Drawing the line on J Street

By Farley Weiss

The Conference of Presidents’s rejection of J Street’s membership application was the right decision. During the nearly yearlong after J Street applied for membership in the Conference, there was no change in J Street’s outspoken criticism of Israel. Clearly acceptance of membership would have led to a legitimization of J Street’s positions and actions, and in our view to significant long-term damage to the pro-Israel movement in America.

Even many of the Conference members that supported J Street’s membership application openly stated that they disagreed with many of J Street’s statements and actions. Their arguments in favor came down to the fact that J Street has many members, including young members, and that the Conference should have a “big tent.” In our view, membership numbers have little relevance. If the Neturei Karta had many members, including young members, should it be considered for membership? I think not. As it relates to a big-tent approach, where is the line drawn? Can anyone with many members join the tent? All the critics can cite is J Street’s support for a two-state solution.

However, their rejection had nothing to do with J Street’s apparent support for a two-state solution, and everything to do with its statements and actions on the issues of the day.

Alan Dershowitz is an ardent supporter of a two-state solution and yet he wrote that he could not find anything pro-Israel in the statements and actions of J Street. J Street initiated one major Congressional letter and it was a letter only critical of Israel and its actions in Gaza. When the Goldstone Report was published and Israel and the US Jewish community were outraged at the falsehoods and slander of the report, J Street was attempting to get former South Africa judge Richard Goldstone, who headed the UN’s fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict, appointments with members of Congress. Eventually Goldstone himself disavowed his own report, and yet J Street stood by it. If J Street had been a member of the Conference at that time its actions would have caused significant damage.

J Street vocally called on the US administration not to veto a UN Security Council resolution critical of Israel. The Conference of Presidents supported a veto and fortunately the Obama administration did not listen to J Street and vetoed the resolution.

Just a few days before the Conference of President’s vote on J Street, it became public that US Secretary of State John Kerry had been quoted as saying Israel could become an apartheid country, and that J Street defended Kerry’s remark. Abe Foxman of the ADL, who supported J Street membership, condemned Kerry’s remark and observed that even Secretary Kerry himself later expressed regret for the use of the term apartheid – but not J Street.

One of the most critical issues today is preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Alan Dershowitz points out that J Street has opposed strengthening sanctions, and even opposes a US military strike if the Obama administration feels it is the only way to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. J Street called for Israel to end its military incursion into Gaza, when Israel could find no other way to protect its citizens from missiles. The Obama administration stood with Israel and supported it when the IDF went into Gaza – but not J Street.

The importance of the vote by the Conference of Presidents is it avoided a situation in which AIPAC would be lobbying Congress to support issues that would be beneficial of Israel and J Street would lobby in the opposite direction. Such a situation would confuse members of the House and Senate as to the position of the Jewish community. If J Street would have been invited to join the Conference of Presidents, it would give the impression that it is an accepted voice within the national leadership of the Jewish community. I believe that this would, over time, be devastating to Congressional support for Israel and ultimately the security of Israel.

We decided to be outspoken in our position because of what we saw as the critical nature of the vote. J Street has, in essence, attempted to destroy the ideal of what it means to be pro-Israel.

Pro-Israel means standing up for and with Israel on the most critical issues facing its survival and security.

J Street has failed that test. The vote of the Conference of Presidents was a resounding affirmation that J Street’s actions should not be legitimized by membership. The Conference decided correctly.

The author, an attorney, is president of the National Council of Young Israel, which is a member of the Conference of Presidents.

Originally published on The Jerusalem Post


J Street Shows Its True Colors on Brandeis Campus

By Elliot Hamilton

On an early Shabbat morning, Daniel Mael was walking back with a friend to his dorm room at Brandeis University. Upon seeing a group of his peers passing by, he kindly said, “Shabbat shalom.”

What resulted from his kind gesture of peace and tranquility was a war of words between a well-known Zionist activist (Mael) and a board member of Brandeis’ J Street U, Talia Lepson. Talia Lepson used the opportunity to tell Mael, “Jews hate you,” and subsequently called him a “sh*t bag.”

While Mael could have reacted, he took the high road and reported this case of verbal harassment to the university police. What resulted from this incident was an outpouring of support from friends and colleagues, and even an article posted in The Washington Free Beacon titled “J Street U Brandeis’ Talia Lepson Harasses Pro-Israel Student.”

What nobody expected next was a statement from J Street itself. On April 27, on the eve of Yom HaShoah, J Street published a statement titled: “J Street and J Street U Have Zero Tolerance for Harassment of Student Leaders.” I read the title and immediately thought that it would have condemned Ms. Lepson’s inappropriate comments to Mael. However, I was gravely mistaken.

Instead of calling out Ms. Lepson for her blatantly harassing comments, they started pointing fingers at Daniel Mael. The statement said the following: “It is another [thing] to conduct a campaign of personal intimidation and harassment, which is the pattern of behavior that Daniel Mael … has established in relating to J Street U leaders.” Talk about a sweeping generalization and a quintessential example of libel.

How is it fathomable that J Street would defend its own student leader and turn its crosshairs on her victim? They did the unthinkable and the unforgivable by directly turning on a fellow supporter of Israel. J Street prides itself as being “pro-Israel, pro-Palestine, and pro-peace,” yet they fabricated lies against a Zionist activist in order to defend the actions of their own student leader.

Sure, Daniel Mael has been rather critical of J Street, J Street U, and Jeremy Ben-Ami himself, but so are many in the Zionist community. Even I have co-authored a blog post for the Zionist Organization of America with my friend and colleague, Tatiana Becker, in which we stated that Ben-Ami uses the term “pro-Israel” incorrectly when describing J Street’s mission.

However, there is something called accountability that was never played out in the minds of J Street. Instead of saving face and apologizing to Daniel Mael for their student leader’s grave misconduct, they did the opposite and have lost even more credibility because of it.

With the screenings of The J Street Challenge and countless articles that are questioning J Street’s legitimacy as an interest group bent on supporting Israel’s right to exist, the least they could have done was say sorry. Instead, J Street may as well align themselves permanently with Max Blumenthal and other anti-Zionist Jews who have a penchant for demonizing not only the Jewish state, but also the activists who truly embody the pro-Israel mission. Ben-Ami and his organization threw Mael under the bus and fed him to the anti-Zionist dogs.

What makes this entire incident even more atrocious is the timing of this statement. How could a supposedly “pro-Israel” organization slander a Jewish Zionist activist on the very day the Jewish people ought to come together in unison?

