles Jacobs comments, “This is a map that will enable the Arab world to see Israel’s total vulnerability. No sane country would ever do this.”

Just then, as if in confirmation, a video of a prominent Fatah member is interposed, in which he says, “What will be with Israel? Israel will come to an end.”

When it comes to carving land out of Israel, Ben-Ami out-Obamas Obama. “It is up to us to get Israel back to the 1967 lines, and we must push our leaders to do what is right. We do support the president’s vision for two states, but we do think he could be pushing harder.  That’s part of our call to action.”

As Ruth Wisse says, “So we can’t convince the Israeli electorate, but we can circumvent them to pressure the Israeli government from the United States?” Noah Pollak, executive director of the Emergency Committee for Israel, calls J Street’s position “imperialistic”: “They know they can’t sell their ideas in Israel, so they sell them in Washington, pushing the government to pressure Israel.” It is not as if they don’t realize, according to Richard Landes, professor of history at Boston University, that “this pressure on Israel amounts to, literally, a genocidal threat.”

It was after the Arabs lost the Six-Day War in 1967 that they began to shift their focus to an ideological war, cloaked in Marxist language about colonial rule.  They also began to talk about a Palestinian identity. The conflict has now narrowed down to vilification of Israel’s “occupation,” adopted by the universities, the media — in short, the Left.  It is a mainstay of J Street’s raison d’être. Again, Ruth Wisse:

“Since that so-called “occupation” was the consequence of the war against Israel, it cannot retroactively have become its cause. So anyone who claims the “occupation” of those territories is the reason for Arab aggression against Israel is simply inverting historical reality.”

Ben-Ami’s repertoire is stocked with rusty clichés:

“We raise our children to not treat other people the way we want not to be treated ourselves, but we make a real mistake if we tell those children to check their Jewish values at the door of Zionism.”

To which Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz replies:

“The greatest Jewish value of all is pikuach nefesh, the saving of lives, and that includes the protection of the 6 million Jews who now make their home in the Jewish state. Anything that undercuts Israel’s ability to defend itself against nuclear or terrorist attack is inconsistent with Jewish values.”

But J Street knows only the one-sided blame game. Indeed, when J Street took its message to college campuses to establish J Street U, it found itself faced with students who were embarrassed about being Jewish, so instead of “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace” they made it easier by simply dropping the part about Israel. What college student is not ardent about peace?  As Ben-Ami speaks from aloft, “We believe that it is our role to repair the world. We must rouse our neighbors from indifference.” Note that Israel is not even mentioned.

As Noah Pollak comments, “It is about a sort of tikkun olam, a confusion of religion and politics. The idea to keep in mind is that for them Judaism is liberalism and liberalism is Judaism.”  Richard Landes calls it “moral narcissism,” an “overwhelming concern for being a nice person and really not caring about the consequences. In this way, you can completely identify with the people who hate you and consider you their mortal enemy.”

Perhaps the most impressive response comes from young Samantha Mandeles, a campus coordinator for CAMERA. Responding to another stale canard from Peter Beinart, she says,

“That’s the good Jew, the Jew that helps everyone else, who puts others before themselves, who cares more about strangers than they do about family.  If a Jewish student feels that repairing the world and being a universalist and progressive is equivalent to being Jewish, then they can forget being proudly Jewish and Zionist. They don’t want to believe that other people have other world views….because their world views are all about pluralism, this utopia where everybody is the same, where there isn’t anything to have a conflict about.”

“J Street and J Street U,” she continues, “insist on being considered part of the big tent of Jewish organizations that care about Israel. But they insist that these events are invalid if they don’t criticize Israel, advocate BDS [boycott, divest, and sanction] and Israeli apartheid.”

There is a hair-raising section in the film devoted to some of J Street U’s scurrilous activities on various American campuses, including calls for subverting Birthright Israel, calling for Birthright to place more importance on the Palestinian narrative, and promoting trips for Jewish students to the grave of Yassir Arafat in Ramallah.

