Anti-J Street sentiment dominates forum

While the tenor of the recent “Is J Street Good for Israel” forum in Lake Worth on June 18 was almost entirely anti-J Street, the lack of participation by a representative or supporter of J Street on the panel means there still is a great need for a South Florida forum with panelists on both sides of this question.

J Street is a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit liberal advocacy group, founded in 2008, which calls itself “the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans.” J Street advocates a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians as the only way to bring about Middle East peace.

Those against J Street believe J Street is funded by enemies of Israel who are directing the organization to create confusion among the Jewish community, particularly in Jewish college students, to weaken the support of America and the American Jewish community for Israel. They believe the Palestinians cannot be trusted because they still aim for the destruction of Israel — as evidenced by their continued terrorist activity and virulent anti-Jewish propaganda.

According to Jewish activist Alan Bergstein, one of three anti-JStreet panelists (along with Tom Trento and Ron Wexler): “It all comes down to the simple idea that if the Palestinians put down their weapons, there’d be peace tomorrow, but if the Israelis put down their weapons, there’d be no more Israel.”

Rabbi Barry Silver, of Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor, organized the free event as part of the Rabbi Sam Silver Controversial Issues Forum — held the third Wednesday of every month in honor of the rabbi’s late father. Silver advertised “an open discussion with audience participation and a lively exchange of varying viewpoints.”

However, Scott Brockman, the Boca Raton-based Southern Regional director of J Street, opted out of coming to the forum — largely because of Silver’s original plan to show excerpts of the “J Street Challenge,” an anti-J Street documentary which came out earlier in the year.

Continue reading here.

Originally published on the South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Powerful anti-Israel forces at work in U.S.

By Larry Levine

“Unified front no more: Some Jewish groups spar over Israel” was an Associated Press article in Monday’s Dispatch. Reportedly, Jewish organizations are withdrawing invitations to Jewish speakers or performers who are too critical of Israel, but ironically, this happens more often in the reverse.

Open Hillel was mentioned as a response to Hillel’s ban on speakers such as the BDS movement (boycott, divestment, sanctions), who delegitimize or demonize Israel. But that ban is understandable. A truly pro-Israel organization such as Hillel is under no obligation to host people who want to see Israel dismantled.

Another example was that the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, representing more than 50 organizations, denied membership to J Street, a lobbying group that promotes itself as pro-Israel but isn’t.

Many groups on the council, such as Peace Now and Ameinu, are highly critical of Israel. J S treet was rejected for its behavior, including failing to disclose who funds it (George Soros and others unfriendly to Israel), for its support of groups openly hostile to Israel and for many other factors.

Ironically, those same people who say they are denied access to such institutions are, in fact, trying to deny access to those who oppose them.

I sponsored the film The J Street Challenge, which is critical of the group, and found much resistance locally. We were denied permission to post fliers in the synagogues that support J Street, and complaints were lodged at the local theater that screened the movie. We had invited the local leadership of J Street to speak or attend the screening, but they declined.

Apparently this has happened all across the country.

The article’s premise that American college campuses have become ideological battle zones over Israeli policy in the Palestinian territories is wrong. What is actually happening is an orchestrated effort by those on the far left to delegitimize, isolate, divest and ultimately destroy Israel.

J Street’s stated goal upon its founding was to weaken AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee), the lobbying group for Israel. AIPAC supports the elected government of Israel, no matter which party or ideology is in power.

J Street is a political organization that mostly or primarily supports those on the left. It was formed to appeal to college students who are generally liberal and idealistic. Its purported pro-Israel and pro-peace message is nothing more than an advertising gimmick to fool and lure young students.

In the film The J Street Challenge, New York law professor Alan Dershowitz, hardly considered to be a right-winger, said he found in his research that, as of early this year, J Street had never printed a positive press release about Israel.

The string that ties all of these groups together is billionaire George Soros. Soros has displayed open hostility to Israel and has funded many overtly anti-Israel organizations.

J Street publicly states that it is against the BDS movement, yet it hosts BDS at its conventions and lets it have seminars. J Street even held a seminar at its national convention on how to subvert the Birthright Israel organization. Birthright Israel is a program designed for young people to travel to the Holy Land and learn about Jewish culture and history.

My point is, there is a concerted, purposeful attempt by the far left and Soros to divide the Jewish community when it comes to Israel.

Originally published on The Columbus Dispatch


J Street Lies to Constituents, Outlines Media Strategy Via Email

By Daniel Mael

In an email obtained by TruthRevolt, J Street’s Director of Regional Operations and Strategy Josh Friedes outlined J Street’s strategic response to the film the J Street Challenge:

Please find below the most substantive rebuttal thus far to the J Street Challenge. Jeremy wrote in response to many requests we have received from our leaders and activists who are on the front-lines in their communities and who have subsequently requested a definitive response to which they could refer those making genuine inquiries about the facts. It will be posted on Times of Israel early this afternoon.

This piece takes to task several of the film’s most strident accusations. It can be sent to individuals who inquire in tandem with a link to the Myths and Facts page of our website. The Myths and Facts page offers a more comprehensive address of the film’s catalog of spurious allegations.

We have, to date, pursued a strategy of very limited public response to the film to ensure that we do nothing to help Charles Jacobs to promote it. And it has worked well. With the exception of one showing sponsored jointly by a local federation and a Hillel and another by a JCC, Charles Jacobs has been otherwise relegated to renting venues without support or sanction from mainstream Jewish community organizations. Similarly, the film has gained very little traction in the media beyond coverage by the usual suspects of right-wing columnists and bloggers.