Yom HaShoah is supposed to be the day where the Jewish people remember the six million European Jews who were systematically murdered by the Nazis for their beliefs. We are supposed to acknowledge that flagrant propaganda can transform the minds of an intellectual civilization into a genocidal machine. And yet, J Street’s Jewish board member had the audacity to slander a fellow Jew on that day. In my opinion, this is the definition of morally disgusting.

J Street had the chance to turn its distasteful image around and force the Zionist community to reconsider its portrayal of the organization. However, it fell to its own pride.

Elliott Hamilton is majoring in economics at Brandeis. He is the president of Claremont Students for Israel, a Jewish Identity Chairman of Alpha Epsilon Pi Chi Chi, and is the campus activist project liaison for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. This piece was originally published in the CAMERA blog in Focus.

Originally published on the Algemeiner


Columbus’ Jewish community divided over Israel policy

By JoAnne Viviano

A rift within the national Jewish community has made its way to Columbus, where a local activist plans to show a controversial movie that criticizes the liberal J Street organization.

Described by some as more dovish than many of its leftist counterparts, J Street calls itself the “political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans” and supports the two-state solution advocated by Secretary of State John Kerry.

Larry Levine, a member of Congregation Tifereth Israel on the Near East Side, disagrees with J Street’s assertions and thinks that much of the group’s work does not support the Jewish nation and creates division within the Jewish community.

Levine is sponsoring the showing of The J Street Challenge: The Seductive Allure of Peace in Our Time at the Drexel Theatre at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.

Levine said the creation of a J Street chapter in Columbus this year prompted him to react. He was concerned that Cantor Jack Chomsky at Tifereth Israel was an initial co-chairman of the group, a connection that he said could imply that J Street was endorsed by the congregation.

“The (Jewish) community is upset because they feel like they’re being divided over this,” he said. “A lot of us feel very strongly that it was inappropriate for clergy to take a position.”

In a statement, Chomsky declined to comment on Levine’s concerns. He said the congregation seeks to welcome everyone and “be a place where people feel comfortable expressing a diversity of opinion.”

Senior Rabbi Michael Ungar declined to comment.

Levine countered that he thinks that the congregation was censoring opinion when it did not allow him to distribute fliers about the film or to hold a screening there.

Local Rabbi Cary Kozberg said he, too, feels as if there has been a concerted effort by some local Jewish organizations to silence debate.

“The sore point is the lack of desire to have an open discussion,” said Kozberg, who works in the Columbus Jewish community but asked that his workplace not be printed because of the controversy.

“We’re going to disagree. We’ve always disagreed. It’s part of the Jewish culture that we argue, we discuss,” he said. “When you say, ‘We’re not going to allow a discussion about this,’ that’s just not part of our tradition.”

Local J Street leaders say their goal, too, is to foster discussion. Their concern is that the film makes unfounded accusations against J Street, said Isaiah Shalwitz, co-chairman of the Columbus chapter. He said the group has not tried to silence opinions and welcomes Levine and others to attend J Street events.

“These are great events about discussion and education,” he said. “There definitely have been a lot of questions and concerns, and we embrace that because that is what we’re here for, why we created the group, to talk about these issues.”

Chomsky is no longer a co-chairman of the local J Street chapter.

J Street, with about 180,000 supporters nationwide, is viewed by some conservatives as being counter to Israel’s safety and security.

The organization was recently rejected for membership in the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

The film is a production of Americans for Peace and Tolerance, a group that describes itself as a promoter of peaceful coexistence in the ethnically diverse U.S. Harvard University’s Alan Dershowitz and Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal appear in the film.

Attending Tuesday’s screening will be Avi Goldwasser, the film’s executive producer, director and writer, and national political writer Noah Pollak.

J Street leaders will not attend the screening. The film does not further discussion but maligns and attacks the group, Midwest field organizer Timna Axel said.

“We’re happy to have real discussion about policy, about serious issues that affect the Jewish people,” she said.

Information from Religion News Service was included in this story.

Originally published on The Columbus Dispatch


Column One: A sad Independence Day

By Caroline B. Glick

Yom Ha’atzma’ut, Israeli Independence Day, is a joyous holiday. In Israel, every year, from Eilat to Metulla, from Tel Aviv to the Jordan Valley, everyone across every spectrum – secular, religious; rich, poor; left, Right, Ashkenazi, Sephardi – is out celebrating.

The reconstitution of the Jewish state, and its growth within three generations from a third world economic and military basket case into a prosperous and powerful country, is among the most astounding success story in human history. Certainly it is the greatest story of Jewish success since Joshua led a nation of former slaves in conquering and settling the land of Israel some 3,500 years ago.

And today, three generations after the enslavement and genocide of European Jewry and the expulsion of the Jews from Islamic lands, the Jewish people in the Land of Israel have built arguably the most dynamic society in the world.

For the Jews of the Diaspora, Israel’s success should be a source of enduring pride and joy.

Independence Day should be celebrated by Jews throughout the world. But in recent years, associations of Israel with joy have become increasingly rare.

As one Jewish student activist put it, the celebration on his campus was nothing more than “a bunch of kids eating cake.”

And at the same time, he explained, many students were posting statuses on their Facebook pages talking about how the day was “bittersweet because of the Nakba.”

The situation was all too similar in campuses throughout North America. Yom Ha’atzma’ut, the celebration of the greatest act of Jewish will in modern times, was marked with a shrug, and small clumps of students eating felafel and humous, and cake.

No doubt, part of the problem is the distance.

It may be that you have to live in Israel to understand how amazing it is. But then again, thanks to programs like Birthright, far more young American Jews have visited Israel in recent years than had visited in previous generations. And previous generations of American Jews felt far greater joy in Israel’s accomplishments than young American Jews feel today.

Part of the problem is ignorance. With steadily decreasing levels of Jewish education and religious affiliation among non-Orthodox Jews in the US, young American Jews don’t know almost anything about their Jewish identity.

They are unfamiliar with their history. Their religious education – if they had any – generally came to a grinding halt immediately after their bar mitzvas. And their Zionist education, such as it may have been, was filtered through the media and then, once they arrived in college, through the rants of their anti-Israel professors.

And part of it is that they are intimidated.

Hate groups like Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voices for Peace harangue Jewish students for uttering even the mildest defenses of Israel.

When students are willing to stand up to these hate groups, they are beset by J Street U members telling them that there is nothing anti-Israel about being anti-Israel, and that being anti-Israel really means being pro-Israel.

The ignorant Jews shrug their shoulders and walk away because Israel is just too much trouble.

Or they stay and become convinced that they can be pro-Israel by being anti-Israel.

A poll of Israeli Jews published on Independence Day by Tel Aviv University found that 80 percent are optimistic about Israel’s future, and 85% are optimistic about their own future.