As the film shows, J Street has no qualms about its followers, who, says Ben-Ami proudly, include 600 rabbis. Some of his flacks, like Medea Benjamin and Naomi Chazan and other nasties, are shown in full cry here. J Street continues to back politicians, like Rep. John Dingell, who have shown themselves to be consistently anti-Israel. [See the J Street website for the entire list] In 2013, J Street enthusiastically supported the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense.

Ben-Ami’s donors include, in addition to George Soros (a fact that Ben-Ami hid for years) a number of pro-Palestine figures; Genevieve Lynch, who is an official of the National Iranian-American Council, sits on the J Street finance board. According to Lenny Ben-David, a former deputy chief of the Israeli embassy in Washington, fifty per cent of J Street’s budget comes from outside the United States, a fact Ben-Ami also lied about.

There is much, much more in this well-made, provocative film — provocative enough that Jeremy Ben-Ami, ordinarily an unseemly publicity hound, declined to be interviewed. Don’t miss it.

Originally published on American Thinker

Goodbye J Street, you lost me

By: Jonathan Segall
Dear J Street ,
It’s time I said “Goodbye”.
Why? Because I am not sure that you represent my values anymore.
Over the years, I have been to various events, went to see such speakers as Jeremy Ben-Ami, and Bradley Burston (both very good discussions), blogged my support at Daily Kos and at my own website The Progressive Zionist, and supported J Street with donations. I no longer feel that I can do that and furthermore don’t really understand how anyone who would consider themselves both “Pro-Israel”, and  ”Pro-Peace” could stay in the organization given what is about to happen.
While I agree with most of J-Street’s policy statements (support for reasonable Two State solution, Anti-BDS, Pro-Civil Rights) regarding Israel, giving activists who support BDS, and spread messages of hatred toward Israel an active platform is a step too far. When did this happen? Well here it is.
J Street is hosting a discussion with author David Harris Gershon regarding a book that he wrote wherein he talks about his path to dealing with having his wife being harmed in a Terror attack and how he has tried to reconcile that to his life. Harris-Gershon took the unique step of actually meeting with the family of the terrorist in order to understand just what made that person plant a bomb in a school cafeteria and then to forge some kind of closure to the incident.
All that would be fine and good except for the fact that Harris-Gershon trades heavily in anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic memes.  Now these are pretty serious allegations and I don’t make these lightly nor do I make them without proof. But here are some of the quotes from a man that J Street says:
“J Street DC Metro, the DC Public Library and Americans for Peace Now are proud to sponsor Harris-Gershon’s discussion, which will be followed by a Q&A and book signing.”
“Proud” to sponsor a discussion from a person who regularly uses his twitter account to “re-tweet” messages from Ali Abunimah of Electronic Intifada, Stephan Walt and Max Blumenthal amongst others? I mean nothing says that someone “loves” Israel like “re-tweeting” known anti-Semites and anti-Zionists. Right?
Or how about this gem that Harris-Gershon “tweeted”:
 If you think the world should boycott Russia over occupation, but Palestinians should not via-a-vis Israel, you have some explaining to do.
Now this is a particularly interesting tweet because Harris Gershon has been turned away from speaking in a few Jewish organizations because of his support for the anti-Semitic BDS Movement something that Mr. Harris-Gershon denies that he supports. Interestingly enough this denial came when he began his book / speaking tours to Jewish organizations. But that said, aside from his constant support for those who do favor BDS here are David’s exact words with regards to BDS:
“And I think about Israel’s inability to stop the occupation on its own, about how the only way to stop it may be for outside pressures (emphasis mine) to bear down upon the country I love.
Sanctions. Boycotts. Divestments. (BDS)….
…. And so we come to the confession, to the coming out: as an American Jew invested deeply in Israel’s success and survival — which in turn drives my investment in stopping one of the greatest moral challenges of my generation: the occupation – I have no choice but to formally endorse and embrace BDS…. (emphasis mine)
…. However, I know this for a fact: those who claim in Israel that there is no occupation have only one goal in mind: a single-state solution, a Jewishly-controlled Israel stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.
And it’s an unworkable, unsustainable goal that will be realized — one state — unless outside forces are brought to bear.”
Yes, because what says “I love Israel” more than asking the world to Boycott, Sanction, and Divest from you?
Now… if this is not bad enough.. Harris-Gershon also engages in rhetoric that is reminiscent of the horrible Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Here is his commentary in an article at Daily Kos February 4th, 2013 where Harris Gershon unleashes the old anti-Semitic canard of “dual loyalty” with these two comments:
“The reason for this disproportionate, obsessive focus on Israel with no regard for U.S. troops in Afghanistan? Simple: AIPAC and the “pro-Israel” lobby’s ill-founded concern about the Hagel nomination coupled by the lobby’s disproportionate influence on our representatives to echo that concern.”(emphasis mine)
“But when the hawkish, “pro-Israel” lobby in America can influence our representatives to sound as if they – well – are representing Israel’s citizens more than our own? (emphasis mine)
We have a problem. A problem that must be discussed openly and honestly.”
Straight out conspiracy theory saying that America’s representatives are controlled by “Zionist Interests”… Where have we heard charges like that before and from whom?
SO… with that, I say “goodbye”, “so long”, “Shalom”, to J Street. Why would I support an organization that gives a platform (and is proud of that) to a person who espouses both anti-Zionism and in my opinion borderline anti-Semitic memes? Just as I would not belong to an organization that gave a platform to Gilad_Atzmon nor can I see my money or support going to an organization that would support and be “proud of” and having David Harris Gershon.
I cannot in good conscience support J Street IF this is the type of programming or this is the kind of speaker that they will sponsor. I wish things were different because I do support J Street’s general principles. However, when you give a platform to people like Harris Gershon. What are you really supporting?
A former friend.
Originally published on The Times of Israel