We believe this intentionally limited engagement remains the best way to deny Jacobs the fight for which he is spoiling and which he needs to continue to publicize his film. Accordingly, we ask that you use this piece very selectively. You can direct people who inquire to it and it can inform your own conversations with them. In exceptional cases where an op-ed or a letter to the editor that draws on it is warranted, we ask that you coordinate closely with your field team representative.

Thanks for all you do,

Josh

Friedes then linked to J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami’s article ironically titled “Setting the record straight” though the article did little of that. Days later, Chloe Valdary of the University of New Orleans responded to Ben-Ami’s article calling out J Street’s “bigotry” and “intolerance”:

But Ben-Ami’s shtick wears thin. In suggesting that those who challenge J Street’s positions are intellectually incompetent, he does not live up to the very standards he purports to promote. He does not debate the substance of arguments. Instead, he smears his opponents by calling them names so he won’t have to address the issues. Ben-Ami portrays those who object to his musings as evil people who must be censored and whose ideas must not be considered.  He imagines that his own opinions are inherently superior and displays prejudicial intolerance for the views of others. This is fascism and it is unacceptable.

J Street engages in the tactics its founders claim to eschew. This is why we have an aversion to the organization. We are less concerned with its official policies (regardless of how utterly ludicrous they are) and more disturbed by its members’ deliberate feigning of victimhood all while they harass those who disagree with its policy prescriptions. The notion that J Street alone possesses all the right answers and that dissenting naysayers are to be perceived as a threat to the Jewish people illustrates just how hot the air is that fills all of Ben-Ami’s sanctimonious talk about refraining from “calling us [J Street] names because one doesn’t agree with us.

We have a phrase for your scam, Mr. Ben-Ami.  Pot. Kettle. Black.

Since its premiere to a sell out crowd on Feb. 17th in Miami,  The J Street Challenge has been screened in over 30 cities including 18 synagogues and JCC’s. A dozen more screening are scheduled for the remainder of the month June 2014- including 6 synagogues and JCC’s. This despite ugly efforts to censor the film by J Street supporters in venues across the country. J Street representatives have been invited to almost every screening and consistently refused to engage in dialogue with the film producers.

Ben-Ami himself also mentioned the film in a public forum while in the midst of a debate with Dr. Daniel Gordis.

Originally published on Truth Revolt


In Scotch Plains, pro-Israel group screens attack on J Street

By Robert Wiener

Some 75 supporters of Israel cheered and applauded a screening in Scotch Plains of a film accusing the left-of-center J Street of being — despite its motto — neither “pro-Israel” nor “pro-peace.”

The May 27 screening of The J Street Challenge was sponsored by the Israel Support Committee of Central New Jersey, a group whose members come from seven synagogues, mostly in Union County.

The documentary, called revealing by some and “McCarthyite” by others, has engendered controversy since it was released in February by Americans for Peace and Tolerance, a Boston-based group set up to counter “Islamic extremism, anti-Semitism, and anti-Zionism.”

Sponsors of the local screening rented a meeting room for the screening at the JCC of Central New Jersey in Scotch Plains.

“The fact they are here doesn’t represent the JCC in any way,” said Jennifer Mamlet, executive director of the JCC of Central New Jersey, told NJ Jewish News. “We are not taking a stand on the film or J Street one way or another.”

The hour-long video argues that J Street ignores perennial threats to Israel’s existence, which it depicts with vintage black-and-white photographs and newsreel footage of anti-Jewish violence dating back to the 1929 massacre of 67 Jews in Hebron and continuing through the Holocaust and the founding of the State of Israel in 1948.

Using maps and graphics it emphasizes that Israel is surrounded on all sides by Arab and other Muslim nations — some of which are committed to its destruction.

The film features frequent excerpts from speeches and interviews by J Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami, followed by commentaries from the group’s opponents.

Among them are Harvard University law professor Alan Dershowitz, Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens, Jerusalem Post columnist and editor Caroline Glick, and Daniel Gordis, senior vice president and senior fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem.

They attack J Street for what they call unfairly criticizing Israeli policies without placing equally tough blame on Palestinians and their allies.

Although J Street opposes the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement targeting Israel, its critics in the film say it has shared forums with such BDS supporters as Jewish Voice for Peace.

It repeats previous reports that Ben-Ami lied about accepting funds from George Soros, the Jewish billionaire who has been critical of Israeli policies. (Ben-Ami has apologized for not publicizing the decision by Soros to fund J Street.)

And it expressed deep and frequent concern that its “pro-Israel, pro-peace” rhetoric is being accepted without question by many gullible college students.

Sarit Catz, international letter-writing director for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, or CAMERA, took part in a lively question-and-answer period after the screening. One member of the audience urged “every Hillel in the country to show this DVD” to immunize Jewish college students against what another called “J Street’s lies.”

“It is one of the fallacies of J Street that there are many ways to criticize Israel without giving comfort to your enemies, which is what they are doing,” said one man in the audience.

“How do critics of J Street indicate that we want peace, too? It is very tricky,” asked another audience member.

“Nobody wants peace more that Israelis,” Catz responded. “Remember, J Street was founded by a PR professional. What they do is put out excellent ads. But it’s not real. You can be pro-peace and pro-Israel and not blame Israel for everything.”

But a dissenter in the audience called the film “a very one-sided presentation…I don’t think J Street is as omnipotent as this film portrays it to be. I think a lot of things in the film were way over the top,” she said.

No representative of J Street was present in the audience. But Debbie Schlossberg of East Brunswick, an organizer and member of the J Street steering committee for Central New Jersey, told NJJN, “I have not seen the film but our understanding is that it is deceptive and full of lies and we don’t want to give credence it by appearing at a screening of it. Instead we have offered to come and address [the Israel Support Committee] at a different time in a balanced forum. We plan to do that in the fall.”