Eighty percent of Israelis wouldn’t want to live anywhere but Israel.

Israelis are most concerned about domestic issues. Forty-seven percent are most concerned about the divide between the wealthy and the poor. Twenty-one percent are most concerned with skyrocketing housing prices. Only 8.7% think the most urgent challenge is to make peace with the Palestinians.

For most American Jews, these Israeli priorities are incomprehensible. Over the past 20 years, and at an accelerated pace over the past five years, they have been browbeaten by the mantra that Israel is all but synonymous with the peace process, and that without it, the Jewish state will be lost.

This mantra, which denies Israel an existence independent of the Palestinian conflict, was created immediately after Israel embarked on the peace process with the PLO in 1993. It was bad enough from the outset. But it has become gravely exacerbated by the appearance of J Street on the American Jewish scene.

Before J Street, ignorant American Jews could defend Israel because it is pro-peace. But since J Street arrived at the scene, the fact that Israel has always sought peace with its neighbors is increasingly denied and replaced with lies about Israeli culpability for the pathologies of the Palestinians and the wider Islamic world.

J Street is an anti-Israel, pro-Iranian and pro-Palestinian lobby run by American Jews.

Since its founding six years ago, J Street has lobbied against US sanctions on Iran. It has lobbied for US support for anti-Israel resolutions in the UN Security Council. It lobbied in favor of the libelous Goldstone Report and then lied about its actions when they were exposed.

J Street opposes US strategic ties with Israel. It opposes efforts to defeat the campaign to delegitimize Israel. It hosts openly anti-Semitic speakers at its conferences. It raises money to defeat pro-Israel members of Congress.

J Street supports the BDS movement. It defends BDS activists against their Jewish victims on US college campuses. It hosts them at its conferences and cosponsors events with them.

J Street’s purpose is twofold. First, as an anti-Israel lobby that acts in support of the Iranian regime and Palestinian terrorist organizations, it seeks to diminish to the point of ending the US’s alliance with Israel. To this end, as Richard Baehr noted this week in Israel Hayom, J Street is working to wrest the Democratic Party away from Israel and so make supporting Israel a partisan issue in American politics.

Second, as the recently released documentary on J Street, The J Street Challenge, demonstrates, J Street strives to make it difficult if not impossible for the American Jewish community to support Israel in any coherent fashion.

In a speech at the New America Foundation, J Street executive director Jeremy Ben-Ami explained that the organization’s goal is to destroy the power and influence of the American Jewish community.

In his words, “I think we’re taking on much more than AIPAC. I think that it is the Conference of Presidents. It’s the American Jewish Committee. It’s the lobbying structures of the Federations. It’s the network of JCRCs, the Jewish Community Relations Councils.”

He then employed classical anti-Semitic imagery to explain the magnitude of the challenge and of the danger allegedly posed by these groups.

“It’s a really multi-layered, multi-headed hydra. This monopoly, this many-headed monopoly, has been trying to squash us.”

The most effective means that J Street has employed to date to accomplish its destructive task has been joining the big communal tents.

In these efforts it has been most successful on college campuses.

After decades of living with the perception of Israel as inextricably linked to the “peace process,” most American Jews are extremely supportive of peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

J Street exploits this popular position to undermine Israel. Falsely presenting itself as a “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization, the anti-Israel lobby has entered into the big tent of Jewish communal life at campus Hillels to both undermine support for Israel, and render it all but impossible for Jews on campuses and in larger communities to voice a coherent Zionist message. They accomplish this by falsely arguing that strong pro-Israel positions undermine prospects for peace and that Israel itself undermines peace.

To be clear, J Street is to Zionism what Jews for Jesus are to Judaism.

Jews for Jesus call themselves Messianic Jews.

They dress like observant Jews and prey on the religious ignorance of young American Jews to convince them to convert to Christianity.

In J Street’s case, its members present themselves as pro-Israel and pro-peace, or simply as pro-peace, to exploit the ignorance of American Jews and subvert their capacity and willingness to support Israel.

Last week, J Street’s strategy of penetrating mainstream Jewish organizations hit a brick wall. The Conference of Presidents, one of the “heads” of the Jewish “hydra” that Ben-Ami declared J Street seeks to destroy, rejected J Street’s application for membership.

Partly due to the strong support J Street receives from the leftist media in the US, partly due to the rise of radicals to leadership positions in many major American Jewish organizations, J Street’s application for membership was a cause for concern. Many activists were convinced that it would be accepted.

So the fact that J Street failed to muster not only the two-thirds majority necessary to become a member, it failed to win even a simple majority of the votes, is a major triumph for the community and a cause for hope that the battle for Zionism in America has been joined.

And it must be joined, and won. As far as J Street is concerned, its bid to join the Conference of Presidents was merely one battle in its war against American Zionism.

Immediately after the votes were counted, J Street moved to Plan B. It mobilized its supporters in the Reform and Conservative movements to bludgeon the Conference of Presidents for daring to reject the membership application of an anti-Israel group whose leader publicly pledged to destroy the Conference of Presidents.

J Street exists to fight. Its goal is to destroy.

The tools it employs are demoralization and deceit. That is why the reticence American Jews feel about celebrating Yom Ha’atzma’ut is not merely sad. It is dangerous.

Israel is the most extraordinary collective achievement of the Jewish people in thousands of years. It is the embodiment of the dreams, faith, blood, sweat and tears of the Jewish people today and throughout time in both spiritual and physical terms.

Israel is something that every Jew should celebrate and be thankful not only on Yom Ha’atzma’ut, but every day of the year.

Israelis know this and that is why we are so content and optimistic.

It is J Street’s purpose to hide this truth from the American Jewish community. So it is the task of the American Jews to build on the decision of the Conference of Presidents and ensure through education, travel to Israel and aliya that J Street goes down in time as the great failure it deserves to be. Doing so will ensure that next year, instead of being reduced to the sad spectacle of “a bunch of kids eating cake,” Yom Ha’atzma’ut celebrations worldwide will be the unbridled expressions of joy that they are in Israel.
Originally published on The Jerusalem Post


Taking issue with Yochai Benkler on J Street, Israel, and American Jews

By David Bernstein

I’ve never met Harvard Law Professor Yochai Benkler, but I’m guessing that if we sat down and had a conversation about Israel, we’d find a lot to agree on.  Like him, I support a two-state (or maybe three state) solution, and am concerned by the rise of ultra-Orthodoxy in Israel–not because I have anything against the ultra-Orthodox, among whom are some of my favorite childhood teachers, but because their leadership tends to lack respect for liberal democracy.