Review: ‘The J Street Challenge’

By: Jeff Dunetz

A new one-hour-long documentary, The J Street Challenge is a powerful, must-see film for anyone with even a casual interest in learning the truth about Israel “advocacy” in America. It was produced and released by Americans for Peace and Tolerance, a multi-ethnic organization promoting tolerance in communities across the nation.

J Street, founded in 2008, markets itself as kind of left-wing AIPAC. From the very beginning the group went out of its way to emphasize its motto of “pro-Israel, pro-peace.” One of the key questions raised by the documentary is what it means to be “pro-Israel” not necessarily on a personal level, but in the perspective of the political lobbying and advocacy, which tries to shape public opinion about the Israeli-Arab conflict. A conflict that Harvard Professor Ruth Wisse describes as a partial fiction:

There is no such thing as an Arab-Israel conflict, there is an Arab war against Israel, there is an Arab war against the Jewish people’s right to a state.

As the film examines J Street’s record, it becomes hard to dispute Professor Alan Dershowitz’s assertion made toward the end of documentary that J Street is “neither pro-Israel nor pro-peace.”

The J Street Challenge uses the organization’s own words to deliver a thorough introduction for anyone who has not delved into the group, what the group means by “pro-peace,” and the rhetorical sleight of hand the group uses to promote its position, namely, J Street is always right and Israel is always wrong. Shalem Center scholar Daniel Gordis highlights the J Street arrogance:

None of us know what’s going to bring peace, none of us know what’s going to get the Palestinian side to make accommodations, the minute you’re absolutely certain that you have a monopoly on wisdom I think you stop listening.

The movie explains that to J Street the only reason for the “Arab-Israeli” conflict is land. The viewer is introduced to the organization’s position that if Israel would give return to the 1949 armistice lines, all would be right with the world. A position nicely slapped down by Professor Wisse who explains the failure of the group’s logic, “Since that so-called occupation was the consequence of the war against Israel, it cannot retroactively have become its cause.”