The Israel Support Committee has also agreed to the debate. As he introduced the film, the committee’s chair, Conrad Nadell of Scotch Plains, said “our goal is to provide a format to hear both sides of the issue.”

In a Feb. 19 statement on its website, J Street said the film “contains numerous inaccuracies, distortions, and outright lies. Most of these false charges are years old and have been debunked long ago.”

In The Times of Israel news site on May 13, Ben-Ami wrote: “Generally speaking, those attacking J Street either support the goal of creating a ‘Greater Israel’ stretching from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea — or they have no answer to the question of what happens to the Israel they love” if Israel’s expanding West Bank settlement and occupation of millions of Palestinian people is not reversed.

Asked by NJJN at the end of the meeting whether they would be interested in hearing J Street’s message directly, more than half of the audience raised their hands in agreement. The date of the forum has not been announced.

Originally published on New Jersey Jewish News

 


J Street debate hits the presses

By Dmitriy Shapiro

Members of Reform and Conservative synagogues have signed on to recent full-page advertisements in Jewish newspapers around the country, blasting their denomination’s leaders for supporting the (eventually failed) bid of the self-labeled “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobby J Street to join the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

The 50-group umbrella organization in late April voted 22-17, with three abstentions and the rest of the members not showing up for the vote, to reject J Street’s membership application. J Street needed an affirmative vote from 34 Conference of Presidents members to gain admission.

Among the Conference members voting in favor of J Street were the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ), umbrella organizations for their respective denominations. Both organizations came under scrutiny in an advertising campaign sponsored by a group called Jews Against Divisive Leadership, raising the question of whether or not the Reform and Conservative umbrellas’ decisions on the J Street vote accurately reflect the attitudes of America’s estimated 1.5 million congregants from those denominations.

“Voting to include J Street in the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations was not advocating for diversity. It was falling for duplicity,” said the Conservative ad, which noted that J Street has accused Israel of war crimes when it defends itself from missile attacks from Gaza, gives a platform to advocates of the movement to boycott Israel, and has called on the U.S. not to veto U.N. resolutions that criticize Israel. The ad—signed by 60 people, along with the congregations they belong to—ran May 22 in the New York Jewish Week, The Jewish Press, The Jewish Advocate of Boston, the Washington Jewish Week, and the Baltimore Jewish Times.

By voting for J Street, the USCJ “acted contrary to the support for Israel we find so important in the Conservative movement,” the ad said.

The Reform ad, signed by 41 people and printed May 15 in the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles as well as May 22 in the Florida Jewish Journal, accused URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs of “divisive” leadership due to his threat to pull the Reform umbrella out of the Conference of Presidents over the J Street vote.

“We told you that [Jacobs] would use his position to bolster the anti-Israel J Street. We told you that he would try to diminish American Jewry’s support for Israel,” the ad said, alluding to opposition to Jacobs’s URJ appointment over his former roles as a board member of the New Israel Fund and Rabbinic Cabinet member of J Street. “But we did not know quite how divisive Rabbi Jacobs would be. We did not expect that when he failed to persuade the Conference of Presidents to accept J Street as a major Jewish organization—which it is not—he would threaten to take the URJ out of the Conference and ask others to leave, too, over differences about Israeli foreign policy.”

In a statement after the J Street vote, Jacobs had said, “We may choose to advocate for a significant overhaul of the Conference of Presidents’ processes. We may choose to simply leave the Conference of Presidents. But this much is certain: We will no longer acquiesce to simply maintaining the facade that the Conference of Presidents represents or reflects the views of all of American Jewry.”

In the vote, all four Conference member groups representing Reform Judaism and all but one (Mercaz USA) of four representing Conservative Judaism, voted in favor of J Street. Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt, leader of the Conservative-affiliated Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac, Md., said the denomination’s leaders made their decisions on J Street without necessarily taking the entire movement’s pulse on the issue.

“I think part of what upset people really was the fact that certain leaders in the Conservative movement were so out front, advocating so strongly, which seemed not to take into consideration the feelings of various members of Conservative synagogues and rabbis who felt differently,” he told JNS.org.

Weinblatt said he was not surprised by the sentiments expressed by the ad.

“These are people who care deeply about Israel, who feel a sense of having been disenfranchised,” he said. “Usually most Jewish organizations are driven by consensus and trying to reflect the overall position of its members, and in this particular case it’s hard to gauge really how accurate a reflection it was to take the position that they took.”

Rabbi Jessica Kirschner, leader of the Reform-affiliated Temple Sinai in Washington, DC, said the ads did not reflect the beliefs of most Reform Jews, and defended the stance Jacobs took.

“The thing that I have heard most as a response to Rabbi Jacobs’s actions is an appreciation that the Reform movement was demonstrating leadership on the issue,” Kirschner said, adding that those she spoke to said they were glad that their movement “was speaking up and saying” that there “needs to be a rich and complicated conversation.”

Kirschner said she reads most of her Jewish news online, and that Jews Against Divisive Leadership’s method of placing ads in Jewish print newspapers is therefore probably ineffective if the group wanted to reach young Jews, the demographic J Street claims to represent most.

Jews Against Divisive Leadership also placed an ad that focused on Jacobs in Jewish newspapers in 2011, contesting his appointment as URJ president.

“We call on the Union for Reform Judaism to reconsider this divisive appointment,” that ad stated. “Do not drive mainstream Zionist Jews out of the Reform movement.”

Rabbi Joshua Segal—the rabbi emeritus of Amherst, N.H.-based Congregation Betenu, a Reform synagogue—signed both the 2011 and 2014 ads on Jacobs, and told JNS.org he believes that “J Street is to Zionism what Jews for Jesus is to Judaism.”