Nevertheless, I’m disappointed in his recent article in The New Republic on J Street, Israel, and American Jews.  Here are several quotes I take issue with:

(1) “If organized American Jewry cannot find a place for J Street’s form of young, liberal, humanistic Judaism it is dooming itself to shrinking through attrition …”  JStreet is a political organization funded initially by George Soros and a mysterious Phillipina resident of Hong Kong, neither of whom have ties with the organized Jewish community. Meanwhile, the organization explicitly denied taking money from Soros, whose name was generally anathema among mainstream pro-Israel folk.  J Street’s founders and leadership have strong ties to the Democratic Party.  While J Street purports to be “pro-Israel and pro-peace” in practice its modus operandi has been to try to join the anti-Israel far left with Zionist peaceniks in an alliance against the Jewish establishment and Jewish intellectuals that fit neither description.  (To get a sense of the attitude JStreet represents: A right-leaning Jewish student activist at Brandeis recently wished the head of Brandeis’s J Street U. campus affiliate a friendly “Shabbat Shalom” (good Sabbath).  She responded by calling him a “shit bag” and telling him that “Jews hate you!”) If this is the sum of American Judaism, it deserves not only to shrink but to die; liberal Democratic politics isn’t Judaism, and vice versa, and when you ally with the enemies of k’lal yisroel (the Jewish community) against Jews you happen to disagree with politically, you’ve gone against some pretty basic Jewish principles.

(2) , “The 2013 Pew survey suggests that no more than 10 percent of American Jews are Orthodox of any kind, and the trend is toward less orthodox identification.”  Compare what the page Benkler himself links to says: “Though Orthodox Jews constitute the smallest of the three major denominational movements, they are much younger, on average, and tend to have much larger families than the overall Jewish population. This suggests that their share of the Jewish population will grow.” (Perhaps TNR will issue a correction?)

Maybe five percent of young American Jews are both left-wing enough on Israel and politically involved enough to care that J Street thrives.  By comparison, 25% or so of American Jews under 18 are growing up in Orthodox households, and the Orthodox are far higher percentage if you define the Jewish tent to include only those who are actively involved in Jewish life instead of casting a very broad net as Pew did. That’s where much of the future lies, for better or worse, and the constant complaining by liberal Jewish intellectuals that the highly skewed sample of young left-wing Jewish intellectual types they happen to know are unhappy with Israel and the Jewish establishment because they are insufficiently in tune with left-liberal politics doesn’t actually make that group demographically terribly significant. In fact, even excluding both Orthodox Jews and Jewish day school graduates, young American Jews are more attached to Israel than is the previous generation.

(3) “The territory that occupies the space between Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt is home to about 6.1 million Jews and about 6.1 million Arabs, of whom almost 1.7 million are citizens of Israel living within the 1967 borders and the territories around Jerusalem annexed by Israel after 1967, and the remaining 4.4 million are Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza, or Judea, Samaria, and Gaza. If the Jewish state is to govern the whole of that area, without dividing the space with an independent Palestinian state, then it must either stop being Jewish or stop being democratic.”  I’ll put aside the issue of whether the population figures are accurate. Benkler neglects the fact that Israel is not governing Gaza; it has not a single soldier, civilian, or administrator living there, except for a handful of undercover agents, and has no desire to return there.  So Israeli Jews are a clear majority of the population of areas still under dispute, Israel and the West Bank.  But Israel doesn’t want to govern 1.5 million or so West Bank Arabs indefinitely (and indeed the vast majority of them are currently governed day-to-day by the Palestinian authority), as occupied population or as citizens.  If the peace process reaches a dead end, Israel will unilaterally withdraw from populated Palestinian areas in the West Bank, evacuate isolated settlements, and annex the rest.  Gaza is the precedent.  That might very well be disastrous, for all the reasons Gaza hasn’t gone well.  But it might be less bad than the available alternatives, and there’s no reason to pretend that (a) Israel is currently governing as many Arabs as Jews; and (b) that there is no other option besides either permanent occupation or a peace deal.

(4) “The Israel I grew up in was a secular democratic state whose self-image was captured by Paul Newman’s image in Exodus…” If you want to know why the Israeli left has consistently lost elections since 1977, Benkler has accidentally summed it up right there.  The Ashkenazic elite, of which Benkler is a member, thought it was their country, and that Israel should naturally be like them–Eurocentric in culture and fashion, social Democratic, and secular.  But when Benkler was growing up, over 50% of the Israeli population were Mizrahim, Jews from the Middle East and North Africa.  Most of them weren’t Orthodox, but they weren’t secular, either. Rather, they considered themselves “traditional,” respectful of Jewish tradition and of leading Sephardic rabbis without being Orthodox.  They were treated in a generally contemptuous, high-handed manner by elite Ashkenazim.   Imagine, for example, assuming that even religiously traditional dark-skinned Mizrahim agreed that the blond-haired, blue-eyed, secular European Newman character from Exodus represented the essence of Israeliness.  Menachem Begin managed to tap into the Mizrahim’s resentment by emphasizing his constituents’ common Jewishness rather than the secular elite’s version of Israeliness, and the Israeli left has never recovered.

As I’ve written before, I hope that J Street evolves to become a true pro-Israel, pro-peace group that spends at least as much time defending Israel from its very real enemies on the far left as it does promoting a left-leaning but Zionist agenda.  Im Tirzu, ein zo agadah?

Originally published in The Washington Post


The J Street nose in the Jewish tent

By Ilya Feoktistov, Charles Jacobs

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations vote to reject J Street’s request for membership shows that J Street still faces suspicion from some members of the mainstream Jewish community. Three items head the list: J Street’s stated goal of redefining what it means to be pro-Israel, its strategy of lobbying the US government to pressure Israel, thereby circumventing Israel’s democracy, and some of its suspicious funding sources.

Since it was founded, J Street has responded to those wary of including it within the community’s “big tent” by saying that all sides in the debate deserve to be heard and that many American Jews are concerned about Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians. These Jews should be included in the larger conversation about Israel.

J Street president and founder Jeremy Ben Ami has gone even further, accusing his critics of using big donors to shut down legitimate discussion: “We see our communal institutions and our leaders regularly held hostage by a few large funders or a few loud voices who urge them to stay silent and shut the door to debate.”

The Conference of Presidents vote notwithstanding, J Street is now very much within the tent. Helped by pressure from J Street donors on Federations and other community groups, J Street is now a member of many JCRCs and Hillels. It has been endorsed by such communal heavyweights as the ADL and both the Reform and the Conservative movements’ umbrella groups.