Part of explaining a group’s purpose is discovering the people funding its message. The J Street Challenge, pulls together all of the funding information discovered over the past six-years and lays it out for those who haven’t been intimately following the group. Much of J Street’s money comes from critics of Israel, like the hedge-fund billionaire and progressive “sugar daddy” George Soros, and Genevieve Lynch, a board member of the pro-Iranian regime, National Iranian-American Council. Each has donated significant sums to the organization.

Although J Street says it is opposed to the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, J Street maintains close ties with those who advocate collaboration with the BDS movement in targeting West Bank settlements, such as writer Peter Beinart and corporate lawyer Kathleen Peratis.

The movie touches upon the role the Obama administration had in giving the group legitimacy, inviting it to presidential meetings with the leadership of the Jewish Community, and forcing fellow Democrats such as DCCC Chairman Steve Israel to support the group’s initial efforts.

J-Street’s usual position includes slamming Benjamin Netanyahu’s government as an obstacle to peace (they made the same comments about the Olmert government), and its leader call for the United States to impose a solution on Israel even if it ignores Israel’s security needs.  J Street also opposes tougher sanctions on the Iranian regime (and has since its creation in 2008), along with its other positions which one usually hears from a group which opposes Israel, and is rarely heard from a group supporting the Jewish State.

More than anything else, the documentary seeks to present an understanding of what is at the core of the J Street message and how it seduces some in the Jewish community, particularly college-aged liberal Jews. In this way The J Street Challenge moves beyond one organization used by President Obama to “sell” his vision of the Middle East, and goes on to explain much of the American liberal-progressive attacks on the Jewish State.

The film identifies J Street’s appeal to a naïve view of the world. For example one activist explains that she supports J Street because she likes “creating good things in the world,” to which Professor Wisse responds,

Because they are so sensitive, and because they are so good-hearted … and wicked Israel is not as good hearted as I am. The stupidity of this kind of innocence in a world that is so complicated, when you belong to a people with such a tortured history of trying to arrive at the good in the midst of being persecuted and prosecuted falsely over so many centuries, I mean, its almost intolerable.

Rather than simply “attack” what it thinks J Street says, the film is formatted as a “debate” on the issues. Each topic within the documentary is introduced by the words of a J Street leader, member, or document.  Those positions are then rebutted by one or more from an all-star cast who outline and explain J Street’s deceit. A cast which includes in addition to Ruth Wisse, Alan Dershowitz, and Daniel Gordis mentioned above, features Wall Street Journal editor Bret Stephens, Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick, CAMERA’s Andrea Levin, Israel Project CEO Josh Block, and Dr. Charles Jacobs, who runs “Americans for Peace and Tolerance”, the organization that released the movie.

The J Street Challenge is a must see. Screenings can be arraigned [sic] for your organization on the film’s website

Originally published on TruthRevolt

The Pro-Israel Freakout

By Michelle Goldberg

The Israel lobby appears to be panicking.

Earlier this week, New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage cancelled a talk by New Republic senior editor John Judis about his new book, Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and the Origins of the Arab/Israeli conflict, deeming it too controversial. The book, which comes with a blurb from The Nation’s own Eric Alterman, has enraged the right by looking seriously at Zionism’s colonial history and, worse, assuming that Palestinian concerns are as important as Jewish ones. Judis writes that he has taken from the Reform Jewish tradition “the idea that an American Jew should be as concerned about the rights of a Palestinian Arab as he is about the rights of an Israeli Jew. That’s not a view you’ll find today at many of the so-called pro-Israel organizations, or at the evangelical churches that call for the Jewish conquest of Judea and Samaria, but it’s my view, and it’s the one that informs this history.” Evidently, this basic moral universalism is too inflammatory for parts of the Jewish community.

Then, yesterday, news came that a different institution, the Jewish Museum of New York, was scrapping a talk on Kafka by BDS supporter Judith Butler, who pulled out amid a pro-Israel uproar. “[T]he debates about her politics have become a distraction making it impossible to present the conversation about Kafka as intended,” said a museum statement.