“To the extent that the URJ claims (through its affiliate ARZA, the Association of Reform Zionists of America) to be a pro-Israel entity, Jacobs’s positions certainly undermine that assertion,” Segal wrote in an email. “And the ad is just calling him to the carpet—perhaps an ‘I told you so’ to his election to his current job.”

Los Angeles resident Paul Jeser—who considers himself a member of both the Reform and Conservative communities, but prefers to identify as just Jewish—called Jacobs’s approach after the J Street vote “absurd.”

“The organizations [in the Conference of Presidents] have the right to vote the way they did, but then when you lose a vote and you threaten to pull out, it just show how immature and inappropriate your actions are,” Jeser told JNS.org.

Jeser did not sign the ads, but said he agrees with their message.

“It’s very obvious in my mind that the people who support J Street don’t understand how bad J Street is,” he said. “If they really delved into it and stopped drinking Kool-Aid, they would understand J Street is dangerous. [Members of the Conference of Presidents] make their decisions based on not right or left, but on right and wrong, and J Street, in my mind, is obnoxious and just has no right to be under any tent.”

Jessica Rosenblum—director of media and communications for J Street—dismissed the new ads, saying it does not surprise her “that there are 40 people in the Reform movement and 60 people in the Conservative movement who are strongly opposed to their respective leaders’ decisions to support J Street’s admission to the Conference of Presidents.”

“The Reform and Conservative movements voted to admit J Street to the Conference of Presidents, not because they agree with everything J Street says,” Rosenblum wrote in an email. “They did no more than faithfully represent the diversity of opinion within their movements—but such diversity is apparently unacceptable to the signers of these advertisements.”

Originally published on JNS.org


J Street Must Cease Its Mishagas

By Elliott Hamilton

J Street prides itself as “a political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans.” Since its president Jeremy Ben-Ami founded it six years ago, J Street has captured the attention of members of the American Jewish community, as well as other liberally-bent individuals who hope to see peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. It seemed that from their initial statements, there was hope for another positive voice discussing the nuance of the Israeli-Arab conflict. However, its words are nothing more than mishagas when one takes note of their actions.

The reality is that J Street is neither pro-Israel nor pro-peace, and those two descriptors do not belong on its website, its mission statement, or anywhere for that matter. The past few months have demonstrated it. Ben-Ami’s statements and commentary have confirmed it. Most importantly, J Street’s admonishment over various Jewish institutions, libels of Zionist activists, and defense of anti-Semitism within the ranks of the Palestinian Authority have done nothing more but dig their hole deeper into the abyss of hypocrisy. Their intent is to ridicule the Israeli government, to demonize the State of Israel, and to hijack the strategic relationship between Israel and the United States of America.

Let me be clear about what I mean by these statements. If one goes on the J Street website and reads every press release, one will find at least one criticism of the State of Israel and little to no criticism of the Palestinians. The Palestinian Authority, riddled with corruption, anti-Semitism, and terrorist hero-worship, has not been condemned nor been the center of J Street’s attention. Not one comment about Abbas’ extraordinarily long term as President. Not one statement about Fatah’s Abbas Zaki’s call for Allah to kill Israelis. Not a word about the rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip targeting innocent civilians within Southern Israel.

It is not a problem to be critical of Israel, but it is completely unjust to hold Israel to such a double standard when it comes to the peace process. When it comes to the Palestinians’ demands for peace, J Street figuratively kisses their feet and calls for Israel to meet those demands. If Israel pushes for a particular concession, J Street demands that Israel keep its mouth shut. Jeremy Ben-Ami even had the audacity to make a statement calling for Benjamin Netanyahu not to push the “Jewish state” descriptor of Israel during the peace negotiations in March. How can somebody who claims to be “pro-Israel” be so anti-Israel simultaneously? Either he is genuinely confused over the definition of a “Zionist” or he is intentionally lying through his teeth.

The reality is that J Street catches onto the absurd belief that the Jewish people should feel guilty about Israel’s involvement in the conflict and that we should expect Israel to give up more than it already has for peace. J Street forgets how the Jewish people were initially given the land meant for a Jewish homeland that includes Israel, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and Jordan following the Balfour Declaration. It also forgets about how the Israeli government has spent the last twenty years trying to negotiate a peace deal with the Palestinians, including disengaging from the Gaza Strip and releasing convicted terrorists from its prisons. And while Fatah decided to strike a unity deal with a terrorist organization whose charter calls for Israel’s annihilation and Israel suspended talks, J Street members argued that it was Israel’s fault that the peace talks fell through. The fact that J Street defended Kerry when the latter made a comment regarding Israel potentially turning into an “apartheid” state also lowers J Street’s credibility as a legitimate organization bent on protecting Israel’s interests. I read about all of these statements and I cannot help but imagine how delusional J Street is when it comes to the facts on the ground.

Then there is J Street U. How can a “pro-Israel” organization allow its student activists to co-sponsor events with the frequently anti-Semitic Students for Justice in Palestine and/or to take an active part in the BDS movement? Within the growing leftist climates of college campuses, people love to talk peace and social justice and then climb onto the anti-Zionist crusade. J Street U embodies such “trendy” movements that love to bash Israel and target Zionist activists who actually care about Israelis and Palestinians. I could talk about Brandeis University’s J Street U, how its new Vice President has a penchant for using outrageous statements to harass her peers, and how J Street defended her and called to isolate a critical Zionist activist, but I have already discussed this. Such anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activities are unbecoming of an organization that calls itself “pro-Israel.”

This is why J Street should stop kvetching about its rejection from the Conference of Presidents because it brought this upon itself. Following that vote, J Street acted like a spoiled brat who still demands to get ice cream after its misbehavior. Sorry J Street, just because you say “please” does not mean you are exonerated from your morally reprehensible actions against the State of Israel.