J Street leaders speak of its claim to mainstream status in high-minded rhetoric, claiming underdog victories by the forces of pluralism and free speech over intransigent right wing censors. J Street donor and board member Larry Gellman, for example, has written that:

“The days are long gone when small, wealthy passionate groups of wealthy [sic] Right wing Jewish community leaders will be able to intimidate community professionals and rabbis who have agreed to host J Street programs and speakers. … [W]e are always well served by having multiple approaches and opinions to sift through. That’s how we have always learned and grown.”

Yet wherever it’s been welcomed into the tent, J Street has curiously become much less interested having “multiple approaches and opinions to sift through.”

So now Larry Gellman is singing a different tune. Gellman, a wealthy Arizona broker who describes himself as “God’s gift to money management” and “the savior of the Jewish people,” took to the pages of the Forward on April 3rd, 2014 in order to – this is best described by appropriating his own prior words – “intimidate community professionals and rabbis who have agreed to host programs and speakers [critical] of J Street.” Gellman writes:

“I am so saddened and frustrated by the recent decision of Federation and Hillel of Greater Philadelphia to co-sponsor a divisive film screening that demonizes a fellow Jewish group — in this case, J Street. That’s why I’ve urged Federation leaders in my hometowns of Tucson and Milwaukee and around the country to speak out against this trend…”

The object of Gellman’s ire is a film produced by our organization called “The J Street Challenge.” The film provides a critical analysis of the reasons for J Street’s appeal, as well as the motivations of its leaders and followers. The film presents J Street’s message through video clips of its leaders’ speeches and interviews. (Jeremy Ben Ami declined to be interviewed for the film.) A variety of distinguished scholars and writers ranging across a wide political spectrum then analyze J Street claims and actions. Among these are Professors Alan Dershowitz and Ruth Wisse of Harvard, Rabbi Daniel Gordis of the Shalem College in Jerusalem, Caroline Glick, managing editor of the Jerusalem Post, Josh Block, senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, and Bret Stephens, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Wall Street Journal.

We understand that J Street supporters are not likely to agree with the film’s general line of argument. It’s disappointing, however, that Gellman and other J Street leaders who have publicly addressed “The J Street Challenge” avoid debating specific facts and arguments made in the film. Instead, they resort to emotional ad hominem arguments: J Street’s critics are uncivil and represent the fringe of the community. J Street’s critics make folks like Gellman feel “saddened and frustrated” by arguing with them.

Implicit in Gellman’s article in the Forward is the quest for dominance by a progressive power structure that has insinuated itself within Jewish leadership for the past 40 years. As Gellman sees it, only these folks can “define the parameters of what can be discussed in our community.”

So, in response to the Philadelphia screening of our film, progressives went on the attack. The Philadelphia Federation and Hillel were threatened financially by left-wing donors and demonized in the press by left-wing activists.

The hypocrisy is glaring, but smearing critics while paying homage to civility has long been J Street’s modus operandi. Even as Jeremy Ben Ami was trying to join the Conference of Presidents, he was at the same time condemning it by name as a part of a “multi-layered, multi-headed hydra.” Ben Ami, playing the victim, stated: “This monopoly, this many headed monopoly in a sense, has been to try to squash us.” Now Ben Ami, Gellman and company want to be the monopolists and to squash their critics. To get into the tent, they fought against “censorship” and screamed “Pluralism!” Now that they seek to censor, they scream against “Divisiveness!”

To watch Larry Gellman lamenting a supposed lack of civility is risible. As a blogger for the Huffington Post, Gellman often lashes out in mean-spirited attacks on fellow Jews. According to Gellman, “our people is facing a number of existential threats. For the first time in Jewish history, the most serious of those threats is internal…” The internal threat, according to Gellman, is right-wing pro-Israel activism, which he calls “Israelism–The Religion That is Destroying Our Jewish Community.” Gellman contends that this “Israelist hit squad” has acquired “cult status” and is swept with “an unwarranted anger and hysteria.”

Gellman has the right to demonize those he disagrees with, but he can’t then claim that he supports civility and open discussion. And after the things he has written about the Israeli Army, Gellman also can’t claim that he is pro-Israel. Writing at the Huffington Post in support of the widely discredited Goldstone Report – since then disavowed even by Goldstone himself – Gellman claimed:

“Orthodox Israeli rabbis encouraged soldiers to be particularly ruthless to Gazans during Operation Cast Lead — reportedly encouraging them to show no mercy to innocent Gazan citizens, women, and children. There is an increasing amount of solid evidence that shows many of those soldiers followed those instructions and behaved very badly — perhaps criminally.”

This is a disgusting false smear that reads more like Hamas propaganda than pro-Israel messaging by a self-described “savior of the Jewish people.” Yet too often this has been J Street’s style. Its leaders complain about the lack of civility in the Jewish community while personally insulting its critics and falsely attacking the Jewish State. They demand open debate for their fringe, often anti-Israel positions, while also demanding that their critics be silenced.

J Street’s behavior in response to “The J Street Challenge” should serve as a warning to the “mainstream” Jewish community. Modern day Jacobins like Ben Ami and Gellman don’t do compromise. Once accepted into the big tent, as J Street’s reaction to “The J Street Challenge” demonstrates, they demand silence from those who challenge their opinions or contradict their dubious claims of being pro-Israel.

A version of this article appeared in The Jerusalem Post


J Street’s Loss Is George Soros’s Loss

By Abraham H. Miller

The anti-Zionist Zionists, J Street, lost its bid to become a member of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. The prestigious and influential group said no to George Soros’s fifth-column attempt to gain admission to the Jewish community’s big tent. Even some liberal Jews, despite their mantras of inclusion and outreach, showed they still understood the difference between tolerance and self-inflicted sabotage.

J Street, after much subterfuge, finally admitted in 2010 that it receives funds from Soros, a man who says the upsurge of anti-Semitism in Europe is a result of the policies of Israel and the United States. According to Soros, Jews are being beaten in the streets of Paris, Amsterdam, and Malmo not because of fundamentalist Islam’s hateful teachings but because of Israel and America.

To divert attention from Soros’ controversial and embarrassing role in J Street, Jeremy Ben-Ami, J Street’s executive director, created a straw man. According to Ben-Ami’s diversion, the issue was never about Soros’ funding but about his founding the group.

Ben-Ami pointedly denies that Soros founded the group and shifts ground to minimizing his support as a mere seven percent of the total funding. But then there is the inconvenient Ms. Consolacion Esdicul, a Hong Kong businesswoman, whose admiration for J Street and its quest for peace in the Middle East so moved her that her contributions outstripped Soros’.

Ms. Consolacion Esdicul, regrettably, has the distinct appearance of a Soros proxy. And Ben-Ami’s attempts at explaning both her beneficence and who she is require that one substantially lower the bar of credulity.