Meanwhile, there’s The J Street Challenge: The Seductive Allure of Peace in Our Time, a new right-wing documentary that, if the online preview and early reviews are accurate, smears the liberal pro-Israel, pro-peace group J Street as dupes of crazed anti-Semites. It was made, producer Avi Goldwasser told the Jewish Press, “in response to what we perceived as a one-sided discussion, dominated by J Street spokespersons, about the relationship between the American Jewish community and Israel.”

Continue reading here

Originally published on The Nation


J Street, Marginalized in D.C., Leeching into the Hillels

By: Lori Lowenthal Marcus
The controversial organization J Street had its first annual conference in 2009. The organization initially snagged a large number of members of congress to speak at the conference, and an even larger number to merely allow their names to be used as “co-sponsors” of its Gala. But when word got out that despite its self-description as a “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization, most pro-Israel folks – including the actual Israeli government – had quite the opposite view of the organization, many congressional members beat a hasty retreat.
J Street has had its public ups, and even more public downs, with Americans who believe themselves to be pro-Israel. There was the revelation that while J Street said the virulently anti-Israel George Soros was not a donor, in fact J Street’s tax records proved that not only he, but members of his family were bankrolling the organization. There was also the J Street claim that the vast majority of its donors were American Jews, when it was later revealed that there were quite a few non-Jewish donors, and actually the largest donor for at least one year was neither Jewish nor American. The list goes on.
J Street has recently been reduced to publicly crowing not about how many members of congress were willing to speak at its conference, but instead how many were willing to take its money. Imagine that! your biggest achievement is that a politician was willing to take your money.
But as J Street was slowly eased out of its comfort zone in Washington, D.C., it proved itself to be very adaptable. It oozed out into the countryside, where it was harder to mobilize a critical mass of knowledgeable critics. At least in part because of that diffusion, J Street found homes at the municipal level. The Big Tent approach of most mainstream Jewish Federations was a tremendous boon, even more so are the fecund, ultra-liberal, anti-authoritarian pastures known as university campuses.
While some Hillels were initially wary, others were welcoming.
One Hillel which initially responded to J Street’s approach very gingerly was the Hillel of Greater Philadelphia, a Hillel whose campuses include not only the University of Pennsylvania, but also Temple University, Drexel University, Bryn Mawr College, Haverford College and Swarthmore College, as well as some smaller schools.
J Street approached HGP and asked to have the roll-out of its local J Streets hosted at the University of Pennsylvania Hillel, on Feb. 4, 2010. The roll-out was going to be webcast to 20 other cities across the country. The HGP leadership, anticipating the objection of at least some board members, extracted a firm commitment from J Street Chief Jeremy Ben-Ami. That commitment was an element of an agreement to rent the space to J Street as part of a business transaction. It was affirmatively not an ideological vote of confidence.
Not to worry, said J Street to the local Hillel leadership: “We promise not to mention that we’re using your facility, and to make clear in our written and oral statements that Hillel does not endorse us.” That condition was agreed upon—it was “not just a promise, it was an agreement”—according to Rabbi Howard Alpert, the executive director of all the Philadelphia area Hillels. On the strength of that essential agreement, Hillel went ahead and rented J Street its space.
And then? Within seconds of beginning his welcome to the live audience in Philadelphia and to all those listening and watching through the livestreaming, J Street’s Ben-Ami said exactly what he’d promised not to say—that he was speaking “here at Penn Hillel.” He failed to say a word about what he’d promised solemnly to make clear: that Hillel does not endorse J Street or its message.
Not only did J Street explicitly violate its firm commitment, it did so with breathtaking audacity.
Within hours of the event, J Street sent out thousands of releases and emails urging everyone who was not present at the launch to go to its website and watch the video. While the video of Ben-Ami’s remarks is no longer – four years later – still up on the website, it was for many months. In fact, the text of the statement still is on the J Street website. You can see it for yourself.
For some reason, perhaps because they did not want it known they had been duped so completely, the Philadelphia-area Hillel leadership chose to not publicly remonstrate with Ben-Ami over his calculated lie at Hillel’s expense. But because J Street’s brazen deception was not shared with other Hillels, other campus organizations, and other Jewish organizations, were denied an early opportunity to know about the deception and to raise the honesty bar before J Street. The bar itself seems to be lost.
In fact, anecdotal evidence from college students around the country raise concerns that J Street has not only been embraced by the Open Tent of Jewish communal organizations on campus. Now there is a danger of it becoming the owner of the tent.
Just one example of that comes from an op-ed which recently appeared in The Jewish Press. It described a Brandeis University campus event at which J Street U members entered late, shouted at the speaker and disrupted the event. What is even more galling is that after the event, a J Street U student criticized the other students, claiming J Street U was shut down because its views are “unacceptable.” The views were not the reason there was criticism, it was the behavior displayed by J Street U students that was.
And now word comes that J Street is again setting up shop in various cities across the country, this time to have what it is calling a Town Hall. The goal of the Town Hall is to continue banging the drum for its obsessive goal of creating a Palestinian State. And J Street is hosting one of its Town Hall events in Philadelphia, at the University of Pennsylvania Hillel!
The University of Pennsylvania Hillel seems to enjoy playing the losing end of the game “Heads I win, Tails you lose.”