Here’s my question for Jeremy Ben-Ami: Would you put effort into ending a dispute with your neighbor after he becomes best friends with a raging anti-Semite bent on your annihilation? If your answer is no, then you are demanding Israel to do something that you would not do, which is completely hypocritical. The Jewish people have spent millennia trying to stay clear of anti-Semitism. That is why Zionism was founded in the first place. However, you and your group of seemingly “pro-Israel” colleagues are undermining the very mission that Theodore Herzl had in store for the Jewish people. Instead of defending the Jewish people from anti-Semitism, you are demanding that the only Jewish state continues to make peace agreements with anti-Semites who would rather see Israel destroyed than to live in coexistence! If that is not the classic definition of “counterintuitive,” then I have no idea what is.

If J Street wants to be part of the discussion regarding Israel’s future, then it must cease its mishagas, halt its anti-Israel attitudes, and start taking accountability for its actions. Since it has not figured out by now that its conduct has been inconducive to its efforts to reach the front lines of pushing policy, it needs to take in a slice of humble pie, swallow its undeserved pride, and put an end to its arrogant approach on how to solve the conflict.

Originally published on The Times of Israel


The Perils of J Street

By Michael Curtis

In 1955, the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations was founded to serve as the collective voice of organized Jewry in the United States.  It included diverse segments of views within the Jewish community.  Its mission is to advance the interests of the American Jewish community, to provide a forum for discussing and establishing policy on vital national and international issues, and to sustain broad-based support for the State of Israel.  On April 30, 2014, the Conference confronted the highly controversial question of whether limits should be put on who is allowed to become a member when J Street applied for admission into the metaphorical tent covering the organizations.

Since its inception in 2008, J Street, co-founded by Jeremy Ben-Ami, who is highly experienced and skilled in public relations, has been very successful in gaining access to and presenting its point of view in Jewish and other public forums.  It was a legitimate issue for the Conference to discuss whether J Street should be allowed inside the tent.  By a vote of 22 against, 17 in favor, and 3 abstentions, a vote that was related to both ideological and tactical issues, J Street was denied entry.  Though J Street’s organizational rhetoric proclaims that it is “Pro-Israeli, Pro-Peace,” the Conference decided that the actions and policies of J Street are not in accordance with the rhetoric.

Everyone can agree that American Jews, like the rest of the world, have the right to be critical of specific Israeli activities with which they disagree.  However, in the case of J Street, one must ask two crucial questions.  The first is whether that criticism is proper if it relentlessly blames only Israel for various actions or non-actions, and does not take into consideration the actions of others.  The second is whether Israel is being judged by a standard not applied to any other country or political group.  The positions of J Street have to be assessed on this basis.

J Street’s position on a number of crucial issues affecting Israel has not been revealed, and there is what appears to be a studied ambiguity in regard to others, but those positions that have been made public have not simply been controversial, but also biased against Israel.  Among them were J Street’s continued support for the Goldstone Report critical of Israel, a document that was initially accepted and then subsequently discredited by analysts, and J Street’s constrained support for the Israeli airstrikes that took place in December 2008 to counter the hundreds of rockets coming from terrorists in the Gaza Strip.  J Street’s comment was that “escalating the conflict will prove counterproductive.”

J Street seemed to agree with a letter signed by a number of members of Congress that Israel end “the blockade of Gaza.”  It hesitated in supporting, and even opposed, increased sanctions on Iran’s nuclear weapons development.  It approved the call that the U.S. should not veto a U.N. Security Council Resolution condemning Israeli settlements.  It also displayed a lack of transparency, at least for a time, about its sources of funding.

To deal with these issues, a valuable commentary examining and debating the reality of J Street has appeared in a new film, The J Street Challenge, produced by a group, Americans for Peace and Tolerance, led by Ilya Feoktistov and Charles Jacobs.  The film presents comments on J Street by a number of distinguished scholars and journalists, including Ruth Wisse, Alan Dershowitz, Richard Landes, Daniel Gordis, Caroline Glick, and Bret Stephens.  Regrettably, Ben-Ami refused to be interviewed for the film – ironic, since he was so anxious to be heard inside the tent of the Conference of Presidents.

The film is highly critical of the opinions of and the presentations by J Street regarding Israel.  Those presentations focus, virtually single-mindedly, on the need for peace in the dispute between Israel and its neighbors with the seductive message alluding to Jewish values, Tikkun Olam, of saving lives that has attracted so many, especially young, people.

But the essential simple message of J Street is that peace will occur and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be ended if a Palestinian state is established, and the only way to accomplish this is for Israel to make territorial and other concessions – actions which so far it has refused to take.  This argument entails that it is only Israel that is responsible for continuation of the conflict.  Therefore, pressure to make one-sided concessions must be put on Israel by the self-adulatory J Street, leading minor organizations such as the U.S. Administration, Congress, and the Jewish community, and its centers, synagogues, and college campus organizations, to join in.

The clips shown of J Street’s speeches and presentations reinforce the film’s analysis that J Street blames Israel for the lack of peace, ignores the refusal of Palestinian and other Arab leaders to accept Israel’s existence and to enter into the negotiation process, and makes no mention of the animosity and hatred the Arab world has ignited against Israel.

The scholars in the film argue that J Street has ignored the historical context of the present-day conflict as well as the reality that the Palestinians and almost all the Arab states have rejected every plan for negotiations.  J Street pays little or no attention to the continuing physical peril under which Israeli civilians live, and the threat against the very existence of the state.  By pursuing its one-sided advocacy, J Street has divided the Jewish community and weakened support for Israel.  J Street has succeeded in making many in the younger generation of Jews feel embarrassed about supporting Israel.  They want peace more than they support Israel.