Soros is known for many things that caused human misery, including betting against currencies that, when they crashed, took the life savings of people across the globe. But Soros, a non-practicing Jew, seems to have taken a peculiar and succulent delight in being an accomplice to the Nazi expropriation of Jewish property in his native Hungary.

In a “60 Minutes” interview with Steve Kroft, which Soros’ partisans have been continually reinterpreting, Soros said that the war years were the happiest time of his life. During that period, Soros went out with his faux godfather and helped in the confiscation of property of fellow Jews, a fact he acknowledged.

Kroft thought this might put most people on the psychiatric couch, but Soros admitted that he did not feel any guilt.

Although the experience did not send Soros to the psychiatric couch, it might explain his dissonance toward Israel and his embrace of anti-Zionist Jews like Ben-Ami. The organizations Soros’ charitable groups support are known for their attempts to undermine and delegitimize the Jewish state.  Media Matters, another recipient of Soros and Esdicul’s largess, has been condemned by the Simon Wiesenthal Center not just for its anti-Zionism but also for old-fashioned anti-Semitism.

It is not surprising then that J Street would be a recipient of Soros’ charitable giving. J Street has rarely seen a position that Israel takes that it could support. J Street unequivocally condemns any Israeli or US military action to keep Iran from developing its nuclear program, even as Iran calls for Israel’s annihilation. J Street does not support Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. When the United States Senate sought to cut off funds to the Palestinian Authority if it used its upgraded status at the UN to level specious charges against Israel, J Street mobilized to undermine the Senate’s policy.  As the Jewish community worked to marginalize the virulently anti-Zionist Jewish Voice for Peace, a group so rabidly anti-Israel that it is willing to partner with Students for Justice in Palestine, J Street worked to hinder the community’s campaign.

From its inception, J Street’s mission was to undermine the pro-Israel community’s most successful interest group, AIPAC. This is precisely what Soros, with his anti-Israel agenda, desires.

The New York Times has cast J Street’s defeat as a loss for the liberal voices in the Jewish community.  The New York Times has long shown that it is not Israel’s friend.  Its anti-Israel propaganda, masquerading as journalism, has raised the ire of the broad spectrum of pro-Zionist groups. Any decision that upsets the New York Times and J Street furthers Israel’s right to survive in a neighborhood that is continually descending into violence and tyranny.  The vote against J Street is a vote in support of Israel’s future.

Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati.  He was also on the faculty of the University of California, Davis and the University of Illinois, Urbana.

Originally published on The Daily Caller


J Street rejected by American Jewish umbrella group in ‘big tent’ litmus test

By Alina Dain Sharon and Sean Savage

In what many observers will see as the de facto expression of mainstream U.S. Jewry’s outlook on J Street, members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations on Wednesday voted 22-17 (with three abstentions) to reject the membership application of the self-labeled “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobby. J Street secured the votes of only about a third of the Conference’s 50 members.

The 42 Conference members in attendance in New York exceeded the 75-percent quorum needed to hold the vote, but J Street fell significantly short of the required threshold of a two-thirds affirmative vote from the Conference’s full membership. The result that 25 organizations either voted against J Street or abstained meant that half of the Conference’s members declined to support J Street’s application.

“The Conference meticulously followed its long-established Process and Procedures Guidelines in considering J Street’s application. … The present membership of the Conference includes organizations which represent and articulate the views of broad segments of the American Jewish community and we are confident that the Conference will continue to present the consensus of the community on important national and international issues as it has for the last 50 years,” said Conference of Presidents Chairman Robert G. Sugarman and Executive Vice Chairman/CEO Malcolm Hoenlein.

J Street said in a statement, “This is a sad day for us, but also for the American Jewish community and for a venerable institution that has chosen to bar the door to the communal tent to an organization that represents a substantial segment of Jewish opinion on Israel.”

Jewish leaders have used a “big tent” metaphor to describe which views on Israel and U.S. foreign policy are encompassed within the community’s consensus. Since its formation in 2008, J Street has been a frequent subject of debates on how far that tent stretches, and the group’s bid to join the Conference of Presidents proved no different.

The Forward reported that at an April 11 meeting during which J Street had failed to win the endorsement of a crucial committee for membership in the Conference, J Street was questioned over donations it has received from liberal billionaire George Soros—whose foundations have come under scrutiny for allegedly funding anti-Israel groups—and over the lobby’s support of the United Nations-sponsored Goldstone Report, which accused Israel of war crimes against the Palestinians. Furthermore, J Street was accused of collaborating with anti-Israel groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine.

Some Conference members were also troubled that J Street, if voted in, would have been the only organization in the Conference of Presidents that endorses or raises money for political candidates through a political action committee.

Andrea Levin—executive director of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, a Conference of Presidents member—told JNS.org that J Street is taking positions “totally out of sync with the Jewish mainstream,” noting its opposition to a 2011 congressional letter criticizing Palestinian incitement in the wake of the Itamar massacre that killed five members of an Israeli family, and more recently, its refusal to condemn the Fatah-Hamas unity deal.

In an op-ed for JNS.org last year, however, J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami called his group’s position on Israel “the same as that of the Israeli government, the Obama administration and the vast bulk of the American Jewish community.”

“At the end of the day, J Street exists to help Israel reach the deal it needs and wants so much and which is so central to its future as a Jewish state and as a democracy,” wrote Ben-Ami, referring to a two-state solution, whose achievement is central to J Street’s stated mission.

Yet Sarah Stern—president of the Washington, DC-based Endowment for Middle East Truth think tank and policy group—believes members of Congress are often confused about where J Street stands on Israel. She noted that J Street “has consistently taken the same positions as the Council for American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the National Iranian American Council (NIAC).” CAIR has been accused of being a front group for the Hamas terrorist group, and NIAC routinely takes anti-Israel positions.

“It’s hard enough for members of Congress to listen to a growing Muslim and Arab demographic, but when they have a Jewish constituency that is basically siding with the enemies of Israel, I think it’s extraordinarily deleterious for the Jewish community here in the U.S,” Stern told JNS.org.

Georgetown University professor and Middle East analyst Moran Stern, meanwhile, does not believe it is particularly relevant to be asking whether or not J Street is a “mainstream” American Jewish organization.

“The surge of J Street is a fact,” he said. “What the Conference of Presidents and other Jewish organizations in the U.S. that might have conflicting views on J Street are doing, and I think are doing very wisely, is they are identifying the surge of J Street. They recognize it and they adapt accordingly.”