There still are members in those big tents, especially the Jewish-built ones on campuses, who see real peace in the Middle East as the only acceptable goal of the Middle East Peace Process. This distinguishes them from organizations such as J Street, whose sole goal is the immediate creation of a Palestinian State. Maybe what you see as the goal of the peace process is a legitimate litmus test to use for groups who enjoy the benefits of being in the Big Tent.Originally published in The Jewish Press

Candidly Speaking: J Street is not a ‘pro-Israel’ organization

By: Isi Leibler

At its fifth annual national conference last week, J Street advanced its objective of gaining recognition as a mainstream Jewish organization with the inclusion of a wide range of prominent American and Israeli political figures among its speakers.

These included US Vice President Joe Biden, Special Envoy Martin Indyk, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and representatives from most Knesset parties. Israel’s ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, in one of his last acts prior to retiring, conveyed greetings by video. Even prominent Likud MK Tzachi Hanegbi and Shas MK Yitzhak Vaknin participated.

Vaknin introduced a comic element when he boasted to participants that he was urging Shas rabbis to recognize non-Orthodox streams of Judaism and cease protesting against gay pride parades.

Hanegbi also played up to the crowd, justifying his participation on the grounds that despite disagreeing with many of its views, J Street was a “pro-Israel” organization toward which he felt an obligation to engage in “dialogue.”

He endorsed a two-state solution and opposed the Arab right of return, but astonished participants by stating that he favored handing over Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods to the Palestinian Authority, stating, “we will not be sovereign in the places where our people were born, in the places where Jewish kings and prophets used to live centuries ago.” He also referred to the duplicitous Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as a “genuine peace partner” and was quoted by the JTA as describing Iran’s diplomatic overtures as “the fulfillment of our dreams.”

Of course Hanegbi is neither naïve nor a fool and would be aware that the issue relating to his participation is not about “dialogue” but over whether red lines should apply to providing legitimacy to organizations systematically engaged in undermining Israel from within the Jewish mainstream.

With J Street, the issue is not merely its views but its preposterous actions. Hanegbi must be conscious of how ridiculous it is to describe as “pro-Israel” an organization which actively lobbies the US government to undermine the policies of the democratically elected government of Israel.

The audience response to other speakers at the conference was quite revealing. Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich received enthusiastic applause when she expressed support for gay rights but encountered a chilly silence when she stated that “we believe in a free and democratic Israel with a strong army and secure borders to defend not only our people but their views… the true Zionist dream.” Minister Livni received a similarly cool response when she condemned “the process of delegitimization against Israel” and demonization of the IDF.