For J Street, the American presidential administration must pressure Israel for the good of Israel.  With J Street’s monopoly of wisdom, in its utterances there is little praise of Israel for its extraordinary achievements, but rather the assertion that Israel, especially because of the settlements built since 1967, is the obstacle to peace.  Hostilities would end if Israel changed its ways.  J Street holds that the Palestinian leadership is a serious negotiating partner that can be trusted.

Everybody wants peace, but realities protrude beyond this desirable goal.  On this point, Ruth Wisse in the film makes a penetrating remark.  There is no Israeli-Palestinian conflict; there is only an Arab war against Israel.  J Street takes advantage of the desire for peace to falsify the real political picture.  The film presents a number of statements made by Ben-Ami in previous speeches.  The rhetoric is always the same, characterized by arrogant posturing that J Street has a monopoly of wisdom and truth and is on the right side of history.  The aura is of moral righteous, what Richard Landes calls “moral narcissism,” that Ben-Ami feels good in possessing but that Israelis do not have.  Ben-Ami is not known for medical skills, but he and his associates know that Israel must heal itself.

The arrogance stems from the self-definition that J Street is a heroic group daring to issue criticism of Israeli personnel and activities when others fear to do so.  But its fundamental mistake is that far from being the lone group in the world crying wolf, J Street is merely echoing the mainstream media and organizations that are constant critics of Israel.  The statements of Ben-Ami repeat those to be read or heard every day in the New York Times, MSNBC, the U.N. General Assembly and other units of the U.N., the New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books, the BBC, the Independent, the Guardian, the World Council of Churches, Oxfam International, Amnesty International, and the bigoted armchair revolutionaries on so many university campuses.  The true courageous people and groups are those who defy this mainstream chorus of critical voices who see Israel as the one country to be incessantly condemned as being responsible for violation of human rights of innocent people and the cause of almost, if not all, the problems of the world.

Should the real character of an organization be understood by observing the policies of individuals and groups with which it associates or from which it obtains funding?  J Street has been linked with left-wing groups, some supporting BDS.  Information about the funding of J Street has been less than candid.  In particular, it took some time before Ben-Ami went public and accepted “responsibility personally for being less than clear” about the support provided to J Street by billionaire George Soros.

It is not clear exactly how much Soros individually, members of his family and associates, the Soros Fund Charitable Foundation, and the Open Society Foundation Network have given J Street.  Some reports show that Soros has given $750,000 in some years.  Probably about $500,000 a year now goes to J Street from Soros, who, of course, directly or indirectly, donates considerable amounts of money to left-wing groups.  In any case, J Street has accepted financial support from a number of sources known to be hostile to Israel.

A baffling contribution – an unexplained amount, about $811,000 – comes from someone called Consolacion Esdicul, an individual hitherto unknown as interested in Middle Eastern affairs, who lives in Hong Kong.  Esdicul appears to be associated with William Benter, a businessman and gambler who has contributed to Media Matters and MoveOn.org, organizations known for their one-sided criticism of Israel.

J Street misunderstands the whole nature of the problem by narrowly defining it as a dispute over land and borders, instead of one based on ethnic and religious differences.  President Abbas, and all Palestinian leaders, have declared they will never accept Israel as a Jewish state.  The co-founder of J Street, Daniel Levy, appears to agree, though he claims to have been misquoted.  He is cited on October 5, 2010 as having said that “I have no reason – there’s no reason a Palestinian should think there was justice in the creation of Israel.”

In that belief, Levy agrees with the 22 Arab countries and 400 million people in the Arab League, and with the Islamic Republic of Iran, almost all of whom are unwilling to acknowledge the existence and legitimacy of a sovereign State of Israel.  Does J Street seriously consider that there is a Palestinian partner who can be trusted to take part in negotiations for a genuine two-state solution in which Israel would be safe?  Saving lives and healing the world is one of the great Jewish values; committing suicide is not.

Originally published on The American Thinker


J Street and the challenge of debate

By Bruce S. Rosengard

Alan Solomont’s op-ed in the Times of Israel on May 15 accuses The J Street Challenge of “distortions, smears and personal attacks” and criticizes the JCC of Greater Boston for showing it. Better could have been expected from the Dean of Tufts College of Citizenship and Public Service and a former US Ambassador.

We appreciate that Dean Solomont and the two other members of J Street who co-authored the op-ed dislike the film. Given the likely reception that the policy positions J Street advances would have, if fully understood in the American Jewish community, we can easily understand that they wish the film would not be shown. We, too, would prefer that it not be shown were we members of J Street. Still, we would have thought that in taking a public stand intended to stop the JCC and other Jewish organizations from showing the film or to dissuade members of the Jewish community from viewing the film, the Solomont signatories would have detailed at least a few examples of the “distortions, smears and personal attacks” that so offend them. Then, readers of the article could judge for themselves whether or not The J Street Challenge is “a one-sided screed” and that the mere act of showing the film in an open forum constitutes an act of sinat chinam (baseless hatred), or just the opposite.

Let’s consider the mirror-image situation. J Street considers itself a “Pro-Israel” organization. Having observed J Street since its inception, we, like many in the Jewish community, would regard that statement as a distortion. This is a position held broadly regardless of political inclination, and includes scholars like Professor Alan Dershowitz, whose progressive bone fides are unassailable. As Dean Solomont must know, Professor Dershowitz, whose writings on the topic are rigorously researched and annotated, has been an outspoken advocate for the two-state solution and an opponent of settlement activity.