Before Wednesday’s vote, a number of Conference of Presidents member groups publicly expressed their intent to support J Street’s application. Ameinu—which says its “connects liberal American Jews with a progressive Israel”—posted on Twitter, “Ameinu will vote for J Street’s inclusion in the Conf. of Presidents. They meet all of the requirements. Simple.” In a blog post for the Times of Israel, Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Rick Jacobs wrote that there should not be an “ideological litmus test” for joining the umbrella organization.

“If the Conference begins to limit its membership based on organizations’ views on specific policy issues, it ceases to represent the entire American Jewish community,” Jacobs wrote.

The leadership of Conservative Judaism’s congregational umbrella group echoed the call for accepting a diversity of views.

“The Conference of Presidents is designed as a forum in which the Jewish community, in all its diversity, can come together to discuss the major issues of the day and speak with world leaders and organizations as representatives of the Jewish people,” said United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism CEO Rabbi Steven Wernick and International President Richard Skolnik.

On the flip side, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) campaigned aggressively against J Street’s bid. Ahead of the vote, ZOA distributed 18 bullet points for why it believed J Street should not be admitted to the Conference of Presidents, and issued press releases slamming J Street’s statements on the Palestinian unity deal and Secretary of State John Kerry’s remark warning that Israel could become an “apartheid state.”

Reacting to criticism of Kerry’s comments, J Street had said, “Instead of putting energy into attacking Secretary Kerry, those who are upset with the Secretary’s use of the term should put their energy into opposing and changing the policies that are leading Israel down this road.”

ZOA then said, “J Street has again demonstrated that it is an extremist group, hostile to Israel, by supporting Secretary of State John Kerry’s ‘apartheid’ accusation against Israel.”

Moran Stern, however, told JNS.org that from his observations of the culture of U.S. Jewish organizations, he has witnessed a “reservoir” of talented and educated young American Jews among the J Street ranks, and questioned the premise of abandoning that cadre of Israel advocates.

“The question is what do you do with that reservoir,” he said, explaining that leaving out J Street might “play into the hands of those who are anti-Israel because they will say, ‘Look at the Conference of Presidents that claims to be pro-Israel and pro-Jewish, and here there is a group like J Street that supports the two-state solution and all that, and when they try to be part of that club they are being denied.’”

The professor added that given J Street’s popularity on college campuses, it is important not to neglect those young American Jews who care about Israel but may have a different approach than traditional pro-Israel advocates.

“I think that while you may not accept certain ideas, J Street certainly doesn’t fall under this category,” he said. “They do not call for the one-state solution, for the destruction of Israel, for boycotting Israel. Quite on the contrary.”

But Dr. Charles Jacobs—president of Boston-based Americans for Peace and Tolerance, the group behind the new documentary “The J Street Challenge”—explained that J Street breaks a long-honored tradition between American Jews and Israel.

“[American Jews] can freely criticize Jewish leaders in Israel—we can do it publicly, but we who do not live there or have our children on the front lines do not have the right to use our American power to circumvent Israeli democracy, and to try to lobby to get an American administration to impose our views and policies on the Israelis. … J Street’s entire program is designed to break this longstanding agreement,” Jacobs told JNS.org.

Originally published on JNS


J Street rejected by American Jewish umbrella group in ‘big tent’ litmus test

By: Alina Dain Sharon and Sean Savage

In what many observers will see as the de facto expression of mainstream U.S. Jewry’s outlook on J Street, members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations on Wednesday voted 22-17 (with three abstentions) to reject the membership application of the self-labeled “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobby. J Street secured the votes of only about a third of the Conference’s 50 members.

The 42 Conference members in attendance in New York exceeded the 75-percent quorum needed to hold the vote, but J Street fell significantly short of the required threshold of a two-thirds affirmative vote from the Conference’s full membership. The result that 25 organizations either voted against J Street or abstained meant that half of the Conference’s members declined to support J Street’s application.

“The Conference meticulously followed its long-established Process and Procedures Guidelines in considering J Street’s application. … The present membership of the Conference includes organizations which represent and articulate the views of broad segments of the American Jewish community and we are confident that the Conference will continue to present the consensus of the community on important national and international issues as it has for the last 50 years,” said Conference of Presidents Chairman Robert G. Sugarman and Executive Vice Chairman/CEO Malcolm Hoenlein.

J Street said in a statement, “This is a sad day for us, but also for the American Jewish community and for a venerable institution that has chosen to bar the door to the communal tent to an organization that represents a substantial segment of Jewish opinion on Israel.”

Jewish leaders have used a “big tent” metaphor to describe which views on Israel and U.S. foreign policy are encompassed within the community’s consensus. Since its formation in 2008, J Street has been a frequent subject of debates on how far that tent stretches, and the group’s bid to join the Conference of Presidents proved no different.

The Forward reported that at an April 11 meeting during which J Street had failed to win the endorsement of a crucial committee for membership in the Conference, J Street was questioned over donations it has received from liberal billionaire George Soros—whose foundations have come under scrutiny for allegedly funding anti-Israel groups—and over the lobby’s support of the United Nations-sponsored Goldstone Report, which accused Israel of war crimes against the Palestinians. Furthermore, J Street was accused of collaborating with anti-Israel groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine.

Some Conference members were also troubled that J Street, if voted in, would have been the only organization in the Conference of Presidents that endorses or raises money for political candidates through a political action committee.

Andrea Levin—executive director of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, a Conference of Presidents member—told JNS.org that J Street is taking positions “totally out of sync with the Jewish mainstream,” noting its opposition to a 2011 congressional letter criticizing Palestinian incitement in the wake of the Itamar massacre that killed five members of an Israeli family, and more recently, its refusal to condemn the Fatah-Hamas unity deal.

In an op-ed for JNS.org last year, however, J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami called his group’s position on Israel “the same as that of the Israeli government, the Obama administration and the vast bulk of the American Jewish community.”

“At the end of the day, J Street exists to help Israel reach the deal it needs and wants so much and which is so central to its future as a Jewish state and as a democracy,” wrote Ben-Ami, referring to a two-state solution, whose achievement is central to J Street’s stated mission.

Yet Sarah Stern—president of the Washington, DC-based Endowment for Middle East Truth think tank and policy group—believes members of Congress are often confused about where J Street stands on Israel. She noted that J Street “has consistently taken the same positions as the Council for American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the National Iranian American Council (NIAC).” CAIR has been accused of being a front group for the Hamas terrorist group, and NIAC routinely takes anti-Israel positions.

“It’s hard enough for members of Congress to listen to a growing Muslim and Arab demographic, but when they have a Jewish constituency that is basically siding with the enemies of Israel, I think it’s extraordinarily deleterious for the Jewish community here in the U.S,” Stern told JNS.org.