Consistent with J Street’s recent promotion of a Congressional petition urging Obama to accept Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’ s proposal regarding Iran’s nuclear ambitions, applause was muted when Vice President Biden spoke of sanctions against Iran.

Yet, attendees were unequivocal about their allegiances.

They applauded Fatah’s spokesman Husam Zomlot’s call for Israel to give “formal recognition of the Nakba” and offered sustained and enthusiastic applause when he demanded the right of return of Arab refugees to their former homes in Israel.

J Street leaders castigated Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu after his United Nations General Assembly address for concentrating on Iran rather than the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

Such displays provided further evidence that J Street’s claims that it is “pro-peace” and “pro-Israel” are disingenuous, if not outright absurd. Virtually the entire Israeli political spectrum passionately yearns for peace.

During Operation Cast Lead, J Street described Israel’s action as an “escalation” that was “counterproductive” and “disproportionate.” It ascribed moral equivalency to Israel and Hamas, stating that it found difficulty in distinguishing “between who is right and who is wrong” and “picking a side.” One J Street leader described the operation as being an “unjust and even criminal act” and claimed that Gaza represented a “mythic threat to Israel.”

In 2011 J Street urged the White House not to veto a one-sided United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israel. It called the behavior of IDF commandos on the Mavi Marmara Gaza flotilla ship “cruel brutality.” It encouraged the US administration to force Israel to freeze residential construction in the east Jerusalem Jewish suburbs. While the liberal media gushes over a Jewish organization which constantly condemns Israel and defines it as moderate organization, J Street remains a magnet to the anti-Zionist chic.

J Street’s approach is arrogant and paternalistic. Its leaders have the chutzpah to claim that they know better than Israelis what is good for Israel. Out of touch with or indifferent to the existential threats Israel faces, ignorant of history and unwilling to grapple with the complexities of our situation, they compare us to drug addicted children who require “tough love” for our own welfare.

The tone is set by J Street’s leadership, which manipulates history and reality with dangerous rhetoric.

Founder and president Jeremy Ben-Ami refuses to recognize Israel as a “Jewish state,” referring to it as a “Jewish democratic home, in the state of Israel.” Co-founder Daniel Levy has described Israel’s creation as “an act that went wrong.” It is noteworthy in this respect that Ben-Ami was also proven to be a serial liar when despite his repeated denials, the anti-Israeli George Soros was exposed as one of his major contributors.

In contrast to AIPAC whose charter explicitly states that it supports the policies of the Israeli government holding office, J Street actively lobbies the US government to undermine policies that are enacted by Israel’s democratically elected government. It continuously fiercely disparages AIPAC and has gone to the extent of fanning anti-Semitism by warning that AIPAC’s “blind support” for Israel will give rise to hostile feelings that American Jews harbor dual loyalties.

In presumably turning a blind eye to Tzachi Hanegbi’s participation in the J Street conference, Netanyahu has effectively provided credibility and given a green light to Jewish organizations to lobby their lawmakers to pressure the democratically elected government of Israel to change policies which it considers vital to its security.

In the past, Labor leaders, including Yitzhak Rabin, considered it unconscionable for Jews living outside Israel to publicly meddle in issues impacting on Israeli security, the life-and-death consequences of which would be borne by neither them nor their children.

That such an erosion of the Zionist ethos was sanctioned during the term of office of a government purporting to represent the national camp reflects its dysfunctionality and failure to maintain collective responsibility.

With the current unprecedented global escalation of anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism, we must divorce ourselves from the enemy within. There is plenty of room in the Jewish tent for legitimate dissent and freedom of expression. But “pro-Israel” Diaspora Jews are morally barred from intruding and in particular from lobbying governments to pressure Israel to take actions which impinge on its national security.

Originally published in The Jerusalem Post