Professor Dershowitz has said and written that J Street is not Pro-Israel. However, we regard Professor Dershowitz’s views just like our own views and those of other J Street critics in the Jewish community, as opinions, not incontrovertible fact. We are confident that most people, and particularly Professor Dershowitz, would not criticize the JCC just for showing a film synchronized with the J Street message, as long as viewers were free to criticize and/or debate its content and the accuracy of its sources. When Walt and Mearsheimer authored The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, which was as upsetting to Pro-Israel activists as The J Street Challenge is to J Street members, Professor Dershowitz did not respond with a call to ban the book or a suggestion that people refrain from reading the book. To the contrary, he offered a 44-page detailed rebuttal of specific assertions made in the book and challenged Walt and Mearsheimer to debate the subject openly.

We urge Dean Solomont and other members of J Street to stop characterizing opinions held by other Jews that disagree with them as “divisive”. Although a community can be divided in its opinion on a matter, it need not create “disunity or dissention” (Merriam-Webster). Not only is describing contrary opinion as divisive antithetical to Jewish tradition and values, the very use of the word signals that the argument of the one making the charge lacks content.

Nothing stopped Dean Solomont, his co-authors, and others sharing their views from attending the showing at the JCC and engaging in the discussion that followed. Indeed, attendees of the screening that raised questions about specific items in the film were answered clearly and respectfully by the individuals on the podium. Every purported distortion was rebutted and the audience was free to judge whether the rebuttal was sufficient.

Our country was founded on the notion that people benefit from exposure to differing, opinions. On many occasions, people modify their views in response to a well-presented contrary opinion. None of that happens if opinion is suppressed. We are confident that Dean Solomont and his co-authors know that. We would be saddened that if because of their own discomfort with the exposure The J Street Challenge gives to the particulars of J Street’s brand of Pro-Israel advocacy, suppression was their intent.

Bruce R. Rosengard, M.D., F.R.C.S.
Brookline, MA
Member, Temple Emanuel, Newton, MA

Harvey E. Bines, J.D.
Lexington, MA
Member, Temple Emunah, Lexington, MA

Originally published on The Times of Israel


J Street bars critical student journalist from National Summit

By William A. Jacobson

On April 28, 2014, I wrote about how J Street issues media Fatwa against its toughest pro-Israel student opponent:

[Daniel] Mael has been a relentless critic of J Street and its college chapters….

One of Mael’s articles even is featured in the trailer for the J Street Challenge….  Considering that The J Street Challenge is one of the biggest thorns in J Street’s side, it’s not much of a guess to believe that Mael’s affiliation with the movie is not popular at J Street…

I noted that J Street had issued a press statement requesting that media and bloggers “distance themselves” from Mael after an incident at Brandeis University, where Mael is a student.  Mael alleged that a J Street U member verbally abused him, a claim which was denied.

For whatever its reason, J Street corporate headquarters through its communications team got involved in this local dispute (emphasis added):

…  we ask that others in the Jewish community and media – even those who don’t agree with us politically – will distance themselves from this blogger and others with a history of conduct driven by malice and deceit.

While J Street and J Street U remain deeply committed to a vibrant and respectful campus conversation, there is a line that cannot be crossed. Unfortunately, some questionable bloggers and campus figures have consistently and consciously crossed that line. We will not tolerate harassment of our student leaders, and we see no reason for us to have any further interaction — on the Brandeis campus, online or in other venues — with those peddling in slander. We hope others will make the same determination.

Since then, two things have happened.

 

First, Mael’s prominence has risen, including an appearance on the Kelly File.  His criticism of J Street has not ceased.

Second, relations between J Street and its critics have frayed even further, with J Street losing a vote to join the influential Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Just this week J Street’s Executive Director, Jeremy Ben-Ami wrote a column in The Times of Israel defending J Street and attacking critics:

Over the past six years, J Street has been subject to an unrelenting campaign of attacks grounded largely in lies, innuendo and guilt-by-association aimed at discrediting the organization and those who work for, fund and support it.

Rather than focus debate on substantive disagreements with the policy positions we take, some of our opponents have sought to discredit us personally and organizationally. We have, of course, made an occasional personal or organizational misstep, which has not helped, and all of us at J Street are acutely aware that, given the scrutiny we’re under, we have less than average margin for error.

A prominent Christian Zionist student, Chloe Valdery, wrote a response to Ben-Ami, also in The Times of Israel:

Ben-Ami claims to see many of the Israeli government’s policies as “counter to Israeli interests,” and thus rebukes them. Fair enough. We in the pro-Israel community see many of J Street’s policies as counter to Israeli interests as well.  Yet, when one rebukes them, one is bullied and personally attacked by Ben-Ami.

In this back and forth, and continuing recriminations, J Street has not forgotten its desire to isolate Mael.

After initially granting Mael press credentials on behalf of Truth Revolt to J Street’s June 2014 National Summit in San Francisco, the credentials not only were revoked, Mael also was told he was barred completely from the National Summit.

Here are emails provided to me by Mael reflecting J Street’s position as expressed by its Communications Director, Jessica Rosenblum:

From: Daniel Mael [xxxxxxx@______] Date: Fri, Apr 18, 2014 at 4:14 PM
Subject: Press request for summit
To: summit@jstreet.org

My name is Daniel Mael and I am a reporter for TruthRevolt.org. I was wondering if you are issuing press credentials for your upcoming summit. Please let me know, as I’d like to attend and cover the event.

Chag Sameach,
Daniel

———————–

From: Jessica Rosenblum [xxxxxxx@______] Date: Thu, Apr 24, 2014 at 5:01 PM
Subject: Re: Press request for summit
To: [xxxxxxx@______]

Daniel,

We will grant you a press credential to cover our national summit in June.

All individuals with press credentials will be held to professional journalistic standards. Please note that J Street reserves the right to remove anyone whose behavior disrupts the proceedings.