Georgetown University professor and Middle East analyst Moran Stern, meanwhile, does not believe it is particularly relevant to be asking whether or not J Street is a “mainstream” American Jewish organization.

“The surge of J Street is a fact,” he said. “What the Conference of Presidents and other Jewish organizations in the U.S. that might have conflicting views on J Street are doing, and I think are doing very wisely, is they are identifying the surge of J Street. They recognize it and they adapt accordingly.”

Before Wednesday’s vote, a number of Conference of Presidents member groups publicly expressed their intent to support J Street’s application. Ameinu—which says its “connects liberal American Jews with a progressive Israel”—posted on Twitter, “Ameinu will vote for J Street’s inclusion in the Conf. of Presidents. They meet all of the requirements. Simple.” In a blog post for the Times of Israel, Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Rick Jacobs wrote that there should not be an “ideological litmus test” for joining the umbrella organization.

“If the Conference begins to limit its membership based on organizations’ views on specific policy issues, it ceases to represent the entire American Jewish community,” Jacobs wrote.

The leadership of Conservative Judaism’s congregational umbrella group echoed the call for accepting a diversity of views.

“The Conference of Presidents is designed as a forum in which the Jewish community, in all its diversity, can come together to discuss the major issues of the day and speak with world leaders and organizations as representatives of the Jewish people,” said United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism CEO Rabbi Steven Wernick and International President Richard Skolnik.

On the flip side, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) campaigned aggressively against J Street’s bid. Ahead of the vote, ZOA distributed 18 bullet points for why it believed J Street should not be admitted to the Conference of Presidents, and issued press releases slamming J Street’s statements on the Palestinian unity deal and Secretary of State John Kerry’s remark warning that Israel could become an “apartheid state.”

Reacting to criticism of Kerry’s comments, J Street had said, “Instead of putting energy into attacking Secretary Kerry, those who are upset with the Secretary’s use of the term should put their energy into opposing and changing the policies that are leading Israel down this road.”

ZOA then said, “J Street has again demonstrated that it is an extremist group, hostile to Israel, by supporting Secretary of State John Kerry’s ‘apartheid’ accusation against Israel.”

Moran Stern, however, told JNS.org that from his observations of the culture of U.S. Jewish organizations, he has witnessed a “reservoir” of talented and educated young American Jews among the J Street ranks, and questioned the premise of abandoning that cadre of Israel advocates.

“The question is what do you do with that reservoir,” he said, explaining that leaving out J Street might “play into the hands of those who are anti-Israel because they will say, ‘Look at the Conference of Presidents that claims to be pro-Israel and pro-Jewish, and here there is a group like J Street that supports the two-state solution and all that, and when they try to be part of that club they are being denied.’”

The professor added that given J Street’s popularity on college campuses, it is important not to neglect those young American Jews who care about Israel but may have a different approach than traditional pro-Israel advocates.

“I think that while you may not accept certain ideas, J Street certainly doesn’t fall under this category,” he said. “They do not call for the one-state solution, for the destruction of Israel, for boycotting Israel. Quite on the contrary.”

But Dr. Charles Jacobs—president of Boston-based Americans for Peace and Tolerance, the group behind the new documentary “The J Street Challenge”—explained that J Street breaks a long-honored tradition between American Jews and Israel.

“[American Jews] can freely criticize Jewish leaders in Israel—we can do it publicly, but we who do not live there or have our children on the front lines do not have the right to use our American power to circumvent Israeli democracy, and to try to lobby to get an American administration to impose our views and policies on the Israelis. … J Street’s entire program is designed to break this longstanding agreement,” Jacobs told JNS.org.

Originally published on JNS


J Street Fails to Win Over Key Committee for Presidents Conference Membership: Dovish Group ‘Grilled’ by Pro-Israel Hawks at Meeting

By: Nathan Guttman

J Street, the dovish Israel lobby, has failed to win the endorsement of a key committee for membership in the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations — a development that makes it unlikely to win admission to the key umbrella group.

In an April 11 meeting described as a “grilling” by participants, members of the Presidents Conference closely questioned J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami, who came to make the case for accepting his group into the conference.

The Manhattan meeting, held by the conference’s membership committee in preparation for J Street’s application being brought before the full conference on April 30, found that J Street fulfills the administrative and governance requirements set forth by conference bylaws. But most of the discussion was focused on J Street’s views on Israel.

The gathering attracted a dozen representatives of Presidents Conference member organizations to attend personally while six other representatives joined in by phone. According to several sources present, many of the questions posed to Ben-Ami carried a critical tone.

One question was about the support of J Street’s political action committee for Democratic Congressman John Dingell of Michigan, who was described at the meeting as holding anti-Israeli views. Another questioned donations J Street had received from liberal billionaire George Soros. The hedge fund manager and philanthropist drew flack from Jewish leaders in 2003 for his comment that the policies of Israel’s then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and then-U.S. President George Bush towards Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza contributed to a resurgence in European anti-Semitism.

Participants at the meeting also claimed that J Street had supported the United Nations-sponsored Goldstone report, which found that Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas had committed numerous war crimes and possible crimes against humanity during their conflict in late 2008 and early 2009. Some questioners alleged that J Street cooperates with anti-Israel organizations such as Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine.

Questioners also quoted a critique of J Street prepared by Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz.

Ben-Ami, according to an account provided to the Forward by one participant and confirmed by another, attempted to respond to most of the questions and took issue with the accuracy of some of the questioners’ factual assertions. Among these was a claim that J Street’s support for American aid to the Palestinian Authority was out of step with the views of the organized Jewish community and of Israel.

In the discussion, one participant asked whether J Street would agree to accept the Presidents’ Conference rules that require all members to adhere to consensus positions adopted by the conference, and if J Street would refrain from criticizing other Jewish groups.

The membership committee reached no decision on J Street’s bid for membership after the meeting. “After careful consideration,” wrote the committee’s chair Rabbi Vernon Kurtz of the American Zionist Movement in a summary sent to all conference member organizations, “[we] decided not to take a vote, but to refer the membership application of J Street for consideration by the full membership of the Conference at the Conference’s General Meeting to be held on April 30, 2014.”

A decision to accept J Street will require a quorum of 75% members and two-thirds of the votes to pass. The tone and content of Thursday’s discussion could indicate that reaching such a majority will be difficult.

Jessica Rosenblum , J Street’s spokeswoman, said in a statement that the group is hopeful that the Conference ultimately decides to accept J Street “and, in so doing, to embrace the challenge of building a representative body that reflects the breadth, depth and vigor of the community itself.”

Originally published in The Jewish Daily Forward