Jessica Rosenblum

——————–

From: Jessica Rosenblum [xxxxxxx@______] Date: Fri, May 16, 2014 at 2:23 PM
Subject: Re: Press request for summit
To: Daniel Mael [xxxxxxx@______]

Daniel,

I wanted to circle back with you in order to make sure it is clear that what we wrote in this statement, particularly the parts about distancing ourselves from you and seeing “no reason for us to have any further interaction… with those peddling in slander,” also covers your request for credentials to attend the 2014 National Summit in San Francisco.

Sincerely,

Jessica Rosenblum

——————–

Fri, May 16, 2014 at 3:34 PM, Daniel Mael [xxxxxxx@______] wrote:

Hi Jessica

Are you only denying me press credentials or are you also barring me from the actual Summit?

Shabbat Shalom,
Daniel

——————–

From: Jessica Rosenblum [xxxxxxx@______] Date: May 16, 2014 at 16:49:15 EDT
To: Daniel Mael [xxxxxxx@______]

Subject: Re: Press request for summit

Hi Daniel,

I am doing both.

Shabbat Shalom,
Jessica

Mael provided the following statement:

They granted and then revoked the credentials with no intervening communication. It amazes me that an organization that prides itself on dialogue is willing to viciously attack a student and function so childishly. The spin-machine that is J Street never ceases to amaze me. Although their dishonest organization has been rejected by mainstream Jewish Community.  I would welcome any J Street member into my Jewish community. It is leftist J Street that attacks members of the community to no-end. From Hillel president Eric Fingerhut to Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents, they are simply disrespectful and thuggish. I would love to engage in open dialogue with Mr. Ben Ami or a J Street U student. I think it would be tremendously productive and encourage open debate.

I have not yet received a response to my request for J Street to identify any other persons barred from the National Summit, and for it’s position on barring Mael.

Originally published on Legal Insurrection


J Street’s Bigotry & Intolerance: A response to Jeremy Ben-Ami

By Chloe Valdry

On Tuesday, May 13, Jeremy Ben-Ami, president and co-founder of J Street, published an article in the Times of Israel discussing the positions his organization takes on major issues. According to Ben-Ami, many in the pro-Israel community have been deluded about J Street’s mission and so he decided to go about “setting the record straight” with his article.

The crux of the piece was a call to refrain from issuing baseless personal attacks against J Street and to instead engage in a more intelligent debate about the substance of the organization’s arguments. I agree with this approach. Unfortunately Ben-Ami’s article was dismally lacking in upholding the very standards he claimed to advocate. Instead it was replete with contradictions, half-truths, and snide remarks against those who disagree with J Street’s positions.

Ben-Ami began his piece by claiming that J Street is pro-Israel. To illustrate this point, he began by talking about his family history, of how he is the “descendant of four generations of Israelis,” and how his ancestors “are buried in Israel on the Mt. of Olives… .”But such an assertion is entirely irrelevant as to whether one is pro-Israel or not. One’s claim to be pro-Israel is not contingent upon where (s)he comes from but rather the principles (s)he espouses. My ancestors come from Africa and I consider myself to be as Zionist as the next pro-Israel advocate.

Ben-Ami further suggests that the pro-Israel community dislikes J Street because they believe that one must “agree with all the policies of the government of Israel.” But this is disingenuous. We in the pro-Israel community do not oppose J Street because it rebukes the Israeli government. One of the pillars of open and free debate is, of course, the practice of questioning policies to ensure they are steadfast and reasonable. The problem we have with J Street is that its leadership does not actually permit open and free debate.

 Ben-Ami claims to see many of the Israeli government’s policies as “counter to Israeli interests,” and thus rebukes them. Fair enough. We in the pro-Israel community see many of J Street’s policies as counter to Israeli interests as well.  Yet, when one rebukes them, one is bullied and personally attacked by Ben-Ami.

For example, many of us believe it is fundamentally contradictory (and downright duplicitous) to claim to oppose BDS and support Israel, while simultaneously giving a platform to those who support BDS and who call for the destruction of Israel. (Shocker, I know.) Yet, when we voice these concerns, BenAmi describes us as “conservative” or part of the “establishment,”as though such terms were “dirty” words or even remotely applicable to the topic at hand. He even suggests that those who disagree with him are not “sophisticated” enough to really “get it.”

So, not only are those who disagree with Ben-Ami ideologically inept, but he would have us believe they’re also stupid.

Another example of Ben-Ami’s wrath against those who disagree with him comes later in his article. He describes those who believe in the fundamental right to live in the heart and soul of the homeland of the Jewish people as engaging in “nationalist extremism” and suggests that they are a threat to Israel and the “soul of the Jewish people.” This is intellectual hypocrisy at its worst. There is perhaps no more effective way to silence debate then by describing your opponent as a monster while claiming that you’re the one being bullied because he disagrees with you.

But Ben-Ami’s shtick wears thin. In suggesting that those who challenge J Street’s positions are intellectually incompetent, he does not live up to the very standards he purports to promote. He does not debate the substance of arguments. Instead, he smears his opponents by calling them names so he won’t have to address the issues. Ben-Ami portrays those who object to his musings as evil people who must be censored and whose ideas must not be considered.  He imagines that his own opinions are inherently superior and displays prejudicial intolerance for the views of others. This is fascism and it is unacceptable.

J Street engages in the tactics its founders claim to eschew. This is why we have an aversion to the organization. We are less concerned with its official policies (regardless of how utterly ludicrous they are) and more disturbed by its members’ deliberate feigning of victimhood all while they harass those who disagree with its policy prescriptions. The notion that J Street alone possesses all the right answers and that dissenting naysayers are to be perceived as a threat to the Jewish people illustrates just how hot the air is that fills all of Ben-Ami’s sanctimonious talk about refraining from “calling us [J Street] names because one doesn’t agree with us.”

We have a phrase for your scam, Mr. Ben-Ami.  Pot. Kettle. Black.

Originally published on The Times of Israel